….And four hours later, it was complete.
To be fair, it actually wasn’t four hours. But the 87th Academy Awards was a recreational affair, relaxed in its time constraints and long on musical numbers, both relevant and….otherwise.
In all honesty, though, I didn’t much mind. Personally, I loved the show. More specifically, when the show was operating on all cylinders, I loved the show. That means, when host Neil Patrick Harris was blending solid scripted bits with serendipitous ad-libbing, when the celebrity guests were carefully placed, and when the musical numbers were relevant, well-timed and contextually creative, the ceremony was as good as any in recent memory, even rivaling the Bill Condon-produced, Hugh Jackman-hosted ceremony from 2009.
Sure, there were lulls. It’s a formalized awards ceremony – there were bound to be lulls. Yeah, maybe the NPH Oscar Predictions bit never took off, and therefore made the many callbacks to the bit all the more tiresome. But even then, the payoff was amusing enough. Was there a purpose to planning a tribute to The Sound of Music smack in the middle of the program? Not at all. But damn, that Lady Gaga performance was incredible. The “Everything is Awesome” number was kind of a mess, but WHO CARES?! Is that not, kind of, the point? Plus, The Lonely Island paired with Tegan and Sara on the Oscar stage is kind of a remarkable notion that came true. Probably my least favorite single element to the broadcast was the use of animation to symbolize the themes of the films when the nominees were announced. I’d rather see the actual sets of The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel as opposed to animated facsimiles. But if those minor quibbles are the only complaints, I’d say this Oscar ceremony was a sterling success.
The resulting TV ratings would indicate a much different scenario, however. According to early results, this year’s show represented a seven-year low (or six-year low, depending on which outlet you read). Total viewership was down 18% from last year, with 36.6 million viewers tuning in to watch Birdman complete its industry dominance with an Oscar victory. Interestingly enough, that Condon-Jackman telecast I mentioned earlier as the best in recent memory? It also tallied 36.6 million viewers, so clearly quality is not a factor in Academy Awards viewership. Indeed, ratings are all about the films.
We’ve talked all year about how the two dominant films of the entire awards season frame – Birdman and Boyhood – were completely perpendicular in terms of our traditional Oscar expectations, and surely that was a significant portion of what yielded the smaller audience. Similarly, 2009 was the last year in which Best Picture was only populated with five titles, and as a result The Dark Knight and WALL-E were left off the Best Picture slate. And while 2014’s highest-grossing film, American Sniper, was a nominee in multiple categories, it was pretty much a given that its resulting controversy eliminated any possible chance it had of contending for the big wins. Simply put, general audiences didn’t much care.
I, for one, would submit that it doesn’t matter. The Oscars are supposed to be a celebration of the film industry and its working artists. It’s always been about passion and knowledge for me. Film enthusiasts should take part; everyone else need not apply. That’s precisely the kind of thinking that precludes me from ever producing an Oscar telecast, of course, but then that’s just fine by me. Film snobs of the world unite!
And then, there were the awards themselves. The winners. The artists. The performers. The movies. What this whole dog and pony show – and its preceding six months of widespread pundit hysteria – is supposed to be about. And to that end, I thought it was a good show. There was fun and reverence, some remarkably important speeches, and I am generally happy for all the winners. Grand Budapest wasn’t my favorite film, but there was no more deserving film in terms of the craft categories. I am well on the record for just about hating Interstellar, but its visual effects are undeniable. The love for Whiplash across the categories was heartening and invigorating. I am of the opinion that Michael Keaton was far and away the Best Actor of 2014, but Eddie Redmayne’s performance is great, and I have grown more and more impressed with him on the circuit – humble and self-effacing, with a true bleeding heart. Big Hero 6 was a more deserving Animated Feature winner than the expected Dragon 2. Ida was the correct choice in Foreign Language Film. CITIZENFOUR is a vital and essential documentary feature. All of the Short Film winners are lovely, even if none of the three categories awarded the best nominee. “Glory,” of course, was glorious, and after all that controversy and all that fallout, for that brief portion of the show, Selma owned the night. It was miraculous. It’s even kind of hard to quibble with the Sound Editing in American Sniper, no matter how hard I try to formulate an ideological opposition. And of the early-season frontrunner, Boyhood, the film largely came up empty, but its most deserving participant took home a trophy.
