By Fredricka Davis
You know what’s the best? When you have super high expectations—like we did for the 2015 Oscars red carpet—and they aren’t just meet they are far surpassed.
Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris wasted no time kicking off a stormy 87th Academy Awards and conceding the ceremony’s much-discussed lack of diversity.
“Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — I mean brightest,” said Harris in a Dolby Theater introduction Sunday. Harris’ opening quickly segued into a “Moving Pictures” song-and-dance routine that celebrated a love for movies, complete with dancing Peter Pan-style shadows, classic movie scenes, a Cinderella-style cameo from Anna Kendrick and a villain to his sunny outlook in Jack Black — who jumped on stage to counter that Hollywood wasn’t so fabulous, making movies “opening with lots of zeroes, all we get is superheroes.”
“After ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’” Black added, referring to this weekend’s top box office draw, “they’ll all have leather whips.”
The night’s first Oscar went to J.K. Simmons, a career character actor widely acclaimed for one of his biggest parts: a drill sergeant of a jazz band instructor in the indie “Whiplash.” Simmons fittingly accepted his supporting acting Oscar with some straightforward advice.
“If I may, call your mom, everybody,” said Simmons. “Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”
Patricia Arquette accepted the supporting actress Oscar for her role as the mother in Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood,” and delivered a rousing speech calling for wage equality and equal rights for women that had Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez among those cheering in the audience.
Two of the night’s early awards went to Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: costume design, and makeup and styling. The European caper — released back around last year’s Academy Awards — could be the night’s unlikely leader in trophies, rewarding the hand-made craft of Anderson’s latest confection. Later in the telecast, the film picked up a third prize for best production design.
Disney’s “Big Hero 6″ — based on a Marvel comic about a team of superheroes — won best animated feature, coming out victorious in a category that sparked controversy because of the omission of what many considered a certain nominee: “The Lego Movie.”
The black-and-white Polish film “Ida” took best foreign language film, marking the first such win for Poland despite a rich cinema history. Director Pawel Pawlikowski charmed the audience with a bemused acceptance speech that ran drastically over his allotted time.
Pawlikowski remarked on having made a quiet film of contemplation about withdrawing from the world, “and here we are at the epicenter of noise and attention. It’s fantastic. Life is full of surprises.”
Harris, a frequent Tony Awards host, struck a chipper tone, while slyly mocking the Oscars. The $160,000 gift bags for attendees, he said, came with “an armored car ride to safety when the revolution comes.” The performance by Tegan and Sara and Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island of the Oscar-nominated song “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie,” let some live out their Oscar dreams, handing out golden Lego statuettes to Oprah Winfrey and Steve Carell.
Heading into the telecast, the Academy Awards were buzzing with something it hasn’t always had in recent years: genuine intrigue at who the night’s biggest winners will be.
Three of the night’s top honors — best picture, best director and best actor — are tight races proving hard to predict for even the most seasoned experts.
With a co-leading nine nominations, Alejandro Inarritu’s backstage comedy “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” has the strongest wind at its back. It topped the acting, directing and producing guild awards, which are often strong predictors of what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will vote for. The film also won best feature at Saturday’s Independent Film Spirit Awards, further boosting its momentum.
But the coronation of “Birdman” is far from assured. Many believe the landmark of “Boyhood” will ultimately prove irresistible to academy members. Best director also appears to be a toss-up between Inarritu and Linklater.
Three of the acting winners — Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Simmons (“Whiplash”) and Arquette (“Boyhood”) — were virtual locks heading into Sunday’s show, but best actor will be a nail biter. It could be the young British star Eddie Redmayne for his technically nuanced performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” or it could be Michael Keaton’s career-topper in “Birdman,” as an actor trying to flee his superhero past.
But whether suspense will be enough to pull viewers to the telecast on ABC remains to be seen. Harris will hope to continue the recent ratings upswing for the Oscars, which last year drew 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment telecast in a decade.
This year’s crop of nominees, however, is notably light on box-office smashes. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” (six nominations including best picture) is the only best-picture candidate to gross more than $100 million domestically. (A runaway hit, it recently surpassed $300 million.)
Increasingly, ratings are driven by moments that spark social media frenzy, like when John Travolta famously mispronounced the name of singer Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem” at last year’s show. Sunday night, he gets a chance for redemption.
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