Anna Lisa Raya, Diane Haithman, and Anthony D’Alessandro are contributing to Deadline’s Oscar coverage.
Related: OSCARS: Deadline’s Live Blog
So did the 12 Years A Slave team contemplate a potential best pic loss tonight? According to producer and co-star Brad Pitt — it didn’t matter if they won or lost. 12 Years A Slave in and of itself is a benchmark in cinematic history, unlike many films being made today. Asserted Pitt, “I love this story. It’s a historical story of man in an inhumane situation finding freedom. It’s an important film because it deals with our history that hasn’t been shown on screen. It’s important that we understand this era as it explains who we were, so we can better understand who we are now. The film is a gentle reminder that we’re all equal and want dignity for ourselves and for our families.” Fielding a question about how 12 Years A Slave has evolved cinema about African-Americans in the south since Gone With The Wind 75 years ago, McQueen exclaimed, “It’s obviously a progression. The background characters are now in the foreground and now they’re being recognized. It’s indicative of what’s going on; how people are ready for this narrative and how they want to look at this history. It’s like Brad said, ‘If you don’t know your past, we don’t know our future.'” Speaking about 12 Years‘ momentum around the world, producer Dede Gardner pointed out how Solomon Northup’s book is now available in high school libraries throughout the country after being out of print, while producer Jeremy Kleiner said, “the universality of the film’s story has broken down ideological concepts of what is a domestic and what is an international story.”
Related: OSCARS: The Complete Winners List
Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett received a standing ovation upon accepting her award for best actress in a leading role. “Sit down, you’re too old,” she chastised the audience. She thanked each of her fellow nominees individually and received thunderous applause for her jab, “To those of us in the industry that are still foolishly clinging to the idea that films with women at the center are ‘niche,’ they, in fact, earn money.” After stepping gingerly to the press room riser—her Armani Prive dress looked like it weighed a ton—Blanchett joked that “This is an auction, I’m going to the highest bidder.” She continued something she mentioned in her acceptance speech, commenting on how “the creative industries in Australia are phenomenally wealthy with talent.” Tonight she joins Catherine Martin in representing her native country with her second Oscar win (she took home a golden guy for The Aviator in 2005). “Roles like this don’t come along very often,” Blanchett said. “It was a real synthesis for me of the long, deep connection I’ve had with the theater. I thank Woody Allen and the script that he wrote for providing that forum for making that synethesis happen.” When asked about how it felt to be the frontrunner in this category ever since Jasmine debuted in August, Blanchett said the pressure was “intense and unbearable, I’m so glad it’s over.”
So, the golden rule backstage at the Oscars is that the official language is English for all Q&As. This law was heavily enforced this year as well as last year after the entire press corps were left clueless following The Artist‘s wins two years ago: No one could understand what anyone was saying because the entire exchange between winners and journos was in French. Hence, a certain portion of Alfonso Cuaron‘s time backstage was spent reining in the Spanish-speaking media to translate their questions. Who can blame them? Mexican pride was on fire thanks to his win. “You’re trending right now!” shouted one Mexican journalist to Cuaron, “People are saying (on Twitter) ‘Viva Mexico Cuarones!'” While Cuaron is thankful for the country’s support he never considered Gravity to be a Mexican film, especially because it was shot in Great Britain. “The Mexican cinema I support, and want to see, are those films that deal with Mexican subject matters, are shot in Mexico, and are made by Mexican filmmakers,” said the director. The fact that Gravity didn’t win the big prize, is no skin off Cuaron’s nose. “For me, tonight marks a closure for Gravity. It has been a fantastic, long process,” said Cuaron.
Matthew McConaughey never seems to get tired of talking about Dallas Buyers Club and was still rarin’ to go backstage at the Oscars. “It feels … I’m not going to say surreal, I did not expect it, but it’s a bit of the end of the journey with this film, the script came across my desk four years ago,” he said of his award. “No one wanted to make it for 20 years, it got turned down 137 times.” He talked about the momentum the film had gained in recent months and praised the Oscar-winning makeup and hairstyling team: “They were stealing charcoal and stuff to do our makeup,” the actor said. A journalist backstage asked McConaughey how he feels about his growing “McConaissance.” Laughing, McConaughey said the term had first come up at Sundance and at the time he thought: “I don’t know what that is, but it sounds good.” He said that after taking a couple of years off he was determined to start doing work “that scared the hell out of me…I’ve been more process-oriented than I ever had been. I go for the experience.”
