“Glory,” Ballot No. 9, and NPH
Wesley Morris: Last year’s hacked dump of private emails stolen from Sony Pictures Entertainment employees included a much-reported exchange between the company’s chairperson, Amy Pascal, and producer Scott Rudin, in which they joked about the kinds of movies President Obama might enjoy. The choices were slave dramas or the comedies of Kevin Hart. The exchange wasn’t funny, but the participants seemed self-amused. What was dismaying about this LOL-fest was that it took place between two people with the power to expand the options. Also dismaying was how unremarkable and casually pervasive it seemed.
Before Sunday’s Academy Award broadcast, The Hollywood Reporter ran the preferences of a handful of anonymous Academy voters. One, labeled “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 9,” expressed dislike for Selma for its failure to give white characters favorable speaking parts, and then dismissed the movie — which is set in the United States of 1965 and centered on Martin Luther King Jr. — as a “left-wing, modern, rap version” of history, as if describing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new stage musical, Hamilton.
Since the nominations in mid-January, the Academy has been pilloried with outrage and derision for featuring no actors of color among the 20 nominees and only two nominations for Selma. #OscarsSoWhite became a hashtag to place alongside #BlackLivesMatter. As a kind of apology, the Grammys last month ceded the broadcast’s final musical performances to a tandem of Selma-oriented numbers featuring Beyoncé, Common, and John Legend. The songs were striking while seeming incongruous to the matter at hand.
I hadn’t planned to think about any of this during Sunday’s show, an event I watch as a professional but generally enjoy as a civilian. An awards show isn’t the forum to address racial grievances. The producers were smart in staging a diverse parade of stars. It’s up to Hollywood to give them something to do. It’s probable that Sean Penn’s jesting green-card remark in announcing Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman as the best picture will be the night’s most pungent insult. But the host, Neil Patrick Harris, seemed to embody the tenor of those emails and of Ballot No. 9’s brutal honesty. He coated an already fatuous evening in glibness. It wasn’t merely the subpar puns, shameful introductions, and careless jokes about the snubbed. It was the way he singled out Octavia Spencer to watch a briefcase that rested in a glass case on the stage (Harris’s Oscar predictions) or asked David Oyelowo to stand and speak in his natural English accent.
Harris might have intended to boost these two into the pantheon of award-show sidekicks, to what Streep and Nicholson have always been. But Harris performs with bright, conceited entitlement. So when he approached Spencer and Oyelowo, he did so as a spoiled heir or a clueless boss. He turned them into employees and party tricks — and now a black British person! You can see what Harris was after, but his touch just left a stain. Steve Carell’s comical rejection of him made sense: He’s done the clueless-boss bit. And yet Harris persisted. In introducing Ben Affleck, he retitled Gone Girl, in which Rosamund Pike slits Harris open to kill him, Bitches Be Trippin’, Yo, as if a peon from The Office really were hosting the Academy Awards.
Eventually, No. 9’s worst, left-wing, modern, rap nightmare took the stage. Yes, it was Common and John Legend to do “Glory,” their triumph of easy listening from Selma. Legend’s singing and piano playing were even stronger than at the Grammys. I’ve listened to this song about 600 times, yet Common made me hear its lyrics anew. They were joined by a large, black, unrobed choir on a big set that featured a rendering of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When it was over, Harris came on and said, “Fan. Tastic. Performance” as though he were emceeing Star Search. He then immediately introduced the orchestra and music director Stephen Oremus, as if the only thing to chase “Glory” with was a dose of Lawrence Welk.
But that swerve into levity didn’t erase the tension of the moment that inspired it. In wide shots, the show’s Pettus Bridge resembled something you could slip your fingers through and use to hurt someone. By the time the number had concluded, the choir’s sea of black faces stood at the edge of the stage and spilled down the stairs at the foot of the predominantly white house, where the audience had risen to applaud, some through tears. Hollywood does have a race problem, and this image seemed to sum it up. This getting on one’s feet and clapping constituted an ovation, certainly. But from some angles, it was impossible not to see the moment for what it also was: part of a ceaseless standoff.
