The 15 Most Memorable Moments From the 2015 Oscars
"Stay weird. Stay different." That was the advice of Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore ("The Imitation Game") to kids out there who might one day follow in his footsteps, but it also could have been the motto for the 87th annual Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night. The weirdness of the Neil Patrick Harris-hosted Oscars wasn't in the results -- for the record, I went 18 for 24 in my predictions, which is more a testimony to how closely the voting followed conventional wisdom than it is to my crystal-ball skills -- but in the presentation. The show was full of WTF? moments, some wonderful, some cringeworthy, some merely bizarre, and all of them memorable. Here are some of the weird and different Oscar moments that viewers won't soon forget.
1. "Moving Pictures"
Neil Patrick Harris's opening number was penned by Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, the composers who won the Oscar last year for "Let It Go"; suffice it to say that your kids won't be memorizing this one and singing it over and over again like they did that "Frozen" anthem. A few funny lines aside (particularly the one suggesting a homoerotic reading of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's on- and off-screen friendship), it was a mostly earnest tribute to the ability of movies to capture our imagination. Which is fine, and so was having Anna Kendrick step in to give sort of a reprise of her Cinderella from "Into the Woods." The song got weirder when Jack Black showed up, singing lyrics that dripped with cynicism about the movie business -- it was actually sort of a welcome antidote to the gee-whiz enthusiasm of Harris and Kendrick -- but it was also kind of a buzzkill for a party meant to celebrate movies, and it ended mercifully when Kendrick, still in Cinderella mode, threw her shoe at Black.
2. J.K. Simmons's public service announcement
Many of the winners used their speeches to forward a cause, but the message of Simmons' victory speech for his supporting role in "Whiplash" was to value your parents, to call them (not just e-mail or text them), and to listen to everything they had to say. It didn't seem at all relevant to his role as a scary music teacher, but it was certainly sweet.
3. Neil Patrick Harris Crushes on Channing Tatum
Introducing presenter Tatum, Harris gushed about how great Tatum looks, whether in "Magic Mike" stripper garb or in his "Foxcatcher" wrestling unitard. He pretended to make a Freudian slip and used the phrase "pants down" instead of "hands down." Maybe this was Harris' way of joking about his own sexual orientation; at any rate, having a male host eye a male presenter was probably a historic first for an Oscar ceremony.
4. Pawel Pawikowkski wins for "Ida"
The first-ever Polish winner for Best Foreign Language film marveled at his good fortune, winning for a contemplative, black-and-white movie from a previously unheralded country. "How did I get here?" the filmmaker wondered aloud. He made the most of his moment in the spotlight; the orchestra had to play him off twice before he managed to thank everyone.
5. Harris Editorializes
Or maybe it was just his joke writers doing the editorializing. Either way, the host seemed to have a lot of pointed opinions about the ceremony, the winners, and the snubs. He introduced presenters David Oyelowo and Jennifer Aniston as "two people who absolutely deserve to be here tonight," referring to their surprising omissions from the acting nominees' list (Oyelowo for "Selma" and Aniston for "Cake"). He also did a comedy bit with Oyelowo, and when the audience applauded for the British actor, Harris said, "Oh, now you like him?" Most jarringly, moments after Laura Poitras won Best Documentary Feature for "Citizenfour," which depicts her suspenseful interview with fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Harris punned that Snowden himself was unavailable to attend the Oscars, "for some treason." Whether you think Snowden is a heroic whistleblower who's standing up for Fourth Amendment privacy rights or an attention-seeker whose leaks jeopardized national security, wouldn't the classy thing to do be to let Poitras enjoy the recognition of her achievement for at least 20 seconds before pissing all over it for a cheap laugh?
6. "Everything Is Awesome"
No surprise that the performance of this nominated tune from "The Lego Movie," with Tegan and Sara singing the chorus and Andy Samberg's Lonely Island comedy trio rapping the verses, would feature a troupe of dancers dressed like characters from the movie. But there were also some surprise guests, including Questlove on drums and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh (complete with trademark flowerpot hat) on keyboards. Bonus points for the Oscar statuettes made of Lego bricks (a pointed reference to the film's inexplicable snub from the Best Animated Feature category), which were circulating on stage and among the audience for the rest of the evening. Compared to a real Oscar, the Lego ones were, well, awesome.
7. "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"
Presenter Gwyneth Paltrow reminded everyone of the moving story of how Glen Campbell made a point of writing and recording this song after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and knowing that the disease would soon ravage his memory. The rendition of the tune by Paltrow's "Country Strong" co-star Tim McGraw was one of the evening's most poignant moments. Just wondering, though: does McGraw ever take off that black cowboy hat?
8. The "Birdman" parody
Harris proved he's not just a nimble emcee but also a good sport by spoofing Michael Keaton's dash through Times Square in nothing but his briefs. Here, a backstage camera showed Harris locked out of his dressing room, with his robe caught in the door. He abandoned the robe and dashed to the stage, with pulse-pounding drumming supplied by Miles Teller (in character from "Whiplash"). Standing before a billion people in his underwear, Harris delivered the punchline, with a speech that began, "Acting is a noble profession..."
