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Maybe you had to be there to enjoy Oscar pizza party

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Front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyong'o Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o and Angelina Jolie.

ELLEN DEGENERES/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyong'o Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o and Angelina Jolie.

HOLLYWOOD -- Meryl Streep participated in her first tweet and shut down Twitter. John Travolta mangled Idina Menzel's name and Pink sang Over the Rainbow, while Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong'o gave two of the best acceptance speeches ever.

 

Ellen DeGeneres distributed pizza among the A-list section of the Dolby Theatre, but still the telecast of the 86th Academy Awards seemed to last For-Bloody-Ever.

Which raises the eternal annual question: What does a good Oscars look like?

Certainly not one overseen by Seth MacFarlane, who last year offended large groups of people with a welter of only occasionally funny jokes. But in trying to correct last year's irreverence gone awry, second-time producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan over-corrected.

The congenial DeGeneres was so intent on establishing herself as the anti-Seth to the live audience -- "let's try to make this all about you," she said early with more sincerity than sarcasm -- that she seemed to forget she was at the helm of a famously unwieldy live television show.

A show that was, it must be noted, already bogged down by a theme (heroes), which demanded a bunch of non sequitur clips (of movie heroes) that helped stretch the telecast well past the three-hour mark. So while wading into the audience to snap a selfie with Streep and a slew of stars in the hopes of breaking the retweet record turned out to be funny, most of the other comfy, cosy, "we're just hangin' at the Oscars" bits did not.

Watching DeGeneres wander through the audience to hand Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper pieces of pizza was not as hilarious as many people clearly thought it would be. DeGeneres, who hosted seven years ago, made her intentions known from the start when she began with a low-key, star-centric intro rather than a showy dance number or clever pre-taped skit.

She was not precisely kindness itself. DeGeneres acknowledged a tribute to mark the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz by saying that included the "best Liza Minnelli impersonator I have ever seen" (it was Minnelli).

But in general, she teased rather than satirized, making only one truly bold joke: that the evening would end in two possible ways. "Possibility No. 1, 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility 2: you're all racists." (12 Years a Slave won, so, whew.)

But her bits increasingly became just another part of the tedium, like all the various editing awards.

The silver lining, or if you're feeling generous, the intent of DeGeneres' low-key-to-the-point-of-flatlining performance was that it provided a backdrop against which the winners, and the musical nominees, could shine.

Pharrell Williams, U2, Karen O and Menzel performed their nominated songs. Pink sang Over the Rainbow, Midler Wind Beneath My Wings and Darlene Love, star of 20 Feet From Stardom, sang her acceptance of the documentary feature award

One person who didn't like any of it?

Donald Trump, who was vocal on Twitter throughout the show. Some of his notes: "Is this boring or is it just me? #Oscars"; "Do you believe this singing? #Oscars"; "I should host the #Oscars just to shake things up -- this is not good!"; "I don't know how much longer I can take this (b.s.) -- so terrible! #Oscars."

When Pink sang, he wrote: "Judy Garland was much better, to put it mildly! #Oscars."

It was the speeches that saved the telecast from a coma state. Jared Leto, winning supporting actor for Dallas Buyers Club, emotionally thanked his mother and brother, encouraging people everywhere, including "places like the Ukraine and Venezuela," to believe in their dreams, and accepting the award for "the 36 million people who lost the battle to AIDS."

He set the bar splendidly high, but many subsequent winners hit it. For years, Oscar producers have begged nominees to avoid laundry lists of agents, producers and co-stars, and this year the winners obeyed.

Cate Blanchett took the opportunity of her lead actress award for Blue Jasmine to remind Hollywood that films about women do make money. And Nyong'o, who starred in 12 Years A Slave, said, "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's."

That was a moment that almost, if not quite, made the long, long evening worth it.

 

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2014 C2

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