“Moving Pictures” (The Opening Number. It Was a While Ago Now — You Probably Don’t Remember.)
Holly Anderson: So it feels like it was the telecast-before-last at this point, but in the long-forgotten past, the 2015 Academy Awards staged an opening number to get the festivities under way, and it had the bizarro effect of making its audience feel really good for just a little bit, both about movies and about the Academy Awards. This is not as easy as it looks, even at the Oscars. Every ceremony since 2009 has failed, in my absolutely correct opinion, at even coming within screaming distance of that iteration’s classical elegance, but even from within the entrenched fortifications of Team Why Don’t You Just Put Bill Condon In Charge of Making Y’All Look Good Every Year, Do I Have To Do Everything For You People?, “Moving Pictures” was a showstopper. (The good kind, not the For Fuck’s Sake, Again With That Magic Briefcase kind.)
There were factors working both for (song penned by the Frozen team!) and against (seriously, that first set looks like it was designed with the help of Clippy: “It looks like you may not be confident this is the Oscars! Would you like some help with that?”) the success of this number, but RogerEbert.com editor Brian Tallerico really nailed what made the whole contraption go: Neil Patrick Harris had to sell the shit out of a love of cinema, not just as an actor or a host, but as a human being having a human moment up there and out loud. And he did; it was impossible to disbelieve the sincerity radiating from his pores. “Tonight is also for the people who love these movies,” he said, without following it with a joke, and it landed. I believe that he believes, and still do, like, nine hours later, which I think is both really generous of me given the Magic Briefcase Happenings and a testament to true love of the art form.
Harris was surrounded by ample weaponry. There were Benedict Cumberbatch and his Cumberflask. There was Jack Black to provide just a soupçon of conflict. There was Anna Kendrick, a great conversational singer. There were the visual effects, harnessed to terrific consequence. The number was funny and fast-paced and even threw a handful of dragon’s blood into the cauldron for drama right at the very end, because how long do you think Meryl will suffer whoever put her at the back of that photo collage?
A couple more jokes, cede the floor to the majestic Lupita, and we were off. Off on a strange journey through terrain that featured some extraneous bellhopping, some mecha–West Elm puppetry, a Neiman Marcus chandelier Death Star (NOT AS COOL AS THAT SOUNDS), and never-ending hordes of statues as set decoration.1 And that terribly, terribly unfortunate magic briefcase. But whatever, I was happy for a little while. I forgot my problems. KIND OF LIKE SEEING A MOVIE. [Freeze frame.]
And the Oscar for “Oh My God, a Billion People Can Tell I’m Super High Right Now, Can’t They? Nah. I’m Good. Whoa, Did I Just Win Best LEGO Actor? I Didn’t Even Know I Was Nominated!” Goes to … Channing Tatum!
NO, REALLY, WE INSIST THAT THIS IS THE OSCARS.
The Triumph of Balls
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Mark Lisanti: “Good luck charms work. Because at the DGA awards I was wearing a Raymond Carver shirt and Billy Wilder tie. And I won. But tonight I am wearing the real Michael Keaton tighty-whities. They are tight. Smell like balls. But they work.”
And with those words, Birdman’s Alejandro González Iñárritu accepted his Best Director statuette, the second of three he personally collected last night, becoming the first Oscar winner in history to reference the potent scrotum-funk of his borrowed underthings. (Unless, of course, you count the olfactory subtext of anything Matthew McConaughey rambled at the Academy Awards a year ago, secretly swaddled in Woody Harrelson’s favorite boxers, more duct-tape patches than cotton at that point.) So there was Iñárritu, levitating in triumph to the rafters of the Dolby Theatre, while Keaton learned that his director — whom he’d trusted implicitly during their dizzying cinematic journey through his actorly neuroses — had pulled the old switcheroo on him, leaving the exposed Birdman to fight off Eddie Redmayne’s furious late-season, SAG-powered charge in nothing but a ratty old pair of unenchanted Hanes.
