My feeling towards the Oscars could be summed up in this year’s opening number. There’s the Neil Patrick Harris part of me who loves movies for the sake of movies, and will forever watch the ceremony because of that fact, but then there’s the Jack Black part that bemoans the Hollywood cult of personality, commercialization and politics behind producing a film that will win an Oscar.
But sometimes I must make like Anna Kendrick and throw a shoe at my inner skeptic. Like Neil Patrick Harris, I sing to the world: “[Moving Pictures]: they may not be real life, but they’ll show you what life really means.” The show, according to the opening number (shoutout to EGOT Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson), promised to be four hours of celebrating the art of film. Four hours of remembering my 2014 movie experiences—the cathartic subway ride after seeing Boyhood for the first time, the knot in my stomach as the credits to Whiplash rolled, befriending a man dressed as a Lobby Boy to get into the sold out opening night screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was excited to get lost in the celebrations.
But as with any awards show, it can only be about film magic for so long. On an entertainment level, the night was peppered with a painfully prolonged prediction envelope schtick and a focus on musical performances in an attempt to pander to some inexplicable demographic. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t effective. Viewership was still down 10 percent from last year. The winners were extremely predictable, thanks to a pretty ‘meh’ list of nominations. I’m not knocking those who did get nominated, but there are some very important films and people missing, notably Selma’s Ava DuVernay for Best Director and David Oyelowo for Best Actor, The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature — I’m going to stop myself there because I could go on for quite a while.
The best parts of the night were the speeches that cracked the Hollywood veneer. Compared to the recent ceremonies, this Oscars has been the most politicized. From the long, teary-eyed standing ovation after Common and John Legend performed “Glory” to Patricia Arquette’s cursory shoutout to gender equality, the awards show spread awareness to issues both within and outside of the film industry. Using the acceptance speech as a political platform, I thank Common and John Legend for reminding us that Selma is today, Graham Moore for staying weird, and the creatives behind The Phone Call (a short film everyone needs to see) and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 for shattering the silence on suicide.
For me, the biggest surprise/upset of the night was Birdman winning Best Original Screenplay, which gave way to, not surprisingly, the Birdman sweep… swoop? [Insert bird pun here.]
The cult of the Academy gets kudos for recognizing a movie that never intended to break box office records, but in the end Academy members chose the film about film. It’s not a surprising trend, considering that 2013 and 2012’s Best Picture winners Argo and The Artist also deal with the film industry. However, this year produced Best Picture nominees of very universal and human subjects—growing up, parenting, the fight for recognition and equality—yet, the film with the most narrow theme, about a washed-up big time actor, took three of the big prizes. In naming Birdman Best Picture, the voters essentially voted for themselves because they saw what they believe is a Hollywood reality in the world of Birdman. Academy, your insularity and exclusiveness is showing. Didn’t Neil Patrick Harris sing about how movies can be about so much more than movies? The Academy voters sought to validate the critiques in the film of selling out artistry for blockbuster films through their votes. However, they failed to see that a vote for Boyhood would be a vote for Birdman’s occasionally pretentious, but completely valid, message.
Boyhood does not seek to conform to those Hollywood standards lamented about in Birdman, allowing time and brilliant naturalism to shape the message. Boyhood captured 12 years of nuanced life into a single sitting, a process whose production plan does not necessitate control by a studio, an independent endeavor. It is a marvel in the fact that it managed to gain all its popularity not through A-list celebrities, as Birdman did, but through the integrity of the work itself. Boyhood is the film that Birdman would have wanted to be, if Birdman had followed its own adage.
A golden statue cannot encapsulate the power of Boyhood. But it’s okay, Richard Linklater, I’ll make you an Oscar out of Legos.
Photo credit: Prayitno