Of that participant, Patricia Arquette, a new mini-controversy bubbled up late last night and this morning – apparently her fierce and important social statement wasn’t appropriately fierce for some other social statement makers. Her advocacy for equal pay is one of the most important issues of this modern culture, and her bold request for assistance in the fight from sundry other marginalized groups was powerful. That certain factions of those marginalized groups decided to turn on a woman who was calling for solidarity underscores how political discourse in this country is twisted to a state of possibly eternal warp, even among like-minded people. It results in an uneasy combo of sadness and rage. Arquette, of course, was forced to defend her comments, but to her credit turned her defense into a forceful offense. Twitter is ablaze with @PattyArquette dropping truth bombs. All the more reason she is a deserving winner. She’s possibly more awesome off-screen than she is on.
Other speeches were wonderful. J.K. Simmons was his most soft-spoken and humble. Pawel Pawlikowski was sincere and eloquent. Graham Moore used the podium as a confessional and formulated his own call to action. The creative team of Whiplash openly and graciously thanked their fearless, genius leader, Damien Chazelle. The filmmakers behind both The Phone Call and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 turned our attention to the importance of crisis counseling. Redmayne was Redmayne, Julianne was Julianne (and together, they are Savage Grace!). And of course, the Birdman crew was eccentric but entirely grateful. This was a team that formed a nuclear unit throughout this season, and their smiles were infectious.
So, oh yeah – Birdman was the big winner, taking home Best Picture, Best Director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Best Original Screenplay for Inarritu and company, and Best Cinematography for the one and only Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (in the overall count, it tied Grand Budapest for most wins, with four). Once again, the odd man out was the man at the center of the picture, Michael Keaton, who lost Best Actor to Redmayne. That result was expected on the basis of the guild winners, but it was nevertheless a bittersweet result for a guy who owned the screen in a way no one else did in 2014. But Keaton, as usual, was humble and grateful. He is, quite simply, a fan of the film, and he looked to be the happiest member of the Birdman family when they all took the stage to accept the Best Picture prize.
Then, there’s Yours Truly. Your loyal Next Projection Oscar Pundit did alright, I suppose. 18 out of 24 correct predictions, hovering somewhere near the top of the pundit ranks (though not at THE top, to be sure). Nailed all the big ones, which I’m happy about, although of course the smaller losses burn (as I mentioned in last week’s columns, those damn Shorts can make or break the ballot). Although I will say that, for all the categories I missed, I correctly predicted which film would steal the trophy in the “Could Win” portion of my final Oscar predictions. Kinda sorta something to be proud of…
So there you have it. Another Oscar season in the books. And I’ll be honest – for as much as I was ready for the season to be over yesterday, I now kinda want this thing to keep going. Typically the burnout sets in by season’s end, but I am ready to keep pounding. So even though we are definitely calling it a season, I’m not certain I’m ready to put Projection: Oscar into hibernation mode until next fall. So it will be around…maybe not as frequently, so you can preserve your sanity, but around nonetheless.
With that, I want to thank all of you who are crazy enough to follow me on this journey every year. Year Four of Projection: Oscar kicked off later than usual, and it first seemed like it would be one of the more boring campaigns in recent history. But Holy Birdman, did it ever turn on its head. About half of the categories last night were uncertain enough to leave us hanging on edge while the envelopes were opened. Screw you, ratings, this year’s Oscars were awesome.
Looking back, through all the second-guessing and the surprise twists and those wonderful Twitter skirmishes (love you all), I loved covering this season. It reminded me why I always aspired to do this admittedly crazy job – immersing oneself in ambitious films, cozying up to industry history, studying the trends and reading a few tealeaves. And, let’s be honest: touching the industry that informs and inspires me, even if only with the tip of my index finger. That’s what makes this so amazing.
Thanks, all. Let’s keep going…