Oscars 2015: The overview, review and all else inbetween
NOW THAT we’ve all recovered from Monday morning’s (or Sunday evening, if you’re over the pond) annual back-slapping reverie, hello and welcome to the very first “SCM belatedly covers the Oscars analysis”! Our very own Rich Kee has slavered over iPlayer’s replay function in order to bring us his sprawling analysis of the whole glitter shebang. Play it again, Rich.
Rich Kee: Another year, another Oscars. Even though it’s the last in a long string of springtime ceremonies, the Academy Awards have the grandfather clause on their side. Because they’ve been around the longest, they’re automatically the one people care most about. Despite this, the more you know and love film, the more the Oscars are likely to piss you off. I can’t stand the red carpet footage and the obsession with what anybody wears, probably because I’m a man and unless I pull a Trey Parker/Matt Stone it’s pretty easy to decide what I’d wear to the Oscars should I ever attend (which I obviously won’t, but let me cling to my dreams at least until my twenties are over). So you won’t see any commentary on dresses and photobombs and that kind of crap here: there are a million other places to read about the irrelevant stuff. I’m here to talk about the three-hour ceremony, its 24 presentations and the musical and comedic treats in between.
Doogie Howser, MC
Henceforth referred to as NPH, Tony winner and regular host Neil Patrick Harris was a natural choice for the show. He’s an excellent song-and-dance man with great comic timing and legions of fans both in and out of Hollywood. He’s not totally new to the Oscar stage, having performed the opening number for Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin’s forgettable 2010 ceremony.
As talented a host as NPH undoubtedly is, the material given to him was pretty lacking. The opening number, where he performed the sweeping number ‘Moving Pictures’ in front of a giant screen showcasing great movies from the past and the major nominees from this year. Accompanied by fellow triple threat Anna Kendrick (who I feel too biased to comment on because I’m in love with her) and gatecrashed by perpetual show stealer Jack Black, the opening number played to the strengths of all three vocally and comedically gifted stars. The lyrics blended saccharine back-patting with sardonic wit, and it’s a shame that Neil only got one song to show off all he can do.
Neil milked all he could out of a fun little running gag in which he locked away his predictions for the night, to reveal at the end of the show, and designated Octavia Spencer to keep an eye on the box. I’m not sure if Octavia was pre-warned, but she played up to it as charmingly as she always does. The pay-off was poorly timed right before the long-awaited Best Picture award, all for a slight-of-hand trick everyone could see coming. The punchlines, while getting a few laughs, were obviously written by somebody keeping an eye on Twitter and were more warmly received in the room than online.
The Oscar hosting job seems to be one nobody can do right recently, and every host seems doomed to underwhelm. It’s a difficult balance to strike between shameless back-patting and snarky jokes, and because the audience are sober and stationary for most of the evening it’s harder to get big belly laughs out of them like at the Golden Globes. The humour at the Oscars is usually underwritten and obvious, trying to entertain everyone a little and nobody a lot. NPH was as good a choice as any, but he’s a lot more at home in the niche and quirky Tonys rather than the broader and more sombre Oscars. Neil did as good a job as he could with the lame jokes, but after the first ten minutes he felt like he was in the way rather than moving things along.
– A hilarious jab at NPH’s Gone Girl co-star Ben Affleck and his sexual tension with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. With Neil, every joke that isn’t a gay joke is the real shocker.
– Anna spoiling Neil’s gruesome death scene in Gone Girl and throwing her Cinderella shoe at the delightfully hammy Jack
– Dancers dressed as Storm Troopers!
– The obligatory Meryl Effing Streep joke
– NPH strolled down the aisle to chat to the seat fillers, including a memorable interview with a nervous-looking bespectacled guy named Steve who can’t wait to meet Edward Norton.
– NPH putting David Ojelowo on the spot to slag off the terrible Annie remake, and call out the crowd for failing to nominate his performance in Selma.
– NPH channelling Michael Keaton’s infamous tighty-whitey-clad sprint through Broadway from Birdman, of course taking time to chastise Miles Teller for his back-stage drumming – Birdman, Whiplash and Gone Girl all evoked in the same skit; good going!
