Highlights and Lowlights of the 87th Oscars

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At 3 hours and 43 minutes, it was the longest Oscar telecast aired within the last five years. The 2011 ceremony felt longer, but that was only because the Franco and Hathaway were a drag. I’d rather not join the public pillorying of Neil Patrick Harris because I still found him entertaining, even if some of his jokes fell flat. Besides, hosting the Oscars is one of Hollywood’s most thankless, most brutally-scrutinized gigs. It can either showcase the talent, or at the extreme, readily expose the flaws of even the most seasoned entertainers. NPH was a case of both extremes. His strength is being inherently funny; his weakness is not knowing when to stop (That prediction box gag was particularly dragging). Still, he knew how to put up a show.

It’s also a bittersweet surprise that Birdman (my personal favorite) won over Boyhood (the oddsmakers’ pick) for Best Picture. Weeks before the ceremony, the momentum seemingly belonged to Richard Linklater‘s coming-of-age saga – if even by just a tiny margin. Shockingly, Boyhood won only one award, versus Birdman‘s four. My over-analysis: the voters probably got over the fact that Boyhood 12-year production period and started seeing it as just another coming-of-age film. That probably made Alejandro G. Iñárritu‘s achievements feel fresher by comparison, hence the shift. I’m filing this under “sweet upset”.

Here’s the full list of winners (from Oscar’s official site).

And here are my thoughts on the telecast:

That Opening Spectacle. Neil Patrick Harrisrepertoire of wisecracks was a mixed bag, for sure, but there was nothing to kvetch about his dazzling opening number. The first-time Oscar host spared us the usual meandering monologue and immediately treated us to a spectacular musical tribute to “moving pictures”. It was a visual feast made even more enjoyable by Anna Kendrick reprising her Into the Woods role and Jack Black‘s pseudo-antagonizing about the pretensions of Hollywood. Way to start a show! Alas, it was a bumpy ride from there on.

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Sentimental Starter. J.K. Simmons accepted the evening’s first statuette exuding the polar opposite of his Whiplash persona. The Best Supporting Actor awardee began his speech by thanking his family and capped it off with this heart-warming call to action: “Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.” Now, that’s definitely our tempo.

Pawlikowski = 1, Orchestra = 0. In a rare, glorious table-turning moment, the wrap-up music got played off by the awardee’s speech. The loquacious rebel in question: Pawel Pawlikowski, who won Best Foreign Language Film for Ida

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Lego’s Show-Stopper.  No Animated Feature nod? No problem! The Lego Movie stole the show with an elaborate and over-the-top number set to Everything is Awesome. It was no Best Song shoo-in, but it was instrumental in delivering the evening’s biggest sensory overload. Kudos to Tegan and Sara, The Lonely IslandQuestlove, Mark Mothersbaugh, and yes, even you, Will Arnett in your Batman costume for mounting this dizzyingly colorful delight – and for making everyone in Dolby Theatre retrogress. (Don’t get me started on those Lego statuettes. I want one too.)

Tightie Whities Take the Stage. Among NPH’s better moments, his lampooning of Birdman with bits from Whiplash was arguably the most hilarious. The sketch culminated with the host baring his chiseled glory onstage, replete with this killer one-liner: “Acting is a noble profession.” He broke the internet, all right, but not the record for least clothing in an Oscars onstage appearance. That distinction still belongs to this guy.

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In with a whimper, out with a bang. Patricia Arquette winning Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood was inevitable, but nothing could have prepared us for the compelling speech that followed. What began as jittery shout-outs to names listed on a sheet of paper ended with a power-punch of a statement calling for woman empowerment: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” We also thank Meryl Streep for giving us that GIF-worthy moment. 

Beautiful, but flawed tribute. Speaking of Meryl Streep, her introductory speech to this year’s In Memoriam segment was a heartfelt articulation of the pain of loss, if there ever was one. Props, also, to the sound department for muting out the applause during the montage. It’s a tribute after all, not a popularity contest among departed celebrities. Then, it was all beautifully punctuated by Jennifer Hudson‘s take on I Can’t Let Go. Now, if only the egregious omission of Joan Rivers didn’t leave such a bitter aftertaste…

Terrence Howard Be Trippin’. Not sure what was going on there, either.

