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Oscars 2014’s 25 Best and Worst Moments

From Ellen’s A-list selfie to McConaughey’s “All right all right all right,” the moments that had everybody talking

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It was expected that 12 Years a Slave would walk away with Best Picture, that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto would officially join the ranks of Oscar winners and that Gravity would sweep the technical awards. But as with every Academy Awards show, there were always a handful of moments that shocked, delighted, disappointed or downright amazed us. Here are 25 of the highs and the lows that last night's marathon-length ceremony had to offer. 

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BEST: Matthew McConaughey’s “All Right, All Right, All Right” Speech

What, you thought he wasn't going to say his trademark "all right" x 3 line? That he wouldn't give elaborate shout-outs to God and his deceased father, the latter of whom was probably "eating gumbo and lemon meringue pie, and drinking Miller Lite" while McConaughey accepted his award for Best Actor? Or that the Dallas Buyers Club star wouldn't drop nuggets such as "it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates." (Really? A scientific fact? Like time-is-a-circle kind of scientific fact?) This was the cracked, crazy McConuaghey speech we were hoping we would get. Thank you for this, sir. Just keep livin'.

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BEST: Karen O and Ezra Koenig Nail ‘The Moon Song’

Just a spotlight, a glowing moon in the background, a guitar and a microphone: That’s all Karen O needed to make her nominated song from Her sound like the gorgeous, delicate ditty it is. (The fact that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman had some help from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig didn’t hurt, of course.) It was the perfect minimal touch for a near-perfect minimalist pop song.

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WORST: John Travolta Mispronouncing Idina Menzel’s Name

It's pronoucned I-dee-nah Men-zel, John. Though @AdelaDazeem is almost worth it.

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BEST: Ellen’s A-List Selfie

It was the Selfie that Broke Twitter: In an attempt to break the record most retweets of a photo, DeGeneres grabs Meryl Streep for a quick snapshot. They soon joined by some friends — Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Channing Tatum, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts and Jared Leto. The high-wattage picture did indeed break records and caused the social media platform to crash. It also provided her one guerilla comedic moment that actually felt genuinely fresh and funny. . .

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WORST: Ellen’s Pizza Delivery

. . .which is more than you can say for her attempt to liven things up by ordering pizza for the hungry celebrity crowd. The fact that the guy who did bring in those pies was not an actor but a real delivery man (who was apparently cheered by his colleagues upon returning to work) was a nice touch, but not even using Pharrell's infamous hat to collect money from Harvey Weinstein, Brad Pitt and other movie stars could sell this attempt at a bit.

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BEST: Pharrell performs ‘Happy’

Of course he was going to wear the Grammys hat, which he offset with some sparkly ruby-red sneakers. (It would not be the last Wizard of Oz reference of the evening.) And of course the ridiculously catchy song from Despicable Me 2 was going to get folks bopping in the aisles. But if Pharrell leading a Fifties dance show crowd through some vintage dance moves didn’t win you over, the sight of him getting Lupita, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams to shimmy with him almost certainly did. Even stars know the sound of pure pop bliss when they hear it.

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BEST: U2 Remind Us That They Are the Greatest

Say what you will about the Mandela biopic that inspired "Ordinary Love"; the performance that the Irish quartet gave not only sold the song wonderfully, it reminded you of what an electric band they can be. Walking out like gunfighters, they eased into the song before Bono started hitting those high notes and his frontman stride; by the time the Edge went into that elegiac acoustic guitar part at the end, Bono was kneeling at the lip of the stage, keening into the tuxedoed crowd. It was no ordinary rendition, to say the least.

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BEST: ’12 Years A Slave’ Wins Best Picture

Sure, it was preordained that Steve McQueen and his cast and crew would ascend to the stage at the end of the night, taking him the big prize. But that did not make its victory any less satisfying, or everyone on the stage and in the audience cheering, in the words of Brad Pitt, "the indomitable Steve McQueen," or the director's dedication of the film's win to "the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people that still suffer slavery today." Cynics will say that this was just a grand gesture of liberal guilt, but those people clearly had not seen the movie we saw — an astrounding work of art that proves that, occasionally, the Academy does get it right.

