As the Death Knell for the Oscars Resounded in Our Ears, the Academy Did Little to Stop the Eulogy
Oscars 2015 reminded everyone that while there's room for massive improvement, the AMPAS is at least capable of some self-reflection and response to criticism.
So American Sniper didn't sneak into the Winner's circle for either Best Picture and/or Best Actor. Boyhood, ballyhooed by almost everyone who saw it at Sundance last year as "the film to beat", had to settle for a single Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette).
Host Neil Patrick Harris neither saved nor sunk the annual combination of critical reevaluation and industry backslapping, and while at least one long standing wrong was righted (we can now call Julianne Moore "Academy Award Winner..."), Richard Linklater et. al. must feel like the rest of Selma right now (which picked up a trophy for Best Song).
Amongst the glitz and glamour, the painfully awkward presenters (who keeps giving John Travolta a ticket to this thing, let alone access to the stage?) and the odd if effective musical numbers (Lady Gaga -- whoa), Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu walked away with three trophies (for Birdman's Best Picture, as well as Best Director, and with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo, Best Original Screenplay) while his film found a fourth statue for Emmanuel Lubezki's fake one shot cinematography (he also won last year for Gravity).
Wes Anderson, though personally shut out from any Academy acknowledgment (many thought him a shoe-in for Best Original Screenplay) saw his film The Grand Budapest Hotel dominate the technical awards. It earned Oscars for Make-up and Hair, Costume Design, Original Score, and Production Design, said quartet of wins matching Birdman, albeit in the lesser categories.
The real surprise, however, was Whiplash. After J.K. Simmons snagged his trophy for an all but guaranteed Best Supporting Actor nod, Damien Chazelle's electrifying drama beat out several worthy competitors (including Sniper, Budapest, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game) to take home the top editing prize. It also won Best Sound Mixing.
Like Simmons, the rest of the actor wins were predetermined weeks ago. While some still held out hope that Michael Keaton would trump Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, the Theory of Everything star walked away with his award for playing famed physicists Dr. Stephen Hawking, while Moore finally found her long deserved moment for playing a professor suffering from early onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice. Arquette provided Boyhood with its only panacea for the evening, she also delivered a rousing speech about equal pay/rights for women that brought four time Oscar winner Meryl Streep to her feet.
Among the other major categories, American Graham Moore took home the little gold statue for his Blacklist winning effort, The Imitation Game. This was considered quite shocking as many had either Paul Thomas Anderson or Damien Chazelle walking away with the accolade. In the documentary category, Citizenfour beat out some tough competition, while Poland's Ida did the same in the Foreign Film category (becoming that country's first win). Disney rejoined the Academy's good graces with Big Hero 6 (Best Animated Feature), while Common and John Legend gave Selma something to celebrate with its Best Song win.
As for the rest, Interstellar was acknowledged for its Visual Effects while Sniper finally picked up a prize for Sound Editing. Feast won Animated Short, while The Phone Call took home the award for Best Live Action Short. Last but not least, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 won Best Documentary Short Subject. Oh course, there were the usual complaints (the show is too long, fan favorites missing from the "In Memoriam" overview) and, for many, this was one of the most boring broadcasts ever (few in 2015 care enough about the artform to warrant wasting time on many of the "non-important" categories).
On the other hand, the diversity issue that keeps plaguing the Academy was addressed in part in the opening self-deprecation and later, after Iñárritu dedicated his final trophy to his "fellow Mexicans". Further, Common and John Legend reminded the predominantly white event that, even today, there are more African American men in the US penal system than the number who were slaves centuries ago. If the nominees felt like they were part of an exclusive club, the ceremony itself reminded everyone that while there is room for massive improvement, the AMPAS is capable of self-reflection and response to criticism.
Of course, the complaints will continue long into the Summer, some wondering how a movie made over 12 long years could go home almost empty handed, while a script that took four people to write beat out screenplays written by one or two at the most. Some hated the last minute inclusion of Gaga and her tribute to The Sound of Music (followed by an appearance by Dame Julie Andrews) while many felt Harris, usually a superman when it comes to hosting, finally found his awards show kryptonite. He was flat, unable to enliven the seeming DOA ritual with his combination of theater panache and pop culture cool.
Perhaps it's because the show has become so predictable. Even with the occasional stunner, the rest of the evening is just waiting for the inevitable. Depending on who's among the givens (like Moore), it can be enjoyable. On the other hand, with so many in social media sounding the death knell for the Oscars, 2015 did little to stop the eulogy. Perhaps if some of the things that "didn't" happen actually did, we'd be talking about an entirely different Academy Awards, instead of the same old stuff. And, now, the conversation starts all over again.