The 87th annual Academy Awards, held February 22, 2015, offered minimal potential for gigantic sweeps. Yes, both Birdman and Grand Budapest Hotel were nominated for nine awards a piece, but it seemed unlikely either would run the table.
Instead, we got a very evenly divided Oscars, where the big winner of the night, Birdman, didn't really pick up any awards until well into the second hour of the show. It was a night where all eight Best Picture nominees went home with at least one award, and where Oscar predictors outguessed themselves more often than not.
Indeed, the biggest upset probably came in the Best Animated Feature category, where Big Hero 6 defeated presumed frontrunner How to Train Your Dragon 2. Other than that, it was a surprisingly sedate Oscars, notable more for the speeches and gags than anything else.
If you're just looking for a list of winners, go here. But other than that, here's your quick guide.
Who was the night's big winner?
Birdman walked away with just four trophies, but three of those four were in the top eight categories. Its wins for Best Picture, Best Directing (Alejandro González Iñárritu), and Best Original Screenplay marked it as the film of the night. It also won Best Cinematography, for Emmanuel Lubezki's restless camerawork. (Lubezki, who is becoming the go-to guy for long takes, won this award last year for Gravity.)
Grand Budapest Hotel joined Birdman in the "four trophies" category, taking home prizes for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Original Score. The film's director, Wes Anderson, has long been known for his whimsical worlds and visual creations, so it was fitting the film ran the board in the three visual design categories. The Score win was the first for eight-time-nominated Alexandre Desplat, a regular collaborator of Anderson's.
Major prizes were also won by The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor in a Leading Role), Still Alice (Julianne Moore for Best Actress in a Leading Role), Boyhood (Patricia Arquette for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), and The Imitation Game (Best Adapted Screenplay), though no other film won more than one award.
The specialty film categories were won by Poland's Ida, for Best Foreign Language Film; Edward Snowden film Citizenfour, for Best Documentary Feature; and superhero romp Big Hero 6, for Best Animated Film. Big Hero 6 becomes the first Marvel-affiliated film since the publisher's purchase by Disney to win an Oscar. (Spider-Man 2 took home a couple of prizes in 2005, but that film was not produced by Marvel Studios proper.)
How did the other Best Picture nominees fare?
Beyond the awards for Birdman, Grand Budapest, Whiplash, Theory of Everything, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game, American Sniper took home a prize for Best Sound Editing, and Selma won the award for Best Original Song for "Glory."
This was the first year all Best Picture nominees received at least one award since the Best Picture list expanded to more than five nominees in 2009.
Were there any good speeches?
There were quite a few, actually! Here are our top five:
- Common and John Legend's speech for "Glory's" win was a riveting look at why the struggle for civil rights isn't something stuck in the 1960s but is, instead, an ongoing process to this day.
- Arquette memorably called for equal pay for equal work, in a speech that brought Meryl Streep to her feet. (Arquette later elaborated on this backstage in ways that seemed slightly less inclusive.)
- Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore talked about his suicide attempt at the age of 16, begging teenagers who felt alone or lost to reach out to somebody. Someday, they, too, could have the opportunities he had.
- Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski didn't just talk over the omnipresent orchestra trying to play him off — he got the orchestra to back off. It was glorious.
- Moore asked that her performance in Still Alice be used to call attention to people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Also, it was just nice to see Moore, nominated four times before, finally holding an Oscar.
Why did Birdman win?
There are a bunch of possible theories here — including one I floated about how the Oscars' relatively new voting system benefits movies about Hollywood — but the simple fact of the matter is that Birdman is a film that tells Hollywood types that they will be able to make works of artistic greatness, even if they're taking paycheck roles right now.
Plus, with the fact that it appeared to be shot in one take and its crackling ensemble cast, the movie just looked and felt cool in a way that the more earnest and heartfelt Boyhood simply didn't. And Fox Searchlight managed the campaign for Birdman much better than IFC managed the campaign for Boyhood, adding to the sense that Boyhood was a film that peaked too soon, and Birdman was an underdog whose bandwagon was worth jumping on.
(I found Birdman sort of ludicrous, but its brand of pseudo-profundity is definitely the sort of thing the Oscars eat up with a spoon. And I can't be too mad about the awards taking a chance on a movie this weird. Okay, I can be a little mad.)
How was Neil Patrick Harris as a host?
Honestly, not up to his best. Harris is the sort of guy who could probably host awards shows for a living, if there were enough of them to host, so we may be holding him to unreasonable standards. But for every twist of cheeky brilliance — much of the opening number, wandering out on stage in his underwear, the occasional zinger — he seemed a bit uneasy about just how much he could really stick it to the awards he was hosting. Many of his running gags, like a bit about his Oscar predictions, fell flat.
In particular, Harris returned again and again to questions of the Oscars' diversity, a pointed subject in a year when the Academy only nominated the brilliantly reviewed Selma for two awards. Harris opened the whole show with a quip about being in front of the industry's "best and whitest," and though he got chuckles for that, his return to the theme, particularly when he kept trying to rope the cast of Selma into his shenanigans, seemed to make people uncomfortable more than anything else.
The thing that's murderously difficult about hosting the Oscars is that it has to play to two audiences — the audience in the Dolby Theater, which tends toward the stodgy; and the audience at home, which would probably prefer something a little boundary pushing. Though Harris is a showman at heart, a lot of his material seemed aimed at the audience at home, surely not what anybody was expecting when they hired him.
