Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Postmortem Pt. 1: The Results

Happy New Year, everybody!

With the Oscars having come and gone (after three long hours at the end of three long months), it feels like 2014 is now officially over, and a new cinematic cycle has thankfully begun. But, since I, like most Oscar obsessives (or any kind of obsessive), have trouble letting go, it'll be about a week before I finally cease writing about 2014 in this space. Heed the lessons learned by Cheryl Strayed
(for whom they picked an awful Best Actress clip, btw); Closure takes time.
And so I must always allow myself several days to fully process the mad rush of euphoria and anguish that floods me before, during, and after this annual event.

My post-dated “live” blog of the Oscar telecast itself will arrive later this week, followed by my usual top ten of personal highs and lows of the 2014-15 awards season. But for today, its all about who won and who lost, and my immediate reactions to those, which I should document for posterity before my mind instinctively turns to 2015-16.

For starters, my own prediction results:

After a couple of years of enjoying slightly above average success, I returned to my status quo of 18/24 correct predictions. Respectable, if unremarkable. What nettles is that I know I could have done much better if my own superstitious preferences weren't barring me from picking winners that are obvious in retrospect (Whiplash for editing, Grand Budapest for score, etc.) for fear of jinxing them. But we'll get to those categories later.

Obviously, the big winner of the night was Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman, for which he won all three of his bids for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. My feelings on this are as internally complicated as the very hero at the centre of this audacious show biz satire – played by Michael Keaton, who sadly did not join Iñárritu in the winners circle – but I'll try my best to explain them:

On the one hand, Birdman is for real one of the best movies of the year, and a refreshingly unusual, daring, and hilarious Best Picture winner. It would rank #3 on my top ten list, and it's heartening to see Iñárritu join his countryman Alfonso Cuaron (2013's Best Director) as an outsider gilded by a Hollywood system he grew up outside of.

But on the other hand, I must confess how disappointing it was to see him fly off with more Oscars than he can carry, while two other visionaries, Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson, went 0-for-3 in the same categories. The Academy spoiled us last year by magnanimously splitting honours between the season's two most celebrated auteurs, Cuaron and Steve McQueen. It was enough to make me forget that the organization isn't a sentient being capable of adequately spreading the wealth.

I was hoping that maybe they would throw a consolation prize out in original screenplay, but no dice. I think the age in which Best Picture winners could lose not win for writing (Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, Gladiator, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby) is over. Unless the conceit of your entire movie is the absence of spoken dialogue (ie, The Artist), nowadays if you win Best Picture, you win Best Screenplay. Have to remember that for next year.

Oscar is usually smitten with youth in their actresses, but Best Actor champ Eddie Redmayne is the youngest of this lot by a considerable margin.

That said, the wealth was spread in other ways last night, as for the first time ever in the expanded Best Picture era, every single Best Pic nominee won at least one award. The acting categories helped ensure that, with trophies reserved well in advance for Whiplash's J.K. Simmons (wonderful moment), The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne (it's still Keaton's Oscar despite having Redmayne's name on it, but whatever), and Boyhood's Patricia Arquette (who brought everyone plus Meryl Streep to their feet by capping her speech with an impassioned plea for gender equality). And, of course, despite being the sole nominee for her film, Julianne Moore brightened the drizzly L.A. sky with her beaming smile as she took her long awaited Best Actress Oscar. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can be anything less than pleased about that.

Those four categories were the easiest bets in a night with almost zero surprises, except for one major upset. A truly upsetting upset. Disney's Big Hero 6, taking full advantage of The LEGO Movie's absence, stole Best Animated Feature from four other nominees with oceans more in the way of artistic and aesthetic value. They spent a ton of dough in phase 2, no doubt highlighting how their cartoon wasn't a franchise player (yet...). Low and behold, its late-breaking guild momentum with the VES, CAS, and MPSE proved to be no fluke, as it usurped the far superior How to Train Your Dragon 2, a casualty of the numeral in its title. This may be the most dubious victor in the category's young history, but let it never be said that I don't seek to put the most positive spin on things: At least we can celebrate that Big Hero 6 is 2014's Oscar-winning film with the most diverse cast – yes, even more than Selma.

Speaking of, John Legend and Common's performance and subsequent acceptance speeches for the Best Original Song winner “Glory” were the obvious highlights of the evening, earning huge ovations from the crowd at the Dolby. But there were other below-the-line triumphs that really had me hollering with jubilation. In fact, the ten craft categories were easily the least objectionable of the night. Not a single unworthy winner among them.

I may not have predicted Whiplash to repeat its richly deserved BAFTA wins in the film editing and sound mixing races, but it was worth losing accuracy points just to see those guys get recognized. But the most satisfying of all was to see Alexandre Desplat at last take the stage after a prolific decade as one of the business' best composers. Better yet, The Grand Budapest Hotel – which also nabbed prizes for its exceptional design elements – is one of his better scores to be nominated. He was clearly pleased to finally win one of these things, and I couldn't be more pleased for him myself. We can now scratch his name from the list of overdue craftspeople.

As for documentary, foreign film, and the shorts, there's not much to comment on. They more or less shook out as expected. I was this close to acing the shorts for the first time ever, but my coin toss hunch between Joanna and Crisis Hotline (which I was debating up until right before the show) just didn't work out for me. It happens. I will say that Paweł Pawlikowski's rebellious outlasting of the play-off music was a treat, and his speech was really witty as well.

But I'll write at length about the little gems of the telecast later this week.
Stay tuned...


  1. Titanic did not get a screenplay nomination

    1. Never meant to imply that. Should've written "not win for writing" instead of "lose for writing".