Before watching the Oscars Sunday night, a friend of mine said that no matter what, the following mornings would be swamped with articles about how the wrong people won. Not enough surprises and they’d claim the awards are too safe. Too many surprises and they’d say the deserving nominees are not properly rewarded. I told him that was ridiculous. People aren’t that fickle. This year the winners will satisfy everyone.
But, here I am, writing about the Oscars.
Chances are if your ballot sheet was conservative on Sunday, you walked away with a lot of wins. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; a lot of the winners really did deserve their wins, and even those who I contest here can hardly be called undeserving. But by the end of the night, the Academy’s tastes started to feel just a little too predictable, a little bit on the stale side.
“Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” deserved its best picture win. It’s subtle and bombastic at the same time, displaying some serious craft mastery. It’s a great film for the way the camera glides through corridors, for the way its characters move in and out of changing lights. It’s great for the nuanced performances, for the precise direction, but not for the writing.
The dialogue is sharp and biting, yes, but a script is more than just dialogue. So many of the characters in “Birdman” feel like show business clichés, and the attitude the movie takes towards the film industry or art for that matter is so jaded and holier-than-thou that it’s hard to wash down.
Something like “The Grand Budapest Hotel” deserved the win for managing to have its unique sense of style not overwhelm the substance of the story. Its dark themes are tackled with silliness, and Wes Anderson’s dialogue hints at the secret lives of his characters with grace and subtlety. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is both Anderson’s funniest and most mature script yet, looking at the end of civilization dead in the eye before it recites a lengthy romance poem.
Best director is another hot button category, and it’s hard to contest Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s win here. But I’m going to anyway.
Of all of the surprises at the Oscars, few as they were, perhaps the most noteworthy is that “Boyhood” only went home with one award. It was the favorite to win the big prize, right up until the guild awards started to pool in. It’s still a surprise to see it get so firmly shut out of categories like best editing, best screenplay, and best director.
“Boyhood” and “Birdman” got a lot of attention for their impressive gimmicks. “Birdman” is known as the single take, edited to look like its all one big shot. “Boyhood” is known as the movie made over the course of 12 years with the same cast of actors.
“Birdman” and it’s single take is technically impressive and it adds to the movie’s unique dive into Riggin’s psyche, but I’d argue that the 12 year production process behind “Boyhood” adds more to the movie than “Birdman.” Years elapse in minutes, and the viewer watches the Evans family grow, change, mature and struggle. It’s shockingly intimate and epic at the same time, inspiring the viewer to consider what their own childhood looked like in comparison, drawing attention to the way time seems to slip through our fingers. The details of Mason’s boyhood certainly might not be everyone’s– and it is a very white, very middle class boyhood– but the honesty of the story comes more from the fleeting passage of time and the big questions that we keep asking ourselves than from anything else. Linklater’s persistence of vision and his ability to execute it deserved the Oscar.
So, that’s it. Yeah, “Big Hero 6” was a mild surprise, and “Whiplash” for sound mixing was almost a surprise, but all in all the winners of this years Oscars felt locked from the start. From Neil Patrick Harris’s funny but flat dad humor to the winners themselves, the Oscars further cemented their reputation of rewarding their rigid definition of excellence.