– Among the self-effacing jokes of the night, Neil insists that The Smurfs 2 “read funny” and reminds us of his childhood role of Doogie Howser M.D. and what he did to that poor hat in A Million Ways to Die in the West
– Before bringing John Travolta and Idina Menzel on together (because of course they did), Neil joked that Benedict Cumberbatch was not only the most awesome name in Hollywood, but it’s what you get when you ask John Travolta to say Ben Affleck. Menzel then introduced her co-presenter “Glom Bazingo” and the two joked about how neither of them will ever live it down while Travolta touched her face a little too much
The Oscar Race… Without the Race
Several jokes throughout the show took a necessary dig at the controversial whiteness of the nominees. On the matter of this whiteness… need I remind the whingers that a significant portion of the Academy is black, and that after whites they’re the most represented racial group? Or that the President of the Academy is a black woman? Or that 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture last year? The reason there weren’t more non-white nominees is just plain bad luck, in a year where they could have nominated ten more Best Actors and still left some deserving choices off.
Another complaint is that there weren’t more films with significant female characters, and all I have to say to that is, I’m sorry: Cake, Still Alice and Wild weren’t as good as male-led films like Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma and Foxcatcher. It wasn’t a big conspiracy, it was just a very competitive year and the most artistically impressive films happened to also have very strong male performances while the best female performances were mostly in smaller, less ambitious projects.
Also, the Best Director and Best Picture winners were Mexican. So, yeah, keep trying to convince me that they’re all big racists. Anyway, on to the first award of the night!
Best Supporting Actor
Presented by Lupita Nyong’o
Winner: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
The performance by screen legend Robert Duvall was the only nominated part of The Judge, a bland and forgettable film co-starring Robert Downey Jr. A previous winner and alumnus of many a winning film, Duvall is now in his sixth decade of making movies. Ethan Hawke played his role in Boyhood for twelve years, and did a very good job as he always does in Linklater films, though he was overshadowed by co-star Patricia Arquette.
Edward Norton, who is long overdue for an Oscar, was electric and hilarious in Birdman, which despite its stellar ensemble didn’t bag a single Acting win because playing an exaggerated version of yourself can’t compete with faking a deadly illness. Norton has spent too much of the last fifteen years flickering on and off the radar, not helped by his reputation of being too much a perfectionist and pulling rank on the director. Meanwhile, his Hulk replacement Mark Ruffalo has netted another nomination for an understated and transformative role in Foxcatcher, where he was subtle and impressive but wasn’t afforded enough screentime to really make his mark.
But this was the year of J.K. Simmons. Since seeing him in Whiplash, I was further persuaded that he’s one of the greatest living actors. He’s mostly been relegated to small supporting roles, but Whiplash (which started as a short film featuring Simmons) has proven just how versatile, powerful and emotive the man is. He’s an engrossing go-hard-or-go-home actor; not a pretty boy or a classically trained orator, he’s an exciting, charismatic and famously compassionate force of pure talent. If you’ve not seen Whiplash, my favourite film of the year, J.K. Simmons is the first five reasons why you should.
J.K., the shamelessly sentimental lug that he is, gave a touching speech thanking his family and encouraging everyone to value their parents and “just pick up the phone and call ‘em”, before patting his heart and thanking his own late parents. As cute as the message is, he was so blunt and cool about it, not trying to rush in a million thank-yous to everyone who worked on Whiplash. He’s a class act, that man. An Oscar unquestionably deserved for the guy who represents all the underrated, non-photogenic but endlessly watchable character actors that keep movies interesting.
Best Costume Design
Presented by Jennifer Lopez and Chris Pine
Winner: Milena Canonero (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Nominees: Mark Bridges (Inherent Vice), Colleen Atwood (Into the Woods), Anna B. Sheppard (Maleficent), Jacqueline Durran (Mr. Turner)
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Presented by Reese Witherspoon
Winner: Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Nominees: Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard (Foxcatcher), Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White (Guardians of the Galaxy)
These are two categories where I always have a hard time choosing, because the films they nominate are all well styled and the overall quality of the film doesn’t really matter. Most voters just pick their favourite film from the list, so it’s no surprise that The Grand Budapest Hotel was chosen for both. The costumes and make-up were excellent in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a visual feast of a film with an array of colourful characters. At least one of the year’s most memorable and unexpectedly beloved films took a few Oscars home, even if it was a little too “out there” for Best Picture.
