Oscars Postmortem: “How Did We End Up Here?”

     February 23, 2015

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At long last, this year’s awards season is over. It seems like just yesterday we were mulling over the responses to films like Birdman and Foxcatcher at Telluride, anointing The Imitation Game the most likely Best Picture winner out of TIFF, and heralding the arrival of Selma as a potential game-changing spoiler. Alas, it was Birdman all along. It had to be Birdman.

Last night’s ceremony went mostly as expected, with statistics heavily favoring Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) to take home the top prize. But common sense also pointed towards Birdman as our big winner. The film is stacked wall-to-wall with references to everything from freedom of creative expression to the saturation of superhero movies (and their dominance over talented actors’ schedules) to how Twitter, Facebook, etc. permeate every aspect of our lives. A large portion of the Academy no doubt found plenty to relate to in Birdman, and coupled with its technical precision and solid ensemble, it seemed almost destined that this group of filmmakers, actors, and craftsmen and women would honor a film about filmmakers, actors, and craftsmen and women.

birdman-alejandro-gonzalez-inarrituI did fair in my own predictions for the ceremony (19 for 24), and it’s clear that I should’ve taken my own advice in the Best Director category. One would think that Richard Linklater would be a clear frontrunner based on the sheer fact that he pulled off something that’s never been done before, but ultimately Alejandro González Iñárritu prevailed, while Boyhood—the little film that could—only walked away with one trophy.

If the major categories were pretty much sewn up weeks ago, we did see a few surprises elsewhere—most notably in Best Animated Feature. Almost everyone saw this as How to Train Your Dragon 2’s to lose, but Disney’s teenage boy-geared Big Hero 6 came away the victor. I’m still kind of baffled by this choice, not only because historically Disney has been unlucky in this category for years (Frozen being the exception to the rule), but also because Big Hero 6 doesn’t feel particularly long-lasting or noteworthy. But maybe that’s just my own bias creeping in. Regardless, this was the biggest surprise of the night.

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While not exactly a shocker, the next biggest surprise was Whiplash taking home the Best Editing trophy. This category traditionally goes to the Best Picture frontrunner, and since Birdman wasn’t nominated, most seemed to agree this one was down to Boyhood and Whiplash. The former seemed to be the favorite given that it was assembled from 12 years of footage, but the intensity and precision of Whiplash won out in the end. I underestimated Damien Chazelle’s film as a whole, as the film also took home Best Sound Mixing while I thought that might go to American Sniper. Clearly the Sundance indie struck a chord with voters, and it was kind of neat to see this tiny movie that was made in just 20 days take home some serious prizes opposite much bigger films.

As far as disappointments go, it was disheartening to see The Grand Budapest Hotel clean up in the technical categories, with each winner stressing how integral Wes Anderson was to every aspect of the film, and then have the Academy pass up its chance to give Anderson an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. What’s it going to take for this guy to win?

selma-commonWith regards to the telecast itself, I thought it was fine. There were a number of memorable acceptance speeches (watch some of them here), with Patricia Arquette, Common & John Legend, and The Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore delivering some excellent addresses. The performances were swell too, and “Everything Is Awesome” and “Glory” were incredible for very different reasons. The former was wonderfully vibrant and hilarious (Questlove as Robin!), while the latter provided the most stirring moment of the night, eliciting a lengthy standing ovation from the audience.

All in all, 2014 was a solid year for movies, and while many of the awards didn’t go the way I’d hoped, I still found aspects of the ceremony to enjoy. Yes, Birdman won Best Picture, but that doesn’t mean we won’t also be talking about Selma, Boyhood, Whiplash, and The Grand Budapest Hotel ten years from now. If you’re covering the awards race as closely and for as long a stretch as I am (September feels like ages ago now), you’ve gotta learn to keep things in perspective or you’ll go crazy.

If you’ve been sticking with me these past five months or so in my regular Oscar Beat columns, I’d like to thank you for reading. In the scheme of things, awards don’t really matter, but I feel like the awards race itself is an opportunity to highlight films that maybe general audiences wouldn’t regularly seek out. And, honestly, it’s all kinda fun isn’t it?

With that, I will formally bid Awards Season 2014 adieu. I’m sure most are looking forward to a break from it all (I really am), but Awards Season 2015 will be here before you know it. Until then…

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