We usually pride ourselves on taking calm, mature, well-rested assessment of major events in the movie world. However, this year’s Oscar ceremony was so staggeringly bland that it’s already fast receding from memory. So we’re going to hastily cobble together this list of highlights and lowlights, on two hours sleep, with a thumping, cheap-wine hangover flavoring our regret at having stayed up for the long, boring palaver in the first place.
This year, it seemed that many of the highs were cancelled out by lows that were more or less their corollaries, so we’re going with a best/worst, best/worst format rather one long list for each, which should also hopefully keep the “worst of” list from going on and on and on for a hundred hours like a certain telecast we could mention.
Best: Important issues eloquently highlighted during speeches
It’s unusual that the best part of the Oscars were the speeches, but this year, they really were. “Boyhood” winner Patricia Arquette called out loud and strong for women’s rights and was rewarded with the best reaction pic of the night from Meryl Streep, bizarrely but brilliantly seated with J-Lo. Common and John Legend won infinitely more than just Best Song for “Selma,” with an absolutely beautiful, stirring tribute to MLK’s struggle and the symbolism of the bridge. Graham Moore nearly managed to make us forget that he’d won for the subpar “The Imitation Game,” which largely soft-soaps the issue of Alan Turing’s homosexuality by making his speech all about the temptation of suicide and the importance of letting your freak flag fly. Even J.K. Simmons highlighted the tragic ongoing social ill that is parental neglect. This year’s winners wanna make the world a better place.
Worst: Important issues awkwardly mentioned elsewhere
Neil Patrick Harris actually kicked off with a promisingly pointed joke, about Oscar celebrating “the best and the whitest — sorry, brightest,” but subsequent returns to the theme fell flat, most sourly when, having accidentally implied that David Oyelowo was a nominee (he was not), NPH responded to the scattered applause that greeted Oyelowo’s name with “Oh, now you like him.” It seemed needlessly cruel to make Oyelowo suffer that on camera — speak truth to power all you like, but don’t kick a guy when he’s down and then film it. Similarly, Sean Penn’s wacky joke about Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s green card was easily misinterpreted by anyone temporarily forgetting that they’ve worked together and are probably matey, or by anyone assuming, by Penn’s dry-as-a-bone, monotone listing of the nominees, that he was far too serious for such jokiness.
Best: Pointed Musical Numbers
The “Selma” win wasn’t just remarkable for the excellent speech, but for the brilliant performance of “Glory,” a song that, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t much cared for until I saw it performed live. It was strong and soulful, dignified and really moving. At the other end of the seriousness scale, “The Lego Movie” jam “Everything is Awesome” was also, well, awesome. The Tegan & Sara performance featured appearances from Lonely Island, Questlove, Mark Mothersbaugh and Will Arnett reprising his Batman role. A giddy blast of irreverent fun in a show that otherwise felt like it was being beamed in from the 1950s.
Worst: Pointless Musical Numbers
Lady Gaga did a terrific job with “The Sound of Music” tribute. Yes, it turned fifty years old, but still, why on God’s green earth was there a “Sound of Music” tribute? That’s speaking as a fan of “The Sound of Music.” And if there really had to be one for invisible reasons I don’t understand, did it have to be so drawn out and come right at the end of an already crushingly overlong ceremony? Also, do we really need the maudlin, totally generic ballad after the In Memoriam segment?
Best: Jack Black’s bit in the opening number, and the backdrop
There was a moment when we were all a lot younger and things looked perky enough. NPH had made a sharp joke or two, and the opening song, while going back to a somewhat expected “hooray for Hollywood” kind of vibe, had been pleasingly choreographed and elegantly designed (I wish they’d continued with the shadow-dancing theme though, that was nice). And he’d referenced “Clue.” Plus, Jack Black’s evil “movies are rubbish and this is all completely empty” interjection was a nice blast of droll amid so much celebration.
Worst: The rest of the opening number/monologue
Sadly, that was where the night, at least insofar as the hosting was concerned, peaked. Soon we were into the rather bland dismount of the opening musical number which, yet again, served to remind us how odd it is to watch a live stage show format try to celebrate the recorded, projected “magic of the movies” (I mean, do the Tonys make a film?). And then we were into the “sealed envelope”/glass box thing which was utterly wretched (see “Worstest”).
