After months of jockeying for position, the Oscars had settled down to being a two-horse race between the two “B” movies, Boyhood and Birdman. The Globes gave no clue, since they split Best Picture into Comedy and Drama and honoured both films. Last night at the Academy Awards, Birdman emerged as the big winner with four of the big ones: best picture, director, original screenplay and cinematography.
Boyhood had to make do with best supporting actress, which was no mean feat given that Meryl Streep was nominated in that category. Meryl took defeat more than graciously. When Patricia Arquette gave a speech thumping the tub for gender equality and equal pay for women (the hacked Sony emails having showed how culpable Hollywood was in this regard), Meryl whooped, pointed at the stage, and shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!” like Meg Ryan in a restaurant.
Eddie Redmayne was named Best Actor, as had seemed certain. Though he is not the winner, really, according to Eddie himself, but “the custodian”. In an emotional speech where he seemed to teeter charmingly on the verge of complete meltdown, he said: “This belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family, Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children; and I will be its custodian. And I promise you I will look after him, I will polish him, I will answer his beck and call and wait on him hand and foot.”
Redmayne was extraordinary in The Theory of Everything, and a worthy winner/custodian. But having seen Selma over the weekend, I am still scratching my head as to how David Oyelowo could not have been at least nominated, late screening tapes notwithstanding. With Redmayne you are admiring throughout of the exceptional craft in his acting. Oyelowo simply inhabits the role, to the extent that you forget entirely that you are watching an actor at all, rather than the Nobel peace prize-winning statesman who gave his life for the cause of equality. As host Neil Patrick Harris quipped when Oyelowo was cheered at the Oscars ceremony, “Oh, sure, now you like him.”
Julianne Moore finally won her long-deserved best Actress award, for Still Alice. In typical Oscar tradition, it took playing a character with a disability – Alzheimer’s – finally to nail it after four nominations. The other big winners of the night were The Grand Budapest Hotel, which came away with a raft of craft awards: production design, make-up, costume and score; and the little-indie-that-could, Whiplash, which took best editing, sound mixing and of course supporting actor for JK Simmons. The other big British movie, The Imitation Game, won best adapted screenplay, with a moving speech from writer Graham Moore that won a standing ovation from the audience:
“When I was 16 years old,” he said, “I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different.”
And that’s the thing about the Oscars. They can seem empty and silly and glitzy and bland, and the run-up lasts for far too many months. But films are still the most powerful global means of expression of our age. They are our flickering campfire stories, our propaganda, our myths. They change minds, hearts and lives. And for one glorious, silly, moving night, on the stage of the Dolby Theater, it all comes together.