And to a degree, this was necessary. Issues like diversity are issues where the Academy probably should feel uncomfortable. But Harris also lack the killer instinct of, say, a Stephen Colbert, who would light into the crowd mercilessly for the enjoyment of those watching at home. This left Harris often in a weird middle ground, where he wasn't really playing to either audience.
Like most hosts, Harris would probably be better if he got to host for a second year. But the Academy hasn't been great about inviting back hosts who make it feel even slightly uncomfortable. So who knows if Harris will even get that opportunity.
How did the Oscars deal with their lack of diversity?
As always, the Academy quietly tried to make up for the lack of diversity in the nominees with diversity among presenters. This primarily worked in terms of racial representation — with non-white presenters including David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, and Eddie Murphy, among others.
The Oscars tend to have a very narrow view of what constitutes a "good film." Sometimes, that cuts against, say, stories about non-white people, or stories about women. But it can also cut against films in genres the Oscars just barely pay attention to, like, say, "comic book movies" or "thrillers" into presenters roles. That's why, for instance, Chris Pratt made his inaugural Oscar presenter appearance. As star of last summer's biggest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, he got to stand up for a genre the Oscars usually ignore. (Also there from Guardians was Zoe Saldana.)
And while the Oscars' diversity in terms of representation of women and people of color has been downright miserable this year, the awards have been making strides here and there. In particular, the Best Directing award has been won three years in a row by someone who is not white. Iñárritu's win follows last year's win for Gravity's Alfonso Cuarón. (Both men are Mexican, and the two, along with horror director Guillermo del Toro, have made their mark for the Mexican film industry on Hollywood.) The year before that, Taiwanese director Ang Lee won for The Life of Pi.
What's more, Best Directing has only been won three times in the past 10 years by an American — Martin Scorsese for The Departed, the Coen brothers for No Country for Old Men, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Yes, it's also gone to two Brits (who have won many times at the Oscars) in that time, but Lee has also won twice, as has Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius. It's a nice nod to the expanding importance of world cinema.
How were the song performances?
Solid! "Everything Is Awesome," from The Lego Movie, made for one of the wildest Oscar performances ever (complete with a dancing possum), while Tim McGraw's take on the soulful Glen Campbell ballad "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" was incredibly sad.
But the best performance, hands down, was by John Legend and Common, singing their Selma track (and eventual Oscar winner) "Glory." The haunting performance brought tears to the eyes of several audience members, and it stood as a great reminder of why the two would go on to win the Original Song prize a few minutes later.
Why was there a lengthy tribute to The Sound of Music?
Yes, Lady Gaga turned up to sing a medley from The Sound of Music, with around seven awards and a little under an hour in the show to go. On the one hand, it seemed like a mistake in a show that was careening toward more bloated than usual. On the other, it made for a lovely moment when Gaga's performance was capped by Julie Andrews emerging to present the Best Original Score award. (Andrews said, "Dear Lady Gaga," which may be the greatest thing ever said in a British accent.)
On a more practical level, the medley was there because The Sound of Music is one of the most successful films in history, and it turns 50 in March 2015. Thus, it made more sense for the show to honor it than when it honored, say, Chicago a couple of years ago.
(That said, the Chicago accolades stemmed from that film's producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, also producing the Oscar show. This year, they worked a song from their old TV show Smash into the end of the In Memoriam segment. Granted, this wasn't stealth promotion for Smash, but it was still weird.)
Who was left out of the In Memoriam segment, to the consternation of all?
Though the comedian didn't have a tremendous career in film and was exactly the sort of marginal case usually left out of the In Memoriam segment, her long-standing relationship to the Oscar red carpet caused many to say she had been left out. Buzzfeed collected those reactions here.
That said, this was a year with lots and lots of fairly prominent Hollywood types who had passed on (including Robin Williams, James Garner, and Lauren Bacall, for just three), so the cuts were surely even more painful than usual.
And the In Memoriam seems almost destined to cause these sorts of disgruntled feelings. The Academy tends to have a fairly conservative view of who "belongs" in the segment, and even with that, there's only so much time allotted to the segment.
"It is a beloved segment, but I would much prefer we didn’t do it," onetime Academy executive director Bruce Davis told The Wrap's Steve Pond. "When you sit down to do the list, the last 15 or 20 cuts you make are people with substantial careers."
Which studios fared the best?
For the second year in a row, Fox Searchlight, the specialty arm of 20th Century Fox, won Best Picture. Last year, it shepherded the tough sell 12 Years a Slave to the top, while this year, it managed to win major prizes for Birdman and four awards for fellow release Grand Budapest Hotel. If you've got an Oscar movie in waiting, Fox Searchlight is where you want to go.
Sony Pictures Classics, which released Whiplash, also had a good Oscars, managing to get three awards for the movie that had the lowest box office of any of the Oscar candidates. It also pushed Still Alice to a Best Actress in a Leading Role award.
Struggling for the last couple of years has been The Weinstein Company, who seemed like it might have a major player in The Imitation Game. Instead, it settled for the one screenplay award. IFC Films also struggled to get traction with Boyhood, the presumed frontrunner for ages.
Finally, tiny distributor Music Box Films pushed Polish movie Ida to a Foreign Language prize, the first ever for a Polish film. That's a serious coup for the small company.
I read all of that. Can I look at a picture of Emma Stone holding an Oscar made out of Legos?
Yes you may.