Man, the 87th Academy Award had issues.
Equal pay for women, immigration, race, ALS, Alzheimer’s, staying “weird,” help for veterans … the list went seemingly on and on.
That’s what was most memorable about this year’s ceremony for me: the Oscars that became less about the movies and more about the issues these movies spoke to, shined a new light on, or flat out represented. Whereas the opening musical number touted the magic of “moving pictures,” the program that followed was anything but a nostalgic tribute; it was about shattering the boundary between the make-believe of movies and the real issues and problems that inspired them.
So pick apart Neil Patrick Harris if that’s your thing; make fun of John Travolta again for the face-grabbing nonsense; or debate whether Joan Rivers should have been in this year’s “In Memoriam” slideshow. What really makes an Oscars special or memorable has nothing to do with all the Monday morning quarterbacking. Frankly, I’m just thrilled that we had a ceremony in which the most noticeable takeaway speaking to the time we now live had nothing to do with selfies.
Ironically, of all the films nominated for Best Picture, the winner had the least to do with actual, tangible issues. “Birdman” had little grounding in reality, but it celebrated the power of film and theatre. So the Oscar ended and began on the same note, even though the middle three hours sang a different tune.
It was an Oscars in which the underdog got a voice. Jennifer Aniston and David Oyelowo, two actors whom many expected to be among the nominees yet were ultimately counted among the snubs, presented together with marvelous poise. “The LEGO Movie” and “Selma,” shunned in the categories that mattered, got a powerful voice in the form of stage performances. All the Best Picture nominees won at least one Oscar. Even “Birdman” was a wildly non-traditional Best Picture winner. Name the last surrealist drama to win that award. Hasn’t happened.
All these things, however, proved tantamount to the voices of the winners, many of whom used their powerful platform to speak words of truth and call us all to action.
Maybe you don’t see that as the Oscars’ place. Well, sometimes we need a reminder that movies are not just about escaping from reality, and in many cases they serve to do quite the opposite. This ended up not becoming a ceremony of pleasant diversion, but of redirecting our love of Hollywood escapism toward the things that matter. Movies, and not just the documentary ones, have that power. This year, it was celebrated.
As someone who thought “Boyhood” was the best film of the year, or at least the most special and worthy of celebration, the results of the 87th Oscars were a little disappointing. We’ll never get the chance to honor a feat of filmmaking like that ever again. But watching awards season shift so dramatically from favoring “Boyhood” to backing “Birdman” had with it that same uncomfortable yet necessary reminder, that what’s expected or what’s deserved don’t and shouldn’t matter, and that the movies — the Oscars being no exception — should more often ruffle us from our complacency.