If you are a film person like myself, The Oscars are a bona fide annual staple. Growing up in a very entertainment-driven family, I was educated and exposed to the beauty of film from a young age. Ever since I can remember, I have looked forward to Hollywood’s most glamorous night. This year was no exception.
2014 was a relatively strong year for movies. I’ve heard it argued either way but in my opinion, the films rounding out this years Best Picture category were nothing short of innovative and staggeringly avant-garde. For some of the more conventional works, content aside, the acting portrayed in many of this years films was sublime. As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, this year was driven by a smattering of compelling biopics that deserved recognition. The outcomes of the night proved this and provided choice actors (Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore) with the acclaim that they were warranted. On the technical side, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel (which took home Best Original Score much to my disdain, as can be seen from my prior views on Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar) and Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) seemed to sweep the categories, leaving the highly-speculated and my personal favorite, Boyhood, smoking on the sidelines. However, the results remained predictable and lacked genuine bewilderment. All in all, this years installment didn’t disappoint but at the same time was deficient in its need to accept modernity.
The night, despite its flaws, had its considerable highlights in John Legend and Common’s anthem for racial injustice, “Glory,” which brought the likes of Chris Pine and David Oyelowo to tears; Eddie Redmayne’s tear-jerking win for Best Actor; and touching Imitation Game’s Best Adapted Screenplay speech on “being weird” by the baby-faced Graham Moore. The night began with one of it’s Top 5 Awards, reeling in audiences from the get-go. J.K. Simmons took the cake for Best Supporting Actor for, Whiplash, with Patricia Arquette for, Boyhood, receiving the female counterpart later on in the night, both of whom took home the same awards at the Golden Globes just over a month earlier. The three hour and forty minute show was interspersed seemingly with many awards and performances that one could frankly care less about but it is the act of participating in something that is so important that keeps us all watching in anticipation. What makes cinema truly powerful is that it reaches across so many cultural mediums and modes of expression.
As Birdman continued to take home many of the night’s biggest awards, I was becoming increasingly agitated that Michael Keaton would beat out Eddie Redmayne’s brilliant portrayal of Stephen Hawking from The Theory of Everything. The moment Eddie’s name was called made the entire show worth it, as it was a sheer joy to see such a deserving and humble actor receive the acclaim. I do have to admit to my bias as I am a huge Redmayne fan, having previously met him for a quick selfie at a film festival following his Les Misérables debut. Same goes for Julianne Moore’s equally commendable performance in Still Alice. The topic of disease, from Alzheimer’s to ALS, seemed to be a theme among this year’s winners, as it is both challenging and taxing to render such affliction on the silver screen. It is interesting to contemplate why our interest in such suffering has become so mainstream. Perhaps it is because we feel a greater proximity to it as the population continues to increase and we face our own mortality.
My personal favorite performances of the night were Adam Levine’s slightly pretentious and vaguely metrosexual “Lost Stars,” from Begin Again, starring both the singer himself and Keira Knightley, as well as Lady Gaga’s surprisingly wondrous rendition of songs from The Sound of Music. I read that she spent every day for six months working with a vocal coach, just to prepare for this performance and she definitely did not disappoint. Her stripped down vocals, as well as appearance, shocked in the best way. Julie Andrew’s acknowledgement to her in the end was one of the most touching moments of the evening.
I have heard conflicting reviews over Neil Patrick Harris’s performance as host, mostly verging on negative, but I think he put in an honest effort despite his obvious unease. Coming off hosting both the Tonys and Emmys in the past, he definitely knew what he was in for but was short on the delivery. We’ve had a slew of strong hosts the past few years, with both Ellen DeGeneres and Seth MacFarlane, and with that came considerable pressure that Harris apparently succumbed to. His beginning was strong and, paired with Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, made for an entertaining opening act, but this promising start slowly began to fade as the night wore on. I did, however, appreciate the humor of his Oscar-ballot predictions at the end and thought it was mildly redeeming to his performance.
For the last award of the evening, Best Picture, I was really rallying for Boyhood as it was my favorite film of last year. But in my “virtue of ignorance,” I had not yet seen Birdman. However, I recently watched it this past week and was equally astounded and mystified at its audacity and ambition. The beginning lacked intrigue and bordered on being slightly pompous, overly clever, but was quickly redeemed as it progressed. The film truly is brilliant, and although not for many, was a literary and visual masterpiece laced with metaphors seemingly incapable of being grasped by the most of us, let alone a foreign director. I was pleasantly surprised and, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite anytime soon, it made clear its purpose and the importance of ingenuity and a fresh perspective in film. Not only was the unorthodox score of percussion instruments and seemingly continuous shots something that had not yet been explored in mainstream cinema before but the idea of the plot itself was a wildly divergent and unfamiliar story that took effort to appreciate but rewarded one’s patience. Birdman’s Alejandro González Iñárritu (who ended the night with three Oscars for Picture, Director and Screenplay), brought some perspective to the evening, calling attention to the plight of Mexican immigrants and the lack of leadership in his home country.
The Oscars have always skirted the line between entertainment, politics, satire, and meaningful insight. Iñárritu’s reflections as well as Arquette’s call for income equality for women, upheld this convention. In the end, though sometimes the Oscars can feel like much of the same, for me they are always a satisfying reflection of how cinema captures the essence of the human condition and the strides we have made as a society.
By: Emily Larman