The 2015 Oscars Got It Right

Just days before the February 22 Oscar telecast, the Best Picture category was a real horse race between Birdman and Boyhood. I would have liked a dark horse (just to keep the metaphor going) of The Theory of Everything, because that movie was really in my heart. But between the favored two, I was hugely disappointed in Boyhood. I absolutely wanted Birdman to be Best Picture.

The Oscars opened with a production number with host Neil Patrick Harris honoring “moving pictures.” He was joined by who-knew-she-was-a-great-singer Anna Kendrick, and Jack Black interrupted as a spoiler. It was great fun.

The earliest award, Supporting Actor, went to character actor J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. You also see him five times a day in Farmers Insurance commercials. This award, for this role in this movie, is his 38th. There are a lot of Film Critics and Journalists Associations Awards out there.

I’m not going to say a word about women’s fashion – just about men’s. I don’t care that you’re in California; it’s February. What’s with the white dinner jackets? Spring, summer and winter cruise wear for white jackets. (OK, OK, we’re breaking all the rules these days…) Kevin Hart looked awful. Jared Leto, please – light blue 70’s prom tuxedo with white shoes. But you’re Jared Leto. You can wear anything you want.

Patricia Arquette won Supporting Actress, as she had every previous award show. Patricia, you knew you’d win. Why not memorize something with feeling? Instead of reading names at top speed? Then you had a great effect demanding equality for every woman who ever gave birth and every taxpayer! A fantastic feminist moment! Build up to it with some feeling! (For instance, you could have listened to every speech Julianne Moore had given.)

In Memoriam is always a touching part of the evening. Meryl Streep started out with a quote from Joan Didion’s memoir: “A single person is missing from you, and the whole world is empty.” This time illustrated pictures were shown. Not all actors, all directors, all producers. There were two glaring problems. Joan Rivers and Elaine Stritch were left out. Twitter exploded. The Academy responded with a lame statement that they had room for only so many people, but that those two artists were included in Oscars.com. Not enough, Academy.

The nominated songs were all well performed and fairly moving, with the possible exception of “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie. That one was just for fun.

The last song performed was “Glory” from Selma. The performance, by John Legend and Common, received a standing ovation. Shortly afterwards, the winner of Best Song was announced. “Glory” written by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn – also known as John Legend and Common. Needless to say, that decision was a hit.

Along with “Selma” marking 50 years after Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, “The Sound of Music” hit theaters 50 years ago.

The Oscars did a tribute to “The Sound of Music,” complete with kids, songs, and – Lady Gaga?????

It was the most refined, understated, prom-dressed appearance we’ve ever seen from Lady Gaga. It’s not easy hitting Julie Andrews’ notes, but Gaga carried it off beautifully. With long, wavy blonde hair and a wispy white dress, you could almost picture 1960’s Julie Andrews – except for the tattoos on both arms. It was a beautiful moment when Julie Andrews came out, hugged “My Darling” and announced the next award. Maybe some people who didn’t already love Lady Gaga the way I do – do now.

Best Original Screenplay went to Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman. It was just the first of three trips onstage for Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Best Adapted Screenplay went to Graham Moore for The Imitation Game. (Just an aside – this film also had my heart. In another year, this film could have swept. This year was exceptional, and it’s a crime that more awards didn’t go to this movie.) Young Graham Moore came up on stage and said, I’ll paraphrase – Here it is, I attempted suicide at 16 – I can’t believe I’m on this stage – this goes out to that kid who thinks she’s weird and different – stay weird and different – and when it’s your turn, and you’re on this stage, pass it on to the next person… Graham Moore brought down the house.

Best Director went to Alejandro González Iñárritu, having a fantastic time at the Oscars. He said he was wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty whities as a good luck charm.

Best Actress went to Julianne Moore for Still Alice. It was her masterpiece. She had read an article that winning an Oscar can make you live five years longer. She’s glad because her husband is younger than she is. She was eloquent about people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and thankful to those who worked with her on this movie.