Best Foreign Language Film
Presented by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman
Winner: Ida (Polish)
Nominees: Leviathan (Russian), Tangerines (Estonian/Russian), Timbuktu (French) and Wild Tales (Spanish)
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of these films yet because foreign films rarely get released near me and most of these films simply aren’t available. Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski wins the award for longest dragging out of a speech of the night, with the exit music running out entirely to rapturous applause from the other nominees. Nobody in the audience seemed to mind as he rapidly thanked all the little people who helped make the films which the America-centric Academy often fail to recognise. Many voters ignore the free screeners of these foreign films and abstain from voting, so they’re typically given little to no attention. That really needs to change.
Best Live Action Short Film
Winner: The Phone Call
Nominees: Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp, Parvaneh
Best Documentary Short Subject
Winner: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Nominees: Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper, White Earth
Both awards presented by Jason Bateman and Kerry Washington
Yet again, I haven’t had the chance to see these films. Usually, they’re screened at festivals months before making it to the masses, and even then I’ve no idea how to see them because of silly rules which prevent nominated shorts from being shown on television or else they can’t be nominated. Both winners, especially based on the speeches by the winning directors, piqued my interest so I’ll have to check them out. Sadly, the general public don’t have much of a chance to chime in on these short film awards until after they’ve been handed out.
Best Sound Mixing
Winner: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley (Whiplash)
Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken
Best Sound Editing
Winner: Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman (American Sniper)
Nominees: Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken
Admittedly, I haven’t seen Interstellar or Unbroken, so I have only 60% of an informed opinion on this. But I’ve seen both winners, and I can’t fault the sound work on either. For all its controversial ethics, American Sniper was masterfully directed and edited by a highly experienced production team, and the sounds of war were vivid and striking in the film. And Whiplash is Whiplash; best sound mixing not only of this year but possibly of any film ever made. The young team who worked on Whiplash couldn’t have done a better job. If you haven’t seen Whiplash yet, do your best to see it either in an encore screening or on a TV with an excellent sound system, and just let the music consume you.
Best Supporting Actress
Presented by Jared Leto
Winner: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Nominees: Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
This was probably the least impressive set of nominees, though it needn’t have been. As much as I love Emma Stone, I felt that her heft as Hollywood’s sweetheart gave her a leg-up for this one which the actual performance didn’t quite merit. Laura Dern was charming and subtle in Wild, but her character was weightless, idealised and not very challenging for the veteran actress. Keira Knightley netted a second nomination, and I don’t doubt that she’ll have an Oscar on her mantle soon enough if she ever makes herself look unattractive enough on-screen to win one.
Meryl Streep, as good as she was in Into the Woods, really wasted a space here. Nominating Meryl for the sake of it is redundant when in my opinion she was outshone in Into the Woods by co-star Emily Blunt. The most egregious absentee from the list was Jessica Chastain, whose performance in A Most Violent Year could well have competed with Patricia Arquette’s. As it stands, Arquette was the uncontested choice for her twelve years of development in Boyhood.
Arquette gave a stirring speech about the need for equal pay for women, earning the Michael Moore Award for the night. As it happens, this was the only award won by the hot favourite Boyhood, a film which stood strong on an ambitious gimmick and had many impressive scenes. Boyhood has won several Best Film awards (including the BAFTA) but underperformed at the Oscars, against my expectations, and may have suffered from people having the chance to get over it by the time later films like Birdman came along.
Best Visual Effects
Presented by Chloe Grace Moretz and Ansel Elgort
Winner: Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher (Interstellar)
Nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Here we go – the “film which actually made money” award! All the nominees had great effects, though I’m surprised to see three similar-looking superhero films but no Hobbit, Into the Woods or Noah. In a time when effects-heavy films are the backbone of the industry, only picking five films is arbitrary and random. I would have picked Dawn of the Planet of the Apes because the visual effects were used so effectively in service of the story and characters, but it’s no surprise that the team behind Inception didn’t go home empty-handed. At least this year isn’t like the last, when Gravity killed all the competition for every technical award and therefore killed all the suspense.
