Monday, February 23, 2015

The Highlights of the 87th Academy Awards Ceremony

The moment has come and gone. The 87th Annual Academy Awards happened at the Dolby Theater and handed out 24 awards throughout the night, including Best Picture winner Birdman. What were some of the highlights of the evening? The following is a list of the various moments that stand out above the rest and prove just why Neil Patrick Harris, and the show in general, was in top form and knew how to make the overlong program move fast enough to keep attentive while also lacking in self-involvement. It may have not been the best ceremony ever, but at least it was a lot better than most years.

The Opening

There's a lot indicative on how the show will go based on how the opening segment rolls. It is an introduction to the host as well as the evening. With first timer Neil Patrick Harris behind the wheel and writing from last year's Best Original Song winners, there was a lot at stake. While there were a few bad jokes meant to skewer the news, the overall charm came through in the peppy vibe and impressive visual effects that celebrated the magnificence of movies and their ability to dazzle. Along with cameos from Jack Black and Anna Kendrick, there was plenty of memorable moments that impressively were compiled into one package that kept the show moving and while the show ran long, started off on a focused path. While Harris may not go down as the most memorable, he is one of the best for understanding his place. He is an interstitial piece meant to connect awards and not focus on himself. For that, he deserves more credit than the stunt hosting that has been going on in recent years.

J.K. Simmons Acceptance Speech

A lot of the acting categories have been predictable for most of the run. However, the speeches were not. Among the acting wins, few have been as effective in their simplicity as J.K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash. His speech was heartfelt and reminded everyone on why he has been one of the most likable character actors of the past 20 years. However, he made a simple request at the end that spoke volumes when he asked everyone, allegedly billions before, to call their parents and tell them that they love them. In a night that grew to become excruciating in its political stature, Simmons' humble request was one that could actually be achieved and likely the most effective of the bunch.

Set Design

One of the more impressive things about the ceremony was the visual layout. What was likely an incorporation of The Grand Budapest Hotel, various awards presenters entered through doors opened by lobby boys. As the exterior represented a theater, the marquees read the category and gave a sense of elegance to the whole thing. It was especially nice considering that various other set designs lack personality and didn't give much reason to care about them. Overall, the show was pleasant to look at and the whimsical nature of the stage made for an entertaining evening.

Tim McGraw performs "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"

While he wasn't the first Best Original Song performer, Tim McGraw managed to make for an early highlight for performing the Oscar-nominated song. With an introduction that explained the deeper significance of the song being about Glenn Campbell's growing battle with Alzheimer's Disease, it added a punch. With the somber ballad, he took simplicity and let the song do its own justice. While there would be other songs that were impacting for their maximalism, the simplicity of this performance definitely makes it one of the richer performances of the night.

Ida Wins Best Foreign Film

If it wasn't enough that Ida won Best Foreign Film, a category that was long predicted, the director Pawel Pawlikowski gave one of the more memorable speeches of the night. He didn't focus on political agendas or get overtly sentimental. Instead, he decided to have a dueling banjos moment with the orchestra. As he is being played off, he gives a charming acknowledgment before going sentimental and eventually giving some recognition to his friends in Poland. For whatever reason, he says that they can take a drink. It may not make sense, but that's the charm of his speech. It was full of humor and absurdity that the night's other winners were sorely lacking.

Neil Patrick Harris Lampoons Birdman

Birdman's legacy has been summarized almost entirely by its single take approach. The ceremony decided to lampoon it by coming back from commercial and having the cameraman find him at his dressing room with his robe stuck in the door. He walks back to the stage in his underwear while passing by a drummer, played by Miles Teller in a delightful ode to Whiplash. It ended up with him on stage in his underwear confidently talking about the legitimacy of acting. While it seems like a simple gimmick, it is one that works because of the embarrassing nature of the moment and Harris' decision to just go along with it.

Emma Stone
The Lego Oscar

The Lego Movie snub conspiracy has long been an exhausting thing to hear about. However, the show managed to turn a negative into a positive in the most memorable way possible. During the Best Original Song performance (which featured composer Mark Mothersbuagh in an energy dome made out of Legos most notably), various dancers went into the crowd and handed various people Lego Oscars including Emma Stone and Steve Carell. The story behind it is actually storied as director Phil Miller's response to being snubbed. So to see it show up is especially charming. The fact that the actors continued to hold them during the ceremony only added to the appeal of the gimmick. The only conspiracy left is if the award was given out to people who would inevitably lose and thus made it a curse.