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Glorious Vindication. Selma may have been ignored in a slew of categories, but at least it provided the ceremony’s most poignant moments. John Legend and Common belted Glory against an impressive replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge replete with a back-up choir recreating the fateful march. The stirring, heart-wrenching performance elicited a highly emotional, well-deserved standing ovation with cutaways to David Oyelowo and Chris Pine in tears sealing the deal. Victory was inevitable. While accepting their Best Original Song trophies, Common described how the iconic bridge evolved from being the “landmark of a divided nation” to a “symbol of change”, which Legend finished with “Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now”. Cue in more tears.

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“Glom Gazingo” Strikes Again. The general take on reuniting the involved parties from last year’s “Adele Dazeem” snafu: It was funny until John Travolta got creepy.

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The hills are alive with the Sound of Gaga. We thought we were up for more filler when Scarlett Johansson introduced  The Sound of Music‘s 50th anniversary montage, when out came Lady Gaga belting out the theme in rock-solid falsetto! The Born this Way singer then segued to excerpts from Edelweiss, My Favorite Things and Climb Every Mountain in a medley that had even Dame Julie Andrews raving.  P.S. Thank goodness she ditched those humongous red gloves.

Sienna squeals for Sniper. It’s an interesting, understated fact that Sienna Miller portrayed widows in both Foxcatcher and American Sniper. Also understated: Her adorable, ecstatic sigh of relief as she presented the latter’s sole win for Best Sound Editing.

Grand night for Grand Budapest.  Though Wes Anderson will have to wait longer for his first OscarThe Grand Budapest Hotel turned out to be his most awarded piece of work yet. The visually-stunning period comedy earned well-deserved statuettes for its achievements in Production Design, Make-Up, and Costume Design. Its fourth win, however, was the most surprising. While most thought Alexandre Desplat‘s double nomination for Best Original Score would backfire (He was also up for his work in The Imitation Game), the whimsical tunes were hard to resist. In securing his first-ever Oscar victory, Desplat beat the odds – and himself.

Stay weird, stay different“. Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore first had the audience chuckling when he fanboy-ed over Oprah Winfrey upon accepting his trophy. The giggles then turned into empathic applause when the Imitation Game writer confessed his attempted suicide at age 16 and segued to this gem: “Stay weird, stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along”. In an evening full of memorable, moving speeches, his was probably the most resonant.

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life.  The Best Actor race was a toss-up between Birdman‘s Michael Keaton and The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne from the get-go, with oddsmakers giving Keaton the early edge. But in a scenario that continues to parallel his film’s plot, veteran Keaton (who built his career playing oddball characters before attaining bona-fide status) was ultimately upstaged by the young upstart.
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The Theory of Convulsing. Eddie Redmayne, in turn, was upstaged by his inability to contain himself.

Late Bloomer. One would expect somebody of Julianne Moore‘s stature to keep her cool, even in accepting her first ever (!) Oscar. But the Still Alice star was refreshingly giddy and choked-up as she collected her Best Actress trophy. She regained composure just in time to call for Alzheimer’s awareness, but it was her initial “5 years longer” joke dedicated to her husband that had us endeared.

Nobody cares about that prediction box, Neil. Now leave Octavia Spencer alone and get with the program!

That Green Card Joke. What, did you honestly, seriously expect Sean Penn to deliver a sensitive, politically correct, and non-acerbic one-liner? Didn’t think so.

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Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu Soars. Birdman garnered four awards, including a back-to-back Best Cinematography win for Emmanuel Lubezki, but the night clearly belonged to Iñárritu. The Mexican filmmaker received three trophies, each for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture  which also meant triple the chance to make a statement. In a span of three speeches, he thanked the cast and crew, shared the spotlight with his co-writers, professed his love for his homeland, and called for immigration reform. He even managed to toss in more “tighty-whitey” references. Remember this guy.

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