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BEST: Jim Carrey’s Wacky Intro to the Animation Montage

The faux-sour grapes routine about how tiring it must be to be a nominee and the Bruce Dern imitation suggested that Jim Carrey’s intro to a quick salute-to-animation montage would be just another bit of move-it-along showbiz goofery. Then, with perfect timing, he started talking about the magic of cartoons and punctuates his tribute with, "Of course, the magic I’m referring to is LSD." Neither the crowd nor viewers at home saw that one coming; even the rubber-faced comedian’s confusion over realizing he's read the card wrong doesn't kill the buzz of that laugh. It was a nice little anarchic hand grenade lobbed into a show that could have used a few more surprises.

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WORST: Kim Novak, Meet Matthew McConaughey

It didn’t matter that he’s in the middle of a serious career renaissance (and would go on to win the Best Actor Award later in the evening) and she was the blonde bombshell that made Vertigo such a dizzying experience. When Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey tried to banter onstage before presenting the Best Animated Film and Shorts award, the result was painfully awkward and forced. Sometimes, you can put two hot movie stars together and still produce zero verbal sparks.

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BEST: Cate Blanchett Tells Julia Roberts to ‘Hashtag: Suck It’

Well, at least we can confirm that the Blue Jasmine star knows about Twitter. We figured that Blanchett would win, but we sure weren't expecting her to randomly tell the Pretty Woman star to jokingly "suck it." She used her time at the podium to lambast producers for thinking so-called "women's pictures" weren't profitable or that there was no audience still interested in seeing them ("We're not a niche"), and thanked director Woody Allen for writing her such a plum role — that remark, not surprisingly, got less applause. But Blanchett still managed to come off as graceful and goofy in equal measures. This is a star who knows how to have fun.

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BEST: Lupita Nyong’o’s Best Supporting Actress Speech

"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." Lupita had been the picture of grace (and a bona fide fashion icon) throughout a long awards-season campaign, but there was something about the way she acknowledged the agony of playing a character stuck in a horrific situation that struck just the right note. She thanked her family, co-stars and director Steve McQueen ("The dead are grateful"), of course, then ended on the notion of acting as a follow-your-bliss journey without being sappy. "When I look down at this gold statue. . .no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid."

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WORST: That ‘Real People in Movies’ Montage

The Oscars have always had a weakness for montages, but few have been as back-pattingly annoying as the collection of "everyday heroes" clips from movies in which actors play real-life characters. Hey, we love Serpico and All the President’s Men and Zero Dark Thirty as much as anyone, yet the mix of self-important schlock and awards-bait in this compilation smacked of narcissism. We’re Hollywood, and look how we’ve made the ordinary seem so extraordinary! Yes, we know. No need to keep reminding us. 

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BEST: The Obits Montage

There's always the fear that Oscars will turn this roll call of the recently (and not so recently) deceased into a maudlin sopfest. That was not the case this year, thankfully; tasteful, if mist-filled, pictures of late, great talents like James Gandolfini, Harold Ramis, producer Saul Zaentz, writer Elmore Leonard and critic Roger Ebert played across the screen in a tasteful, respectful manner. And just we'd thought we'd stopped mourning the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, along comes the montage's final shot and we choke up all over again.

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WORST: Bette Midler Hijacking the Obits Montage

Because it's all about you, Bette. (Cue those flapping arms when she sings the "wings" part of "Wind Beneath My Wings.")

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BEST: Bill Murray’s Shout-Out to Harold Ramis

The feud between the Groundhog Day star and his fellow ghostbuster/writer-director pal was well-documented, so it was heartening to hear the irreverent comedian cap off the list of nominees for Best Cinematographer with a shout-out to Ramis. "Sorry, guys" he apologized, after tacking Ramis's name on to the roster. You have nothing to be sorry for, Bill. That was a classy move. 

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BEST: Darlene Love Singing Her Acceptance Speech

The winner of the Best Documentary Award 20 Feet From Stardom was fuelled by the notion that those in the background — literally, as we’re talking about the background singers who helped make dozens of songs hit — deserved a turn in the spotlight. So it was fitting that the legendary Darlene Love got a chance at the podium to strut her stuff. She sung part of a gospel tune with a sense of passion and at a volume that could strip paint off the Dolby Theater’s walls. You can’t relegate a voice like that to the background forever.