Talk about working the room. Jared Leto received two deafening cheers in the Loews’ air hanger-like press area. It all started when Leto allowed his Best Supporting Actor Oscar trophy to be passed around the front. “You can take a selfie with that,” he told one reporter manhandling the trophy, to which the publicist in the room reminded him, “They can’t take cell phone photos back here.” “Well, if you wanna get the media, you gotta let the media do what they do,” Leto retorted to the room’s publicist. At which point, the media room erupted in a cheers. Leto’s statement also served to support a point he was making in regards to why he and Matthew McConaughey always take a social rights soapbox in their awards acceptance speeches. “When one takes the stage, you have an opportunity to make it about yourself or shine a light. (Venezuela and the Ukraine) are global issues that impact us. My band (Thirty Seconds to Mars) has a show in the Ukraine in a couple of weeks. We had a show planned for Venezuela. These are social issues that effect us in an immediate way,” said the actor. “Who’s your favorite nominee tonight?” Leto asked the room again to great cheers after which he observed that the numbered question-system in the press room was just “like Bingo.” Seguing the discussion to his fellow hair and make-up Oscar winners on Dallas Buyers Club, Leto explained, “They literally had a budget of $250 and they worked the hardest. They are the first to set. They show up at the crack-ass of dawn and they leave at the crack-ass of dawn.”
As opposed to Jared Leto backstage who was quite lucid in using his Oscar win as a political box, Lupita Nyong’o was so gobsmacked, she was a mixture of social statements and awards season tales. “I feel like Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory,” said the 12 Years A Slave actress. First, Nyong’o explained what she meant in her acceptance speech when she mentioned “the spirit of the dead.” “I feel director Steve McQueen has readily honored a people that have been unsung for a long time,” said Nyong’o. When asked by one reporter, “What journey are you going to take now so that you can understand the human spirit?,” Nyong’o was stumped. “Hmmm, that’s a tough one,” the actress said, “All I know is that I don’t have to be anyone but myself.” What the actress has been flattered by is how her native country, Kenya, has been so supportive of her during Oscar season. “I stumbled upon this Instagram of people holding up a good luck sign of support,” said Nyong’o, “the fact that I won so many hearts, that’s incredible.” But the best advice Nyong’o received on her path to Oscar, which has taken to heart greatly: “The outcome doesn’t matter. The work has been done and you’ve already won. It’s my deeds that are more important than my fame.”
The trio behind Frozen, Disney’s Oscar-winning best animated feature film—Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho—were all first-time award recipients. Del Vecho and Lee are one-for-one (this was their first nomination), but Buck has been nominated previously in 2004 for the animated Surf’s Up. On stage, he thanked their “guardian angel,” his son Ryder, who was killed in a freeway car accident last October. Backstage, the winners said their collaboration with the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez consisted of daily, hours-long video conferences over the span of 14 months. When they heard “Let It Go” for the first time, Lee described it as “a game changer. We went back and rewrote the movie.” Lee hasn’t quite wrapped her head around the leaps and bounds she’s made since writing the 2012 animated Oscar nominee Wreck-It Ralph. “I think I’ll understand it a few months from now,” she said. “Working with these guys (Buck and Del Vecho) has been heaven. Working for Disney has been a dream come true for me.” Buck commented on the universal appeal of Frozen, the songs of which have appeared in numerous YouTube fan videos. “We watched all the YouTubes,” he said. “To watch (“Let It Go”) have a sort of a slow climb… and then it became an anthem. We love the song and the fact that the world has taken it and made it their own is unbelievable.” The trio was mum about their plans for a stage version of Frozen. “We’re in the early stages of development,” Lee said. They’ll take a break after the film continues to open internationally and then “start looking at it.”
