1. “Let’s Talk About Kim Novak.” It’s time again to say horrible, awful things about every movie and actor nominated Sunday night.
“As we age, the fat that plumps the skin and makes it glow inexorably begins to disintegrate. Because this is 2014, and we’re on our way to curing women of the worst thing that can happen to them—getting old—doctors can solve this terrible problem with injectable fillers. So let’s say—just as a hypothetical for instance—you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.”
2. “Here There Is No Why.” J. Hoberman on the trial of 12 Years a Slave.
“Yet there’s an especially modern, or at least modernist, aspect to Northup’s story, with its portrayal of the cosmic absurdity of fate. Published the year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 1853, 12 Years a Slave was a well-known abolitionist text and even a bestseller in the years before the Civil War. That it was, until McQueen’s film, less famous than other slave narratives may be due to Northup’s collaboration with a white amanuensis who many thought tidied up or even usurped his voice, sacrificing authenticity for literariness. More crucial to the book’s eclipse, however, may be the trajectory of Northup’s experience. The story of a free man sold into bondage runs disconcertingly counter to the more positive narratives told by Frederick Douglass and other ex-slaves. It is one thing to pity the travails of a person unluckily born into poverty, disadvantage, or slavery—and quite another to experience the plight of a free individual losing everything for no reason at all.”
3. “Understanding the 2014 Academy Awards.” Who won, why, and what to make of it all.
“Although I disagree with many of their choices, I think Academy voters, in their fitful way, mostly did their job this year. They acquitted themselves well not by being concerned with making history or making statements but with making category-by-category distinctions about what they liked the best. It would be a giant mistake rooted in a false idea that The Monolith Has Spoken to suggest that the Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave represents a shattered ceiling, just as its loss would not have represented a snub or a refutation. Change is incremental: The win is connected, in some ways, to progress represented in a show that did not have to bend itself out of shape to include 10 presenters of color, run by an organization headed by an African-American woman, with a predominantly white membership whose governors have made a concerted and increasingly successful years-long effort to diversify the ranks. The Academy looking more like the world is progress of a kind that makes further progress possible.”
4. “Oscars: Hollywood’s conflicted selfie.” McConaughey’s wacky monologue, “Adele Nazeem,” the 12 Years a Slave feud and other Oscar puzzles.
“While the 12 Years a Slave team made a remarkable film, all does not seem to be harmony and light. Screenwriter John Ridley never thanked Steve McQueen, or engaged with the director in any way, when Ridley collected his prize for adapted screenplay. (McQueen applauded briefly but appeared not to rise from his seat.) Not long afterward, McQueen responded in kind, never mentioning Ridley among his long list of nervous thank-yous. Ridley appeared to be at the back of the group of people on stage for the best-picture presentation, about as far away from McQueen as he could get. Like most of you, I saw all of this on television and have no idea what’s going on; what I can say from experience is that McQueen is an awkward public speaker and a prickly guy who’s difficult to read. I will admit I’m dying to know what the beef may be between them – dudes, you both just won Oscars!—but they have successfully kept it out of the papers until now.”
5. “The Sad Corporate-Pizza Oscars.” Richard Brody on the Academy’s big night.
“The nadir was the pizza; the synthetic spontaneity of the non-event brought to mind Andy Kaufman, whose genius I miss all the time and whose ability to mesh the nostalgic bathos of a pizza party with the edge of chaos would have made him a formidable, historic Oscar host. And to top off the pizza’s unfunniness came DeGeneres’s passing of the hat to pay for it, about which Emily Gould aptly tweeted, ’amounts of money that are consequential to most people mean nothing to us, they are literally a joke! ha ha ha.’ In a brief interview in the backstage shadows, after the red carpet and before the main event, one of the two producers of the festivities (I can’t remember whether it was Craig Zadan or Neil Meron) likened the show to tightrope walking and called himself a good tightrope walker. So he may be, but this event was all net; it started in the safety zone and never got aloft.”
Video of the Day: Jimmy Fallon, the Roots, and Adele Dazeem perform “Let It Go”:
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