Monday, February 23, 2015

That's a Wrap: The 87th Annual Academy Awards

Another Oscar ceremony is in the books, and wow, what a wonderful year it was for the winners. The Academy spread the wealth this year, with every Best Picture nominee taking home at least one Oscar for the first time since the category expanded to more than five nominees. The biggest winners of the night were Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - which took home both Best Director for Alejandro G. Inarritu and Best Picture - and The Grand Budapest Hotel, with each film winning four statuettes (they were also the nomination leaders, with nine apiece). Boyhood was perhaps the most underwhelming performer, being a tough contender for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing but ultimately only winning Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette. On the other hand, the most surprising performer may be Whiplash, which ended up winning three Oscars - Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

And of course, there were some surprise winners as well. Many (myself included) predicted a Director/Picture split, with most of us picking Richard Linklater (Boyhood) to win the former and Birdman to take the latter. Instead, Inarritu won, making him the second consecutive Mexican director to take the prize (following close friend Alfonso Cuaron last year, for Gravity) and the third consecutive director of color to win (following Cuaron and Ang Lee in 2012, for Life of Pi). How to Train Your Dragon 2 was widely favored to win Best Animated Feature as a consolation for the first film in the series losing to Toy Story 3 in 2010, but instead the prize went to Big Hero 6, giving Disney its second consecutive win in this category (following last year's Frozen). And after being the bridesmaid almost every year over the past decade, composer Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel) was finally the bride in Best Original Score, beating out presumed favorite Johann Johansson (The Theory of Everything).

That being said, for the most part the winners were fairly predictable. Eddie Redmayne took Best Actor, Julianne Moore finally got her Oscar for Still Alice, and Simmons and Arquette had dominated their categories all season. Best Foreign Language Film went to frontrunner Ida (from Poland), while Best Documentary Feature went to the buzzy Edward Snowden doc CitizenFour, ending a mini-streak of feel-good music docs prevailing in this category.

As for the ceremony itself...


  • Neil Patrick Harris made an affable, if a tad underwhelming, host. His opening number, a musical tribute to the wonder of moving pictures, was highly entertaining, particularly the involvement of Anna Kendrick and Jack Black. But after the opening, he mostly just made goofy puns and kept things relatively tame. It may be that Ellen DeGeneres was just so phenomenal last year, but Harris never seemed to rise above the level of "good."
  • The stage itself was elaborately decorated, perhaps a tad too busy. Did we need all the giant Oscars floating around the back?
  • Of the Best Original Song performances, "Glory" was by far the most powerful, an understated performance that rightfully placed the attention on the music. Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island's performance of "Everything is Awesome" was an energetic blast, and Tim McGraw's solo set of "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" was moving and sweet. The tough ones were Rita Ora's "Grateful" and Maroon 5's "Lost Stars," both of which were marred by bad acoustics (was this a problem for anyone else, or was it just my signal?).
  • The musical highlight of the night was Lady Gaga's tribute to The Sound of Music, which turns 50 this year. It's easy to forget that, beneath all the pop frills and outre shenanigans, Gaga really does have a force of nature for a voice. If I were more confident in her acting abilities, I would say cast her in a Broadway revival as Maria immediately. Even surprise guest Julie Andrews thought she was great, and when Hollywood royalty loves you, you know you're for real.
  • I don't usually comment on red-carpet fashion, but Dakota Johnson looked stunning in her red dress, Lupita Nyong'o's pearl-studded dress was gorgeous on her, Anna Kendrick was jaw-dropping beautiful, and David Oyelowo looked very dapper in his velvet tux. On the negative side: Jennifer Lopez's makeup was not flattering.
  • Speaking of Dakota Johnson and the red carpet, her interview with mother Melanie Griffith was a disaster, mostly thanks to reporter Lara Spencer's fumbling through dumb questions. Actually, a lot of the red carpet interviews were embarrassing, particularly Marion Cotillard's ("You're the only one nominated for a foreign film, that must be amazing!," followed by Cotillard's "well yes, I am French" look on her face).
  • "In Memoriam" reminded me of how many great people we lost this year. RIP.
  • In his introduction for some of the Best Picture nominees, I was genuinely concerned about Terrence Howard. I don't know if he was drunk or just overwhelmed, but he was not acting like he was okay. Here's hoping it wasn't anything serious.
  • Eddie Redmayne's genuine excitement over winning Best Actor was perhaps the night's best acceptance speech. Nobody said anything too weird; the closest would be J.K. Simmons' PSA about calling your parents. The sound mixing team for Whiplash, however, were probably the least-prepared: they fumbled through their speeches.

As for myself, I correctly guessed a respectable 19 of the 24 categories correctly, with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay being the biggest two that I missed. That's a step down from my 22 of 24 mark last year, but then, I got super lucky last year in my ballsy picks. This year, playing it safe actually did me in more. So be ready for some wild choices next year (maybe)!

Full list of winners, with commentary, after the jump.


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

We live in truly remarkable times. Both Birdman and its perceived closest competitor, Boyhood, are no one's idea of a traditional Best Picture winner. Both were remarkable feats of cinema, and either would have made incredible winners. Birdman certainly deserved it (it was the highest-placing Best Picture nominee on my top-ten list).


Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I guess it shouldn't really count as a surprise, but wow, I really thought Richard Linklater would win this one. That being said, Inarritu can now has an Oscar to go with the Jarmo he won earlier this year for his fantastic work. He and previous winner/BFF Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) are now Oscar buddies too.


