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Cate Blanchett in Armani Prive

Charlize Theron in black Dior

OSCARS 2014: The Last Word
A Review of the 86th Annual Academy Awards

- By Diane Clehane

All right. All right. All right.

Sure it went on about a half hour too long but on balance (and admittedly, the grading curve is steep), it was one of the most enjoyable Oscar broadcasts in a long, long time.

Yes, at times, it felt like the awards were a version of host’s Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show on steroids, but there were so many moments of pure fun from Pharrell Williams’ downright joyous performance of “Happy” to the taking of the supersized celebrity selfie of all-time that set a record for retweets (2.3 million) that it all worked for the most part. (We’re not sure how we feel about the pizza bit, though). For her second stint as Oscar host, DeGeneres kept the energy level high and managed to engage the A-list crowd throughout. If only she’d gotten John Travolta to come to rehearsal.

Like every Oscar broadcast, there were the requisite emotional moments, but last night they seem to come just when the evening needed a lift. The first, of course, was Jared Leto’s pitch perfect acceptance speech which was textbook which hit all the right notes. This year’s award show darling, Lupita Nyong’o, radiated happiness when she took to the stage to receive her Oscar for her first film role and you could feel the audience rooting for her. In a year when a seemingly inordinate number of film industry heavyweights were lost, the “In Memoriam” segment was tender and deeply felt particularly by Bette Midler (I knew “Wind Beneath My Wings” was in the offing when she told preshow host Ryan Secrest she was there to perform for the first time).

Of all the lovely moments in last night’s broadcast, I found Pink’s gorgeous rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” set against a giant screen of the film’s most iconic images to be the best. It was positively magical. This year’s musical performances were all top notch. We’ve come a long way from the eye rolling performances and terrible dance numbers that were once the most dubious hallmark of the awards. See, I told you this was one of the best Oscars in a while.

So let’s talk fashion now, shall we? After days of biblical rain, peeks of sun came out in time for the A-list arrivals . Lest you think that we weather weary New Yorkers are the only ones who have been battered by the elements, a little birdie told me that several nominees had to make some last minute wardrobe changes when their care packages from designers got stuck in the black hole between LAG and LAX. One source told me: “There were more than a few hysterical stylists and actresses this weekend who were frantic waiting for dresses that were really really late. One nominee decided to switch designers because they just got too nervous at the last minute.”

No word on why two of the most fashion savvy women who have dazzled this awards season – Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence – did not deliver the wow factor as expected. Yes, they all looked pretty – but I expected MORE. It’s the Oscars, for Pete’s sake. Surely they had ample time to choose a dress for Hollywood’s biggest night. Cate Blanchett’s intricately beautiful black Armani Prive she wore to the Globes was so much more regal than the heavy looking, too pale dress from the designer that did not photograph well at all. Jennifer Lawrence, paid to wear Dior Couture, chose a strapless red column with a peplum (and, inexplicably fell again – this time on the red carpet). A surprising choice since she has worn a red column on Oscar’s red carpet before when she was first nominated for “Winter’s Bone.”

Of all the actresses who walked Oscar’s red carpet, there was probably more anticipation about what Lupita Nyong’o than anyone else. Her Grecian goddess ‘Nairobi blue’ Prada accessorized with a diamond headband from Fred Leighton was lovely, but it didn’t dazzle like the absolutely perfect red Ralph Lauren dress and cape she wore for the Golden Globes. But when she won her Oscar it hardly mattered. She absolutely glowed with happiness – and when she left the stage with the evening’s most coveted accessory hoisted over her head, she was the queen of the night.

The evening’s best dressed actress was Sandra Bullock who stunned in a navy Alexander McQueen. The Best Actress nominee’s makeup and cascading hair were absolutely flawless.

Other stand-outs: Charlize Theron, who never gets it wrong, looked impossibly glamorous in her intricately beautiful black Christian Dior. Last year, she dazzled in a sculpted white Dior. Of course, it would be next to impossible to make this statuesque woman look anything close to average but she still manages to hit it out of the park every time. Kate Hudson showed off her killer body in an elegant and sexy Versace Atelier. Naomi Watts sparkled in white Calvin Klein and a Bulgari ‘statement’ necklace. And Amy Adams looked so chic --and comfortable -- in a strapless navy column from Gucci accessorized with colorful Tiffany drop earrings. It’s a tie for Best Dressed Pregnant Actress: Olivia Wilde looked beautiful in Valentino and Kerry Washington was perfect is Jason Wu.

In the spirit of this “Happy” Oscars, I’m not going to call out the misses. I’m sure by now we all know who they are .

Lupita Nyong'o in customized Prada and
Fred Leighton jewels

Kerry Washington

Here’s my minute-by-minute recap of last night’s highs and lows:

8:30 Ellen DeGeneres opens the show over the strains to ‘Hooray for Hollywood “It’s been a tough couple of days for us here … it’s been raining.” Ellen tells what was probably her only seemingly mean-spirited joke of the evening : “One of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators is here too .. Good job, sir.” Liza laughed, but the crowd did really know how to take it. Onward …

8:35 Ooooh, Leonardo DiCaprio looks so handsome – and he brought his mom as his date.

8:38 Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins: separated at birth? No, but I bet they wished they were separated in the theater. Their Armani and Valentino dresses seen side by side make them look like cousins who shopped at Neiman Marcus together for a Westchester wedding. The night’s biggest fashion disaster.

8:39 Jonah Hill is the subject of a very funny dirty joke. Good one, Ellen.

