- Focus Features
By Jacob Rich, Daily Film Editor
Published February 23, 2015
This was the year I was going to be ready for the damn Oscars. For the first time ever, I had seen every single Best Picture nominee. I filled out a predictions checklist. I ordered pizza. I even invited real, talking, breathing people over to my house (a rarity) to watch it with me. I was ready for everything. Everything except for the Oscars being totally boring.
Did the event even have a host? Neil Patrick Harris was certainly in attendance, but his charm, wit and soul were all painfully absent. His pun-heavy jokes were entirely lame, and his “predictions” shtick with Octavia Spencer, while first appearing to be a cool Barney Stinson-esque string-along magic trick, went absolutely nowhere. The one truly funny gag he pulled (the very clever “Birdman” and “Whiplash” mash-up skit with Miles Teller) lacked NPH flair; any Oscar host could have performed it. His safe, unfunny performance was especially disappointing in comparison to his fabulous track record hosting the Tony Awards, where his immense talent can be unfiltered, rather than tragically held back by an Academy somehow still reeling from a way-out-there, actually funny Seth MacFarlane in 2013.
But it wasn’t just the host who was boring. The awards themselves were underachieving. The only picks that were remotely surprising were “Birdman” ’s many wins over “Boyhood” (not even that surprising given “Birdman” ’s late-game dominance at the SAG Awards) and the victory of Alexandre Desplat’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” score over the others. Every other victory was given to the safe and sensible choice. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It’s good to see the Academy voters give out awards to recipients that pretty universally make sense. Selfishly, I was hoping that a few more black sheep would win big, but alas, it seems that this year especially, the Oscars are about as mainstream as awards shows get.
There was a grand total of one thing that surprised during the 2015 ceremony, and that was Lady Gaga. Her mind-blowing surprise tribute to Julie Andrews for the 50th anniversary of “The Sound of Music” was not only incredibly on-point musically, but clearly heartfelt — you could feel the amount of love and respect Gaga had for Andrews’s work emanating from her set. The normally flamboyant, overly-sexualized Gaga was simply poised and powerful here, showing a completely different side of her talent than the public is used to. Consider me now vastly interested in her recent work with Tony Bennett — according to my girlfriend, similar levels of non-pop Gaga talent are showcased there. Anyway, the moment was only sweetened when Andrews herself stepped out and the crowd went absolutely bonkers.
Despite the show’s stubborn insistence on being unmemorable and staid, certain award recipients decided to actually take on a bit of daring, delivering some powerful acceptance speeches. Notable ones included Common and John Legend’s (Best Original Song, “Glory” from “Selma”) rousing commentary on current activism, as well as Patricia Arquette’s (Best Supporting Actress, “Boyhood”) plea for equalizing the gender pay gap. Most salient of all was Alejandro González Iñarritu’s (“Birdman”) closing Best Picture acceptance speech, in which he encouraged the nation to think differently about Mexican immigration — a rare message indeed to hear on mainstream television. If the show itself had been half as daring as these inspiring speeches, it would have been one of the better shows in Oscar history. Unfortunately, the awards tried far too hard to please everyone, ending up a total snore.
P.S.: Where the hell was the remembrance for Joan Rivers during the “in memoriam” segment? What a horrible, disrespectful oversight.