E: There’s something a little deflating about an Oscarcast when you don’t really like the film that wins. I don’t expect it to be my favorite film of the year (though obviously that’s the ideal), but it’s still good to like the movie. It’s been since No Country For Old Men that I’ve felt so deflated; this year might be a little more disappointing, even, because while I liked Birdman more than No Country, I loved Boyhood, and was hoping against hope that it could pull out a better showing. Maybe it was that the marvelous Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t as consistently funny as I hoped, or maybe it’s just that the mad season of trying to see all the nominees is done with, but I’m feeling a lot tired, and a little melancholy.
That hopefulness lead me to make my big mistake – thinking that BAFTA and Golden Globe winner Richard Linklater could edge out DGA winner Inarritu. And the thing is, I really like Inarritu, would prefer to be unreservedly happy for him, and wish I liked Birdman better than I did. Ah well. This is definitely one of those years that I wish I could see the voting totals; I’d love to know how close some of these races really were. I still beat Entertainment Weekly by correctly picking the other five of the top six awards – Birdman over Boyhood for Best Picture, Eddie Redmayne over Michael Keaton for Best Actor, and of course Julianne Moore as Best Actress, J.K. Simmons as Supporting Actor and Patricia Arquette as Supporting Actress.
Some of the lesser categories surprised me – Big Hero 6 over How To Train Your Dragon 2, Birdman for original screenplay, and The Grand Budapest Hotel happily beating out Foxcatcher for Best Makeup. This just wasn’t an obvious year, I don’t think. The Academy, as I predicted, spread out their love last night, giving 4 awards each to the two films leading the nomination count, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whiplash took three, and then one a piece to American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Selma, Still Alice, and The Theory of Everything.
Best moments of the night, in no particular order:
1. The musical performances; I enjoyed all of them, particularly “Lost Stars” and “Everything is Awesome.” Also, Adam Levine’s hipster bow tie.
2. I need to give a separate entry to the show-stopping “Glory” – that they recreated the Edmund Pettus bridge on the stage, the huge number of dancers and singers, the lighting, the words, the deep emotion in Common and John Legend. They just brought down the house, and reduced me – along with David Oyelowo and Chris Pine among many in the actual theater – to tears. This might sound obvious, but Common is exceptionally gifted, not merely as a wordsmith but as a performer as well. After the entire evening of mostly unmemorable speeches, you can see how rare it is (even among writers and performers) to be able to put together an inspirational, resonant acceptance speech. He’s got such gorgeous rolling elegance to his words, wrapping up Charlie Hebdou and the Hong Kong protests into a stirring call to do better for freedom here in America. And the fact that Selma, grossly underrepresented among the nominees, managed to win one of its measly two nominations? Outstanding. Though John Legend was less successful, I was still shocked to learn that there are more black men currently incarcerated than there were in slavery.
3. Neil Patrick Harris’s cracks about the nominees representing “the brightest and whitest” and his mention, twice, that David Oyelowo deserved to be nominated. (“Oh, so now you like him.”) So, okay, maybe it’s slightly rude to the actual nominees, but it’s totally true.
4. I was a big fan of the photo-drawings of the stars (and marketing executives) on the In Memoriam list. So, okay, they didn’t include Joan Rivers, who was perhaps most famous for her Oscar red carpet critiques and loopy banter with nominees, and more obviously Oscar-relevant than Nobel Prize winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez; everyone year, someone important gets left out and we’re annoyed. That said, the In Memoriam section pretty much rocked; Jennifer Hudson was a wonderful addition, in a stunning black dress, and Meryl Streep, seriously. Who else can make an awards show introduction so genuinely heartfelt and moving? That was a masterclass in wearing emotion and making the moment feel lived.
5. I loved Pawel Pawlikoska talking through the orchestra after his win for best foreign film. He was funny, and bright. Go Poland, taking home your first win after 10 tries! And now I really want to see Ida.
6. Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews hugging Lady Gaga. Julie Andrews just saying the name Lady Gaga. Unreservedly awesome.
7. The standing ovation for Julianne Moore’s win and her speech – and before that, the look on her face before Matthew McConnaughey called her name. Everyone else was composed (really, that was true of all the nominees all night), but you could see hope in her eyes. With everything she’d won up to that point she had to know what was probably coming, but you could see in that moment how much she was hoping for her dream to come true. On the other hand, in comparison to her previous speeches you could see she’d really thought about what she wanted to say this time. She was extraordinary in Still Alice (see the movie, damn it, it’s so good!) and she’s been so good in so many things for so long, and it’s just so fabulous to see her get her due. I loved her little crack about an Oscar win extending your life by five years (what an interesting statistic), although I wonder if Oscar losses have the reverse effect?
8. Eddie Redmayne. I mean, come on. From the heart warming kiss with his gorgeous wife, to the huge hug with the divine Cate Blanchett, to his bouncy, awkward, shaky little dance with the statuette, it was perfect. As a viewer, you want winning to mean something. You want to be able to see how much it means. It was great.
9. Lego Oscars. Best prop ever.
10. It’s such a fun thing to see a presenter who knows the winner; Jessica Chastain’s delighted howl of “Chivo!” (her Tree of Life cinematographer) was a pleasure to watch. And, I repeat. Alfonso and Alejandro, you need to loan Chivo out to Guillermo Del Toro to get the third Amigo back on the Oscar stage.
