Hollywood goes political on its biggest night

Impressive musical numbers, awkward moments saved the 87th Academy Awards from being an overwrought message-heavy affair.

 An Oscar statue is seen in Beverly Hills (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Oscar statue is seen in Beverly Hills
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If viewers tuned into the Oscars with the intention of three hours of escapism from the current tense political climate, then they were in for a disappointment on two counts. First, everything was political – from the acceptance speeches to the performances to constant reminders as to who was left out of the running. Virtually every word uttered on stage came with some sort of message.
Second, three hours? Try three hours and 38 minutes. That’s a lot of politics. But more on that later.
Below is a run-down of the highs, lows and everything in between from Sunday’s telecast.
The host: Kicked off with a bang, ended with a whimper
When it comes to Oscar hosts, producers pick from one of two options: the caustic comedian (Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Steve Martin) or the song-and-dance man (Hugh Jackman, Billy Crystal).
Neil Patrick Harris is clearly the latter and one need only to look to his previous Tony and Emmy hosting stints to see that opening numbers are his forte.
Harris’s ode to “moving pictures” where key scenes from classic films flashed behind him on stage set just the right tone to start the night and when he was joined by Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, things really kicked into high gear.
He scored points right off the bat with the best (political) joke of the evening when he took a jab at the omission of people of color among the nominees. “Today we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest,” he quipped.
Ultimately, though, Harris failed at his most important task as emcee: keeping the show going.
His ongoing bit where he assigned Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer to “guard” his predictions during the ceremony weren’t funny any of the five times he brought it up and only added to the shows already long run time.
But ultimately, he wasn’t too offensive and the celebrities in the room seemed to like him. Which is more than can be said for Seth MacFarlane and Rock who have yet to be invited back.
The speeches: When grandstanding meets the Oscars
Virtually every winner dedicated his or her victory to a cause.
The Imitation Game’s Graham Moore, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay, said that as a victim of bullying, he hopes his Oscar will be an inspiration to any child who feels out of place for being different.
“I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different.”
Positively giddy over his Best Actor win for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne gave thanks to Stephen Hawking and his family.
“Please know this, I’m fully aware, that I’m a lucky, lucky man,” Redmayne gushed.
After collecting himself, “This Oscar goes to people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family,” he said, referring to the condition that has left Hawking paralyzed for most of his adult life. “I will be its custodian. I promise you I will look after him, I will polish him, I will answer his beck and call and wait on him hand and foot.”
But it was Patricia Arquette whose Best Supporting Actress speech garnered the most applause for her politically driven speech.
Winning for playing a single mother of two in Boyhood, she dedicated her award to “every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It is our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America!” Her proclamation prompted both Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez (an unlikely duo if there ever was one) to loudly cheer on Arquette’s plea for equal pay for equal work. The performances: Everything is awesome when the hills are alive John Legend and Common’s rendition of “Glory” from Selma brought the tearful audience to its feet.
After a moving performance set to the backdrop of the historical Alabama bridge where Dr. Martin Luther King marched, the camera panned to the crowd where everyone from Selma’s David Oyelowo to Into the Woods’ Chris Pine were seen weeping.
As for Lady Gaga, she got to fulfill every 12 year old girl’s fantasy when she performed a medley of the greatest hits from The Sound of Music in honor of the film’s 50-year anniversary.
After her set, a glowing Julie Andrews surprised everyone by sauntering on stage and embracing a visibly moved Lady Gaga.
And, truthfully, is there a better way to know you hit it out of the park than having Maria Von Trapp herself follow the performance and publicly give her seal of approval? But the best act of the evening, unexpectedly, goes to “Everything is Awesome,” from The Lego Movie. From somersaulting construction workers, to Andy Samberg’s pale blue tux, to Will Arnett as Batman, this was a performance that showed that sometimes the “everything but the kitchen sink” formula really does work.
And, honestly, seeing Oprah clutch a Lego Oscar is probably all one needs to see in life.
The inexplicable: Some head-scratching moments
Like any live program, the 87th Academy Awards had its share of flubs, awkward moments and gaffes.
John Travolta did little to redeem his “Adele Dazeem” moment of last year where he botched Idina Menzel’s name. Co-Presenting with Menzel, Travolta continued to caress the visibly uncomfortable songstress face.
It’s amazing this even needs to be said – but note to presenters: Unwanted face touching is frowned upon and will probably make you unpopular at the after parties.
Terrence Howard, too, seemed to have difficulty getting through presenting three of the Best Picture nominees. In a 45 second intro filled with dramatic and overwrought stops and starts, one would think Howard was personally involved in each of these films.
“It’s a thrilling symphony that’s...mind blowing,” A visibly shaken Howard said, much to the confusion of the entire viewing public.
But those two incidents paled in comparison to Sean Penn’s faux pas of the night. The actor’s drawn-out pause before announcing the Best Picture winner was unnecessary. And his joke wondering, “what son of a bitch gave this guy a green card?” about Birdman’s Alejandro González Iñárritu was downright rude and overshadowed the film’s big win.
All and all, aside from Birdman snagging Best Picture (bringing its total to four wins), there were no other notable upsets.
But when it comes to the Oscars, who really cares about the awards themselves? The show is all about the glitz, glamour and gaffes. In that respect then, the Academy Awards delivered.