Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel won multiple awards at the difficult-to-predict, gruelingly four-hour-long 87th annual Academy Awards, with the former’s producers taking home Best Picture. The two films were the most nominated, with nine nods each going into the awards show, and Birdman specifically won in several hotly scrutinized categories, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Alejandro González Iñárritu. Grand Budapest earned trophies in mostly technical categories. Other than those two films, Whiplash was the only other movie to take home multiple Oscars, earning three including Best Actor in a Supporting Role for J.K. Simmons.
The night’s upsets (Boyhood won only one award!), along with some impassioned speeches calling for social change and a handful of funny (and a heap of awkward) moments, provided the sparks in an otherwise dull ceremony.
Most notable among the night’s surprises, other than Matthew McConaughey offering a sole and lonesome “all right” at the podium, was Eddie Redmayne’s win for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in the biopic The Theory of Everything. He was so overtaken with surprise, considering most Vegas bookkeepers had the odds stacked toward Michael Keaton for Birdman, that he freaked out when he finally got up to the mic and shouted, “Wow!” before passionately dedicating the trophy to “all of those people around the world battling ALS,” the disease that afflicts Hawking. The only other actor to equal Redmayne’s shock over winning was Julianne Moore; the Still Alice star, who portrayed a college professor with early onset Alzheimer’s, looked on the verge of tears during her Best Actress acceptance.
Beyond all the surprise, however, emotions ran high throughout the night. Many actors and artists used portions of their acceptance speeches to draw attention to cultural disparities, beginning with host Neil Patrick Harris, who acknowledged the lack of people of color who were nominated this year by joking that the audience was gathered to honor the “best and whitest — sorry, brightest.”
Boyhood actress Patricia Arquette used her Actress in a Supporting Role acceptance speech as a platform to draw attention to women’s rights. She dedicated the Oscar to “every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation . . . it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Both Common and John Legend addressed the civil rights issues affecting modern society within the context of their song “Glory,” which they wrote for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma, and performed to a standing ovation. Common compared the spirit of the song and film to those fighting for freedom-of-speech issues in France, ostensibly regarding Charlie Hebdo, and to people protesting for democracy in Hong Kong. Legend turned his attention to the U.S., saying that “the struggle for justice” is still present.
“We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is compromised right now in this country today,” he said. “We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you and march on.”
Elsewhere, Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras dedicated her award to the subject of her documentary, exiled NSA analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, and truth-seekers like him around the world, urging everyone to “check the powers that control.” (Snowden couldn’t be at the show, Harris punned, “for some treason.”) Iñárritu dedicated Birdman’s Best Picture trophy to his fellow Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, asking for respect for his people. And in one of the more surprising speeches, Graham Moore, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, voiced support for young people who might be suicidal because they feel different. “I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere,” he said. “Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird. Stay different.”
But the four-hour show wasn’t totally serious. Some of the musical performances were downright gleeful. Tegan and Sara and the Lonely Island’s performance of the Lego Movie jam “Everything Is Awesome!!!” was eye-popping right down to Lego Oscars and cameos by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh and Will Arnett as Batman. And Lady Gaga pulled off a show-stopper with her spot-on rendition of “The Sound of Music” and “My Favorite Things,” to the immediate approval of Julie Andrews herself.
There were funny moments, too. Although it dragged on, John Travolta and Idina Menzel’s riffing on his “Adele Dazeem” gaffe last year showed that both can poke fun at themselves. Live Action Short winner The Phone Call’s Mat Kirkby used his time to thank his favorite doughnut shop with hopes of getting free pastries back home in Suffolk, England. And Harris’ peak was when he pulled off a reenactment of Michael Keaton’s near-nude run in Birdman, complete with jazz drumming by Whiplash star Miles Teller.
Unfortunately for Harris, most of the first-time Oscars host’s humor fell flat — especially in the eyes of Selma actress and producer Oprah Winfrey, who did not appreciate the host tricking her costar David Oyelowo, who portrayed Dr. King, into telling a questionably racist joke. Whether his running gag of having his Oscar predictions locked in a box onstage with Octavia Spencer watching it or singling out Winfrey for her wealth, many of his antics turned to collar-tugging silence with a few intermittent chuckles (at least the ones that made it over the air). And his lavish opening musical number with Anna Kendrick was stolen by Jack Black quasi-rapping about the devolution of Hollywood (“The only screens we’re watching are the screens in our jeans,” he said, holding his cell phone). The only moment that came close to the overall awkwardness of Harris’ performance was Terrance Howard’s loss for words when introducing The Imitation Game: “I’m blown away right now myself,” he said.
Gracelessness aside, unpredictability — both silly and thought-provoking — was the evening’s saving grace. It’s a concept that Iñárritu nailed in his acceptance speech for Best Director. “The paradox is that true art, true individual expression . . . the work of these incredible fellow filmmakers can’t be compared, can’t be labeled, can’t be defeated because they exist, and our work only will be judged as always by time,” he said. But off course, he attributed his win to something most intangible. “I’m wearing the real Michael Keaton tighty-whities. They are tight, smell like balls, but they work. I’m here.” After a night like this, hey, whatever works.