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Oscar’s Parallel Dimensions

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Photo by Todd Wawrychuk & Jordan Murph.
Photo by Todd Wawrychuk & Jordan Murph.
“Art doesn’t have those stiff, ideological borders that f–k the world so much,” said Birdman director and co-author Alejandro Iñárritu backstage at the Oscars, and while that quote wasn’t likely to wind up in a New York Times headline, it was emblematic of an Oscar night reminiscent of some ’70s-era broadcasts, where politics often intruded on this most rarified evening of Hollywood self-congratulations.

For viewing audiences, it was a broadcast where Hollywood’s current discontents could be seen in the “front-facing” parts of the show: Jack Black’s staged intrusion on host Neil Patrick Harris (and Anna Kendrick’s) opening dance numbers, where he railed, in a meta-commentary, against the reliance on superhero tentpoles, the pursuit of “Chinese money,” and other discontents in an age where Hollywood is trying to figure out what kind of stories still keep an audience engaged.

This was on the heels of Harris’ opening joke that Hollywood was there to honor its “best and whitest. Sorry — brightest,” referring to the controversies about this year’s lack of diversity in the nominee selection, particularly the shutout of Selma from directing and acting consideration.

Alejandro Iñárritu.(Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Alejandro Iñárritu.(Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
This continued in a broadcast whose highlights – along the usual routine of misfired jokes – included a tearful audience response to the staging of “Glory,” the nominated song number from Selma that grabbed a best song Oscar for its writers and performers, singers Common and John Legend.

Backstage, another drama unfolded, in a kind of parallel, expanded dimension, as various winners addressed the press at length, uninterrupted by orchestra cues and commercial breaks.

So even though the Oscars weren’t marked by the kind of film biz-specific controversies of previous years, like when Life of Pi won for best visual effects, while its post house, Rhythm and Hues, had filed for bankruptcy, many backstage comments expanded on the evening’s general themes – that all was not quite right in the world, and it was up to us, together, to figure out a way to change it.

Bub Asman and Alan Robert Murray. (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Bub Asman and Alan Robert Murray. (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
This happened when best supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette elaborated on her call for women’s equality from the stage, to opine later about what was really important. “This is the whole of who I am. I love my business. I love acting and I love being a human being on Earth and I want to help.” She went on to talk about the charity she co-founded, saying, “I saw many things that have come true in my life, and one of them was helping thousands of people.”

A different take on inclusiveness as offered up by visual effects winner Paul Franklin, whose work on Interstellar, along with his colleagues, copped the VFX Oscar, wresting back the momentum that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may have had coming out of the VES awards. When asked about the role that physicist Kip Thorne had in making the space effects seem as real as possible, Franklin said, “He gave us the math, the physics which describes the universe and how these extraordinary things would actually look if you were able to go and see them. So every year we get closer and closer to reality, and so this is, as I said in my speech, it’s showing us the outrageous beauty of the universe.”

Milena Canonero (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Milena Canonero (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
That outrageous beauty seemed to be celebrated in ways ranging from best supporting actor JK Simmons reminding everyone to call their parents –to aforementioned song winners Common and Legend, with the latter noting that “loving in public is what justice is, and so we’re focused on justice because that’s what it means to love people that you don’t even know.”

The winners seemed more acutely aware than usual, this year, of what it meant to have suddenly been granted such a public platform for doing work that for many was intensely personal, while somehow, luckily, finding enough of a commercial spark to become part of the awards mix. But few of them knew where the journey would take them.

This was echoed by Pawel Pawlikowski, director of best foreign language film Ida, a Polish film set in the ’60s, looking at secrets buried since the Holocaust. When asked to expand on his onstage comments about his own crew’s celebratory drinking back home, he talked of “a spirit on the set because they realized that we’re making some kind of weird film that’s not like their usual kind of industrial film. We could take risks together.”

Pawel Pawlikowski (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
The idea of risk-taking was echoed by  Imitation Game’s best adapted script winner Graham Moore, who spoke movingly of nearly committing suicide as a teen, and encouraging everyone to “stay weird.” Backstage, he talked about seizing his moment to reach out to the world’s dispossessed and alienated. “I’m a writer, so when am I ever going to be on television? This was 45 seconds in my life to get on television and say something, so I felt like I might as well use it to say something meaningful.”

And it seemed to be an array of meaningful work that divvied up awards, with Grand Budapest Hotel coming closest to a below-the-line favorite, as it nabbed prizes for production design – the first for Adam Stockhausen and his decorator, Anna Pinnock – costume, makeup and hairstyling and score.

In the latter category, this was composer Alexandre Desplat’s first win after eight nominations, and he was even competing against himself for his work on  Imitation Game this year. Desplat echoed what Budapest’s other winners said, noting that “Wes, as any great director, is very detailed. He likes to be precise,” or as makeup winner Frances Hannon said, “the film is edited by the time you start it.”

Tom Cross (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Tom Cross (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
And yet the actual editing award, in a bit of a surprise, went to Tom Cross for Whiplash, who said of director Damien Chazelle that “he never spoke in terms of trying to copy or replicate something exactly. He really talked in terms of inspiration. So he and I spoke the same language in that way.”

When Emmanuel Lubezki won his second straight statue, this time for Birdman’s cinematography, he also talked about his own director’s precision, though at first Iñárritu’s singular vision seemed too much. “Well, the first time he talked about the movie, he said he wanted to do a movie in one shot before I read the script. And at that moment, I truly, honestly thought I hope he doesn’t offer me this movie. It sounds like a nightmare. And then when he brought the script and talked about the characters and why it had to be one shot, he captivated me. We went through the process and made this movie happen.”

From left Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
From left Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)
Later, when grouped with his winning best picture co-producers, Iñárritu had his own paraphrase of Franklin’s comment about the universe’s, or Common and Legend’s view of public love:

“Well, look at this room. I don’t know how many nationalities are in this room, but I don’t feel different to anybody of you here. You know, it can be from any continent, from any language. I don’t care. I feel very related to any of you. So I, as an artist, as a human, as a filmmaker, I cannot have these stupid borders, flags and passports. Those are a concept that were invented by a human society. But, honestly, naked, in tighty-whities, we will be the same.”

Whether the awards to be handed out next year to those wearing tuxes and evening gowns over their own tighty-whities, will evoke such calls for recognizing our common humanity, remains to be seen.

But for tonight, a wee bit common beauty, or at least the ability to be fruitfully “weird,” was celebrated in Hollywood. Particularly in the parallel dimension where a more thoughtful Oscar show unfolds, away from the network cameras.

The winners of the 87th Academy Awards are:

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Achievement in Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Milena Canonero

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Ida, Poland

Best Live Action Short Film

The Phone Call
Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Best Documentary Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry

Achievement in Sound Mixing

Whiplash
Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Achievement in Sound Editing

American Sniper
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Achievement in Visual Effects

Interstellar
Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

Best Animated Short Film

Feast
Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Big Hero 6
Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

Achievement in Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

Achievement in Cinematography

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Emmanuel Lubezki

Achievement in Film Editing

Whiplash
Tom Cross

Best Documentary Feature

CitizenFour
Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

“Glory” from Selma
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat

Original Screenplay

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Adapted Screenplay

The Imitation Game
Written by Graham Moore

Achievement in Directing

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

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