Monday, February 23, 2015

87th Annual Academy Awards (ABC-TV, February 22, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I watched the 87th annual Academy Awards telecast, a rather dispiriting spectacle — it was compact and well organized, lasting just three hours and 40 minutes (almost an hour shorter than the Grammy Awards), but it wasn’t terribly interesting, though having surprisingly little skin in the game (I don’t think I’ve seen any of the eight films that were nominated for Best Picture) I may simply not have cared that much if one intellectually pretentious movie with a single-word seven-letter title beginning with “B” beat out another intellectually pretentious movie with a single-word seven-letter title beginning with “B” for Best Picture. The two movies in question were Birdman and Boyhood, and Birdman (saddled with the ridiculous subtitle Or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won. It’s the story of an actor who once was a major movie star playing a superhero — cast with Michael Keaton, an actor who was once a major movie star playing a superhero (Batman in Tim Burton’s two films involving the character) — who’s attempting a comeback on the Broadway stage and whose divo hissy-fits are getting in the way. I hadn’t realized it until last night that it’s really a remake of the John Barrymore plot thread of Dinner at Eight (1933)! Charles, who came home from work after the whole thing was over, said he’d seen Boyhood on his most recent trip to the Bay Area to see his family; Boyhood got Brownie points for the sheer audacity of its concept (a boy matures from 5 to 17 and director Richard Linklater actually filmed the movie in bits and pieces over 12 years so that instead of casting the boy with multiple actors he could use the same one, Einar Coltrane, as he naturally aged — there’ve been precedents, including Michael Apted’s Up documentaries and the cycle of five films François Truffaut made with actor Jean-Pierre Léaud over the years, starting with The 400 Blows, that had Léaud play the same character as he aged from troubled adolescent to middle-aged man). Boyhood’s only win was Patricia Arquette for Best Supporting Actress (playing Einar Coltrane’s mom) and the only win for Selma, which eked out a Best Picture nomination though its Black woman director was shut out of that category, was Best Song (John Legend and rapper Common for “Glory” — they took the songwriting credit under their real names, John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn.

Birdman won four awards, including three of the big ones — Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who joked during his acceptance speech that he’s the second Mexican director to win in a row) and Best Original Screenplay as well as Best Cinematography — while the other major winners were The Grand Budapest Hotel and, of all things, Whiplash, which is basically the boot-camp scenes of Full Metal Jacket transferred to the world of music education, with the sadistic teacher browbeating his charges into either better performances or nervous breakdowns. In some respects the production numbers were stronger than the awards portions of the show — Lady Gaga once again showed off her chops as a standards singer with a medley of songs from The Sound of Music (she’s more suited to the urbanity of the Rodgers and Hart songs than the sentimentality of the Rodgers and Hammerstein ones, but she still did quite well) that introduced a surprisingly well-preserved Julie Andrews as one of the presenters. Host Neil Patrick Harris did a leaden opening number, yet another tribute in song to the movie industry, with a pretend heckler from the audience; he also told some pretty lame jokes about the male participants’ bodies (I expect him any day now to come out with an ad in which he says, “I’m not Gay; I just play one on awards shows!”) but he was a decent, inoffensive host. Indeed, “inoffensive” was probably the word that would best describe last night’s show — no wardrobe malfunctions, no bizarre production numbers like that one they did one year in which Rob Lowe looked like he was about to lead a gang-rape of Snow White — though there was a lot of political and social commentary, not only from people you’d expect it (like Laura Poitras, director of the Best Feature Documentary winner CitizenFour, about Edward Snowden) but people you wouldn’t (like Patricia Arquette). Best Actress went to Julianne Moore for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in Still Alice — a movie that won nothing else — and Best Actor went to Eddie Redmayne for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (so the guy who played the straight British scientist beat out Benedict Cumberbatch, the guy who played the Gay British scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game). One can readily imagine the knives coming out on talk radio and Fox News about “liberal Hollywood” at its most self-congratulatory — and the show did put an awful lot of people of color on stage to make up for how few of them the Academy actually nominated for awards!