Like most of the film world, we’re nursing a slight prosecco hangover as the dust settles on last night’s Oscar ceremony, and taking stock of the actual decisions that the Academy membership made. This was a more open year than 2014, when most of the decisions seemed set in stone for months. This wasn’t one full of massive upsets either, with few-to-none true shocks going on.
That said, there were still plenty of little surprises in terms of who actually won the trophies and who got left out in the cold. Below are six things about last night’s ceremony that we found truly surprising, even after having considered virtually every possibility over the last few months (and done fairly well on our predictions — 18/24, in case you were wondering).
Take a look below, and let us know what you were surprised by in the comments.
1. “Boyhood” mostly being shut out
There was a narrative, or maybe more accurately an anti-narrative, over the last few months, that this was an Oscar race without a frontrunner. Potential contenders like “Unbroken” and “Interstellar” came and went without gaining a foothold, and it was only in the closing stages of the race that “Birdman” surged ahead with its guild wins. But there really had been a frontrunner all that time, if only by stealth default, and that frontrunner was Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”
An almost unique cinematic achievement, which swept the critics groups and took the Best Film BAFTA, and marking a peak in a career of a well-liked indie legend, it seemed, for a long time, like the little film that could. And yet on the night, “Boyhood” was almost entirely shut out, winning only one of its six nominations (Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette), versus the four taken by “Birdman” and “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and three by “Whiplash.” The film was already at a disadvantage to some degree by not being a technical showcase in the way that some of its competitors were, but looked to make up for it elsewhere, and had a strong chance of taking Editing, Original Screenplay, Director and Picture. So what happened?
It might be the early front-runner status that caused a problem: though some, like last year’s “12 Years A Slave,” can go the distance, others, like “The Social Network,” see voters go searching for a relative underdog in their place. It’s also that the aforementioned lack of strength in the technical categories likely proved a problem; Best Picture winners and board-sweepers tend to need a swathe of support across the branches, but “Boyhood” likely didn’t attract votes from the meat-and-veg below-the-liners. Or, it should be said, from the actors either. Aside from nominated bigger names Arquette and Ethan Hawke, Linklater mostly used a cast of non-professionals, and when pitted against the all-star cast of a movie about the theater world, it was at a definite disadvantage. But one also shouldn’t discount the money involved (or not). Relative minnows IFC Films fought hard for the movie, but it’s likely that they were wildly outspent by Fox Searchlight and their “Birdman”/”Grand Budapest” duo. It’s a damn shame, but I suspect Linklater didn’t make “Boyhood” to win awards anyway. And in the unlikely event that he did, there’s always that potential sequel…
2. The strength of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash”
“Birdman” didn’t always look like a Best Picture winner, but it did always look like it might be a solid awards contender. However, if you were to travel back to a year (or even three months) ago and say that buzzy Sundance indie “Whiplash,” and Wes Anderson’s latest “The Grand Budapest Hotel” would be two of the most lauded films on Oscar night, people might have locked you up. Well, if they cared about long-distance Oscar prognostication, anyway. ‘Grand Budapest’ won four of the nine it was up for, while “Whiplash” did even better, taking three of its five. A pretty remarkable feat for a tiny, low-budget indie flick from a second-time director. “Whiplash” was the only one to take a quote-unquote major prize, with both Supporting Actor and the less expected Editing trophy (normally the preserve of a Best Picture frontrunner), but it’s clear that both films were widely loved by the Academy. And while AMPAS and PricewaterhouseCoopers don’t release the actual tallies of the votes, and we’ll never know how close we were to an upset, I suspect that when it came to the Best Picture race, they’d have been much closer to the “Boyhood”/”Birdman” front of the pack than, say, “The Imitation Game.” Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but either way, the success of the two movies (and, indeed, Linklater and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s films) was a reminder that esoteric, offbeat festival fare can perform better with the Academy than British biopics engineered from birth to pick up trophies.
3. The Screenplay categories
These were two of the tougher categories to call this year, but in both cases, they didn’t go as expected. Given the recent history of the Original Screenplay category, with the distinct visions of Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen winning prizes, even if their films weren’t awards juggernauts otherwise, most had predicted Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness the winners in advance. The film had won both the WGA prize and the BAFTA, too. But instead, the wide love for “Birdman” carried that film to victory. Crucially, it was ineligible for the WGA, so it was something of a wild card. Despite having four writers, a rarity for a winner in this category, and although it was probably the weakest of the nominees (for all its pleasures, it’s terribly on the nose in places), Inarritu and his gang won the day. The Adapted Screenplay race was definitely closer, but my prediction of “Whiplash” started to feel safer and safer as the night progressed and the film continued to win prizes. But ultimately, it was “The Imitation Game” that won out, perhaps as a consolation prize for a film that Academy voters loved, but not enough to reward elsewhere (the writer’s long struggle to get the film made, and its Black List-topping status, probably helped). Presumably, they’d forgotten that it ends with the caption: “Today, we call them computers.”
4. “Big Hero 6” winning Best Animated Feature
Perhaps the closest to a true shock last night came in Best Animated Feature, a category that hasn’t been known for upsets. The animation branch had already delivered one staggering omission by failing to nominate “The Lego Movie,” which certainly opened up the field. As a result, it was conceivable to see almost anything (well, maybe not “Song Of The Sea”) winning here, but almost every Oscar prognosticator had settled on “How To Train Your Dragon 2.” The film was widely liked, Cannes-approved, dominated the Annie Awards, and had the right mix of art, heart and commerce over competitors like Laika’s “Boxtrolls,” which is a little esoteric for some, Studio Ghibli’s more obscure “The Tale Of Princess Kaguya,” and the bouncier, poppier superhero flick “Big Hero 6.” And it was the latter that took prize, a big hit from on-top-of-the-world Disney rather than faltering DreamWorks Animation. Was it an issue of awarding sequels, or just that they liked the movie more? Whatever the case, “Big Hero 6” shook up an already shaken up category.
5. Alexandre Desplat finally winning an Oscar
The smart money in Best Original Score this year was on relative newcomer Johann Johannsson to win. Though he’s not well known in the film world, he’s delivered several excellent scores in the last few years, won the Golden Globe for “The Theory Of Everything,” and the title theme played a very crucial part in the film’s most memorable moment. The closest competition was the ever-prolific Desplat, but with two nominated films in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game,” many thought that he could split his own vote. And with eight nominations in eight years without a win, it started to feel like Desplat was the Roger Deakins of the music world — always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This time, though, Desplat got to go down the aisle, picking up the trophy for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and screwing up many Oscar pools. That said, this was a happy surprise. While Desplat can sometimes feel like he’s phoning in, as with “The Imitation Game,” he’s one of the most exciting composers around when he’s on form. He’s always done some of his best work with Wes Anderson, so it’s particularly gratifying that he won for that, rather than the more forgettable collaboration with Morten Tyldum.
6. Despite everything, it was a pretty good night for women.
Though this year’s conversation about diversity, or the total lack of, focused mostly on race, more than a few people pointed out that women had been sidelined, as well. Best Director and the Screenplay categories remained a total sausage fest, despite the likes of Ava DuVernay, Angelina Jolie and Gillian Flynn being potentials, and essentially all the Best Picture nominees being about men (this was the year, after all, of “BirdMAN” vs. “BOYhood”). That didn’t change on the night, obviously, but the split in representation wasn’t so bad on stage, with female directors winning trophies in Best Documentary, Best Documentary Short and Best Animated Short. Maybe if the Academy would deign to nominate someone in the main category again, we’d see more joining Kathryn Bigelow (still the lone female winner of Best Director, of a shameful four nominees ever).