Best Animated Short Film
Presented by Anna Kendrick and Kevin Hart
Nominees: The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Me and My Moulton, A Single Life
Handily, the only one of these I’ve seen was also the winner. Disney’s Feast, attached to the wide release of Big Hero 6, is a charming little story which uses the new Meander technique to render two-dimensional characters in a three-dimensional environment in a peculiar new way. Just from the tiny clips, I definitely need to check the others out- they all use a wide variety of techniques which look like a breath of fresh air compared to the 3D CGI films which look a little too similar nowadays. And yes, the joke of having the tiny Anna and tinier Kevin present “Animated Short” is adorable.
Best Animated Feature Film
Presented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zoe Saldana
Winner: Big Hero 6
Nominees: The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
I wrote a rave review of Big Hero 6 only recently and it’s my second favourite animated film of this year. My first favourite was the unforgettable The Lego Movie, which wasn’t nominated. Everybody seems to agree that the Academy messed up by not nominating The Lego Movie, so I won’t flog the dead horse here. I hope the stop-motion team behind The Boxtrolls, who also made Coraline and the amazing Paranorman, win one day. But The Boxtrolls wasn’t their best work. As for How to Train Your Dragon 2, it was a worthy sequel to the film which put Dreamworks back on track. And of course, just like you, I haven’t seen the other two; pundits might have fancied Studio Ghibli’s Kaguya to triumph as penance for snubbing Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong of The Wind Rises, while Song of the Sea comes from the makers of 2009’s Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. Both, however, fell to the Disney steamroller.
Best Production Design
Presented by Chris Pratt and Felicity Jones
Winner: Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Nominees: The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Mr. Turner
Another set of excellently designed films, but ultimately The Grand Budapest Hotel is the film which sticks in the mind the most. The sets and props, all designed to resemble cake decorations and create a sense of splendour and luxury in a continent soon to be decimated, were striking and delightful. Also, no second guesses what song they played when Chris Pratt walked onstage: Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”. Nice touch.
Presented by Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba
Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)
Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr. Turner, Unbroken
Lubezki has won twice in a row now, having won Best Cinematography for Gravity last year, earning him a reputation as the go-to “long take” guy. And so he should be rewarded for his high-risk high-reward shooting technique, one which writers and actors must enjoy the challenge of contributing to. Birdman managed to film even the most unremarkable sets (it takes place almost entirely within a claustrophobic theatre with deliberately phony-looking stage sets) in an engaging and brave way; the complicated blocking procedures that Lubezki, Iñárritu and the performers had to undergo is truly astonishing. I’d predicted that Birdman would win this award if no others… I was almost right.
The last year has been a cruel one, with the departure of many beloved stars. The In Memoriam montage was introduced by the perpetually nominated Meryl Streep, who will hopefully not appear in one for a good many years yet. Oscar winner Robin Williams, who was surprisingly tucked away in the middle, received audible applause, as did Richard Attenborough, Bob Hoskins, Eli Wallach and Mike Nichols. In a year with so many lost greats, young and old, there was no individual tribute. Some complaints have been issued about overlooked people, most notably comedienne and Red Carpet legend Joan Rivers, and you’d think that they’d be more thorough or else they’ll piss fans off year after year. So hint hint Academy: start the next In Memoriam now and fill it in as the year goes along. It’s morbid, but it’ll be easier.
For some reason, they’ve recently opted to show the projection over orchestral music and have a singer perform after the montage rather than during. This year, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson sang “I Can’t Let Go”, which Wikipedia tells me she sang on the TV show Smash. I’m not sure what the song added to the In Memoriam segment other than a couple minutes of running time, but Jennifer did her job well enough in the least talked-about vocal performance of the night.
Best Film Editing
Presented by Benedict Cumberbatch and Naomi Watts
Winner: Tom Cross (Whiplash)
Nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game
This one was hard-fought and very richly deserved by Whiplash. It’s one of the most excellent editing jobs I’ve ever seen, to the point that, even with 12 years’ worth of footage, Boyhood couldn’t compete. The Grand Budapest Hotel also had excellent editing, mostly used for comic rather than dramatic effect, but this award belongs to Whiplash, the most intricately crafted film of the year. Tom Cross did a wonderful job in the editing suite, and got a little gold man and a kiss on the cheek from Naomi Watts for his work.