Left to right: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy

For what it's worth, Eddie Murphy's recent resurgence has been a fascinating one. Not because he is suddenly a high and mighty power, but because he's returning to some burned bridges. After last week's unmemorable Saturday Night Live appearance, there was some wonder if he would treat the Oscars similarly. Considering that he notoriously stormed out after losing and lost the hosting gig in 2012 because of some obscene comments from Brett Ratner, there was curiosity if he would give the Oscars the cold shoulder. While not a monumental moment, he did manage to present an award without doing anything egregious or off putting. That is enough to suggest that maybe Murphy will be willing to play ball in the future.

John Legend and Common perform "Glory"
With plenty of symbolism, the two performers for the final Oscar nominated song of the evening to give a powerful performance. With the song being politically charged and speaking to a desire to unite and face truths, there was plenty to admire about the production. However, it is in the final half of the performance in which a choir joins in and sings "Glory" with so much emphasis and power that suddenly the Selma snub talk feels inconsequential. It was a great song and definitely deserved he win that shortly followed the performance.

The Graphics

There are two mindsets to the graphics used throughout the production (the bad will be in the next piece). However, one of the more exciting things about this year's ceremony is the graphics. Where last year has simple designs accenting the films, this year saw a more complicated set of animation that allowed a more comical and engaging approach to reading the various nominees. It added a whimsical touch that overall worked for the evening and thus made for an applaud-worthy moment in the show.

Graham Moore's Acceptance Speech

After other speakers asked that we talk about suicide openly, Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game winner Graham Moore got up and gave a very personal story. Tying into the gay protagonist of the film Alan Turing, he spoke of a time in his youth when he attempted suicide. He spoke with vulnerability and won speech of the night by bringing a message of hope and that if we work hard enough, we can stand where Moore was. Another noteworthy thing was that he addressed the anonymous person in his speech as a woman. It wasn't a big gripe, but a noteworthy one that ended with him asking the weirdos to stay weird.

Julianne Moore's Acceptance Speech

There's a lot to be happy about with Julianne Moore's Best Actress win for Still Alice. For starters, there's a choir of people saying that she has been long overdue (I'd agree). Not only is this an award that encapsulates an impressive career and welcomes Moore to a distinguished club, it was a moment to hear an impassioned speech. Discussing the familiar themes of the film, she addresses her gratitude and the need to focus on Alzheimer's Disease research. It managed to be political yet personal in a way that others weren't able to achieve. However, everyone was likely too infatuated with the symbolism and the reality of Moore finally earning (deservedly so) an Oscar that recognizes her impressive body of work.

Eddie Redmayne's Acceptance Speech

Continuing the great acting speeches was Best Actor for The Theory of Everything winner Eddie Redmayne. With his goofy charm, he managed to stumble through a speech with grace, a big vocabulary and a fascination with the award. He began to personify the award and considered himself a caretaker to it. While it could be perceived as desperation, it was read more as gratitude from an actor who gave a lot to make a very impressive performance work. It may have not been the most polished, but it definitely makes it all the more noteworthy.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

It was a big night for Birdman. However, what makes it really a memorable night is that the enthusiasm of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu managed to make for a lot of passionate speech moments. The most noteworthy came in an odd 1-2 punch in which presenter Sean Penn said "Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?" only to have Inarritu follow it up with a speech about immigration. It may have seen incongruous, but by that point Inarritu had been on the stage plenty of times and was running out of things to say. Luckily he is an aloof and therefore interesting guy to listen to.

Wes Anderson
Score One for the Little Guy

While it wasn't the first time that an indie film won big at the Oscars, it was one of the first times that the smaller films dominated at the Oscars. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash and Birdman being the biggest winners, it was a sign of great things for smaller films that even 10 years ago likely wouldn't have gotten their due. It may explain why this year's ceremony was the lowest watched since 2009. While there's controversy on whether Boyhood should have won more or if Birdman has any legacy, it is a humbling sign to know that three original and personal films managed to spark life into the Oscars.

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