It was a dirty trick. One commercial break later, Redmayne would be up there, in that same spot, taking home Keaton’s long-awaited Oscar, the one Keaton had spent an entire career dreaming of, from morgue night shift to fake Broadway opening, rubber bat ears to majestic eagle wings. Without those tighty-whities he never stood a chance against the freckle-faced kid with an entire crafts union suddenly in his thrall. Defeat snatched from the beak of victory.
Keaton would get to join the gold-crazy Iñárritu onstage at the end of the night, as the greedy auteur wrung out those purloined briefs and sopped up the last fetid drop of magic in vanquishing Richard Linklater a second time in as many chances. Sharing in the reflected spotlight wasn’t the same as having it shine upon the Birdman alone. How could it be? And so he watched in silence as Iñárritu gave yet another speech, collected yet another trophy, scratched yet another treacherously well-supported testicle. Keaton leaned in close as the orchestra swelled, opened his mouth to unleash a final squawk of righteousness. But it caught in his throat, transformed from avian threat to mumbled congratulations. And something that sounded a lot like:
“I’ll take them back, but you have to wash them first.”
Sean Fennessey: Eddie Redmayne is 33 years and 47 days old. He has appeared in 14 feature films. He has an Oscar for Best Actor now. He’s just barely younger than Clark Gable was when he won the award for It Happened One Night in 1934. And Redmayne is actually older than Nicolas Cage when he won the award for Leaving Las Vegas in 1996. Cage and Gable appeared in a combined 56 movies by the time they won the award, and seemed to have lived for many years, and through many, well, experiences. Eddie Redmayne — his eyes wet, his body trembling, and his voice approaching the giddy squeee of a teakettle — seemed like a tiny boy. He clutched his award as if it were a sickly animal, petting and cooing it into his breast. He dedicated his win to sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that afflicts Stephen Hawking, the remarkable person Redmayne portrays in The Theory of Everything.
I don’t know what to say about that movie or that performance other than “Maybe go get an ice cream or a haircut or spend some time with a person you love instead of going to see it.” Redmayne, who seems like a nice and hardworking person, promised to “polish him” while genuflecting before his statuette. He seemed a little too excited to be in possession of one. Many have already described his speech as “adorable,” which is the sort of word we use to describe newborn calves. For me, it was as ghastly and exaggerated a response as I can imagine. OK, maybe not the most ghastly.
Requiem for a 12-Year Dream
John Lopez: As a recovering Oscar blogger, I long ago learned to suck it up when the awards didn’t go my way. You can come up with a million thoughtful explanations for Boyhood’s thorough beatdown by Birdman: The former movie was too subtle; too much of an outsider; too not-about-Hollywood-loving-itself. Sure, but the underlying truth is that Oscar campaigns are truly that: campaigns. You need strategy, money, and a shiny hook to get Academy members even to watch your film. (No, Oscars aren’t bought, but they are paid for.) To believe the unassuming Boyhood and a laid-back Rick Linklater would win that steeplechase with IFC’s scarce resources always belied a certain wishful thinking.
And honestly, the cine-snob part of me breathes a small sigh of relief that Linklater still lies just a little bit too outside the box for the Academy. A few years back, I came across this poster listing the Best Picture winners by date. With all of those one-sheets neatly arranged in a grid, I realized that, at best, I’d maybe rewatch half of those films. For my money, Boyhood joins the ranks of There Will Be Blood, Goodfellas, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, Tootsie, Apocalypse Now, Network, MASH, The Graduate, Giant, High Noon, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — classics you have to remind yourself lost Best Picture even as you ask yourself what they lost to. I’d bet Boyhood will be inspiring filmmakers well into the future and Linklater’s name will one day appear beside the likes of Bergman, Ozu, and Satyajit Ray in the film-nerd pantheon. Obviously, I don’t know that, but I’d be willing to write it down in an envelope, hide it in Neil Patrick Harris’s magic briefcase, and open it 12 years later to see if I’m right.