Best Documentary Feature
Presented by David Ojelowo and Jennifer Aniston
Nominees: Finding Vivien Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga
I’m sure these documentaries will show up on Netflix a few months from now [Ed’s Note: Or immediately in Virunga‘s case], but at this moment I haven’t a clue. Citizenfour, the winner, is about the whistle blower Edward Snowden, who I’m sure I don’t need to fill you in on. Overshadowing the documentary’s win was the presentation by two actors who have received significant publicity for being “snubbed”. I’ll get to Best Actor later, but I’m definitely one of those annoyed by Ojelowo’s lack of a nomination. Furthermore, NPH’s joke that Snowden couldn’t make it “for some treason”, while clever, was considered tasteless by many viewers who can’t help being reminded that nearly everyone in the room laughing at their hero’s expense is a millionaire with all the publicity and soapbox access they could desire.
Best Original Song
Presented by John Travolta and Idina Menzel
Winner: “Glory” from Selma, performed by John Legend and Common
John Legend, who scored a chart hit recently with piano ballad “All of Me”, killed it with this beautiful song, joined by rapper and Selma ensemble player Common. These two very talented performers were backed by a huge multi-racial choir recreating the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rarely does an Oscars performance successfully capture the spirit of the film on the theatre stage, but “Glory” earned a standing ovation from a tearful audience. This was the only award for Selma, a film which in a lesser year and with better timing would have been a bigger contender.
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again, performed by Maroon 5
The Best Song performances are usually a notorious time-fillers on Oscar night, as they usually nominate a string of tedious ballads. This first song definitely fits that archetype, coming from a film I haven’t seen, and gave me a much-appreciated loo break. I can’t stand Adam Levine’s voice at the best of times, and this wasn’t the song to sway me. At least it was short.
‘Everything is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie, performed by The Lonely Island, Teegan and Sarah, Will Arnett, Mark Mothersbaugh and Questlove
Now this is more like it! The most ubiquitous movie song of the year, the catchy Communist anthem “Everything is Awesome”, didn’t disappoint. Not only were The Lonely Island as contagious as ever on the verses and Tegan and Sara adorably energetic on the hook, but we got three surprise cameos. Devo keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh and drummer Questlove played solos, while actor Will Arnett appeared in a full Batman costume (complete with a Lego bat symbol on his chest) reprising his hilarious role from The Lego Movie. The huge production number has to be seen to be believed, throwing everything they can (including Lego statuettes!) at the one chance The Lego Movie had to remind the Academy how much they cocked up by not nominating it for Best Animated Film.
‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’ from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, performed by Tim McGraw
I’m not all that familiar with Tim McGraw, who hasn’t made much of an impact in the UK, but he did a fine job of this beautiful song. The song was written by country legend Glen Campbell before retiring due to a battle with Alzheimer’s. McGraw performed this valuable song with the gravitas its background demands.
‘Grateful’ from Beyond the Lights, performed by Rita Ora
Another film I haven’t had the chance to watch yet, and another dull Best Song nominee which you forget before it’s even finished. Funnily enough, the performance was announced by Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson, raising the question of why ‘The Hanging Tree’, a song which made a much larger impact in a much bigger film, wasn’t nominated.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Gaga?
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of The Sound of Music (though if we’re going by Oscar years, it’s actually 50 years since My Fair Lady won Best Picture and only 49 since The Sound of Music won), Scarlett Johansson introduced the only tribute to a specific film in this jam-packed year. I can’t deny my fondness for The Sound of Music, as long and sentimental as it is, though with Dame Julie Andrews having been out of commission as a singer for some years now they needed someone else to fill her shoes.
Naturally, they went with the controversy-obsessed pop artiste, Lady Gaga. The shift of reactions on social media between the introduction and her first note, including my own response, was hilariously rapid. Gaga is a classically trained singer and a vocal chameleon with a vast appreciation for music, though her charting singles may suggest otherwise, and this is the most significant mainstream exposure of “normal Gaga” you’ll ever see. This wasn’t a performance by the pretentious Warholian warbler we usually know Gaga as; this was music geek Stefani Germanotta hitting it out of the park with four iconic songs from one of musical theatre’s most demanding roles.