Best Actor went to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. (I wanted him to win this Oscar the day I saw the movie. And I knew he would.) He said the award belonged to those people around the world battling ALS and to the Hawking family. He thanked his wife and announced that there was a fellow who soon would be sharing their apartment.

Best Picture went to Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu once more went to the stage, along with everyone from the movie. He made another speech, thanked Michael Keaton, who came up and said “Who am I kidding, I’m just glad to be here.”

I’m happy about the 2015 Oscars. (Did anyone notice, not once were they referred to as the Academy Awards?) The voters loved the ones I loved. Please go back on this site and read about Still Alice, Birdman, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything. It was a great year.

OK, Boyhood didn’t win Best Picture. Don’t be haters.

Let’s go to the movies.

Award Shows: Road To The Oscars

The 2015 Academy Awards should be exciting, because 2014 was a great movie year. Strangely, some really top competitors squeaked through so late in the year that we saw them in the theater in 2015. That has happened in previous years as well. In 2012, “Lincoln” was released on November 16, and “Django Unchained” was released on December 25.

The award shows leading up to the Oscars often show us whether the Las Vegas odds are correct. Yes, there’s some serious money on the nominees. But there’s a downside to being an awards junkie like me. It means you’ve sat through the People’s Choice Awards.

This year the People’s Choice Awards show was painfully cheesy. Because they precede every award with the word “favorite,” they managed to make the one and only elegant moment of the evening awkward. Ben Affleck received “Favorite Humanitarian” award for his creation of the Eastern Congo Initiative. (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/peoples-choice-awards-ben-afflecks-761722) Are there humanitarians we don’t like?

Then there are the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. In 2012 SAG merged with AFTRA – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – so the SAG awards became SAG/AFTRA, representing TV as well as movies.

It gets to be more fun as it goes along. Maybe the same person wins in the supporting category…maybe a person’s seat gets closer to the stage…maybe there’s a surprise winner who has to navigate down staircases and around tables as music plays because no one ever thought he’d/she’d win.

George Clooney once said the Golden Globes were the most fun because he could sit at a nice table and drink, and his Supporting Actor award was the first one presented.

The red carpet is fun but of course should not be watched in real time: You must be able to fast-forward past inane conversations and ugly fashions. You should decide the best and worst fashions for yourself, largely based on the presenters. And no, it’s not fun to hope someone trips on the stage or on the stairs. Jennifer Lawrence tripped and made a graceful recovery. Then she accepted an Academy Award! It could have been worse.

If we think we know who’ll win in advance, the problem with a “sure thing” is this: The Golden Globes (http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/11/showbiz/feat-2015-golden-globes-winners-list/) gave out more awards than you’ll see at the Oscars. You saw two Best Actor awards, for comedy (Michael Keaton) and drama (Eddie Redmayne). It’s such a tight race for the Academy Award, and those two are the ones who, frankly, deserve it.

Similarly, the SAG Awards (http://variety.com/2015/film/news/sag-award-winners-2015-screen-actors-guild-awards-winner-list-1201414657/) didn’t award best picture; they awarded “best cast.” That was Birdman. The Golden Globes awarded comedy and drama separately and had two winners: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood. Best Picture is a big question.

The winners we heard repeatedly were Julianne Moore for Best Actress, Patricia Arquette for Best Supporting Actress, and J.K. Simmons for Best Supporting Actor. But so many other awards are up for grabs. That’s where the fun comes in. Who can be really sure?

Still Alice

Julianne Moore stars as Alice Howland, a Columbia University professor of linguistics. She’s a happily married mother of three adults, a daily runner, an accomplished educator, yet something’s going wrong.

We all occasionally go into a room and forget why we went there. Alice starts with a forgotten point she’s making during a lecture, stopping her cold. Then she’s suddenly lost during a jog. The confusion begins to grow frightening. It’s time for her and her husband John to see a doctor, where they receive devastating news. She has a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She’s 50 years old – 15 years younger than it usually occurs.

