Here's the confession right up front. For the first time in about two decades, I didn't watch the Oscars live. I was simply too busy with other commitments to be able to set aside three hours for an awards show. Instead I checked in on livebloggers throughout the evening and caught up on the highlight clips a few hours after the ceremony was over. I have the whole thing recorded so I can fast-forward through it at my leisure over the next few days. And the funny thing is, this really didn't hamper my enjoyment of the Oscars much.
The only major categories where there was any suspense about the eventual winner were Best Animated Feature and Best Actor. In the former, I knew that my favorite, "Princess Kaguya," had no real shot at winning. In the latter, all the really interesting contenders - David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ralph Fiennes - weren't even nominated. The whole business of waiting in happy suspense for a winner to be announced has been off the table for years because I'm way too savvy to how the whole process works now. If you follow the Guild awards, you know who wins long in advance. The announcement of the nominations is a far more interesting event.
If you can put aside personal feelings toward who actually deserved what, it's still a lot of fun to follow the Oscar politicking. This year, none of the Best Picture nominees got shut out. Everyone went home with something, so everyone was a winner, even if some of those kudos were very minor - "American Sniper" left with Best Sound Editing, and "Selma" got Best Song. The clear victor, however, was"Birdman," which carted off Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" also got a lot of love, winning four Oscars that covered the bulk of the design awards, This year's scrappy underdog "Whiplash" emerged with Best Editing, alongside its Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor trophies. The once heavily favored "Boyhood" clearly suffered a loss of momentum, coming out with only a Best Supporting Actress win for Patricia Arquette.
I had no particular issue with any of the winners this year. Three of the four acting awards went to performers who have been around for a long time and were very worthy of the recognition. Julianne Moore in particular has been overdue for her statuette for a while. The exception was the Best Actor category, which was a mess this year, as previously stated. I'm fine with Eddie Redmayne's win as he was really the least objectionable choice. And while "Birdman" wasn't one of my favorites, certainly there were enough good things in it that make the choice a decently palatable one. I could quibble about the outcomes of some of the smaller races like Song and Animated Feature, but it feels petty to do so when I liked all the winners to some degree anyway.
The ceremony itself had its ups and downs, as they usually do. Neil Patrick Harris finally got the opportunity to host after years of giving us a reason to tune into the Tony's, and he ended up being merely okay. Not as fun as Ellen Degeneres last year, and clearly not as comfortable delivering one-liners. His big opening number was nothing to sneeze at though - not quite at the level of the epic Hugh Jackman opening in 2009 - but good enough. I'd love to see him back for another round next year. There were a lot of nice surprises among the other performances too - Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Lonely Island were all at their best. I'm absolutely delighted that they managed to get Will Arnett into a Batman suit to growl "DARKNESS. NO PARENTS," at the assembled throng. And an awful lot fthe speeches turned into platforms for various causes, but none egregiously so.
Getting down into the nitty gritty of the show, I thought the graphics packages looked great, the set design was a little lackluster, and the projected effects were awfully gimmicky but not bad. Whoever was writing the jokes needs to be kicked to the curb, and whoever keeps choosing spoiler-ful nominee clips doesn't seem to grasp the purpose of the Oscars. And who didn't cheer when Paweł Pawlikowski had his standoff against the orchestra and won?
All in all, it was an entertaining evening. See you next year, Oscars.