Oscar night 2015 is over and done, meaning discussions are now transpiring about the most memorable (be they charming or awkward) moments that transpired under Neil Patrick Harris’ watch as the host for the 87th Annual Academy Awards (as well as the overall quality of NPH’s hosting stint). It also means that the time has come to examine which films managed to pull an upset and walk away with the gold at the Oscar show – which, traditionally, tends to have one of the more predictable outcomes among the various shows of the movie awards season.
You can now read through the complete list of 2015 Oscar winners, but below we’ve highlighted five winners that came as somewhat of a surprise (as well as the reasoning behind their selection on this list).
Boyhood Shutout (Save for Patricia Arquette)
Richard Linklater and his Boyhood collaborators spent twelve years making the critically-acclaimed coming of adult age drama: a project that has been honored with such recognitions as Movie of the Year by the AFI Awards, the Best Film at the BAFTAs, and the Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, among other honors. There was a time when it was considered the frontrunner to not just be crowned Best Picture at the Oscars this year, but also to be awarded for such technical elements as Linklater’s direction and Sandra Adair’s editing – and ultimately, Patricia Arquette was the one who walked away with a (well-deserved) win for her performance as the longtime struggling mother in the movie
However, in the final weeks leading up to Oscar night 2015, there were signs the tide was turning, as Birdman continued to pick up as many (if not more) awards show honors than Boyhood. Meanwhile, criticisms of Linklater’s film started to become more commonplace – case in point, Boyhood was even the sole Best Pic nominee this year to get the Honest Trailer treatment ahead of the Oscars ceremony. Still, it came as something of a surprise when only Arquette was recognized on Oscar night, as the expectation was that Linklater would at least walk away with the title of Best Director (more on that later).
Eddie Redmayne Beating Michael Keaton for Best Actor
Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne were, in many ways, neck and neck ahead of their competition in the Best Actor category leading up to Oscar Night 2015. However, Keaton (arguably) appeared to have the edge heading into the Academy Awards show, being a seasoned and beloved performer of the big screen for several decades – one who had compellingly brought a meta-version of himself in the Hollywood-riffing Birdman, no less. Redmayne had likewise continued to earn praise and pick up accolades, but the voices of dissent were also gaining in volume – claiming that he was being recognized more for the physical aspects of his onscreen turn as Stephen Hawking than the emotional components.
Redmayne can currently be seen on the big screen camping it up like there’s no tomorrow in the Wachowskis’ space opera Jupiter Ascending, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent him from taking home an Oscar for his work as Hawking in the biographical feature The Theory of Everything. That said, Redmayne’s victory wasn’t a huge shock and shouldn’t go down as an especially controversial Oscar selection (especially not after his enjoyably giddy reaction to winning). Still, on a night where Birdman ended up getting a fair amount of love, it’s a bit surprising the Academy’s “charity” didn’t extend to the film’s celebrated lead.
Interstellar Winning Best Visual Effects
There were three superhero movies among the five films in contention for the Best Visual Effects Oscar this year, but the race seemed to be between Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, heading down the final stretch to Oscar night. The two big-budget sci-fi features are quite different; in terms of their special effects, Apes‘ accomplishments lie with its digitally-rendered primate characters and the motion-capture performances that helped bring them to life; Nolan’s space exploration adventure relied quite heavily on practical effects to realize its cosmic narrative on the big screen.
However, it was ultimately the “old school” approach of Interstellar that wound up being recognized by the Academy. Dawn, in all fairness, lies at the epicenter of what is an ongoing (and still somewhat contentious) discussion about digital effects and motion-capture performances – namely, whether they ought to be given the same weight as traditional screen performances – and there’s certainly disagreement about how Dawn‘s mo-cap characters compare to Weta’s Oscar-winning efforts in the past (see: Avatar). Nolan’s habit of favoring classic effects techniques above modern tools has been criticized too, but perhaps it’s not that shocking that the Academy ultimately went with the candidate that relied more upon a tried-and-true approach (to frequently gorgeous results – see above).
Big Hero 6 Winning for Best Animated Feature
Even on Oscar night, much of the discussion surrounding the Best Animated Feature continued to be about how The LEGO Movie had been left out of the running for the award – a controversial decision that suddenly (re)gained more life, following the rather memorable live performances of “Everything is Awesome” during the Academy Award festivities. That aside, though, DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 very much appeared to have the most forward momentum among the various nominees heading into the Oscar show. But it was ultimately Disney Animation’s take on the Marvel comic book property Big Hero 6 that walked away triumphant (making it two wins in a row for the Mouse House, after Frozen won for Best Animated Feature in 2014).
Big Hero 6 was both a critical and commercial success, but so was How to Train Your Dragon 2 – and the latter, like fellow Best Animated Feature nominees The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea, was generally regarded as being a better film, overall. Nonetheless, Big Hero 6 ultimately had enough working in its favor (Disney’s historical track record, its unusual blend of fairy tale and superhero tropes) to stand out from the competition and win the favor of the Academy. Or maybe it won primarily because of Baymax. I’d be willing to believe that.
Birdman Winning BOTH Best Director & Best Picture
Boyhood and Birdman, as mentioned earlier, were the favorites to take home Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars ceremony. Often times, but not always, when there are two Best Picture nominees running neck and neck ahead of the show, the Academy has ended up sharing the love. Case in point, Alfonso Cuarón won for direction on Gravity while 12 Years a Slave took home the Best Picture crown in 2014; and the year before that, Ang Lee was recognized as director on Life of Pi, but it was Ben Affleck’s Argo that was dubbed the Best Picture at the Academy Awards. So, before last night, there was speculation that Alejandro González Iñárritu could win for directing Birdman, while Richard Linklater would win Best Picture for Boyhood – or vice versa.
That said, it ultimately does make sense that Birdman edged out the competition and took home both Best Director and Picture statuettes at the Oscars. The movie was an impressive accomplishment on a technical level – having been filmed so that almost the entire movie had the appearance of being one uninterrupted take – and provided a lot of commentary, about the experience of being an actor today and popular trends in Hollywood. And traditionally, acclaimed movies that are, in some respect, about show business and/or the moviemaking process tend to win the Academy’s favor (with the recent examples besides Birdman including Argo, The Artist, and Hugo).
That’s it for us – how about you? What wins/losses at the 2015 Oscars ceremony surprised you? Or did the night play out pretty much as you expected?