Monday, February 23, 2015

Another mediocre night with Oscar

Here are some things I'd hoped never to see:

-- A Birdman parody in which Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris appeared on stage in his tighty/whiteys.

-- An Oscar show in which Boyhood won only one award, Patricia Arquette 's statue for best supporting actress.

-- A purported celebration of movies in which the high points belonged to three singers: Lady Gaga, John Legend and Common. Lady Gaga nailed a medley of songs in a tribute to The Sound of Music, and Legend and Common brought the audience to its feet with Glory, the song from Selma that went on to win an Oscar.

With their win, Legend and Common found a platform to give one of the night's best acceptance speeches, even managing to mention the appalling rate at which young black men are being incarcerated.

So what kind of night was it?

You don't need me to tell you that it seemed endless, that an affable Neil Patrick Harris got off to a great start with a rousing musical number and then sank under the weight of a ton of lamely written material.

I'm not an ardent Birdman supporter, so Oscar's finale didn't buoy my spirits, either.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won best director. Birdman won best original screenplay, and, of course, took home best-picture honors.

I felt sad for Boyhood and Richard Linklater, an indie-oriented director who may not get another shot at an Oscar. I'd have felt better if the Academy had split its votes, giving Birdman best picture and Linklater, best director.

Despite complaints about this year's lack of women and people of color, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does seem to be changing.

Time was movies such as The Theory of Everything (British and a bit middlebrow) and Selma (socially powerful) would have been frontrunners for best-picture honors. Neither was.

And Oscar seems as removed from popular tastes as ever. Julianne Moore's victory as best actress was well-deserved, but I wonder how many people saw Still Alice, a heartbreaking movie about a brilliant college professor forced to deal with early onset Alzheimer's.

Was I upset that Eddie Redmayne, who played physicist Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything, beat Michael Keaton (Birdman) in the best-actor category? Not really.

I've always liked Keaton, but thought Redmayne had the more difficult role. Despite Hawking's debilitating ALS, Redmayne never failed to show us the man's brilliance, arrogance and wit.

What else but random thoughts are possible during a telecast that tended to stagger under the weight of its own mediocrity?

-- Notable acceptance speeches came from Graham Moore (who won the best-adapted-screenplay Oscar for The Imitation Game) and from Patricia Arquette, who used the stage as a platform to call for wage equality for women.

Moore, who mentioned that he attempted suicide at age 16, encouraged those young people who feel different or alienated to hang in. Their day, he said, will come.

-- I was happy for Alexandre Desplat, who won best original score for The Grand Budapest Hotel, his first Oscar win after eight nominations. Desplat is a great composer of movie music.

-- I wondered if Clint Eastwood applauded when Laura Poitras won the best documentary Oscar for Citizen Four, her movie about Edward Snowden.

-- I was surprised that Whiplash won the Oscar for best editing, but upon reflection remembered that the movie's editor, Tom Cross, made a story about a jazz-obsessed drummer (Miles Teller) feel like an action movie.
Cross did a fine job, but Boyhood, which was shot over 12 years, must have been the more difficult movie to edit.

-- The In Memoriam section put a lump in my throat.

-- It struck me that the best visual effects category consisted of movies that a majority of viewers might actually have seen: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Interstellar won.

-- Wouldn't the telecast have been better if Harry Belafonte, Maureen O'Hara, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and animator Hayao Miyazaki had been honored at the big show rather than at a separate Governor's Awards program.

I'd rather have seen them than the chaotic Everything is Awesome production number. The tune -- from The Lego Movie -- was nominated for best song.

-- And who thought it was a good idea that director Pawel Pawilkowski, whose Ida won best foreign-language film, had to compete with the band to finish his acceptance speech?

-- The set? It was arcade gaudy. Maybe that's why Harris occasionally wandered into the audience, a move that mostly fell flat. So did a running gag about Harris's Oscar predictions, which supposedly were being kept under lock and key.

Still, maybe some good came out of the evening. Best supporting actor winner J.K. Simmons (of Whiplash) told people to call their parents.

With Simmons on the case, who needs Jewish mothers?

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Put Oscar behind you, and call home.

For a complete list of Oscar winners, click here.

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