Like most viewers I was both happy and disappointed with the winners at the 86th Academy Award ceremony. Let’s begin with the “happy” choices.
My biggest thrill was the choice of and performance of the “Best Song,” “Glory.” As I wrote in my review of Selma,” I don’t know how the film will fare in the Oscar nomination race, but I hope the song will be among those nominated. If so, it will be one of the few Oscar songs that actually says something significant–as does this incredibly significant film.” The audience apparently agreed, giving the writers/performers John Legend and Common a standing ovation. From close-ups of members of the audience we could see a lot of moist eyes: mine certainly were. And the award gave John Legend an opportunity to remind America that the battle fought at the bridge is not over, but continues today against those who would restrict voting rights.
I was very pleased that Ida won “Best Foreign Language Film.” The story of a young Polish orphaned woman seeking to become a nun, this is a deeply spiritual film centering on her surprising discovery that she has a Jewish aunt who is a judge. The contrast between the pessimistic aunt and the girl, setting forth to discover the fate of their family members during the Nazi era, is movingly depicted. The innocent girl, growing up sheltered in a nunnery, may have a lot to learn in comparison to her aunt, but, as we see, her faith far better equips her for survival than the judge’s Marxist philosophy.
I was as delighted as was our US State Department probably upset by the choice of Citizen Four as “Best Documentary Feature.” Again, let me quote a couple of observations from the beginning and the end of my review: “It is no secret that governments, whether in this country they be Republican or Democratic, love secrecy. Even those who some of us think of as ‘The Good Guys,’ who criticize those in power as not being transparent, fall prey to this addiction for keeping as much as possible under wraps when they are elected to office–which in a nutshell is the message of this documentary by Laura Poitras. And so I would say, whatever you presently think of the film’s subject Edward Snowden—traitor or hero—do see this film and judge for yourself… I don’t know whether this film will change the minds of those who have taken our government at its word and agreed that Edward Snowden is a traitor. Even if this is the case, this is a film that ought to be seen, because he is right that it is not right for a government to resort to such a massive invasion of privacy without being challenged that this is against the very Constitution it is supposed to uphold. Thus far this is as much as we can learn from the other (nongovernmental) side of the debate. Viewers will find a host of issues to think about and discuss, issues that deal with our very right for privacy. It is one thing when a person voluntarily gives this up by posting on social media, but it is something else when a shadowy agency does this in the name of ‘national security.’”
Julianne Moore at last received the recognition she deserved from her many memorable roles in such films as The Big Lebowski, The End of the Affair, Magnolia, Far From Heaven, and The Children of Men. Although the film about a college professor sinking into Alzheimer’s disease is rich in meaningful dialogue, often, as in the scene when she becomes lost on her own campus, it is the look in her eyes, the hesitant movement of her limbs, or other nonverbal signs that reveals to us the inner turmoil of lostness she is undergoing. She also made her acceptance speech an opportunity to remind us all that more needs to be done to find a cure for this terrible affliction.
Pleasing also was the awarding of “Best Supporting Actor” to J.K. Simmons, an incredibly busy actor in TV and film. He managed to make us love and hate his character—love him because of his obvious dedication to jazz; hate him because of his terribly cruel methods in pushing his students beyond their limits in the search for perfection. Whiplash thus became a powerful film for reflection upon art versus humanity; love versus cruelty.
My disappointment that David Oyelowo was not nominated for “Best Actor,” an incredible omission I thought, was partially assuaged by the awarding of the honor to Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. His performance, taking us back to Daniel-Day Lewis’s great one in My Left Foot, was totally convincing. The film itself introduced us not only to the life of the great scientific theorist, but also to his equally heroic wife Jane, a believer able to hold her own against her atheistic husband.
Another Oscar highlight was scriptwriter (The Imitation Game) Graham Moore’s speech in which he shared the personal testimony about his temptation to commit suicide because of his sense of lostness as a teenager due to his gayness, the confession turning into an appeal to youth in similar situations not to give up, that life will get better as it has for him.
My main disappointment was that Selma, a far more important film over the admittedly excellent Birdman, was chosen as “Best Picture.” The latter film was a deeply introspective story, fascinating, and certainly worthy of appraise, but the issues raised in the civil rights film still deeply divide us as a nation. As my film buff friend John Gabbard forewarned me months ago when I wrote my review, Hollywood was not about to award “Best Picture” to another film dealing with racism, that the largely white Academy members had felt they had done their duty with 12 Years a Slave. How right he was!
It is for similar reasons that I was sorry that Big Hero 6 was chosen over The Boxtrolls for the “Best Animated Feature” award. I loved the first film, but the second film cleverly dealt with such themes as stereotyping and the rise of fascism—all in a children’s film—that I hoped it would receive its due reward.
Well, those are some of my reflections. What are yours? What pleased you, and what disappointed you at this year’s ceremony?