Backstage, first-time winner Spike Jonze was asked how it felt to win a screenwriting Oscar when he has been primarily known as a director (he wrote, directed and produced Her). “I don’t think I could have written a screenplay when I was younger,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m really ready to write what’s in my heart and what I have to say. That’s going to be the next chapter.” Jonze said that the screenplay for Her came out of a desire to write about a relationship with a artificial intelligence entity and also and idea to write about relationships in general. “Ultimately I was more inspired to write about relationships, intimacy, the challenge of intimacy,” he said. Jonze was asked to address the controversy of voice performer Scarlett Johansson not being eligible for an acting nomination. Said Jonze, “I don’t know enough about how the academy decides that … I know I loved what she did, I was moved and affected by watching her create that character, even if it was just a voice.”
12 Years A Slave scribe John Ridley was emotional as he accepted his award for best adapted screenplay, thanking those who supported him since his start as a sitcom writer. Backstage, he kept up his praise for Solomon Northrup, whose memoir was the basis for the film. “The praise goes to Solomon. It’s his words and his life,” he said. When asked about being only the second African-American to win a screenwriting Academy award, Ridley said he was grateful to his parents, and again, to Northrup, and hoped he could just be an inspiration to others. “Solomon wrote a memoir that in certain parts of the country was a death sentence,” Ridley said. “I know a lot of people made this opportunity (possible). I’m very proud and very humble. I may only be the second (African-American), but I know there are all kinds of people, of all stripes, with stories to tell.” Ridley said one of the biggest challenges in writing the script had to do with its antiquated language. “The English that was used, that was the hardest thing,” he said. “Solomon was an exquisite writer. Trying to learn an English that was not my English was a challenge. It was an education in the circumstances and the politics.”
Catherine Martin nabbed her third Oscar out of six nominations (two this year alone for her work on The Great Gatsby; she’s also nominated for production design). She thanked the seamstresses who’ve worked with her during the past 20-plus years and currently are working on Strictly Ballroom: The Musical—the stage version of her husband and collaborator Baz Lurhmann’s first film—which will begin previews later this month ahead of an April bow at the Sydney Lyric Theater. When asked about her double nominations tonight and the collaborative effort involved in being both the costume and production designer on Gatsby, Martin talked about how “the language of clothes and the language of environment work hand in hand as storytelling tools in what is a visual medium,” she said. “It’s certainly something Baz (Luhrmann) considers down to the last detail. Clothes become an indicator of who the person is, what they’re doing, how they’re feeling and where they are. The most successful visual interpretations are ones that are collaborative. It’s quite good to be the same person, even though it can be schizophrenic because you’re arguing with yourself.” Martin talked more backstage about her team with whom she’s worked for more than two decades, consisting of a tailor, a cutter and a milliner, among others. “I often walk into the room and just think, ‘Isn’t my crew getting old. And then I realize I’m getting old,’” she said about the length of the partnership. “When we got the nomination (for Gatsby), there were people who had worked with me since before Moulin Rouge, so this was their third nomination. I have a team that’s very consistent.”
Onstage, makeup and hairstyling winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews were serious as they dedicated their award to “All the victims of AIDS.” Backstage, their attitude was lighter as they joked about plans to sleep with their Oscars. They also gave some details on how they stretched a costume and makeup budget of a total of about $325 into an Oscar. Said Mathews: “Everybody knows they (the lead actors) lost almost 50 pounds, (it was a) labor of love. (We thought) They are bringing their A game — we have to do it for them.” The women said they never met Jared Leto as Jared — he came to them in character. When he was asked: “What do you think about waxing your eyebrows?” he replied: “I just waxed my whole body, why not go for broke? (But) sweetheart, do it quick.” Mathews told a story about how she was able to create the effect of a rash common to AIDS sufferers with the odd combination of cornmeal and grits applied to Conaughey’s face. “(I said) I can’t put cornmeal and grits on your face, dude,” Mathews says. “Matthew said, ‘you have to do this’. I’m really glad it worked out. I thought it might be the end of my career.”
Helium director Anders Walter and producer Kim Magnusson kept it brief at the press mike, with the latter expounding on his inspiration for their short about a dying boy’s fantasies of a magical world: “This film celebrates building imaginary worlds, which is a beautiful thing to do in order to ease pain,” said Magnusson, “If life gets too hard for you, it’s a fantastic way to escape. I always wanted to tell my story on that theme.”
