Every year, on a Sunday night toward the tail end of winter, we are reminded of the captivating influence film has on our lives. An epitome of contemporary showbiz, the Oscars – the event that takes up this entertaining Sunday night – integrates comic relief, live music and a booming appreciation of the best present minds in cinema. As the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday March 2 came to a close, I felt a deep satisfaction for those honored with the prestigious gold-plated bronze statue. Among the most successful was the science fiction space thriller Gravity, which took home seven total Oscars including a grab by Alfonso Cuarón in the famed best director category. A phenomenal step in the science fiction genre, Gravity stands as a major achievement in technical and aesthetic design for the film industry.
Gravity is a unique spectacle throughout, and Cuarón deserves the award; his capacity to transport viewers into the wondrous and often terrifying perspective of an astronaut clinging to survival against the elements of space is one of tremendous success. That isn’t to say Cuarón acted alone: Such an achievement would not have been possible without a very capable cinematic team of visual designers, editors, cinematographers and more.
This year also displayed remarkable feats from the industry’s actors and actresses. Cate Blanchett, in Woody Allen’s recent film Blue Jasmine, won Best Actress with authority, illustrating one of the most psychologically complex characters in film’s recent history. Her portrayal of Jasmine, an immensely neurotic socialite, expanded my expectations of one’s ability to become his or her character and, in the process, set a precedent for future acting with her wildly sincere portrayal of a person in emotional distress.
In a more difficult decision, the Best Actor category went to Matthew McConaughey for his role as a rodeo bull rider recently diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club. Moviegoers may remember McConaughey for his earlier career in critically disregarded romantic comedies. As the past two years have had it, he has successfully committed his efforts toward more intense roles such as in the successful Mud and the hit HBO show “True Detective.”
The fan favorite for the win was almost certainly the notorious Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street – this serving as his fifth Oscar nomination without success. In further competition, Chiwetel Ejiofor performed a marvelous encapsulation of the human spirit as 12 Years a Slave protagonist Solomon Northup. Regardless of the close competition, all performances were influential and captivating in their own unique ways – though with McConaughey losing roughly 47 pounds for his inspirational performance in Dallas Buyers Club and giving one of the most endearingly genuine speeches in Oscar memory, it is difficult to curse the Academy’s decision.
As the biggest news at the Academy Awards, the Best Picture category came last in the night. In concluding this memorable cinematic year, 12 Years a Slave took the award, standing above its competition as one of the most transcendent, awe-inspiring stories to come across the big screen since the turn of the millennium.
Telling the odyssey of Solomon Northup, as written in memoir form over a century and half ago, this tale explicates the incredible resilience of the human spirit in light of depravity and near hopeless conditions. Consuming its viewership to the point of speechlessness, 12 Years a Slave does exactly what art sets out to do: It amazes us, informs us and underpins the very basis of humanity with wisdom at its core, representing an excellent year in film in the most fitting of manners.