When the Oscar ceremony’s scheduled end time is three minutes away and they haven’t done Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, or Best Picture yet, it’s safe to say they might not be running the tightest ship over there at the Kodak Theater — not that it’d take that long to figure it out. Yes, tonight’s Academy Awards were crazy long (three hours and 45 minutes, oy) and frequently dull, proving that even presumed host-with-the-most Neil Patrick Harris is fallible when handed the toughest gig in the land. Some thoughts on his hit-and-miss job, and the night’s other memorable moments:
Neil Patrick Harris starts strong
You gotta give it to NPH for knowing where his strengths lie: after a welcome, right-out-of-the-gate #OscarsSoWhite jab (“Today we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest”), he wasted little time getting into a song-and-dance number that was, expectedly, energetic, funny, and smart. (Also, kudos for dropping a Clue reference—Oscar recognition three decades overdue, that.) His early jokes were similarly well-aimed, particularly a jab at his own participation in The Smurfs 2 (“The script ready funny”), and he did manage a few laughs later in the evening, especially a John Travolta bit that was a lot funnier before we all knew Travolta was in on the gag. But…
Neil Patrick Harris does not end strong
The business about Harris’s “Oscar predictions,” placed under lock and Price-Waterhouse key and the watchful eye of Octavia Spencer, had a modestly funny payoff, but God in heaven was it a long walk in the woods to get there—coupled with said payoff’s unfortunate delivery during the “Jesus Christ, how are we running this late pick it up” portion of the evening. Several other jokes landed with a considerable thud (that Reese Witherspoon “joke” would’ve been rejected by ‘80s-era Bob Hope), none worse than the weirdly right-leaning line that CITIZENFOUR subject Edward Snowden couldn’t make it to the ceremony “For some treason—reason.”
“Everything is Awesome”
The LEGO Movie might’ve come away empty-handed (losing Best Song to Selma’s “Glory” and scandalously not even nominated for Best Animated Feature), but it mounted the evening’s energetic production number—and its most aggressively Internet-friendly, by augmenting the Tegan and Sara and Batman elements with the Lonely Island and ?uestlove.
The revolt against the play-off
It only takes one rebel to change things, and tonight, that rebel was Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski. For years, the strategy to keep the show moving—rather than, I dunno, not doing an endless, related-to-nothing tribute to The Sound of Music—has been for the orchestra to “play off” the winners in the “lesser” categories before they’ve finished their acceptance speeches. But early in the evening, Pawlikowski decided “fuggit, what’re they gonna do” and kept on talking, and the orchestra kept playing, and he kept talking, and finally, the orchestra blinked. And once they’d been toppled, that was that; the rest of the night, other winners kept talking as well, and justice prevailed.
Preach, Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette’s Best Supporting Actress speech, read aloud somewhat awkwardly from notes, began as a fairly pro-forma affair: thanking the Academy, thanking her family, thanking her collaborators on Boyhood, etc. And then, after a very Hollywood detour into “ecological sanitation to the developing word,” she went there: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Your Flavorwire was pretty hyped about it, and so were Meryl Streep and J-Lo:
The “In Memoriam” Snubs
Since the telecast producers wisely began dropping the house mics during the “In Memoriam” segment (which turned it into a weird Applause-O-Meter for dead celebrities) a few years back, the talk of that montage is, most frequently, who they screwed up and left out. And this year, funny ladies were given the Rodney Dangerfield treatment: Joan Rivers, Elaine Stritch, and Jan Hooks were all absent. With Hooks, there might be an argument that she was a TV personality rather than a film star (though she appeared in several films, including Coneheads, Batman Returns, and, of course, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), but Stritch had a rich film career dating from 1956 (!) to 2014, and Rivers not only appeared in the likes of Spaceballs and The Muppets Take Manhattan and directed the 1978 comedy Rabbit Test, but pretty much invented modern-day Oscar red carpet coverage. Not cool, Academy.
Take… your hands… off… her face… and step… off… of the stage. John.
The “Glory” acceptance speeches
The three standing ovations for the Selma duo of Common and John Legend felt a weeeee bit over-compensatory; hey, voters, maybe put all that love to a couple more nominations. But the performance of their Oscar-winning song “Glory” was striking and powerful; their acceptance speeches even more so. “This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change,” Common stated. “The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.”
“The Imitation Game” acceptance speech
The acceptance speeches tend to follow a pretty predictable formula (and for what it’s worth, the fact that both Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore’s included heartfelt pleas for those suffering from the diseases they dramatized tells you a lot about winning an Oscar). So when one is genuinely moving, it sticks out and sticks with you—and that was the case with Graham Moore’s. The Imitation Game screenwriter, taking the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay, told viewers, “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”
Micheal Keaton still wins
Michael Keaton may have lost the Best Actor award to Eddie Redmayne, but he still came off like the coolest guy in the room—particularly in his grinning “Yeah, I’m pretty great” nod to camera after his clip from Birdman. And when director Alejandro González Iñárritu turned the mic over to his star during the film’s Best Picture victory lap, he summed up his evening beautifully: “Look, it’s great to be here, who am I kidding?”
Ugh, Sean Penn
Seriously, has Sean Penn not looked miserable in public at any point in the past, oh, decade? But there wasn’t just inexplicable grouchiness to his presentation of Best Picture; our man decided to ad-lib, before handing it over to Iñárritu, this little gem: “Who gave this sonofabitch his green card?” Yeah, let’s stick to scripts from here on out, Sean.
Benedict Cumberbatch, keepin’ it real
My thoughts exactly, Mr. Cumberbatch.