All of the nominated Best Picture films won at least one award, which usually does not happen. American Sniper snuck in a win for Sound Editing in the middle of the ceremony. Aside from that, all of the seven other films won massively in one way or another. There were emotional speeches that catapulted this year’s Academy Awards above and beyond just a celebration of film. Patricia Arquette dedicated her award to mothers and the fight for pay equality when she took home Boyhood’s sole win for Best Supporting Actress. Graham Moore took on the podium as the sole representative for The Imitation Game and celebrated Alan Turing, life, and those who feel “weird” and are plauged with suicidal thoughts like he once was (he won for Adapted Screenplay). Both Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore dedicated their big acting wins to the fight against ALS (Moore also discussed Alzheimer’s in her speech) as they both tearfully accepted their wins as an actor who has just made it and as a veteran actor who was long overdue. John Legend and Common both gave earth shattering speeches after their show making performance of Glory, as they took Selma on their shoulders and proved that a movie can truly win, even with a lack of nominations at an awards show.
There were other big speeches, but the films associated with the winners also did fairly well. JK Simmons declared that we should all reach out to our parents for his ferocious Whiplash win (Whiplash ended up with a few more wins, including Sound Mixing). The Grand Budapest Hotel had a grand evening with its four wins, where all involved thanked Wes Anderson for his colourful and vibrant film. The biggest winner was the one that has made “soared” and “swooped” the most used words since midnight (trust me, I’ve seen a handful of these already). That was Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which won Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu won for the former three awards and used his large amounts of podium time to praise filmmaking, fit in all of his thank yous and reflect on Mexico as his homeland. Either Birdman or Boyhood, the two competing films of the night, would have gone home with a number of wins or merely one or two. Birdman ended up being the winner, but either outcome would have sufficed.
The speeches and the performances helped save the awards. Aside from Glory’s huge performance that had many crying in the audience (including David Oyelowo, Chris Pine and Jessica Chastain), we had Lady Gaga’s room quieting tribute to The Sound of Music that may have introduced many to her raw talent outside of her zany dresses and antics. Jennifer Hudson commemorated all of the people we lost last year (and, boy, did we lose many) with ease, but it’s hardly the first time she has made an impact on the Academy Awards. Tegan, Sarah, the Lonely Island and a ton of cameos had fun on stage representing The Lego Movie, while Tim McGraw sat alone to honor Glenn Campbell.
The other performance worth noting was Neil Patrick Harris‘ witty and charged intro number that included Anna Kendrick and Jack Black. It was quick, smart and electrically bright like a broadway sign. It’s about the only time Neil Patrick Harris was actually in charge of the evening, outside of the occasional good joke and a great tribute to both Birdman and Whiplash. He made jokes that were borderline insulting when they were not meant to be, and his actually offensive jokes sounded more rude and less actually funny. He stumbled on name after name (his magic trick at the end made this seem intentional. Okay.). He had crickets follow him more than Pinocchio as he made jokes that made sense but were not necessarily funny. He seemed like a sure fit when he was announced as a host, but here he was as out of place as he could possibly be. Sorry, Neil Patrick Harris: Not my tempo.
Aside from a hosting job that was legen-wait for it… wait for it… ah, forget it, the show went rather well. The hotel backdrop with lobbymen was a nice touch and much of the production was done well (from the illustrated pictures in the memorial piece to the fascinsting title cards for each nomination). No speech was overly awkward or offensive this year, and everyone used this time to cherish both filmmaking and the human race. There were some surprise turns (Big Hero 6 cooled How to Train Your Dragon 2’s hotstreak), but there weren’t any large upsets. The wins were interesting and were difficult to call once the awards got bigger (again, who really knew who would win against Birdman or Boyhood after their neck and neck awards season?), and this made the long evening exciting. It was a success because of its winners and set up, but it could have easily become devastating with its hosting duties that were almost as stable as rotting wood. Then again, I am a critic. Birdman’s big win may silence me until this event happens again next year.