Heading into Sunday night's 86th Academy Awards broadcast, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity were widely considered the frontrunners. And, indeed, the two films ended up divvying up many of the night's biggest prizes. Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave took three awards, including the coveted Best Picture statue (notably the first time it's ever been awarded to a film helmed by a black director), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Gravity landed seven awards, including Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron) and virtually all the technical trophies for editing, cinematography, sound and special effects. Matthew McConaughey was named Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, and Cate Blanchett went home with the corresponding Best Actress statue for her part in Blue Jasmine.
McConaughey, in his acceptance speech, was either thanking God or himself when he said, "First off, I want to thank God, because He's the one I look up to, He's graced my life with opportunities which I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late [British actor] Charlie Laughton, who said, 'When you got God, you got a friend—and that friend is you.'"
Seth MacFarlane's raunchy shtick (as last year's host) gave way to Ellen DeGeneres' more kindly casualness as she ordered and distributed pizza to the audience, and took a group selfie with movie stars. (The pic reportedly crashed Twitter and has become the most retweeted image in the social network's history.) [hollywoodreporter.com, 3/2/14; foxnews.com, 3/2/14]
"We have to believe that this stuff matters, that there is real monetary value to chasing awards. But there is a creeping feeling that consumers increasingly don't care."
—an unidentified movie executive, discussing the dearth of moviegoing interest in Oscar-nominated fare this year [nytimes.com, 2/20/14 stats]
12 Years a Slave is set to become part of some public high schools' curriculum related to slavery, according to the National School Boards Association. The graphic R-rated film, along with the 1853 memoir that inspired it, will be distributed to American history teachers, with TV talk show host Montel Williams reportedly funding the effort. [time.com, 2/24/14]
Satan showed up in The Bible miniseries, but went missing when the feature film adaptation titled Son of God arrived in theaters. The movie made a very respectable (estimated) $26.5 million on opening weekend. But why was the devil dismissed? Partly because controversy had swelled around what some saw as the character's resemblance to President Barack Obama. Says producer Roma Downey in USA Today, "I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want His name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting room floor. This is now a movie about Jesus, the Son of God, and the devil gets no more screen time, no more distractions."
Meanwhile, the video for Katy Perry's No. 1 hit "Dark Horse" has been altered on YouTube, with the name Allah being digitally removed from a man's pendant. A petition on change.org to have the video removed altogether was eventually signed by 60,000 people. That didn't happen, but the edit was subsequently made by either Perry's record label or by YouTube. That action, of course, has stirred up more controversy. "The image of the pendant goes by so fast it's almost impossible to even notice," says Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center. "YouTube isn't perfect, but this is ridiculous. Just as Muslims were outraged by portrayals in South Park, they are outraged by this. Meanwhile, Christians are criticized, abused, parodied, persecuted and worse on a daily basis in the news and entertainment media." [foxnews.com, 2/27/14]
"As you run your personal boycott of Hollywood, remember this. Almost everyone else you know—be it family, friends, business associates and, most especially, your children—is not. They are consuming Hollywood entertainment in mammoth gulps. And politics, as the late Andrew Breitbart said repeatedly (and he was far from the only one), is downstream of culture. You give up Hollywood and you give up the country. Game over. And as we all know, it's almost over already."
—novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon, who also added, "Now more than ever is the time for conservatives and libertarians to take back at least some of the entertainment industry" [pjmedia.com, 2/28/14]
"I was sold [on participating in the X-Men franchise] by [director] Bryan [Singer], who said, 'Mutants are like gays. They're cast out by society for no good reason.' And, as in all civil rights movements, they have to decide: Are they going to take the Xavier line—which is to somehow assimilate and stand up for yourself and be proud of what you are, but get on with everybody—or are you going to take the alternative view—which is, if necessary, use violence to stand up for your own rights. And that's true. I've come across that division within the gay rights movement."
—74-year-old actor Ian McKellen, who's portrayed the mutant Magneto in the X-Men films, as well as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies) [huffingtonpost.com, 2/27/14]
New research suggests that social media engagement may be undermining our ability to think critically for ourselves. Iyad Rahwan, an honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh and associate professor of computing and information science at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology recently conducted a study that involved asking participants a series of trick questions. One group answered the questions in isolation, while a second group was allowed to see the answers of other people in a simulated social network. Those in the second group often changed their answers after seeing other responses, while those who answered the questions in isolation were unlikely to change them. The results prompted Rahwan to note, "We think people are unwilling to reflect more because it takes time and effort, and in daily life, we don't have the luxury of time to verify everything." Daily Mail reporter Fiona Macrae adds, "[Rahwan] said that while we have long learned from others, there is a danger that the rise of information-sharing websites such as Twitter and Facebook will make us rely more and more on the opinions of others. This could erode our ability to think critically and make us lazy because we assume that there will always be someone else who knows the answer." [dailymaill.co.uk, 2/4/14 c&e]
According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 87% of U.S. adults are now online—the highest level ever recorded by pollsters. Among those adult users, 90% say the Internet has been good for them personally, with 76% saying that the Internet is a good thing for society as a whole and 57% saying it would be "very hard" to give it up. Interestingly, for most of those same adult Internet users, getting rid of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram wouldn't be all that big of a deal—only 11% thought losing social media would cause any kind of hardship. [huffingtonpost.com, 2/27/14 stats]