48 minutes into the 218-minute-long 2015 Oscars telecast, indie pop darlings Tegan and Sara took over the stage along with The Lonely Island, Devo’s Mark Motherbaugh, Will Arnett in a Batman costume, Questlove in a Robin costume, an Awesome Possum, and a whole slew of break-dancing construction workers. And Oprah finally felt what it was like to be, well, Oprah’d (YOU get a LEGO® Oscar statue! And YOU get a LEGO® Oscar statue!). The frenzied Dolby Theatre was a dayglo explosion to behold. Did the rest of the evening share the same jubilant energy? Were the 87th Academy Awards, in the words of The Lego Movie (that snub still stings, by the way), indeed, awesome?!
Yes and no.
Was the Lady Gaga tribute to The Sound of Music awesome? For the most part, surprisingly yes. Was it necessary, especially at 3 hours and 45 minutes in, with only 15 minutes scheduled left? HELL NO.
Was Neil Patrick Harris a decent host? Yes. Did all of NPH’s bits [Insert tighty-whities Birdman joke here] land? Sadly, no.
While NPH’s self-satisfaction maybe not have worked for everyone, I was more entertained by him than by other dull hosts of the past. This mixed bag of quality was par for the course for the evening: a typically bloated Oscars telecast with an atypically uneven NPH.
When Neil Patrick Harris was first announced as host, he seemed like the perfect fit, with two Emmy Award and four Tony Award hosting gigs under his belt. Unfortunately, Harris succumbed to the pressures of hosting the Oscars; the need perform for both the stiff and stodgy audience in the Dolby Theatre and the audience at home looking for a bit of bite. Why else would we see the usually endearing showman come across as alternately smirky and uncomfortable, with intentional groaners galore (“This next presenter is so lovely you could eat her up with a spoon: Reese Witherspoon.”)?
Neil Patrick Harris seemed off his game and you could see his flop sweat throughout the evening. Taking a cue from Ellen Degeneres’ in-the-audience bits from last year (remember the pizza delivery and the selfie seen ’round the world?), Harris failed to recreate any of that spark. The seat filler bit was awkward, getting David Oyelowo to read a punchline about the Annie remake was forced, and don’t even get me started on wrangling Octavia Spencer to keep her eyes on that damn lockbox. Look, I get that Harris is a die-hard magic lover, but his Oscar “predictions” had too much wasted buildup and way too little payoff. Poor Octavia Spencer. Poor David Oyelowo. It was commendable trying to rope in as many actors and actresses of color into the proceedings, but these attempts fell flat.
That being said, NPH still had some charms and I would much rather watch a bloated Oscars peppered with moments of joy (more LEGO® Oscar statues, please!) than a boring one. The underwear Birdman homage was unexpected and many of his jokes worked, for instance, opening the ceremony by stating, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest.” The opening number, written by the Frozen songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, was delightful, especially the Into the Woods-inspired Jack Black rap, though the song wasn’t as strong as his other award show numbers. And I’m afraid we’re fast approaching our limit for song-and-dance showmen (Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, etc.). It’s too bad that Lin-Manuel Miranda is tied up with Hamilton, his hip-hop musical about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, and couldn’t lend his superb lyrical skills as he did for the epic closing numbers of the 2011 and 2013 Tony Awards.
The most memorable moments of the evening stemmed from the sincerity of the Oscar winners themselves, which balanced out Neil Patrick Harris’ snark. From Common and John Legend’s soul-stirring performance of Selma‘s “Glory” and the inspiring Oscar acceptance speech that followed:
Recently John and I got to go to Selma and perform “Glory” on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the Civil Rights Movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now it’s a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South Side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to those in Hong Kong, protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated with love for all human beings.
to the win of Best (very liberally) Adapted Screenplay by The Imitation Game‘s Graham Moore who spoke directly to vulnerable youth:
I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along.
to Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette championing equal pay for women:
To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer 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.
to Whiplash‘s J.K. Simmons simply urging people to reach out and call up a parent, the evening brought to light a span of important issues facing today’s world. The night was a triumph in moving and effective acceptance speeches.
As for the awards themselves, each of the Best Picture nominees took home at least one trophy, the first time this has happened since the field was expanded from five nominees in 2009. I had seen all eight Best Picture nominees this year, and although Whiplash was my favorite film of the bunch by a slim margin, I was hoping that Boyhood could pull out the win over the self-aggrandizing Birdman.* Alas, as of late, the Academy loves movies about movies (see The Artist, Argo).
This was the Academy’s chance to recognize a revolutionary work, not only for its narrative ambition, but as an exercise in patience. Boyhood makes a profound statement that life’s character-building is a series of minute layers, not solely the sum of cathartic spectacles. Ultimately, Richard Linklater’s masterpiece reminds us that in life, not all triumphs can be, or even need to be, recognized with an award.
* Perhaps I’m the Oscars curse? The last time I watched all Best Picture nominees was the 2011 Oscars, when The Kingzzz Speech robbed The Social Network of its rightful win. Whoops.