In an Academy Awards largely populated by smaller, independent films, Hollywood spread its awards around at a stormy Oscars heavy on song-and-dance, occasionally lacking in clothes and punctuated by passionate stands for equality.
Six of the eight best-picture nominees took awards at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday: Wes Anderson’s ”The Grand Budapest Hotel” for its hand-made craft; ”Whiplash” for its pulsating pacing and J.K. Simmons’ drill-sergeant jazz instructor; ”Birdman” for its elegant cinematography; ”Boyhood” for Patricia Arquette’s moving mother; and ”American Sniper” for its war film sound editing; and ”Selma” for Common and John Legend’s best song.
The Edward Snowden documentary ”Citizenfour,” which captured Snowden in the midst of leaking National Security Agency documents, won best documentary.
Tony Awards veteran Neil Patrick Harris gave the 87th Academy Awards a chipper tone that sought to celebrate Hollywood, while also slyly parodying it. ”Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest – I mean brightest,” he began the night, alluding to the much-discussed lack of diversity in this year’s all-white acting nominees.
It was the first salvo in a night that often reverberated with heartfelt pleas for change.
”To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation,” said Arquette. ”We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Cheers erupted throughout the Dolby, perhaps the loudest coming from a fellow supporting-actress nominee who Arquette bested: Meryl Streep. ”Made my night,” Streep told Arquette backstage.
Tears streamed down the face of David Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in ”Selma” and was famously left out of the best actor nominees, during the rousing performance of the song ”Glory” from the film. Immediately afterward, Common and Legend accepted the best song Oscar with a speech that drew a standing ovation.
”We say that `Selma’ is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” said Legend. He noted that the Voting Rights Act, whose passage is chronicled in ”Selma,” has been drastically scaled down in recent years.
”The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a European caper released back around last year’s Academy Awards, appeared headed to becoming the night’s unlikely leader in trophies. It won for production design, score, costume design and makeup and styling.
The night’s first Oscar went to Simmons, a career character actor widely acclaimed for one of his biggest parts: a drill sergeant of a jazz instructor in the indie ”Whiplash.” Simmons fittingly accepted his supporting acting Oscar with some straightforward advice, urging: ”Call your mom. Call your dad.”
Backstage, Simmons, known to many from various bit parts or his insurance commercials, recalled a long road as a professional actor.
”Maybe more people saw me tonight than see me in the commercials,” said Simmons.
Most of Sunday’s early awards went as expected, though Disney’s ”Big Hero 6” pulled off something of an upset in the best animated feature category, besting DreamWorks’ favored ”How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
The Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel ”Chivo” Lubezki became the first to win best cinematography twice in a row. After last year winning for the lengthy shots of the space adventure ”Gravity,” he won for the stretched out takes of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ”Birdman.”
”It sounds like a nightmare,” Lubezki said backstage, recalling on his first impression of Inarritu’s plans to shoot it as if in one shot. ”There was no book on it. It was like an experiment.”
The black-and-white Polish film ”Ida” took best foreign language film, marking the first such win for Poland despite a rich cinema history. Director Pawel Pawlikowski charmed the audience with a bemused acceptance speech that ran drastically over his allotted time.
Pawlikowski remarked on having made a quiet film of contemplation about withdrawing from the world, ”and here we are at the epicenter of noise and attention. It’s fantastic. Life is full of surprises.”
Several of this year’s biggest box-office hit nominees – Clint Eastwood’s Iraq war drama ”American Sniper” and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic ”Interstellar” – had to settle for single wins in technical categories. ”Interstellar” won for visual effects, while ”American Sniper” – far and away the most widely seen of the best-picture nominee – took the best sound editing award.
Laura Poitras’ film ”Citizenfour” documents her initial meeting in Hong Kong with Snowden, as well as journalist Glenn Greenwald. It’s an uncommonly intimate view of what became a historic and much debated act: Snowden leaking National Security Agency documents that revealed the previously undisclosed collection of Americans’ phone and email records.
”The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” said Poitras, accepting the Oscar. ”When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.”
Snowden was charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is currently living in asylum in Russia. Because of the sensitive nature of the footage, Poitras made ”Citizenfour” under intense secrecy and edited it in Germany.
Harris’ opening quickly segued into a song-and-dance routine that celebrated a love for movies, complete with a villain to his sunny outlook in Jack Black. The comedian jumped on stage to counter that Hollywood movies weren’t so fabulous: ”Opening with lots of zeroes, all we get is superheroes.”
”After `Fifty Shades of Grey,”’ Black added, referring to the weekend’s top box office draw, ”they’ll all have leather whips.”
Harris, a frequent Tony Awards host, struck a chipper tone, while slyly mocking the Oscars or parodying Michael Keaton’s half-naked scene in ”Birdman.”
The $160,000 gift bags for attendees, Harris said, came with ”an armored car ride to safety when the revolution comes.” The performance by Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island of the Oscar-nominated song ”Everything Is Awesome” from ”The Lego Movie,” let some live out their Oscar dreams, handing out golden Lego statuettes to Oprah Winfrey and Steve Carell.
Hard showers fell on the red carpet as guests arrived at the ceremony, as workers dispensed pink towels for soggy celebrities. One former Oscar nominee, Viola Davis, said on her way into the ceremony that Hollywood’s diversity problems run deeper than the Oscars.
”You have to greenlight more stories that include people of color,” said Davis, asked about how to improve diversity in Hollywood. ”You can’t get nominated for anything you’re not in.”