11. Income equality and Patricia Arquette! Fantastic. It related to her film — if you’ve seen it, Olivia struggles the entire movie to make a living for her kids — and yes, it’s a factor even in Hollywood, where male actors get far more money for their leading roles. (Witness Jennifer Lawrence being paid a mere 500k for The Hunger Games, even after she’d already been nominated for an Oscar; I’m willing to bet that sitcom supporting actor Chris Pratt got a far fatter check for Guardians of the Galaxy.) And I loved seeing Meryl Streep almost out of her seat, pointing with enthusiasm. Its easy to mock movie stars for taking a stand on an issue that doesn’t affect them to the same level it affects other people (there’d be nothing “mere” about me making 500k for three months work) but it’s relative to their peers, and either way I’d rather that then listening to them thank their agents.
12. Graham Moore. Full disclosure: Moore was pretty much the last person I wanted to win Adapted Screenplay, and I don’t understand why he did. That said, THAT is how to give a speech. It was pithy, inspirational, relevant to his film and powerful, and definitely the most important thing said on that stage last night. If his words stop even one alienated kid from giving in to despair, then what could be more meaningful?
1. It took me about half way through Lady Gaga’s performance to get over my surety that she was going to rip off her shower curtain-like dress and start cavorting around dressed in lemons or something. In a million years, I did not expect a straight out tribute to The Sound of Music, but that’s what it was; I couldn’t help imagining Simon Cowell dinging Gaga for the stilted, theatrical arm raising and face touching, but she sounded terrific. It’s easy to forget, what with the meat dresses and over-the-top theatricality, what a fantastic voice she has.
2. There were a ton of dancers on stage last night (including Alex Wong from So You Think You Can Dance and Smash – that’s how I know they were actual dancers and not just untrained extras) but not a lot of dancing. They were used several times for just walking. I don’t quite know what to feel about that.
3. Man, that was a lot of Neil Patrick Harris to see. It was a fun Birdman tribute, and I particularly loved the merger of Birdman’s drum soundtrack with Whiplash’s Miles Teller, but wow. Kudoes to him — even without a spare centimeter of fat on his body that still can’t have been easy — but, um, those were some tight tightie whities.
4. The lockbox magic trick: meh. I loved that NPH called the Price Waterhouse Cooper guy for being a Matt Damon look alike — Mr. E and I had remarked upon the same thing at the beginning of the show — and that Octavia Spencer brought one of her costars from Red Band Society, the adorable Charlie Rowe, as her plus one. Rowe ended up sitting next to Ansel Elgort, which must have had teenage girls swooning around the globe, so at least there’s that.
5. Using John Travolta and Idina Menzel to give out best song after last year’s much talked about gaffe was pretty genius. “It’s not like it’s going to follow me around for the rest of my life or anything,” Idina grumbled. “Tell me about it,” Travolta commiserated. Too bad he’s now being mocked for being so touchy.
6. Milena Canonera and her trench coat dress and her neck scarf with a lip broach won costume design. You may remember I mentioned that both she and fellow Into the Wood‘s Colleen Atwood went into last night with 9 nominations and 3 wins each. Let’s see if Colleen can tie things back up next year.
7. Did anyone else notice that the words “Academy Award” were almost never uttered? Just odd.
8. You could see the trend toward Birdman early on, when Jack Black leapt to the stage to decry modern Hollywood, particularly hating on Superhero movies. Though Black himself was deliciously fun and electric, I was disheartened to see this theme repeated two or three times later in the evening. I love me some indie movies, but I love the comic books and fantasy films and superheroes, too. As long as you make a good movie, there’s no reason it can’t be also be entertaining, and can’t be taken from any genre.
9. Clumping together the Best Picture nominees just did not work. I can see the temptation to cut down on introductory time, but they’ve got to find a better way, or at the very least better writing to string the nominees together. I’m hoping for better for next year!
And there it is, I guess. I liked the set, particularly the scrim that looked like a movie theater with doors that actually opened. I was maybe less sold on the big metal flowers. Were they supposed to be reminiscent of film reels? Worst fashion of the night? Not a huge fan of colored tuxes, although NPH pulled off the maroon jacket pretty well; I didn’t love Kevin Hart’s white jacket with the black lapel or Jared Leto’s hipster baby blue with white shoes. And while it fit him impeccably, I just don’t understand David Oyelowo’s maroon vest. It bore more than a passing resemblance to a wrestling onesie from Foxcatcher. I could deal with the maroon, even if it wasn’t my favorite, but the vest, man. I also didn’t love Naomi Watts’ daring tube top dress, or the waffle cone bottom of Kerry Washington’s otherwise lovely strapless peplum column with metallic leaves, and I didn’t quite get Marion Cotillard’s polka dots. I can’t entirely decide how I feel about Gwyneth Paltrow’s arm rose, Jennifer Lopez’s extreme cleavage in an otherwise spectacular nude ball gown, or vampy Scarlet Johansson’s teeny tiny waist and huge necklace in an almost matching emerald green. But of course there were plenty of beautiful clothes, from Lupita Nyongo’s pearl gown (that girl knows how to take a huge risk and make it work), Nicole Kidman’s shimmering white column, to Zoe Saldana and Viola Davis in the same putty color, Saldana in a stunning sculptured bodice and Davis in more of a princess gown. Dakota Fanning was stunning in red, Felicity Jones looked rather wonderful in gray, and Emma Stone very fitting in gold. Oh! And Reese Witherspoon, with the black bands over her arms, the aforementioned Jennifer Hudson, and Rosamund Pike in vivid red. Wow.
The Good Wife stars back up on Sunday, and so does March, so you can expect a recap and a monthly movie preview out of me next week. Meanwhile, I’ll be working as well on a piece about the films I consider this year’s best films and performances and why – and will hopefully finish a long gestating piece about truth in biopics and the problem of creating a narrative out of someone’s messy life. I hope you’ll stick around to read them! Meanwhile, keep seeking out last year’s best movies, and let me know what I’ve missed.