Monday, February 23, 2015


Common and John Legend win the Oscar for Best Song for "Glory" from SELMA

As Graham Moore accepted his Oscar for penning THE IMITATION GAME, he implored those watching the 87th Oscars to stay weird and different, knowing that those who strive for something unique are the ones who create art. They might have been the best words spoken on the telecast, and in their own way they even fit the Oscars telecast. The show was indeed weird as it always is, a blend of class and crass. Yet this year it was also quite different as it was the most political it had been in years. 

For weeks, the 87th Annual Oscars promised to be two things: one, a contest between BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD, and two, a superb entertainment based on having emcee extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris host the ceremony. Instead, BIRDMAN took four Oscars while BOYHOOD only got one. And NPH wasn’t nearly the inspired host that he had demonstrated numerous times at the Tony Awards. Perhaps the only certain prediction about the Oscars is that they will always be hard to pin down.

Oddly, the films that seemed to give BIRDMAN more of a run for its money turned out to be THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and WHIPLASH. The former won just as many Oscars as BIRDMAN, taking the gold for Best Original Score, Costume Design, Production Design, and Makeup & Hairstyling. And the latter certainly surprised many by going three for five in the categories it was nominated in, snagging Best Supporting Actor JK Simmons, as well as Best Sound Mixing and Best Editing.

Most of the rest of the wins were easy to predict. The majority of pundits forecast victories for leads Eddie Redmayne (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) and Julianne Moore (STILL ALICE). Best Song went to “Glory” from SELMA. And even the shorts went the way most figured they would with FEAST, THE PHONE CALL, and CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1 prevailing.

What made this year’s Oscars truly different was how many people got their ‘cause on’ in their speeches. Granted, John Legend and Common have expressed disdain for Civil Rights legislation being walked back in several states when their SELMAN song has won, but who expected Arquette to talk about equal pay for women in her speech? Did anyone think that Alejandro Inarritu would touch upon the problems with Mexico’s government in his Best Picture acceptance speech?

Redmayne dedicated his victory to victims of ALS, and Moore spoke eloquently about Alzheimer’s, but even the expected politics that came with the CITIZEN FOUR win for Best Documentary were done with even stronger words than had been used at previous awards ceremonies. It was a very serious and issue-oriented Oscars as evidenced by so many of the acceptance speeches. Quite different from most telecasts of late, and welcome, as well as appropriate, in a film year that had a lot of strongly messaged movies.

And such gravitas only made NPH’s wisecracks appear even more amateurish and inappropriate. Cracking a lame treason joke at the expense of Edward Snowden seemed disrespectful after the documentary victory. Making dress jokes about the two female filmmakers who won for CRISIS HOTLINE seemed sexist and tin-eared. And his whole bit about forcing Octavia Spencer and Robert Duvall to watch his predictions under lock and key was long and weird, maybe eve sexist and ageist. Harris’ constant smug laughing at his lame jokes didn’t help matters either.  

Many thought he’d be the next Billy Crystal, asked back again and again, but I think the Academy might want to look elsewhere for someone who gets the need for the Oscars to have a bit more reverence mixed in with the irreverent. The show has to walk that line between being fun and funny while still showing respect for the fact that this is Hollywood’s biggest night and the audience is worldwide. Opening with a joke about “Hollywood’s best and whitest” set a strange tone for a show that’s supposed to celebrate the nominees, not linger on the omitted.

Surprisingly, there was little controversy with AMERICAN SNIPER at the Oscars. Despite it being a hot button issue for both the left and the right these past months, its one Oscar victory (for Sound Editing) contained nothing polarizing about it at all. The winners thanked director Clint Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper mostly, with little about Chris Kyle or the Iraq War in their acceptance speech.

Actually, the most shrewdly calculated political movement occurred organically during the show. Many winners refused to be played off by the band, instead opting to keep on talking until the intrusive instruments stopped badgering them altogether. The show is always going to run long anyway, so why is the technical director signaling for the conductor to be so rude? Let the winners have their time in the sun and say what they want, political or not. 

If only Harris had made more hay out of that.

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