I don’t want to stifle Gaga’s creativity or deny that I’ve enjoyed some of her pop output (I contend that “Edge of Glory” is one of the best songs of the past five years), but why mimic Madonna when you can sing like Julie Andrews? I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this more subdued Gaga, and I’m not the only one calling for her to make her Broadway or movie musical debut. Her performance, as unnecessary as it was, was the highlight of the evening. What’s more, she did it with Julie standing in the friggin’ wings. That’s pressure, right there!
Best Original Score
Presented by Julie Andrews
Winner: Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Nominees: The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything
I’m running out of ways to praise The Grand Budapest Hotel, but since this is its last award of the night I can’t forget to rave about the riveting score by Alexandre Desplat. The diverse and talented Desplat has scored several Best Picture winners, including The King’s Speech and Argo, and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The other nominees all had nice music, but The Grand Budapest Hotel’s score served its film the most engagingly of the five. I appreciate the nomination for Mr. Turner though.
Best Original Screenplay
Presented by Eddie Murphy
Winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Nicolas, Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo Jr. (Birdman)
Nominees: Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler
This was one of the harder ones to call. The Grand Budapest Hotel was witty and quotable, while Birdman had all those meaty monologues and an improvisational nature. Personally though, I was disappointed that Nightcrawler didn’t win. No character this year was as captivating and scary as Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, with his bizarre dialogue mostly pieced together from the soundbites and grating advice you find in self-help guides and internet business courses. I can’t fault Birdman being chosen, though it’s odd to see a film with four credited writers win a Screenplay award. For me, this was the last clue I needed to figure out that Birdman would be the champion of the night.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Presented by Oprah Winfrey
Winner: Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Nominees: American Sniper, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Another tough call. Of the three biographical films on the list, The Imitation Game took the most liberties in order to make Turing’s story better fit a classic story structure. I disliked all that tampering, though I enjoyed the film on its own merits. Moore won me over with his acceptance speech, in which he admitted to having attempted suicide at the age of sixteen due to intense bullying over his sexuality and encouraged the weirdos of the world to “stay weird and stay different”. Because some clichés really do need to be repeated.
I wanted to like Inherent Vice more than I did, but the dense and meandering screenplay was an unfortunate roadblock there. Whiplash, which of course I loved, feels out-of-place in this category as Writer/Director Damien Chazelle simply expanded his original short film which is a weird definition of “adaptation”. I would have appreciated a screenplay win for Whiplash, but it fell awkwardly between the two categories and that confused matters. The most surprising lack of a nomination for me was Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel.
Presented by Ben Affleck
Winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman)
Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Iñárritu returned to the stage, stopping to hug his nominated Birdman actors and revealing way too much information about the ball-smell of his “Michael Keaton tighty-whities”, to receive the much-deserved Best Directing award for Birdman. In a fiercely competitive year when many directors were on fire, to the point that Bennett Miller’s nomination came without a Best Picture nomination attached, he was a strong choice.
Many were upset that all the nominated directors were, as usual, men, especially as Selma director Ava DuVernay was considered a front-runner. But that’s the way it ended up being. When the usual safe bet Clint Eastwood didn’t get nominated, I don’t think we can take any omission in this category too seriously. A great director won for an excellent film, and that’s what will matter a year from now. Case in point: Ben Affleck was chosen to present this award when his directing on Argo was controversially overlooked two years ago.
Presented by Cate Blanchett
Winner: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman)
They were never going to please everybody with the Best Actor category this year. I wasn’t thrilled with the choices, but if they’d nominated Tom Hardy, Timothy Spall, Ralph Fiennes, David Ojelowo, Miles Teller, Ben Affleck or Jake Gyllenhaal as I wish they had, then I would have been complaining about the snubbing of Cumberbatch, Carell, Cooper and Keaton. It was an extremely competitive year for actors, and the Oscars did what they usually do and went with the performances which begged for it the most rather than those which deserved it the most.
The youngest and freshest actor of the nominees, rising British star Eddie Redmayne (I should amend that… pretty sure he’s fully risen) won for his portrayal of Dr. Stephen Hawking. His performance was the only noteworthy part of the overrated and under-developed The Theory of Everything, a film which flowed more like a meandering dream sequence than the very real story of a man whose life has been too full for one film to capture. Redmayne is a fine actor and in a lesser year I’d have welcomed his win without question, but the Oscars continue their trend of awarding outside-in portrayals of medical afflictions rather than inside-out performances which don’t rely on a transformation element to catch your attention. Please don’t think I’m slagging Redmayne off; of the five nominees he was a good choice, but if ever there needed to be a seven-way tie for a five nominee category, this was that time.
