Another year, another forgone conclusion in the Best Picture stakes. After a prolonged campaign 12 Years A Slave (2013) surprised no one and ran away with the big prize at Sunday night's Academy Awards. It was such a sure bet even Ellen Degeneres' script writers got in on the act, providing her with one of the few laughs in an otherwise dull ceremony.
The sad thing is 12 Years would been a fairly worthy winner without all the surrounding fanfare about kicking slavery and racism into touch. But such has been the weight of its moral message the film has started to feel more like a political broadcast than an entertaining piece of cinema. Away from Steve McQueen's history lesson, Gravity (2013) hoovered up every technical award available, to the point where you wonder if there was much left for Best Director recipient Alfonso Cuaron to do other than cobble the film together.
12 Years also nabbed the Best Adapted Screenplay, but in the other categories things were a bit more interesting. Jared Leto was a surprise but deserving winner of the Best Supporting Actor award, while Lupito Nyong'o melted hearts with a touching acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actress prize, putting an end to rumours of a never ending love affair between Hollywood and Jennifer Lawrence.
Things continued in welcome fashion when the big acting prizes were handed out, the ever watchable Cate Blanchett adding a Best Actress statuette to her Best Supporting Actress award for The Aviator (2004), and Matthew McConaughey nabbing a much deserved Best Actor gong for his superb work in Dallas Buyer's Club (2013). The latter has apparently surprised most critics and fans, a supposed over night transformation from lunk headed rom-com star to acting genius. But anyone that has been watching the Texan's work closely knows that the talent has always been there. What has changed in recent times is the performer's choice of work, which has allowed him to better display his abilities. Those that enjoyed his Dallas work would do well to check out The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), Bernie (2011), Killer Joe (2012) and Mud (2012).
The final nice surprise was the award for Best Original Screenplay, awarded to Spike Jonze for Her (2014), a pointed, darkly comic look at the world's growing online dependencies, already a front runner for best film of 2014.
The ceremony itself was uneventful, the script given to Degeneres typically wooden and risk averse . The one supposed standout moment was the presenters foray into the audience for a "selfie" with a star studded group of starlets that included Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep and Kevin Spacey. Though apparently spontaneous, it stunk of the Academy grasping for a recent popular fad just to appear "down with the kids". What the eventual snap looked like was a bunch of jewellery laden celebs looking smug and self-satisfied. Why the world thought it necessary to re-Tweet it over fifty billion times when a simple Google search would have revealed the offending photo in the same time, I struggle to comprehend; Jonze's Her grows ever more prescient.
Thank god there was some proper spontaneity on display during the night. Two real heroes stood out. First was Benedict Cumberbatch for the greatest photo-bomb of all time, sticking it to the dour, self-important, "world saving" rock quartet U2; unfortunately Benedict wasn't allowed to liven up the band's painfully sincere performance during the ceremony itself which threatened to send half the audience into a coma. Second was Bill Murray. Never one for conformity, Murray broke away from the Oscar script during his presentation slot to offer a short but heart-felt nod to his friend, the recently departed Harold Ramis. It was one of the few genuine moments in the whole four hour ordeal.