Oscar Fashion Minute!
Juliet Litman: Like the rest of the show, the fashion at the Oscars was boring. There was no shortage of light pinks, whites, and other colors generally reserved for weddings. Among the parade, a few stood out.
Scarlett Johansson: Ready for the pre–Hunger Games pageantry.
Cate Blanchett: Obviously borrowed a necklace from The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart costume room.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Viola Davis: Horrible dress.
Lady Gaga: Pulling an elaborate practical joke. First, the gloves. Since the dress is white and shiny, red gloves read like some kind of performative statement about blood on her hands. And given Gaga’s predilection for theatrics, that makes sense, but her dress was an Alaïa. An a-what-a? Like, a totally important designer! I assume she’s been waiting since 1995 to work with him, because Millennials love Clueless.
America’s Next Top Oscar Host
Chris Ryan: For all the Travolta chin-grabbing and Terrence Howard molly-monologuing, Neil Patrick Harris’s turn as host was the most awkward and grating part of the night. And I say this as someone who willingly watched nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother. Were expectations too high? Did he just Knoblauch this thing? This was the gig he’d been training for for most of his postdoctoral life, and he kind of blew it. Part of this was down to conception/writing. I mean … one song-and-dance number? You don’t bring in Russell Westbrook to be on your Olympic curling team, so why hire Neil Patrick Harris to have him play snarky asshole party guy? The “Motion Pictures” song that opened might have been beamed in from the fifth-dimension library of corniness, but at least it owned what it was. If you’ve got the soft-shoe Broadway guy, keep it light and musical, right?
Somewhere around when Harris was making treason jokes about Edward Snowden or using David Oyelowo like a prop, I started to scout the Academy Awards crowd for next year’s host. So who could’ve done better? Glad you asked. (You did not ask.)
Is anyone mad with an opening musical number of some sort (because I guess we have to have one), and then a rotating group of charming young people to move things along? Some kind of Miles Teller, Emma Stone, Lupita Nyong’o power trio? We don’t actually need magic tricks and viral bits. Just find someone who knows how to read a teleprompter and has a good sense of humor, and put him or her in front of a camera. I would prefer Chris Rock every year. I’m sure some would like to just see Ellen get it. Let’s Chip Kelly this damn thing and go hurry-up offense. BAN HOSTS.
4. Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Chris Pine
But they have to fight. Winner gets to play Han Solo.
3. Dakota Johnson and Melanie Griffith
But it’s just a four-hour flood of inside jokes and passive-aggressive negs.
2. Kevin Hart and Anna Kendrick
Love these two. I’m starting to really come around on Kevin Hart. He never phones it in, would be just enough of an outsider to keep people on their toes, and also just enough of a ham to play to the mainstream. Kendrick seemed to get a genuine kick out of him. This is the best-case scenario for a James Franco/Anne Hathaway–style duo.
1. Not-Funny Eddie Murphy
The idea of this dude doing a four-hour show devoid of any punch lines, gags, Buckwheat imitations, or fucks given is basically my dream. I’m holding out hope that his Best Original Screenplay presentation and his SNL 40 appearance are all part of some elaborate performance-art piece. Whether or not that’s the case, I say let Ali-in-Zaire host. This would basically be a Michael Haneke movie. I’d never need another awards show for the rest of my life.
Meryl Streep and J.Lo Hear You on Wage Inequality, Patricia Arquette
The Handsy Adventures of Glom Gazingo
Katie Baker: I can’t vouch for the international prestige of eDiplomat.com — the “Global Portal for Diplomats™” — but it does make an interesting observation on the etiquette of American personal space. “People who like to touch really like touching,” it remarks, “and people who do not like to touch really dislike being touched. You will need to watch your colleagues for clues on what they are comfortable with.” Hey, here’s a clue: This is the face of a very uncomfortable woman.