We see the growth of the disease (http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp) from Alice’s point of view, not the family’s. Everyone gathers for Christmas dinner, and Alice introduces herself to her son’s girlfriend. Her daughter is thrilled that Alice will make her famous bread pudding, but later there’s a look of confusion as she has to look up the recipe. When it’s time to sit down, Alice introduces herself to her son’s girlfriend. Deterioration is occurring too quickly.

Alice’s work is suffering, and the time has come to admit the truth to the chair of her department, and she’s dismissed. Her husband remains supportive, but he’s still ambitious about his own career and doesn’t agree with her wish to take a year’s sabbatical so they can have some time together before she’s completely lost. She’s disappearing and she knows it.

Alice realizes this horror can be passed down to her children and begs them to be tested. She gets to a point where she feels safe only in the house. At one point she’s so confused she opens all the wrong doors looking for the bathroom. We share her panic and embarrassment.

It doesn’t come from her voice. It comes from her eyes.

Julianne Moore is subtle as she guides us through this heartbreaking ordeal. She is surrounded by a good cast, script and director. But I’m not mentioning anyone else. This film is hers. So, probably, is the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

Birdman

We’ve missed Michael Keaton. If, like me, you were surprised to see him without hair, it’s been too long. And now here’s Birdman. What a way to say welcome back.

Let me quote Peter Debruge of Variety, who said the performance was the “comeback of the century” and described the film as “a self aware showbiz satire” and called it “a triumph on every creative level.”

In Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up former comic book hero who, 20 years after his fame has evaporated, has decided to write, direct and star in his own Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver (http://sun.iwu.edu/~jplath/carver.html) story called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” One of Riggan’s prized possessions is a cocktail napkin with Carver’s best wishes and autograph. He’s going to do him proud. However, he doesn’t know whether he can do it. Will he be welcomed back? Is he good enough? Has he taken on too much? He fights with his inner demon – Birdman – complete with a damning voice and imagined telekinetic powers that go along with it.

Birdman’s cast is superb. Edward Norton is a self-absorbed costar who has so many demanded improvements to Riggan’s script that he commits the outrageous sin during previews of breaking the fourth wall. Riggin’s daughter (Emma Stone) is a supposedly recovering stoner who has been estranged from her father. (Just an aside…Emma Stone is so frightfully skinny she’s a stick figure. Eat a sandwich, Emma!) Stone and Norton play beautifully with each other. And Norton’s been at it for a while. Zach Galifianakis is Riggan’s lawyer and confidant and offers strong support, and Lindsay Duncan plays acid-tongued New York Times critic Tabitha Dickinson with lip-curling joy.

When Michael Keaton won the Golden Globe Award, he thanked the film’s co-writer, producer and director Alejandro González Iñárritu and said that every actor in the room would want to work with him. Iñárritu (http://ntdaily.com/interview-director-alejandro-gonzalez-inarritu-unmasks-the-birdman) strove to make the film look as if it were shot in one take. We saw the gritty backstage dressing rooms of the Broadway theater, and he stripped away a lot of the glamour.

Birdman has been nominated for nine Academy Awards. If it’s constantly referred to as Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the show will definitely run long.

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch has said he doesn’t know why he’s been called upon to play smarties like Van Gogh, Stephen Hawking, and now Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Maybe because he was smart enough to get the role when it didn’t work out for Leonardo DeCaprio.

Alan Turing was a Cambridge mathematician called upon to join a British intelligence agency with the task of breaking Nazi naval codes and win World War II. Just one problem – it couldn’t be done. The Nazis had the Enigma machine with codes that changed every minute, every second, and Turing’s team had to decipher them.

They worked in the top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. (A British television series, The Bletchley Circle, follows a group of women who worked as code breakers and reunited in the 1950s as detectives without a past.) Turing’s team of cryptologists was composed of mathematicians, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers. With huge egos.

When Turing’s electro-mechanical machine, known as the Bombe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombe) wasn’t showing results, his superiors wanted to cut it off, but he wrote to someone who could help: Winston Churchill. He authorized anything they needed. The machine ultimately was capable of breaking 3,000 Enigma codes a day.