9. Patricia Arquette speaks out
Arquette's victory as Best Supporting Actress was a foregone conclusion (though, surprisingly, it was the only win for "Boyhood" out of six nominations), so viewers shouldn't have been surprised that she had prepared a written list of people to thank. What was odd was that she ended her speech with a plea for wage equality and equal rights for women. She was far from the only winner to use her speech as an opportunity to raise a political or philanthropic issue, but it probably wasn't evident to most viewers what those issues had to do with her "Boyhood" performance. Later, Harris scoffed at Arquette's political statement, referring to it as her "Norma Rae moment."
10. In Memoriam
Meryl Streep gave an eloquent speech suggesting that the departed movie artists live on in the unforgettable work they created. The usual montage followed, but instead of clips of the actors and directors at work, it just showed still portraits, painted from photographs. OK, still classy. (Not classy: omitting Joan Rivers.) Director Mike Nichols seemed to win the applause-meter, but maybe he just got the loudest applause because he closed out the montage. Jennifer Hudson followed with an emotional ballad, which was also classy. But you know what would have been even classier? A moment of silence.
Staging matters. Here's proof: "Glory," John Legend and Common's nominated song from "Selma," is an emotional number, but when you stage it with a backing choir that reenacts the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that puts it over the top. It brought the audience in the Dolby Theater to tears (or at least David Oyelowo and Chris Pine, both of whom the camera caught crying), and maybe some viewers at home as well. That the singer and rapper won the Oscar for the song a few minutes later seemed entirely apt, and their eloquent speeches continued the theme expressed in their song: that "Selma" isn't just about events in Alabama 50 years ago but about the struggle for justice that continues today, all over the world.
12. "The Sound of Music" tribute
OK, I understand the impulse to want to pay homage to one of the most beloved movies ever, a Best Picture winner whose 50th anniversary arrives next week. But to put it two hours and 45 minutes into the show, with seven major awards left to be handed out? Not sure why Scarlett Johansson, of all people, was picked to introduce the tribute, or why Lady Gaga, of all people, got to sing the medley. (She did fine, by the way, though it was a little disconcerting to see arm tattoos on a woman belting out tunes made famous by a nun-turned-nanny. Couldn't she have covered them up with gloves like Rita Ora did?) This would have been the most superfluous musical number of the evening had it not ended with Gaga's introduction of surprise presenter Julie Andrews. That the "Sound of Music" star showed up at all was an emotional high point of the show; that she graciously thanked Gaga and then presented the award for Best Original Score was icing on the cake. Couldn't they have skipped the manufactured nostalgia, brought to you by two performers born 20 years after the film's release, and just had Andrews show up?
13. Graham Moore's speech
Moore's victory for writing the "Imitation Game" screenplay wasn't the least bit surprising, but his acceptance speech was a stunner. What, after all, had drawn him to write about Alan Turing, the brilliant World War II codebreaker who, instead of being celebrated as a hero, was hounded to his death because of his homosexuality? Moore made the political personal, revealing to billions that, "When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I'm standing here." That instead he lived to become an Oscar-winning screenwriter was Moore's proof that, as the public service ad campaign a few years ago suggested, It Gets Better. He urged gay kids, or any kids who feel alienated, to stick it out and do something great, so that one day they can stand at the podium and pay it forward.
14. The briefcase gag
At the beginning of the show, Harris boasted of his prowess at predicting the Oscars and pointed to a briefcase in a glass box, which he said held predictions he'd made earlier in the week, predictions he'd read from at the end of the show to prove his prophetic skills. To make sure no one tampered with the case, he enlisted Octavia Spencer, sitting in the front row, to keep an eye on it for the next three and a half hours. (Great, the woman wins an Oscar, and now Harris is once again making her into The Help.) Throughout the show, Harris turned to Spencer to ask if she was still guarding the case. Finally he read his predictions, which were not about the winners but about the funny things that happened during the show. Smuggling that list, printed out on gold cards and shown on camera, into the locked case was a neat magic trick, but the lengthy setup wasn't really worth the slight, jokey payoff.
15. The "Birdman" sweep
The arty, surreal drama about a former superhero-movie star seeking redemption on Broadway won four prizes -- Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing, and Best Picture. Three of those trophies ended up in the hands of writer/director/producer Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, the Mexican filmmaker whose imaginative mind and fractured English led to some of the most offbeat acceptance speeches of the night. He claimed that, as a good-luck talisman, he was wearing Michael Keaton's famed tighty-whities from the film. He also tried to express humility and share the credit, derisively referring to "that little prick called ego" (a phrase that surprisingly went unbleeped by the ABC censors). He also called for a more sensible immigration policy -- this after Best Picture presenter Sean Penn made a green-card joke about him. (Penn starred in Iñarritu's "21 Grams" a decade ago, so maybe he was just razzing an old friend, not making a slur.) Michael Keaton didn't win Best Actor (that went to the bouncy and excited Eddie Redmayne for "The Theory of Everything"), but Iñarritu let him speak anyway. Keaton started to thank his colleagues but then the 63-year-old first-time Oscar nominee interrupted himself, saying, "Look, who am I kidding? It's great to be here." Indeed it is.