“Today we’re here to pay tribute to the best and whitest…sorry, brightest of the film industry,” and with that first tongue-in-cheek slip of the tongue by Tony-award winning host Neil Patrick Harris, the 87th Academy Awards had begun. The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, celebrate achievements in cinema each year. Prizes are awarded for almost every aspect of the filmmaking process, in an attempt to shine a spotlight on some of the lesser known roles that play a key part in the final product we see in theaters, from best makeup and costume design to best sound mixing.
This year’s Oscars were tinged with a little more gravity and controversy than usual. First, the Academy received criticism for the fact that all the nominees were white, something Neil Patrick Harris astutely highlighted right at the start as well as for the fact that none of the nominees for best director, best screenwriting (both adapted and original), best cinematography, sound mixing, visual effects, and original score were all men. Additionally, many of the films nominated for Best Picture (often considered the biggest award of the night) detail the lives of controversial historic figures. The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, the man who broke the Nazi code Enigma during the war and is considered the father of the computer but was arrested and persecuted in 1952 because he was gay, which at the time was a crime, and whose accomplishments were only recognized in the mid-1970s, years after Turing committed suicide rather than continue the court-mandated hormone treatment for his sexuality. American Sniper focuses on Chris Kyle, a war veteran supposedly responsible for the most kills by one person in American history. This movie had some feeling very patriotic with others wondering about the merit and ethics of having snipers in the first place. Then there’s Selma, which follows civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. on his turbulent journey toward equality, a journey that is by no means over.
Indeed, this message was made clear by John Legend and Common, who after performing “Glory” from the movie Selma, made some of Hollywood’s biggest stars cry and won the Oscar for best original song. In their acceptance speech, Legend got political, saying “we know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world.” John Legend was not the only one to take the podium and say a little more than thanks to the Academy. Patricia Arquette, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a supporting role for her performance in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, used her camera time to take a stance on women’s rights, saying “to every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Her brief speech on wage equality lit up the Internet and even got a resounding finger point of appreciation from her fellow nominee and Hollywood legend Meryl Streep. Alejandro González Iñárritu, who received the award for the Best Director for his work on Birdman, spoke about immigration reform and Graham Moore, after accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the Imitation Game, told everyone to “stay weird, stay different, and then, when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
Beyond the profound speeches, the 2015 Oscars were made unforgettable by some of the moving musical performances. Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to those the industry lost this year with “I can’t let go,” an original song from the NBC musical TV series Smash. Lady Gaga surprised us all with a soulful mash-up of classics from the musical Sound of Music in honor of its 50 year anniversary.
Michael Keaton’s Birdman took home the honor of Best Picture, Julianne Moore (who played the titular character in Still Alice) received the award for Best Actress and Eddie Redmayne won best actor for his performance of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. All-in-all it was a resounding tribute to this past year of moving pictures.
The full list of awards can be found here.