As the evening wore on — and did it ever wear on — the many questions everyone had going into Sunday night's
With "Gravity" cleaning up on the technical and craft side, as expected, eventually winning seven categories it was nominated for (including director for Alfonso Cuarón), there was only one thing left to decide: Would this film's momentum sweep the board and bring home the best picture statuette as well? Or would
As everyone who followed or engaged in the endless prognostication that characterized this elongated Oscar season knew, this was the rare year when best picture was up for grabs until the very end. And as the evening progressed with few surprises, the tension surrounding how the one category without a clear favorite would play out grew.
Finally, when "12 Years a Slave" was called, it seemed like the academy had gotten it right, given credit where credit was due by its Solomon-like decision to divide its treasure between the two films that were at the top of everyone's lists. Though it was a terrible shame that as fine a film as "American Hustle," which had 10 nominations, was shut out, if best picture had to go to either "12 Years" or "Gravity," by the end of the night "12 Years" was the appropriate choice.
Even the small clips from the film interspersed throughout the program testified to its wrenching power, and the acceptance speeches for the two other awards "12 Years" won earlier were truly potent.
The poised but emotional
John Ridley, winner of the adapted screenplay award, understandably struggled to keep his emotions in check as he thanked a script supervisor from his earliest days in the business who helped with wise advice and encouragement.
An overwrought "12 Years" director
In fact, when McQueen ended his remarks by facing the cast and crew and literally jumping up and down for sheer joy, that moment of pure and honest emotion made more of a lasting impression than all those pro-forma thanks put together.
The other acceptance moments that made a difference were also those that came from the heart. Supporting actor winner
While the nominal theme of Sunday's show — Hollywood and the hero — kind of fizzled (who says the show needs a theme, anyway?), the one concept mentioned repeatedly — I counted four in the first 45 minutes alone — was that notion of dreaming and dreams.
And in truth that final division of awards between "Gravity" and "12 Years" underlined how the movie industry is a place where two kinds of dreamers find a home. There are the people who take their below-the-line jobs magnificently seriously, who live to put things on the screen that have never been seen before, and their dream came true with the seven-Oscar success of "Gravity."
Then there are the people who dream of changing their world with their films, who want to make people think about issues that matter. Their dreams came true with the best picture award for "12 Years a Slave."
In an ideal movie world, those dreams would meet in a single film. Maybe next year, or the one after that. In the world of movies, even critics get to dream.