When accepting the award for best documentary short subject, filmmaker Malcolm Clarke paid homage to Alice Herz Sommer, the centenarian who was at the center of The Lady In Number 6, who died a week ago. Her story as the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and how music helped her survive her ordeal was an inspiration to Clarke and his cohort Nicholas Reed. Backstage, Clarke admitted that Sommer’s death came as a surprise. “I was in New York last week at an Academy screening and there was a question from the floor about how she was doing. Foolishly I said great,” he said. “For the past three years she’s been amazing, healthy and vital and funny. What I didn’t know was that she had just gone into hospital two nights before that, feeling a little sick. And the machine just stopped. She died quietly in her sleep. It’s been a very rough and strange and surreal week for Nicholas (Reed) and I. We’ve been celebrating being nominated while mourning her death.” Reed added: “She passed peacefully and she wasn’t in pain. She passed the way she lived her life, which was beautifully poetic.” Clarke talked about he almost didn’t make this film. “I was told about (Sommer) for three years before I met her,” he said. “For three years I refused to meet her. I had made a Holocaust film 10 years ago called Prisoner In Paradise. I didn’t want to make another Holocaust film. I didn’t want to go into that space again. Dealing with that material was really rough. Finally I was in London on business and a friend said to go meet with her. That changed everything. I came back to Montreal and said to my crew, ‘We’re going to make a movie and we’re going to make it fast and you’re going to work for free because I don’t have time to raise money.” Clarke wasn’t surprised that Sommer not only survived the filmmaking process, but had lived for several years after he was finished. “I actually said I thought she’d outlast us all because she was so remarkable. This (award) is for her.”
Backstage, 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville and producer Caitrin Rogers joked that since the documentary has shone light on the careers of the background singers in the movie, they might have to change the name of the film to just “Stardom.” Said Neville: “Like most documentaries, you make them in dark cubbies for years on end… we finished it right up until we premiered it at Sundance.” He added that the singers featured in the film had not seen it until that moment and had to be talked into coming to this place they’d never heard of in the middle of winter. “They all showed up, there were 12oo people in the theater. We got 5 standing ovations,” Neville recalled. “It was a night that changed all of our lives.”
The film industries in Germany, Spain, and France strive to break beyond their local crowds with their cinema; appealing to a global audience. However, Italy, which has been financially strapped in recent years, has largely satisfied itself with making films for their own folk, as opposed to the era when its revolutionary spaghetti westerns of the ’60s savored a worldwide embrace (Quentin Tarantino wagged a finger at the country in recent times for being flat-footed with its filmmaking). “The Italian movie industry should do more,” said The Great Beauty director Paulo Sorrentino about the country’s limited support for cinema, “I hope this award encourages Italian films to go everywhere.” In capturing the dualism of Rome’s sacred and sacrilegious characteristics, the film’s music was key, particularly in regards to its story which follows a sixty-something playboy venturing through the city’s nightclub scene. “The music had to be a mix of both these elements, as Rome is the center of the Catholic World with the Vatican, but underneath,a profane world exists.”
Related: OSCARS: ‘The Great Beauty’
Skip Lievsay, one of the Oscar-winning sound mixing team from Gravity, also was nominated in this category for the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Backstage, he talked about how “you couldn’t have two more different films,” he said. “They have virtually nothing in common except they were made by fantastic filmmaking teams who were possessed by making dramatic film comes to life.” Despite their obvious dissimilarities, Lievsay added that both films were kind of musicals. Llewyn Davis, about a 1960s-era folk singer, obviously had music at its heart, but Lievsay and his cohorts all reflected on the importance of the music in Gravity, “a movie about space that has a lot of music in it… We had the dreary prospect of having no sound because there’s no air (in space) and then we had this fantastic score that lifted the drama.”