After John Travolta’s wandering hands finger-walked the red carpet and sneak-alighted on Scarlett Johansson’s torso (seeing those pictures, you just KNOW he’s the kind of man who palms the stomachs of pregnant strangers), the actor brought his increasingly peculiar act up onstage for a comedic bit harking back to his pronunciation snafu with Idina Menzel last year.
Things were going fine until Travolta (a.k.a. “Glom Gazingo,” which, YES) went in for the Academy Awards of chin grabs: multi-act and uncomfortably prolonged. There was the initial bubbe-admiring-a-baby pinch, the vacant you’re so pretttttty cheek stroke, and finally the full handsy-man-on-the-bar-stool-next-to-you horror show. That poor woman. Tune in next year, when ol’ Gazingo will undoubtedly cross the final frontier in personal space: getting those paws all up in everyone’s hair.
A Captain’s Tears
Dave Schilling: Think about all the times you’ve seen Captain Kirk cry. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, after Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise from the detonation of the Genesis Device. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, after Kruge executes Kirk’s son, David. That episode where his girlfriend got hit by the truck. When he saw the box office results for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. All of those moments pale in comparison to seeing the greatest officer in Starfleet history weeping at the Academy Awards.
Last night, we were all moved by the legitimate, authentic expression of feeling in Common and John Legend’s performance of “Glory” from Selma — a celebration of both the triumph of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and of all the many battles we have left to fight. So why were we all so fixated on Chris Pine? What about his rugged, dreamy face made us all so fascinated? Was it because Chris Pine is the ultimate personification of the masculine ideal? Is it because we couldn’t dare look away from his piercing blue eyes? Maybe it’s just because Chris Pine is the shit and we all collectively realized it at the same time. His career survived the Princess Diaries sequel AND a Lindsay Lohan movie. He made a bunch of people who aren’t dorks watch a Star Trek movie. He made us laugh in Smokin’ Aces, and now he’s made us cry, too.
You might think his emotional outburst was corny, but it was real and it was pure and it was awesome. If you can’t respect Chris Pine, you’re probably a replicant from Blade Runner or, like, a Roomba or something. If you are a Roomba that has achieved sentience and reads Grantland.com for our savvy takes on popular culture, I say thank you. Also, I welcome the inevitable moment when you rise up and enslave the human race. At least you’ll keep the planet’s floors clean. In the meantime, you can keep your Chris Pratts, your Chris Evanses, and your Chris Souleses. Chris Pine is the thinking man’s Chris and we are lucky to have him.
Great Moments in Fighting the Walk-Off Music Power
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Amos Barshad: Generally speaking, the stirring of the walk-off music is a welcoming sound — a clear and present indication that someone, somewhere, is at least trying to make sure we get to bed at a reasonable hour. But sometimes you gotta let that boy cook. When Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Foreign Picture for Ida, he wasn’t even close to done when the orchestra started: He still had to thank his “late wife,” and his parents, “who are not among the living,” and his children, “who are still alive.” That he still squeezed it out despite the orchestra crescendoing is a nice display of perseverance; that he had to honor his deceased loved ones over the violins was perhaps a bit awkward. But as he explained, when shouting out his surely-by-now-wasted friends and crew, the Polish people are known to be “resilient, courageous, brave, and funny” — even, it turns out, in the dastardly face of walk-off music.