8:43 Jared Leto wins a much deserved best supporting actor Oscar and dedicates his award to his mother. “I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.” He goes on to give one of the most eloquent Oscar acceptance speeches of all time acknowledging AIDs patients as well as reminding the audience of those suffering in Ukraine and Venezuela. Well done.

8:47 Jim Carey has apparently escaped from the witness protection program.

8:50 The audience erupts with applause when Pharrell Williams – and that hat -- performs “Happy.” This Oscars feels like Ellen’s show on steroids when he goes into the audience and dances with Meryl, Lupita and Amy Adams and gets the crowd on its feet. Fun!

8:58 Catherine Martin wins her third Oscar for Costume Design for her work on “The Great Gatsby.” How can such a brilliant costumer choose such a hideous dress for such a huge moment? Discuss.

9:00 Naomi Watts is forced to utter: “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” when reciting the names of the nominees for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.

9:02 Is Harrison Ford shrinking?

9:09 Angelina Jolie manages to steal the show at Oscars. This time in the commercial for her upcoming film Malenficent. Wow.

9:10 For some unexplained reason, Kim Novak is presenting with Matthew McConaughey. I always feel a little sad when screen icons from the past attempt some awkward repartee with their co-presenter.

9:17 Oh my God! What happened to Bill Murray?!?

9:30 Kate Hudson looks dazzling in a dress definitely not from Ann Taylor. Cut to nice shot of proud mama Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

9:35 I love John Stamos but what is he doing there?

9:41 Kevin Spacey acknowledges Jean Hersholt Award winner Angelina Jolie who received her Oscar along with other recipients Angela Lansbury and Steve Martin. Who’s the genius that decided to give those awards at a separate untelevised event? Judging by the clips of their acceptance speeches, tonight’s viewers missed some truly incredible moments. Bad call.

9:54 I hope Brad Pitt’s unfortunate hairstyle is for a film. He introduces U2 who performs “Ordinary Love,” the nominated song from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” The crowd gives them a standing ovation. This year’s Oscars have better musical performances than the Grammys.

10:02 Ellen takes what is to become the most retweeted selfie ever. Funny or borderline annoying? Ask me in two hours …

10:11 A star is born. Lupita Nyong’o wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “12 Years a Slave” and gives a wonderfully heartfelt and extraordinarily poised acceptance speech.

10:21 Ellen begins serving pizza to the audience. Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Channing Tatum, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kerry Washington dig in. At this rate, she’s also going to be serving breakfast, but no one seems to care. Then she remembers she has no money. “Where’s Harvey Weinstein?”

10:27 Bill Murray gives a sweet shout out to his longtime friend Harold Ramis, who died last week, when announcing the name of the nominees for the cinematography Oscar.

10:34 Pink, in a glittering red ruby gown, sings “Over the Rainbow” in a stirring tribute to “The Wizard of Oz” and gets a standing ovation. Gorgeous.

10:53 A dignified and restrained Glenn Close introduces the “In Memoriam” segment. John Williams’ haunting theme from “Somewhere in Time” serves as the soundtrack. James Gandolfini is first in the segment and, as expected, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the last. Afterwards, Bette Midler appears on stage in front of a somewhat eerie set of Oscar figures and sings “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Clearly overwhelmed after getting through the song, she starts to address the audience as the show cuts away to the commercial. It’s okay if you teared up, I did.

11:08 John Travolta and his toupee mangle Idina Menzel’s name as he announces her performance of “Let It Go.” He calls her ‘Adele Dazeem.’ Come on, man! Afterwards, Ellen, re-pronounces her name correctly. Remember when he used to be cool? I know, it was a long time ago.

11:22 Ellen passes Pharell’s hat for pizza money and gets a few bucks from Harvey Weinstein and Brad Pitt among others but she pockets Lupita’s lip balm (“Your stock just went up”). I’m sure this will become a running bit on her show this week.

11:23 Penelope Cruz must have been in a hurry tonight. She takes to the stage with Robert DeNiro wrapped her in pink bed sheets.

11:32 Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier announce Alfonso Cuaron as Best Director for “Gravity.” He thanks “the wise guys” and then charmingly corrects himself and offers he meant “the wise people.”

11:41 Daniel Day Lewis presents the Best Actress Oscar to Cate Blanchett who acknowledges her fellow nominees saying she knows how “random” and “subjective” winning is. She goes on (and on) thanking everyone she’s ever known but also brilliantly makes the point that films starring women “make money.” Her shot at Gravity’s running time seems a bit snarky, don’t you think?

11:48 Jennifer Lawrence takes to the stage – and doesn’t fall. She presents the Best Actor Oscar to Matthew McConaughey who thanks God (“It’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocate”), family and his older, wiser self. Somewhere, some enterprising soul is printing T-shirts with ‘All right, all right, all right’ emblazoned across the front. McConaughey is officially the coolest guy in Hollywood.

11:56 Will Smith announces “12 Years A Slave” as Best Picture and Brad Pitt becomes Hollywood’s newest elder statesman. Poor Steve McQueen can barely get through his list of names to thank but when he literally jumps for joy on stage, he says all he needs to.

Grade: A- for the show; B+ for the fashion

- Diane Clehane is Lookonline’s Entertainment Editor. She is the author of several New York Times best sellers and is currently at work on a novel. She also writes about fashion, entertainment and pop culture for many other outlets including Forbes and mediabistro.com. For more information go to dianeclehane.com. Email her at DClehane@aol.com

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