Sound editing winner Glenn Freemantle said that when he first met Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron “he said to me: ‘We are doing this film, and there are no sounds in space — what are we going to do?’ ” Freemantle said the answer was found in taking the sounds directly from star Sandra Bullock, such as the pulse of her heartbeat and breathing. He also stressed the importance of the sound of silence. “When you are silent, you can let yourself take a breath,” he said. He called the film a great collaboration and grinned as he added: “There were a few car crashes along the way, but not too bad.”
Presenter Bill Murray took a quick opportunity to recognize his longtime collaborator Harold Ramis, who passed away suddenly last week. Murray announced Ramis as the sixth nominee in this category, to much applause in the room. Six was the charm for Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who took home his first statuette after being nominated in this category before for Tree Of Life, Children Of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow and The Little Princess. Lubezki thanked his “friend and teacher, Mr. Alfonso Cuaron.” Backstage, Lubezki was joined by Gravity editing winners Cuaron and Mark Sanger, who all took their questions together. “We wanted the movie to look as naturalistically as possible,” Lubezki said of the challenges of lensing a film that relied heavily on computer-generated visual effects. “We were limited because we couldn’t go to space, so we had a library of shots, most of which were from NASA.” Cuaron added that unlike most film production schedules, much of Gravity had to be reverse engineered. “Here’s a film in which the editing, visual effects and cinematography started two years before we started shooting (the film),” he said. “Alfonso created an environment in which all the conventional rules were thrown out,” Sanger added. “That presented a challenge editorially and for all of the crew. What we did in the first 18 months was reinvent those rules and we had the time to do that.” Cuaron took a moment to add something he wanted to elaborate on during his acceptance speech. “A lot of this is thanks to Sandra Bullock. Everything we were doing was honoring (her) performance.”
Catherine Martin is two-for-two tonight, having just won her second Oscar for production design on The Great Gatsby, which she shared with set decorator Beverley Dunn. Backstage, it was mentioned that she’s the most Oscar-winning Australian ever. “I am speechless. I don’t know how I feel about it other than very happy,” Martin said of the honor. “It’s very surreal and strange. These awards aren’t just for Beverley or me, they’re for the hard work in our departments, the nearly 1,200 people that worked with us, the technicians and artisans. It’s bittersweet because I’m only here because of my husband, Baz Luhrmann. He allows us to do our best work by doing things that we could never imagine by ourselves. This is really for him and all those people (in our department).” When asked about the ornateness that goes into a Baz Luhrmann production, Martin added, “In Baz’s world there’s never too much. Perfection is impossible and he always strives to have the fullest image, the most perfect image. It might be about stripping things away or adding things but it’s about trying to tell the story with all the tools that he has.”
Well that’s not fair. The Oscar media room monitor allowed the Gravity sound guys to field several questions, but kept its British composer Steven Price limited to three questions. Keep in mind, the onslaught of acceptance traffic hasn’t even come crashing down back here. Typically, well after the Oscars are over, the backstage reporters are hanging out for another hour as the best director, actor, actress and picture winners flood back. Price had a minute to expound on his inspirations for the sci-fi film: “Given how there’s no sound in space, my canvass was quite wide without any conventions. It was like a ballet, where I was feeling the characters’ choreographers,” added Price about his inspirations.
In its march to a best song Oscar win, Disney held Frozen concerts, sing-alongs, and recorded several international versions of “Let It Go.” But more than a hammer over the head to Academy voters, the song has had a more meaningful impact on moviegoers throughout the world, according to co-songwriter Kristin Lopez. “It’s not uncommon for me everyday to get tweets saying that this song prevented me from committing suicide or this song got me through my kid’s cancer treatment,” said the songwriter. Written with her husband Robert, the songwriters drew their inspiration for the tune from their own daughters Elsa and Anna. “We wanted to instill in them that shame shouldn’t prevent them from being the people who they really are,” said Kristin. On Thursday, she stole the Oscar concert with her performance of “Let It Go” and before letting out one note, Kristin downplayed her crooning power. Ironic considering that the songwriting duo always perform their songs when they’re trying to sell them to the Disney team (and they’ve been quite successful of course). “John Lasseter was playing Kristin’s version of ‘Let It Go’ in his car for the longest time,” said Robert, “we always had visions of him getting stopped by the state troopers for speeding to our song.”
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