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Oscars '14: The pizza man rings twice

Ellenphone300rThe 86th Academy Awards, broadcast for what seemed like forever on ABC Sunday night, was not my first Oscar rodeo.

I've watched them with hopeful but focused eyes for more years than I care to tally and covered them live twice.  That includes once when the NBC News Channel was fearless enough to place yours truly on the red carpet to schmooze celebs on their way in and out back to console the less fortunate and  congratulate the winners on their way out.

I'm proud to say I never once asked a starlet, "Who are you wearing?," which may have something to do with the fact that NBC hasn't rung me up for a return assignment.

I've seen Bob Hope and Billy Crystal dazzle, David Letterman fail miserably (1995), Whoopi Goldberg do OK three times, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin have fun (2010), James Franco and Anne Hathaway stink up the place (2011) and Ellen DeGeneres brighten up a large room with about a billion people around the world watching.

But that was 2007, when The Departed won four awards, including Best Picture.  Fast-forward to Sunday night (if we must) and two things happened that I never thought I'd see on an Academy Awards telecast:

In an ironic twist that mirrored what was probably going on in millions of homes around the world, the  Oscar telecast virtually halted to order-in some pizzas.

Even more of a shocker for me, though, was that Ellen (DeGeneres no longer necessary, thank you) had an off night.  I agree completely with the Hollywood Reporter review of the telecast that Ellen, so confident and genial on her afternoon TV gabfest, just wasn't hitting on all comic cylinders Sunday night.

Anyone can have an off night.  Heck, I was having one.  The surprise for me was that one of our most gifted comics, or perhaps the committee of writers, felt compelled to Seth MacFarlane (last year's failed host) it down into caustic dark comedy almost from the get-go.

Referring to Liza Minnelli as a Liza Minnelli impersonator and calling one of the truly great performers "sir" confirmed to me that it would be a very long evening and that someone other than Ellen determined the tone of the comedy.

Pizza350lNote to Ellen:  Next time, if there is one, do what Billy Crystal has done over and over.  Trust your gut when it comes to comedy and, most importantly, write (or at least control) your own material. 

A quick check with David Letterman could have warned Ellen of the pitfalls of treating the 3,300 or so odd mix of Hollywood young bucks, semi-elderly and elderly members of the Academy and their guests seated in the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood (formerly the Kodak Theater) like devout followers of their popular TV show.

The awards themselves, once the show finally got around to them, turned out to be a diverse bag that saw 12 Years a Slave take Best Picture and Supporting Actress honors (Lupita Nyong'o), Gravity suck in lots of technical trophies (seven in all) and Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron taking home a directing golden statuette. (Click for list of winners.)

It was good to see Texan Matthew McConaughey grab the Best Actor honor for losing a ton of weight and getting under the withering skin of an AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club.


There were other bright spots, of course.

Bette Midler brought a hush over the crowd with a chilling performance of Wind Beneath My Wings as the In Memoriam tribute faded behind her.

From this aisle seat, though, the highlight came when Lupita Nyong'o, a 31-year-old Yale School of Drama grad born to Kenyan parents in Mexico but raised primarily, according to published reports, in Kenya, took the stage to accept her Supporting Actress award.

No pizza was ordered.

She didn't pause to whip out her cell phone and snap a "selfie."  Nyong'o exploded with joy, pride and respect and thanked everyone who helped her get to the most coveted spot in show business.

(Click this link.)

(Photo credits:  Ellen DeGeneres with phone and Lupita Nyong'o backstage, cbs.com/Ellen's pizza party, Los Angeles Times)











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