I thought this year’s Academy Awards would be devoid of surprises and memorable moments. I also assumed that despite the relatively lackluster group of nominees that dominated the top categories that indefatigable host Neil Patrick Harris would work the same magic he brought to four gigs as host of the Tony Awards and two as host of the Emmys.
I was wrong on both counts.
In what has to be an Oscar first, more than any of the entertainment on the stage the heartfelt and inspiring acceptance speeches from many of the honored performers and filmmakers made it a night to remember. Hot button topics were activated from start to finish, ranging from teen suicide to equal rights for women to immigration to race relations to funding and research for catastrophic diseases.
And in what appears to be a first for NPH, it seemed he bit off more than he could chew byaccepting the Oscars gig – or, perhaps, simply made poor choices when it came to choosing writers who would provide him with make it or break it material for the night. Regardless, as the host with the most that we have come to expect (especially from his triumphs at the Tonys) he wasn’t his usual self. He seemed dwarfed by it all, and also uncomfortably aware that much of his material simply wasn’t working very well (especially the prolonged “magic trick” involving his predictions for the night, his trips into the audience and the “Birdman” bit that saw him take the stage wearing only his underpants).
This morning on a special telecast of “Live with Kelly and Michael,” NPH summed it up with these words: “I’m glad it’s done and I’m sorry I read Twitter.” True that; Twitter was blazing with expressions of distress over much of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had to offer last night, including much of the host’s material. Should anyone take all those tweets to heart, or should they just be accepted as mindless cocktail chatter minus the cocktails and the chat? Frankly, I think everyone involved with every awards show should be thankful for Twitter, which has in recent years become the single best reason to watch such telecasts through to their end, no matter how long and/or boring they might be.
I think NBC can learn a thing or two by analyzing what worked and what didn’t for NPH throughout the show, since it is developing a live primetime variety series with the guy. Similarly, I think the Academy ought to give a lot of thought to what worked (those acceptance speeches) and what didn’t (almost everything else) as it moves forward. Maybe playing people off the stage before they have said what they came to say isn’t such a smart idea, because as we learned last night, when you let people talk amazing things can happen. Lives can be changed – or saved – as a result.
Almost all of the best tweets last night were about those heartfelt acceptance speeches – especially those by Common and John Legend in receiving their award for the song “Glory” from “Selma” and “The Imitation Game” scriptwriter Graham Moore, who movingly talked about trying to kill himself as a teenager only to end up years later on the Oscars stage. Proving that the Academy Awards are still one of the most powerful platforms in the entertainment business, Moore instantly and humbly launched a new expression of strength and solidarity into the ether, one that will likely be with us for years and empower gay teens and anyone else who feels as though he or she simply doesn’t fit in: “Stay weird.”
J.K. Simmons of “Whiplash” started off the night right with a brief, heartfelt speech that ended with a common sense request that people lucky enough to have living parents call them (rather than text or e-mail) and tell them that they love them. As it turned out, Simmons’ simple but profound words set the tone for the night, and nothing the Academy did along the way (including several attempts to play winners off the stage) could change that.
Patricia Arquette made magic, along with history, when she used her time on the world’s biggest stage to passionately insist that it is time for women to have equal rights, an issue about which people have been strangely quiet in recent years. One of the best moments of the night was watching Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez leap off their seats to cheer Arquette on.
I had previously expressed concern that there might be too much music during the show, causing it to run too long (which it did, stretching an extra 40 minutes). While the night could have done without some of that music, overall I was wrong about that, too. That performance of “Glory” by Common and John Legend (pictured above) wasn’t so much a production number as a celebration of the movie and the memories stirred by “Selma.” In tandem with the powerful acceptance speech given by those two men a few minutes later when “Glory” was named Best Original Song, it seemed to me that everyone involved with “Selma” and the story the movie tells were honored last night in a way that surpassed a mere Oscar nomination or win.
And speaking of celebrations, the 50th anniversary tribute to “The Sound of Music” featuring a career-shifting performance by Lady Gaga and a grand appearance by Julie Andrews was the stuff of Oscar legend. Given the enduring popularity of “Music” as perhaps the ultimate family entertainment, and its status as one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history, I would have liked to see that tribute open the Oscar telecast, rather than have it run so late in the evening. And while there may be very valid reasons why this didn’t happen, I would have liked to see the eight actors who played the Von Trapp children along with recent Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer on stage with Andrews. They’re all still with us, for crying out loud. Why weren’t they part of the segment?
In closing, I’ll add my voice to the growing chorus: Why wasn’t Joan Rivers, who appeared in or was otherwise involved in many movies, included in the In Memoriam segment? Also, didn't Robin Williams deserve a special tribute? And what was up with those strange images of the dearly departed? If there is any section of an Academy Awards telecast that seemingly can’t work to best advantage without clips it’s this one.
Ed Martin is the Editor of Planet Ed and MediaBizBloggers and the television and video critic forMyersBizNet. Follow him on Twitter at @PlanetEd.
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