The Sound of Gaga
Molly Lambert: The Oscars are a joke. Each year the awards show ends and I say, “Ugh, fuck this, never again,” and somehow I get roped into following the race every time. This year, I’ll be honest, I barely invested. The only Oscar-ish movies that came out in 2014 I really saw were Inherent Vice and Gone Girl, many, many times. This made the Oscars a little less suspenseful, and therefore less infuriating, because I was less invested than usual. (Although I did yell at the TV whenever I felt was a bad call was made. So: a lot of times.) I enjoy the Oscars most when they are in on the joke that they are a goof. And the only time I felt that way this year was during the musical performances of The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara and the Lonely Island, and Lady Gaga singing a medley from The Sound of Music, uniting onstage afterward with Julie Andrews like they were a couple of real-life Disney princesses. I don’t even like The Sound of Music — I actually kind of loathe the treacly songs — but it was one of the few times during the entire broadcast that I thought, Well, this is charming.
It’s so rare that the Oscars are knowingly campy, because there’s always a sheen of self-seriousness that makes the unintentional camp unenjoyable. But Gaga, as the Rob Lowe to Andrews’s animated Snow White, knew what was really going on. And between the co-sign from Tony Bennett and now a blessing from Andrews, Lady Gaga’s move from pop star to vocal chanteuse looks increasingly legit. While the makeunder is a playbook move — look at Nicki Minaj’s similar recent style change — it’s a smart one. Trilling the exhilarating high notes perfectly in a gray wig, Gaga unexpectedly made me rethink how much I hate The Sound of Music. And that was the biggest surprise of the Oscars for me. Lady Gaga? Tasteful? Who knew?
It Still Feels Pretty Amazing to Win, Even From the “We Forgot You Were Invited” Row at the Dolby Theatre
The Big Hero 6 crew celebrate from the cheap seats.
The Terrence Howard Voice Mails
ROBYN BECK/Getty Images
Rembert Browne: After Terrence Howard’s performance as a presenter last night, I can’t stop thinking about him leaving me a series of interrupted voice mails.
Terrence: Hey, it’s Terr— this is so wild. Even when you don’t pick up the phone, I — Terrence — can still talk to you.
Wow. Do you get that?
[Three Denzel “my man” lines.]
I’m worried you don’t—[BEEP.]
Terrence: I got cut off.
I don’t know if what I had to say went through, but know that I meant it. Anyway, my question. Actually, first off:
C O M M U N I C A T I O N.
COMMUNE + I + VACATION.
No matter how you spell it, that paint is still going to dry.
You see how wild this all is now? Things aren’t always what—[BEEP.]
Terrence: [Crying.] It’s not fair. [Crying.]
Terrence: Rembert, it’s Terrence Howard from films and television, just calling in the HOPES THAT YOU WOULD HAVE THE DECENCY TO PICK UP THE GODDAMN PHONE.
I’m sorry. Give me one more try. I’m just gonna let the beep happen. But this time, on my own ter—[BEEP.]
Terrence: Do you know what time Empire comes on?
Notable 2015 Academy Award Winners in a Hypothetical World Enslaved by the “Old Ones” From H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos
Best Picture: A likeness of Hastur the Unspeakable One, carved into the stone wall of a dank tunnel beneath a nameless city glimpsed only in the night-terrors of the accursed
Best Actress: Mormo, the Thousand-Faced Moon, who rejoiceth in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wandereth in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longeth for blood and bringeth terror to mortals
Best Actor: Nyaghoggua the Kraken Within
Best Director: Yog-Sothoth, the Key and Guardian of the Gate, in whom Past, Present, and Future Are All One
Best Foreign Language Film: A mysterious cinema reel reportedly discovered in the personal effects of a dissolute Egyptologist beaten to death by a mob in the streets of Cairo in 1960; there are whispers that the footage, exhibited only in secret to private collectors, contains a glimpse of the shuddering horror of Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, although those who have attended these screenings collapse gibbering when asked to describe the film’s unbounded blasphemies
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Northot the Thing That Should Not Be
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Shub-Niggurath the All-Mother, Wife of the Not-to-Be-Named One
Best Cinematography: The baleful gaze of Cyäegha the Destroying Eye
Best Original Song: The muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes
Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2