No one, not even Mother Nature, was going to rain on Hollywood’s parade.
The weather held and the stars managed to make it into the 86th Academy Awards Sunday night at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre with their finery unruffled.
It was likely their feathers felt the same, thanks to genial host Ellen DeGeneres.
After the controversial choice of Seth MacFarlane last year, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron went back to their 2007 emcee knowing she would keep the stars laughing instead of making them sweat.
And the comic and talk-show host did just that, delivering an affable monologue that poked the gentlest of fun at the elite on “Hollywood’s Biggest Night,” many of whom feel comfortable with DeGeneres having spent time on her TV couch.
But gentle didn’t mean unfunny. DeGeneres scored several laughs as she went through the list of nominated actors. She teased best supporting actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence for her unfortunate trip-up at last year’s ceremony and then again Sunday night as she headed to the red carpet. “If you win tonight I think we should bring you the Oscar.” She made a Somali/sommelier joke when chatting with best supporting actor nominee Barkhad Abdi of “Captain Phillips,” asking, “Who’s the wine captain now?” She saved her sharpest jab for the end, noting that the night had many possible outcomes, including “12 Years a Slave” winning best picture. “Possibility number 2: You’re all racists.”
DeGeneres continued with her light touch throughout the night, joking with actors in the audience, handing out pizzas, and taking a mammoth selfie with a huge group of stars — including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Lupita Nyong’o — that briefly crashed Twitter thanks to its many retweets.
While many of the speeches were the usual list of thank-yous, a few winners truly stood out.
“I dedicate this award to all of the people who have endured slavery,” said director Steve McQueen after his searing historical drama “12 Years a Slave” won the award for best picture. McQueen even capped his speech by leaping into the air.
As expected, Matthew McConaughey, best actor winner for “Dallas Buyers Club,” did not disappoint, enumerating the three things he needs: something to look up to, something to look forward to, and something to chase. In his speech, he noted that those three things were, respectively, God, his family — including his late father, whom he envisioned dancing in the hereafter with a Miller Lite around a pot of gumbo — and his best self, which he is constantly trying to be.
Best actress winner for “Blue Jasmine” Cate Blanchett gave a feisty speech and made special note to reject the idea that female-driven films are some kind of niche market. “Audiences want to see them and in fact, they earn money,” she said.
When Nyong’o heard her name announced as the winner for best supporting actress for “12 Years a Slave,” the joy on her face was contagious. She took to the stage and gave a moving speech that paid tribute to the real-life slave she plays in the film. “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,” she said. She closed by offering inspiration to young viewers by saying, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
Best supporting actor winner Jared Leto also spoke from the heart, paying tribute to his mother, whom he described as a high school dropout and teen mom who encouraged both of her children to dream and be creative. He also alluded to the political turmoil in the Ukraine and Venezuela saying, “I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen we’re thinking of you tonight.”
Although she technically didn’t win the Oscar herself, singer Darlene Love definitely won the award for most spirited acceptance speech. Love was inspired to break into a rousing bit of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” — and earned a standing ovation for it — after “20 Feet From Stardom” director Morgan Neville accepted the award for best documentary for his film about indispensable but often unknown backing singers, including Love.
Love’s impromptu singing wasn’t the only music during the night. All four of the best song nominees received spotlights. Pharrell Williams also brought the crowd to its feet with his lively performance of “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” the current No. 1 song on the Billboard singles chart. Williams ventured out into the crowd and enticed nominees Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Nyong’o out of their seats to bust a move.
Irish rockers U2 played a stripped- down acoustic version of “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend performed the contemplative ballad “The Moon Song” from “Her,” and Idina Menzel sang the winning tune, “Let It Go,” from “Frozen.”
Pop star Pink paid tribute to “The Wizard of Oz” by singing a stirring rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” and Bette Midler contributed “Wind Beneath My Wings” after the In Memoriam segment, paying tribute to those in the industry who have passed away in the last year.
One person in particular got a lovely shout out from Bill Murray, who went off script during the best cinematography celebration to pay tribute to his former, frequent partner in comedy on films like “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Groundhog Day,” writer-actor-director Harold Ramis.
As is typical, the show ran long but that didn’t inspire anyone in the production to edit out any of the elements of bloat, including a number of montages on this year’s theme, “Heroes.”