Presented by Matthew McConaughey
Winner: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
This wasn’t even a contest. Julianne Moore has been nominated five times, including her first for one of my all-time favourite films Boogie Nights, and is often discussed as one of the most overdue repeat nominees. Julianne commits to every role whether the film around her is any good or not, even turning in good performances in the pointless Psycho remake, the pointless Carrie remake and the pointless first sequel to Jurassic Park. It’s a shame that such a consistently excellent actress won her award for a film which is otherwise underwhelming, and is more obvious award bait than her previous nominated work.
In Still Alice, where she portrays a linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, she cries, whimpers, looks around lost, looks beautiful in one scene and hideous in the next… the only unusual acting choice Julianne made in the film was keeping her clothes on (that’s a rarity for her). She pulls out all the stops in her brilliant performance. The Oscars often go to the right people for the wrong films, and we all know that this one is really for Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Kids Are Alright, The Big Lebowski, The Hours and all of the other superior films Julianne Moore has featured in.
The only nominee I really considered a contender, especially after Scarlett Johansson wasn’t nominated for Under the Skin, was Rosamund Pike. Her performance was more the kind I wish the Oscars awarded regularly. It was intense, controlled, focused and utterly chilling. Actors very seldom win the leading awards for playing unsympathetic, villainous characters (those are usually better served in the supporting categories) and Gone Girl was perhaps too bleak for some voters. When Gone Girl was released there was major buzz for the film and for Rosamund in particular, but it was overshadowed by later releases and didn’t get much love. It wasn’t her year, but I hope now that she’s made a bigger impact in the USA she’ll get her Oscar soon enough. When she does, we’ll know it was really for Gone Girl.
Presented by Sean Penn
Nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Presented by the world’s most talented asshole Sean Penn (who made a hideous immigration joke upon announcing the Mexican winners), we finally come to the Best Picture award. Birdman was considered the gambler’s choice for Best Picture, gaining steam in the more recent awards after an early run of success for the more obvious choice Boyhood.
I’ve said tons about Birdman already, but it should be reiterated what an unprecedented win this is. There has never been a Best Picture winner this weird, ambiguous and irreverent. The film, set in a theatre and focusing on actors while rallying against critics, certainly had appeal for all creative types, but no winner of Best Picture has had such a baffling ending or so many intentionally unanswered questions. Or an erection joke.
The more cliché nominees, like the dour and serious (and financially successful!) American Sniper and The Theory of Everything were barely contenders, while in the 90s-era Oscars they would have been shoo-ins. I would have thought The Grand Budapest Hotel was too weird to be nominated, but its appeal has proven broader than I expected when I first fell in love with it last spring. It’s a treat to see one of my favourite directors Wes Anderson be recognised by the Academy when usually the more out-there filmmakers don’t get nominated.
Selma, despite the lack of specific nominations, still got a Best Picture nod to put on the DVD cover. Sure, it’s historically inaccurate, but that didn’t stop Titanic, Braveheart or Argo from taking home the trophy. Of the more obvious award bait this year, Selma was the strongest and, although it didn’t replicate every minute detail, it certainly captured the spirit of Martin Luther King’s triumphant legacy.
My favourite film of the year, Whiplash, was a surprising choice because it didn’t tick any of the usual award bait boxes. It wasn’t charged by politics and doesn’t rely on any specific gimmicks or tell an inspiring true story. In fact, it tells a decidedly uninspiring story. The greater access to screeners and the wider release of smaller films are allowing the Oscars to become less predictable and safe with their choices, and I welcome this new era of awarding films which give the audience what they didn’t know they wanted, rather than giving them what you think they’re going to like. Here’s to more challenging, ambitious, weird and controversial films taking home the gold in the 21st Century!
Side Note: I know that Birdman’s full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), but how many times do you think I can stand to type all of that out!?
And that wraps up Mr. Kee’s discussion. He’ll now go off for a refreshing pint of lemonade and I’ll go back to sleep as the stars nurse their Elton John afterparty hangovers. Happy Oscars, everybody!