So, another Oscar year is in the books – and I have to say, I’m kind of relieved. They show last night wasn’t particularly good – either in terms of the show itself, or the winners, but it wasn’t a tragedy either. So, let’s have a look back at what happened last night – in three categories – my predictions, the winners and the show itself.
To put it mildly, I did awful in my predictions this year – getting only 13 out of 21 correct. With the benefit of hindsight, I will admit that I probably looked into my predictions too early, and was too stubborn to change them even when evidence suggested I was wrong. I got three top categories wrong – Picture, Director and Actor. I am not shocked that Birdman won either Picture or Director – but I was kind of expecting a split in those two awards between Birdman and Boyhood – it would have been safer to bet on Birdman for both, but I stuck with Boyhood for both thinking the split would happen, and I’d get one of two. Didn’t happen. I’m still mystified at how Birdman became the big Oscar winner of the night – and yet Michael Keaton lost Best Actor to Eddie Redmayne. Still, the writing was on the wall, so I should have seen it coming. I also got Original Screenplay wrong – thinking that Academy would not see a reason to give Birdman everything, so that would go to Grand Budapest. Once again, wrong. I got two of the Whiplash wins wrong – thinking that Editing for Boyhood was going to happen, and betting on American Sniper for both sound awards (hell, it won one). I got Foreign Language wrong – it was a tossup, but I thought Leviathan had more audience appeal than Ida – and clearly, I was wrong. I got animated film wrong – thinking How to Train Your Dragon 2 was going to win, and instead they went with Big Hero 6. If The Lego Movie couldn’t win – and the two smaller nominees couldn’t either, it was a tossup. I tossed wrong.
This was as bad as I have ever done predicting wise. Most of the time, when I lock in around the time of the nominations, I am normally right. This year, changes happened in Phase 2 – post nominations – and I didn’t react enough to them. Lesson learned.
In terms of the actual awards, I was happier in the first half of the program than the second half. The two supporting acting races went as expected – but both Simmons and Arquette were more than deserving, so that was good. The Grand Budapest Hotel (rightly) dominated the “below the line” categories – picking up Oscars for Costume, Production Design, Makeup and Score (the last one finally giving the great Alexandre Desplat his Oscar). Whiplash and American Sniper splitting the Sound awards was fine, and Emmanuel Lubezki winning his second cinematography Oscar in a row was ok with me (even if I would have picked Grand Budapest or Mr. Turner there instead). Ida is a fine Best Foreign Language Film winner – one of the best in years really – and I have no strong feelings about Big Hero 6 winning animated film, or Citizenfour winning Documentary. Neither was my choice – but my choices weren’t nominated. Selma winning Song was also a fitting tribute to that movie – that should have been nominated for a lot more. How can anyone be upset about Interstellar winning Visual Effects – even if you didn’t love the film?
It was when Whiplash won editing that things started to turn. Any chance of Boyhood holding on to win either Picture or Director (or even screenplay) seemed to go away when Whiplash won. If the Academy didn’t love the editing of 12 years’ worth of footage together to make a coherent movie, than they clearly didn’t love the movie very much. I say this as someone who thinks Whiplash was a worthy winner – better than most winners in this category really – but still, when that happened, I knew what was coming.
It got worse when Birdman won Original Screenplay. If there was one category that Birdman really didn’t deserve to win – it was here. What was worse, is that I thought this would be Wes Anderson’s consolation prize for Grand Budapest – which was my favorite of the year. If Richard Linklater had won for Boyhood, I also would have been happy. But if there was any doubt that a Birdman sweep was coming, it was when it won here. Its eventual wins for Picture and Director became a foregone conclusion. (I’ll circle back to Birdman in a moment).
The awards for the two lead acting categories were anti-climactic. I don’t know how anyone can be upset with Julianne Moore winning an Oscar – she should have at least two or three at home by now. I just wish it had been for one of her better performances than Still Alice. Eddie Redmayne’s win is still strange to me – how the hell did the Academy love Birdman THIS much, and not give this award to Keaton? Redmayne’s win is the kind that will be held up for mockery in years to come when people say they always give Oscars to actors playing in biopics and people with disabilities. It was a fine performance – WAY better than the movie itself, but it doesn’t come much more Oscar clichéd than this one.
So back to Birdman in a moment. I’m not going to insult a movie that I really like. I watched it again (with my wife, on DVD) the night before the Oscars – and while the things I didn’t like bugged me even more the second time through, it’s still a really good film that I think is very much of its time and place (perhaps a little too much, but whatever). For me, it fits right in with recent winners like Argo, The Artist or The King’s Speech – fine films all, but nothing I would say is a masterpiece. Yes, it makes the Academy look even more ego-maniacal than normal – as for the third time in four years they have given a film about Hollywood the Best Picture Oscar. But it’s a fine film just the same.
What bugged me a little bit though was just how much they loved Birdman – how by giving it Picture, Director and Original Screenplay, the Academy is basically saying that Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu deserves three Oscars for Birdman, and Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson deserve zero for Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have a feeling that Wes Anderson may be entering the post-Fargo Coen brother period of his career, Oscar-wise (that is, a long time, quirky, critically acclaimed auteurs that the Academy ignored for a long time that they finally come around on. Perhaps he does have an Oscar win at some point in his future. I’m not as convinced with Richard Linklater – who has probably done the most acclaimed film he will ever make in Boyhood, and they still basically shrugged their shoulders at the film. We’ll most likely see a clip of him receiving an honorary Oscar thirty years down the line.
But Birdman is far from an embarrassment. It would not have been my choice, but it’s a decent one just the same. They’ve done both better and worst in the past –and will do so again in the future.
I’m not going to say too much about the show itself – which by and large was the kind of long, boring slog that some people think every Oscar show, although usually I defend them. I cannot really defend this one. I don’t know what happened – Neil Patrick Harris is talented – he can sing, dance and is funny – and yet for the most part, he fell flat for me last night. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was the material and not him – especially since he has been good as hosting other things in the past. Still, I won’t be sad if he doesn’t host again – and if he does, that he’ll leave poor Octavia Spencer alone.
The musical numbers were, for the most part, underwhelming. Everything is Awesome was fun – but that was because is was a complete and total mess (or at least seemed like). The one exception was John Legend and Common – who killed it on Glory. The odd tribute to The Sound of Music – which didn’t start until well after 11pm my time, was overlong, and I just wanted to see Birdman win so I could go to bed – but damn it, Lady Gaga can sing.
Strangely, the best thing about the show were the speeches – many of whom were memorable in that they didn’t just list off a bunch of names and bore us, but actually were heartfelt and meaningful. No, Graham Moore shouldn’t have won for The Imitation Game – but that was a great speech. As were the ones by J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, John Legend & Common and several others. No one was better than Pawel Pawlikowski, who outlasted the orchestra that was trying to play him off – and it was glorious. Years from now, the speeches will be remember from this year’s Oscars – and not much else.
And so, that does it. In the end, it was a great year for movies – and you know something, the Academy recognized some of the best of them. Yes, more so in the nominating round than the winning round, but any year that films as wonderful and diverse as Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, Selma, Whiplash and, yes, Birdman, got nominated for Oscars, is a good year. Yes, it ended with a whimper, but you cannot win them all.