The team included Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), with whom Turing became close but didn’t have a romance because of his homosexuality. When Turing’s secret was revealed and he was convicted of gross indecency, he endured chemical castration (chosen instead of prison) and died at the age of 42 of possible suicide. This has been argued and never proven.

The film was both a critical and commercial success. Both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute included it in their Top 10 Films of 2014. It received five Golden Globe nominations, three SAG nominations, nine BAFTA nominations, and was honored by the LGBT civil rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

The Imitation Game is a fast-moving, intelligent, entertaining film about a complicated subject that could have missed the mark. Cumberbatch isn’t the only smartie.

The Theory of Everything

As a student at Cambridge, Eddie Redmayne had seen Professor Stephen Hawking across campus occasionally. Years later, he was starstruck to meet him and have the privilege of portraying him in The Theory of Everything. Eddie and Felicity Jones, playing Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde, met Hawking and Wilde several times before making the film.

The film was based on Wilde’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. Shortly after meeting as students at Cambridge, Stephen was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease (one of which is ALS), with a life expectancy of two years. They refused to believe it. They became engaged. He said it gave him something to live for. They married and had three children.

Redmayne shows a Hawking who smiles as he fights. He needs crutches. He needs a wheelchair. He can’t write. He can’t speak.

It’s only his body that’s betraying him. Nothing and no one approaches his mind.

After 30 years, Jane has become a caretaker and left behind her studies in the arts. Her outlet is her choir – and her choirmaster, with whom she falls in love. And Stephen has fallen in love with his nurse. Jane marries the choirmaster, and Stephen marries the nurse.

Stephen’s second marriage ended in 2006, and he and Jane became closer, enjoying their children and grandchildren. They were on hand with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones at the UK premiere of the film.

There’s an enormous Oscar buzz. The movie meets some predictable Oscar criteria:

It’s about a real person: Ray. Milk. The Iron Lady. Capote. Lincoln.

It’s about someone afflicted: Charly. My Left Foot. Shine. Rain Man.

An actor looks, well, unattractive: Raging Bull. Monster’s Ball. Syriana. Monster. American Hustle.

And the Academy likes to be highbrow. Just my theories, but they’ve often proved true.

Hereafter

Hereafter is a 2010 film starring Matt Damon, who has grown as an actor and whose portrayal I enjoyed. The movie follows the diverse experiences of three unrelated people who somehow were connected to the afterlife.

Like many who watched the movie expecting to see interesting theories besides “walking into the light,” I found that the film didn’t go in that direction. It did tell the interesting individual stories, but it was unsatisfying because it didn’t expound on the premise. For a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, it was slloww-moving. That surprised me. Eastwood’s direction is usually tight and not boring. (He lost a lot of points with me when he spoke to an empty chair, but I still thought I’d enjoy an Eastwood-directed movie more than this one.)

George (Damon) is a factory worker. As we learn from his brother, Billy (Jay Mohr – where has he been?), George has a psychic gift. He can hold someone’s hand and see enough about the person to give a reading, reaching someone who has died. He made a lot of money doing that, but he has given it up because he felt his life became more about death. He’s through.

Marie (Cécile De France) is a French journalist. While on assignment in Thailand, she is a victim of a violent tsunami, but she survives. Barely. She has vivid memories, including several people walking toward a light during the time she “died.” The timing for this part of the film was unfortunate. One month after its release, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and that country pulled the film from all theaters.

Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) are London twins. Their mother is an alcoholic and drug addict. When Jason is sent to the chemist – pharmacy, that is – he’s beset by a teenage gang who steal his Mom’s “rehab medicine,” and he is struck and killed by a car while trying to escape.

Marie’s story is told primarily in French with English subtitles. That’s how the film starts, and you’ll wonder if the whole thing is in French. But non.

Somehow all three stories intersect. Just when you think you shouldn’t have bothered, it redeems itself in the last half-hour or so. It had a $50 million budget and made $105 million at the box office. A lukewarm reception.

Your call. To rent or not to rent.