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WORST: Kevin Spacey’s WTF Channeling of Frank Underwood

Perhaps you’ve heard that Kevin Spacey plays a wily Southern congressman in the Netflix show House of Cards? Just in case you’d forgotten, the actor decided he’d remind you, going into Frank Underwood’s Southern purr and rhapsodizing about his "Hollywood friends" in the second most obnoxious cross-promotional reference. All this for an intro to the honorary awards that weren’t even part of the ceremony. Not even a Jack Lemmon impersonation at the end of it could stop us from hating that self-satisfied smile or wishing we hadn’t binge-watched your show.

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BEST: Jamie Foxx Slo-mo-ing to ‘Chariots of Fire’ Theme

You lost us at the "Great stories will blow. . .your mind" joke. (Low blow!) Then you totally had us back with the running-in-slo-mo bit while humming the Vangelis theme from Chariots of Fire, while your co-presenter Jessica Biel tries to keep a straight face as she reads the nominees for Best Score. (Nice recovery, Foxx!)

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BEST: ‘Frozen’s’ Rhyming Acceptance Speech for Best Song

"Idina Menzel!" "Kristen Bell!" "Jennifer Lee!" "Peter Del Vecho!" "Happy Oscars to you!" "Let's do Frozen 2!" Also, congratulations on scoring the EGOT, Robert Lopez.

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WORST: Ellen’s Monologue

It's a tough gig, doing the opening monologue of the Oscars. DeGeneres had done it once before, in 2007. Back then, she used her well-honed sense of timing to make things go by oh-so-smoothly; this go-round felt a little rockier, as she took toothless digs at Jared Leto being the prettiest person there and saying that the Somalian nominee Barkhad Abdi was a "sommelier." Even when she did manage to land a joke, like telling Jonah Hill that his risqué performance in The Wolf of Wall Street "showed me something I have not seen in  a very long time," she felt the need to follow it up with "Get it?" Yes, we get it! It was DOA from the get-go, though thankfully she saved her one real zinger for last. "Possibility Number One: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility Number Two: You’re all racists."

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BEST: ‘Gravity’s’ Sweep of the Tech Awards

Four-and-a-half years in the making, Alfonso Cuarón's intimate epic about being lost in space was truly a breakthrough achievement in filmmaking — so seeing the film sweep the technical awards and watching a host of folks who labored behind the scenes finally get their well-deserved round of applause was heartening. Cuarón also nabbed the Best Director award, saying that it "was a transformative experience" for everyone involved. If nothing else, Gravity proved that there are some stories you need to go to the theater to experience — and these tech guys were the ones who made it happen.

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WORST: Idina Menzel Oversings ‘Let It Go’

Onscreen, this Broadway show-ready ode to empowerment is a showstopper; singing it live at the Oscars, the Wicked star turned the whole song into one long yell, working both the sustained high notes and the tamer parts of the verses with the exact same lets-put-on-show gusto. This is what trying way to hard looks like.

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BEST: Italy’s ‘The Great Beauty’ Winning Best Foreign-Language Film

It was quick, it was heartfelt, it was a well-deserved win (so nice to see Italy award a film not involving Roberto Benigni and the Holocaust) and he thanked Federico Fellini and Martin Scorsese. The Great Beauty is a biting portrait of excess. Director Paolo Sorrentino’s speech was the exact opposite, both gracious and full of brevity. Bravo!

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WORST: Jennifer Lawrence’s Awkward Hostility

"Why are you laughing?" the star asked as she strode up to the podium to hand out the Best Actor award. Somebody in the audience was apparently giggling; J-Law was having none of it and called the gentleman out, saying, "I've got my eye on you." The only thing was, viewers at home had no idea who it was or what was going on. We love it when you get all unpredictable in interviews and on the red carpet, J-Law. We even don't mind it when you trip — twice in two years. But maybe the moment just called for you to ignore whomever out there was giving you grief and just move on.

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