“Tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest—I mean brightest.”
With those words, nimble Neil Patrick Harris introduced himself to Oscar hostdom. For years, the Academy has leaned on everything from stand-up comics (Chris Rock) to fake newsmen (Jon Stewart) to whatever the combination of Anne Hathaway and James Franco was. But the Oscars needed a showman with some pizzazz. That’s what made Billy Crystal the consummate modern-day host; he was a comedian/song-and-dance man, and enough of an insider to poke fun at his myriad celebrity friends—who can forget him serenading Jack Nicholson from the cozy confines of his lap—but enough of an outsider to make the snark go down smoothly. And NPH seemed to fit the bill… at least the first part.
What followed after that well-deserved whiteness dig—again, there are no acting nominees of color this year for the first time since fucking 1998—was a fantastic, thoroughly disorienting musical performance of the old-school show tune “Moving Pictures” set to a montage of classic (and not-so-classic) films, wherein the Tony Award winner was joined by the inimitable mighty-mite Anna Kendrick, channeling her Into the Woods Cinderella, and a bushy, belligerent Jack Black faux-ranting about “formulaic scripts” and superhero flicks. It was a thrillingly bizarre audiovisual assault boasting holograms, dancing Stormtroopers, and a game NPH firing on all cylinders.
NPH also dropped some nice jokes at the expense of executives, describing American Sniper’s Chris Kyle as a soldier with “160 confirmed kills, or as Harvey Weinstein calls it: a slow morning,” and the Academy Awards’ outrageous excess, lobbing a nice jab at the ridiculousness of the $160,000 gift bags, replete with “an armored car to take [celebs] to safety when the revolution comes.”
Now, after the big opening number, there was a pretty serious lull in the proceedings.
J.K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash and told us all to call our moms (sadly opting against throwing his trophy at Miles Teller), The Grand Budapest Hotel collected a few below-the-line awards, and the black-and-white Polish flick Ida won Best Foreign Film, followed by its filmmaker giving the Oscars play-you-off orchestra the proverbial middle finger. Things were getting snooze-worthy. But the ceremony was given a much-needed adrenaline shot courtesy of Tegan and Sara, The Lonely Island, Questlove, and Will Arnett, all of whom joined forces for a rousing rendition of The LEGO Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome”—which also served as a reminder of that film’s gross snub in the Best Animated Feature category.
Then things began to go seriously downhill.
NPH took a page straight out of the Crystal playbook by interacting with the crowd, marching up and down the aisles to harass A-listers. It’s a solid move—who doesn’t love seeing pampered celebs take the piss—but the bits just didn’t land, with the host targeting actors who he didn’t have a prior rapport with, and just weren’t that game, e.g. Steve Carell and David Oyelowo. There was also a lame running joke about Oscar winner Octavia Spencer keeping a watchful eye on his nominations box that he kept returning to even though it wasn’t clicking. He also, for god knows what reason, fired off a really mean dig at an Oscar winners’ dress just moments after she accepted an award for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, and gave a moving speech about suicide amongst our military veterans. It’s perfectly OK to crack a joke like that on, say, Twitter, but doing it onstage seemed more than a bit crass and mean-spirited. Things were getting tense—and not in a good, tipsy Ricky Gervais sort of way.
A fun Birdman-parodying bit with NPH stripping down to his tighty-whities and taking the stage alleviated some of the pressure, but the awkward (and meandering) tone had been set. Yes, NPH had lost the audience, and needed to win them back.
He didn’t. But Patricia Arquette did. After taking home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her riveting turn—over a dozen years, no less—in Boyhood, Arquette came to the podium and spoke out for women across the country, demanding “wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” These words, of course, came on the heels of the Sony hack revelation unearthed by The Daily Beast that even Jennifer Lawrence, the biggest movie star in the land, was compensated less than her male co-stars on American Hustle, and caused none other than acting legend Meryl Streep to jump out of her seat and jab her finger in the air like she was at a rock show. Quite a moment.
Sadly, those fuck yeah! moments were few and far between at the 87th annual Academy Awards. In a moment of great unintentional hilarity, Empire star Terrence Howard brought overacting to grand new heights when he teared up while introducing sappy biopic The Imitation Game (?), John Travolta creepily caressing the face of Adele Dazeem—ahem, Idina Menzel, or a random dedication to The Sound of Music by Lady Gaga. Oh, and there was even an “In Memoriam” segment that somehow managed to exclude the likes of Joan Rivers and Jan Hooks. For shame.
Some other awards were handed out. The Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore gave a touching speech about wanting to commit suicide when he was younger because he felt “weird” and different, but learned to embrace his uniqueness and urged others to “stay weird,” too. Eddie Redmayne exhibited some nice boyish enthusiasm with his Best Actor win for The Theory of Everything. Julianne Moore won a long-deserved Oscar for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in Still Alice. Oh, and Birdman won a lot of hardware over Boyhood—including Best Director and Best Picture—which seemed, well, patently absurd.
All-in-all, it was a decidedly lackluster affair. For the past six years, thanks to the comedic talents of hosts Ricky Gervais and the amazing combo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the Golden Globes has provided a far more entertaining, booze-drenched awards experience than the Oscars. And unless some serious changes are enacted, that trend won’t be bucked anytime soon.