The 87th Academy Awards: A noble affair.

| February 23, 2015 | 0 Comments


It is very rare when the host of the Academy Awards manages to pull off the best and most spontaneous moment of the very long evening. Following the win by J.K. Simmons for Best Supporting Actor as the ferocious music teacher in Whiplash Sunday night, host Neil Patrick Harris retorted by paraphrasing the jingle for Farmer’s Insurance – of which Simmons is the pitchman, singing “He won an Oscar, bum ba-dum bum bum bump bump bump.” It is the kind of impromptu, unexpectedly funny moment that brings life to what has been, for the past few years, a long and sometimes deadening sit.

The 87th Annual Academy Awards were an even balance of funny and emotional, of laughs and of calls for tolerance of different racial groups and sexual orientation, and calls to remember those suffering from ALS, Alzheimer’s among others, yet none of it felt like a drain on the evening.

Most of the funny came from host Neil Patrick Harris who, among other things, paid tribute to Keaton’s scene in Birdman in which the actor is locked out of his dressing room and is forced to walk through the streets in his skivvies. Harris did the same thing backstage only to emerge in front of a roaring audience to remind them that “Acting is a noble profession.”

As he has done hosting countless award shows, Harris faced an uphill climb, attempting to keep things funny and lively for which is, let’s face it, a dusty old dinosaur.

The winners, for the most, part were only really surprising if you had no faith in Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s wry and colorful comic adventure about a hotel concierge who is framed for stealing a legendary painting seemed, early on, to be cleaning up, eventually winning four awards for its Make-Up, costumes, its score and its production design.

Yet, as the show moved toward the major categories, Birdman turned the tide, eventually winning Best Picture. The story of an actor who was once the star of a major superhero franchise but walked away and never felt that he reached his potential was prized for being the most innovative film of the year. Some creative editing gave the viewer the feeling that the movie was being shot in one take. Plus, there was Michael Keaton in the comeback story of the year – once, himself a box-office champ taking a shot showing what he could really do as an actor.

The film also won Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu who noted that this was the second time in a row that a Mexican director has one Oscar’s top prize – “Two Mexicans in a row”, he said “that’s suspicious,” after last year when Alfonso Cuarón picked up the prize for Gravity.

Birdman, which also nabbed honors for Original Screenplay and Cinematography, won the Best Picture race in a two-fisted fight with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. That film, which chronicles the lives of a pair of Texas siblings over 12 years was a labor of love. Not only did Linklater cast his own daughter but he filmed it for 12 years so that we could watch the actors grow up on screen.

The only award that Boyhood collected was for Patricia Arquette as the year’s Best Supporting Actress, playing a hard-working mother trying to raise two kids by herself. At the podium, Arquette broke away from the usual thank yous to draw attention to a cause of equal rights for women. “We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,“ she said ”It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America,”

Arquette was expected to win Best Supporting Actress, as was her counterpart, J.K. Simmons who won Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash wherein he praised his wife and his “above-average” children before making a plea to the audience for communication. “Call your mom, call your dad; don’t text, don’t email; tell them you love them.”

The Best Actress winner was also expected but it was a joy to finally see Julianne Moore win an Oscar after four previous nominations and two decades worth of great film work. Amid all the thank yous and shout-outs to those suffering from Alzheimer’s, Moore quipped “I read an article that said that winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer. If that’s true, I’d like to thank the academy because my husband is younger than me.”

Moore’s win wasn’t a surprise. The only surprise (if you discounted the SAG awards) in the acting category was Eddie Redmayne, who won over frontrunner Michael Keaton, for his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Oscar prognosticators upped Redmayne’s chances to win the award due to the fact that he seemed to have met the criteria for winning an Oscar: He played a real person, and he played someone who overcame disability. Redmayne spent six months preparing the play Hawking from his early days as a healthy young college student through the rapid disintegration of his motor functions. It wasn’t only a good performance, it was also a physical one as well.

Before launching into his speech, Redmayne couldn’t help feeling the moment. He began, but then broke away with a hearty “Wow!” He thanked the Hawking family, those suffering from ALS and assured his wife that “We have a new fella coming to share our apartment.”

The highlights of this year’s show really came from the musical performance. Traditionally, the musical numbers at the Oscars have a reputation for dragging the show, but this year there were two that turned that theory around. First was Common and John Legend who put on a powerful performance of “Glory”, the nominated song from Selma – which won Best Original Song. The other belongs in Who-Knew Hall of Fame: Lady Gaga paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the film version of The Sound of Music (which won Best Picture in 1965), with a glorious medly of songs from the musical. The 28 year-old singer who is just as well-known for her synth-pop hits as for her shocking outfits, arrived on Oscar’s stage in a lovely white gown and belted out Rogers and Hammerstein’s tunes in a beautiful performance.

Yet, the funniest moment of the night was a callback to last year, when John Travolta made headlines when he mangled the name of singer-songwriter Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem.” This year he came onstage with the singer to give out an award, correct or name, and – rather wisely – let her do the talking.

Emotional moments didn’t seem to drag the evening along.  Many were genuinely moving as when Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore took the occasion to reveal that, at 16, he attempted suicide.  “Stay weird, stay different” he told young kids at home.  The night was also an occasion to remember the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s history march from Selma to Montgomery, seen in an odd, but effective musical number featuring John Legend and the rap star Common under a facade of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the conflict with police during the march.  Common said is symbolized the bridge between not only racial barriers but human barriers, of people of different cultures, races, sexual orientations and economic status.

Overall, it was a fun and relaxed evening, no gimmicks, no attempts to make the show young and hip.  The producers seemed to want to just let the show be itself, be funny, be heartfelt and it was one of the less forced shows in recent memory.  Yes, it ran on past 11 o’clock, but it had a nice balance that didn’t seem like just a bunch of anonymous, self-congratulatory name-dropping.  It was what it was, a nice, cool balanced evening.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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