Julianne Moore, Still Alice

At long last, Moore finally has her Oscar. Even if it's not among her strongest performances (what a filmography!), she makes a very worthy winner tonight. Fun fact: she follows Shirley Booth (1952) as the only women to ever win this prize in their 50s.


Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

I love how excited Redmayne was to win the Oscar, promising to be its "custodian" and keep it polished. At 33, he's the eighth-youngest winner in this category ever.


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

She's steamrolled through the season to the point where here coronation was inevitable (and she deserved it too). Once again, she brought her list and reading glasses, like the adorable square that she is. She got a big cheer for her statement about equality for women, too.


J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

There's no surprise here, obviously. His speech turned into a message about calling your parents, which was...odd, but sweet. He's a wholly deserving winner, though; I've been in awe of him ever since his role as Mac MacGuff in Juno. It's excellent to see a hard-working character actor get his due.


The Imitation Game, screenplay by Graham Moore

As I've said before, they were going to honor this film somewhere, and this was its best chance. It was fine work, and it makes for a fine win. Moore's thanking of presenter Oprah for his Oscar was a goofy touch, especially considering the very moving direction that his speech took about his own struggles with suicide and not fitting in.


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), screenplay by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giocabone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo

A very welcome surprise (I picked The Grand Budapest Hotel to win here). It really did deserve this one; it was such a remarkable feat of writing that was very easy to overlook in all the film's technical achievements.


Big Hero 6, Don Hall, Chris Williams, and Roy Conli

So much for the theory that they would retroactively honor How to Train Your Dragon by rewarding the sequel. After such a long losing streak in this category for Disney ended last year with Frozen, it seems like the company can't lose now.


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezski

Two years ago, Lubezski was at (or near; pour one out for fellow nominee Roger Deakins) the top of the list of brilliant cinematographers who had yet to win an Oscar. Now, he's become the first person to win consecutive Oscars since Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won Best Film Editing in 2010 and 2011. When you're hot, you're hot.


The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero

Forty years after winning her first Oscar for Barry Lyndon (1975), Canonero receives her fourth Oscar tonight. Her costumes for The Grand Budapest Hotel where fantastic, so it's a very deserving win.


CitizenFour, Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky

Everyone who's seen this film has raved about it, and it's portrait of Edward Snowden is apparently both remarkable and timely. It was certainly the most buzzed-about doc of the year, so it's not too surprising that it won.


Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry

Suicide prevention seems to be a popular subject at the Oscars this year (see Best Live-Action Short). I didn't get an opportunity to see any of the nominated shorts this year, so all of the short categories I don't have anything for really.


Whiplash, Tom Cross

A remarkable achievement fully deserving of this award. I've already written about the film's editing, so I'll just redirect you there for my thoughts. It's good to know that director Damien Chazelle was not the tyrant onset that Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) was in the film.


Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland)

Poland finally ends its Oscar losing streak on it's tenth nomination, 52 years after its first. Ida is undeniably a great film, which also continues the Academy's winning streak of recognizing masterpieces in this category (A Separation, Amour, The Great Beauty, and now Ida all in a row). Though, truth be told, this category was stacked top-to-bottom with fantastic, worthy films, so there are no losers this year. Pawlikowski's speech got some great laughs, too.


The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Couiler

This actually comes as a bit of a surprise; I suspected that Steve Carell's transformation in Foxcatcher would be too irresistible for voters to pass up. But the makeup and hairstyling here is worthy too: think Tilda Swinton's old-age get-up and Ralph Fiennes' prison look.


The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat

After earning eight nominations in the last nine years, Desplat finally picked up his first win tonight. And he did it for his superior score, too (he was also nominated for The Imitation Game).


"Glory," music and lyrics by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn (Selma)

Honestly, they deserved this one after that powerful performance moments earlier in the ceremony. John Legend has put an excellent cap on his fantastic year, and Common now has an Oscar to go with his Grammys as well. Common's speech about the Edmund Pettis Bridge was remarkable, and Legend's remarks about injustice were powerful as well. Well done.


The Grand Budapest Hotel, production design by Adam Stockhausen, set decoration by Anna Pinnock

It's amazing to think that not only is this the first time a Wes Anderson film has won this award, but it's the first time one as even been nominated. This was a very deserving win for Stockhausen and Pinnock.


Feast, Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed

Never underestimate the power of Disney in this category either.


The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

This seemed like the obvious winner on paper, since it starred Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent as a woman on the phone with a man contemplating suicide, respectively. One of the directors is getting a free doughnut for winning an Oscar, it seems, which may be the most delightful trivia of the night.


American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Clint Eastwood-directed war movies are the good-luck charms for Murray and Asman: their previous Oscar wins were for Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006. This is a category that tends to favor war films, so the victory here is not surprising.


Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley

The sound mix in this film was terrific, especially the blending of the film's music and rat-a-tat rhythms. It's a worthy winner. None of the recipients seemed prepared to give a speech, however, stumbling through their words.


Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, and Scott Fisher

The film's inventive use of digital and practical effects most likely helped this film prevail tonight. Their acceptance speech praised science and Kip Thorne (who's theories formed the basis of the film's narrative), and apparently you get free drinks at the theater with an Oscar. Fun facts all around!

And that's a wrap. I hope you enjoyed this year's ceremony and season as much as I did, and that these movies had the opportunity to provoke you and move you. Of course, there'll be more great film content throughout the year here at The Entertainment Junkie, so if you're new to site, stick around and check out what else we have to offer. I'll do my best to keep it updated regularly. Enjoy!

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