Sunday night’s Oscars telecast will no doubt be debated for days to come, as viewers chew over the winners (congratulations, Birdman!) and the losers (condolences, Boyhood!), and argue whether the show’s 126-hour running time was warranted (you can read our review of the show here). But at least we can all agree on this: There were some great moments this year, and some decidedly not-so-great ones, with host Neil Patrick Harris occasionally responsible for both! Here’s our take on the night’s highs and lows:
HIGH: NPH gets right to the music. Whatever the over/under was on how long it would take for former Tonys host to get to the singing and dancing — we’re guessing it was one minute — he defied all expectations. After a quick and pointed elephant-in-the-room burn addressing the #OscarsSoWhite controversy (“Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest… sorry, brightest”), Harris launched right into a tune called “Moving Pictures.” It was a silly, merry affair that would make Billy Crystal proud, complete with dancing stormtroopers, golden age-nostalgia (check out that song title), not to mention celebrity guests Anna Kendrick and Jack Black. Speaking of which…
HIGH: Jack Black’s scene-stealing, sing-along spiel. The Tenacious D/School of Rock funnyman emerged from his seat, mic in hand, and launched into a cranky diatribe against “Hollywood baloney,” accusing the industry of “chasing Chinese bucks,” and bemoaning the deluge of “superheroes, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Jedi-Man, Sequelman, and Prequelman.” As Patton Oswalt noted on Twitter, “Jack Black played the part of Everyone At The New Beverly Cinema in that opening number.” Translation: Film buffs loved it.
LOW: NPH Groaners. As much as we love Harris, some of his jokes and gags misfired badly. There was a strange analogy in which he compared the box-office gross of American Sniper with Oprah (huh?); the small talk with seat-fillers that went nowhere; that tired bit with David Oyelowo about British accents sounding better; and, of course, that whole stunt with his predictions-packed briefcase — a gag that went on way too long, and arrived at a time when everyone was ready for the show to end. Yes, he had some winners (calling out Benedict Cumberbatch as what you get when you ask John Travolta to introduce Ben Affleck) but for the most part, his jokes were a lot of set-up without much pay-off.
HIGH: Watching winners play chicken with the orchestra. When Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) began going long while accepting the Oscar for Best Foreign-language Film, the orchestra began to swell. But Pawlikowski refused to give in, and then something amazing happened: The music actually stopped. Perhaps inspired by our intrepid orchestra-challenger, Best Live Action Short directors Matt Kirkby and James Lucas followed suit moments later, accepting for The Phone Call, and refusing to yield their yakking. If only American winners could be so bold…
LOW: Joan Rivers missing from the “In Memoriam” segment.Yes, she wasn’t technically a “movie person”: Her big-screen résumé is pretty much relegated to writing and directing the much-maligned 1978 Billy Crystal comedy Rabbit Test and providing a voice forSpaceballs. (Not to mention being the subject of the moving 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.) But she is forever linked with the Oscars for what she did for the pregame show, turning the red carpet into an event nearly as big as the ceremony itself. Yes, Academy purists may sniff that her “Who are you wearing?” approach distracted from the celebration of cinema, but to ignore her impact on the show is pure snobbery. (Other notable RIP snubs: Elaine Stritch, Richard “Jaws” Kiel from the Roger Moore-era James Bond films, and Taylor Negron from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Punchline, and many other eighties comedies.)
HIGH: Emotional speeches. The thank-yous extended far beyond just gratitude this year, with a number of winners using the airtime to touch on weighty topics. Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) made a rousing call for equal pay for women, stoking the audience — especially Oscar queen Meryl Streep, whom she’d just beaten for the Oscar. Meanwhile, Dana Perry, the producer of Best Documentary Short winner Crisis Hotline, dedicated her award to her son, whom she lost to suicide. And Best Actress victor Julianne Moore (Still Alice) got emotional talking about one of her co-directors, Richard Glatzer, who couldn’t attend because he’s been battling ALS.
Also giving an inspiring speech: Best Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) urged everyone watching to call – not text or email – their parents and thank them. Which we’ll totally do this week, once we’re finished arguing over what should have won Best Picture.
HIGH: Common and John Legend bring the house down, and bring the stars to tears. Selma may have been at the center of the so-called #Oscars SoWhite controversy, but the film owned the night, even if it was only for a few fleeting moments during the rousing performance of the Best Original Song-winning soul-rap track “Glory” by John Legend and Common. The entertainers led a large, multi-cultural chorus over a bridge erected on stage, and Legend closed the number with a powerful a cappella refrain. It drew a standing ovation from the crowd, and cameras captured stars David Oyelowo (who played MLK) and Chris Pine (who was just really moved) with tears streaming down their faces.
HIGH AND LOW: Lady Gaga comes alive with The Sound of Music. The Academy celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic with a performance by the newly engaged Lady Gaga, who beautifully belted out a rolling medley that included “The Hills Are Alive,” “Edelweiss,” and “Climb Every Mountain.” This one gets a mixed a grade – a high for Gaga’s voice and show(wo)manship, but a low for coming so late in the show, with TV audiences tired and eager for a wrap. It would’ve played even better during one of those earlier slots dedicated to NPH’s predictions briefcase.
tweeting: “100 percent believe that Terrence Howard’s prompter just broke. No way he loves the #ImitationGame that much.”