Best: Pawel Pawlikowski ignoring the fact that he should have already finished
It takes cojones to be able to just continue talking while the orchestra is playing you off, and it takes real charm to be able to do it without looking like a bit of an idiot. Pawlikowski has both, and turned a potential embarrassment into a weird sort of triumph over The Man.
Worst: The ceremony ignoring the fact it should have already finished
Every year we say it, and every year it’s truer than the last. This thing is too damn long anyway, and when the presentation is as dull as it was this year, you can actually feel yourself physically age, “Boyhood“-style, while it trundles on and on.
Best: Attractive presenter pairings overcoming bad writing
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba were lovely together (and Chastain’s Monroe-esque sing-song purring of “Chivoooooh” when Emmanuel Lubezki won was the night’s single sexiest moment). Dwayne Johnson and Zoe Saldana made crazy sense, too — let’s see that action-comedy-romance happen. Benedict Cumberbatch and Naomi Watts take the ribbon for best carrying off the trick of making the awkward scripted banter feel natural and spontaneous, if not particularly sparkling.
Worst: The writing
Was this the worst-written Oscar show in memory? I think it may have been, and I lived through Seth MacFarlane‘s go-round. While it may not have had anything as egregiously offensive as “We Saw Your Boobs,” the relentless blandness of the format needs something to spice it up a bit, and Doogie Howser delivering Dad jokes (“you could eat her up with-a-spoon… Reese Witherspoon!”; “Live action shorts, animated shorts, bermuda shorts…!”) is not it. When you long for the edginess of Ellen Degeneres, you know something’s up.
Best: Jared Leto presenting Best Supporting Actress
Historically, I haven’t had a whole lot of time for Leto, but he was really good here. He got through his Meryl Streep joke with just the right level of self-acknowledged bashfulness and then gifted this “Jesus blesses Patricia Arquette‘s call for women’s equality” pic to posterity.
Worst: Terrence Howard introducing Best Picture nominees
How drunk were you, Terrence? That was a whole lot of halting, carefully en-un-ci-at-ed altered-state sincerity right there.
Best: Jeff Goldblum’s reaction to everything all the time
Dude never let it slip ONCE — was reliably, infectiously enthusiastic and sincere every time the camera went to him, which was quite a lot. And he’s adorable anyway.
Worst: Oprah’s reaction to being called out for being rich
You made Oprah mad. Don’t make Oprah mad. And don’t think her delight at the Lego Oscar will save you.
Best: John Travolta presents with Adele Dazeem/Idina Menzel & lays a meme to rest
Actually, the best idea anyone had was to give Travolta a chance to redeem himself, exactly a year after he’d mangled Menzel’s name, by having them share the stage. And he even got through the gently self-deprecating gag (Menzel: “It’s not like it’s a thing that will follow me my whole career!” Travolta: “Tell me about it”) quite creditably. But then…
Worst: John Travolta won’t let go of Idina Menzel’s face and starts a whole new meme
…he ruined all that “look I’m just a normal person who isn’t at all weird” good work by interacting physically with Menzel as though she were the first human woman he had ever encountered, and basically hanging onto her face in a deeply worrisome manner.
Best: Melanie Griffith & Dakota Johnson red carpet
Johnson’s teenagery “Oh Mom” reaction was the only real thing that happened anywhere on the Red Carpet yesterday, except for when Ryan Seacrest tried to high five a blind guy.
Worstest: The sealed envelope/glass box thing and the indignities heaped on Octavia Spencer
Oh, yes, this deserves an extra entry for sheer unutterable lameness. Not only does it reduce one of the most expensive and lavish live productions of the year to the status of a silly parlor trick that no one gives a damn about, the “reveal” just proved how nervous the Oscar people are about what’s being said about the show on social media — an attitude that can only have contributed to the blandness of its conception in the first place. All that’s bad enough, but making a game, if baffled, Octavia Spencer the focal point of such a poor, ongoing “joke” with such a wet blanket payoff, with hi-larious references to snacks and toilet breaks, is just inexcusable.
Were you among the however-many folk who expended precious, irretrievable hours of your life staying up until a million o’clock to watch the hi-jink and shenanigan (singular — there was maybe one of each)? If so, tell us your own highs and lows in the comments below, and otherwise bask in the glory of knowing it’s a whole year until we have to do any of this again.