The 87th Academy Awards have been and gone, and though there were a few surprises along the way, most of the major awards were fairly predictable. Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor, Julianne Moore: Best Actress, J.K. Simmons: Best Supporting Actor, and Patricia Arquette: Best Supporting Actress.
The main result which truly surprised me though was in the writing category: simply because Wes Anderson should have won for The Grand Budapest Hotel. There are two fairly simple reasons for this and they are both in the name of the award: it was the best, original, screenplay. As for Graham Moore winning Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, I was pleasantly surprised, having just overcome the shock of realising Inherent Vice had also been nominated, as it is phenomenally dull.
The only real question marks which hovered over those sealed golden envelopes were in the categories of Best Picture and Best Director: both of which were answered comprehensively by Birdman, who came away the night’s big winner. I said in my predictions that I would be surprised if Birdman won Best Picture and now my eyebrows have indeed been raised. But when I think about it I’m not entirely sure why.
A large portion of the Academy is made up of actors, and Birdman is a film about a middle-aged actor seeking redemption through credibility: so as far as topics go then, it was on to a winner. And though a very good film and in by no means an undeserving winner, Birdman and the Academy could be seen to represent a wider picture, as was highlighted by several of the acceptance speeches.
Patricia Arquette spoke of the environment and gender equality, which had Meryl Streep on her feet. Graham Moore spoke of the tragedy of Alan Turing and his own personal struggles, when he attempted suicide at age 16 because he felt isolated and different. While John Legend brought the cast of Selma to tears as he spoke of the continuing injustice and persecution of different cultures, religions and ethnicities, in America and around the world.
There was a real sense of political poignancy at times during the ceremony. Social issues took precedent, but while the nature of the messages took a direct swipe at society, they indirectly poked the Academy. Arquette’s comments regarding broader gender issues are reflected in the Academy’s 77% male representation; while Legend’s comments, later reinforced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, may have sat uncomfortably with the 94% of the Academy who are white.
This raises the, not unfamiliar question, of whether the best film actually wins Best Picture? We all know the Academy doesn’t always get this one right. After all, would people still choose Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? I know which would get my vote.
But for all the seriousness spread sporadically throughout the ceremony, I still believe The Grand Budapest Hotel was the best of the bunch. Raising the profile of social issues is of course an important role of film and those which tackle these should always be applauded. But sometimes film and cinema is one of the best means of escapism: for that brief moment in your day when you want to forget about the constant barrage of war, murder, terrorism, poverty, starvation and inequality which fills our television sets. And I think this is what The Grand Budapest Hotel represents: it allows you to sink effortlessly into a world of bizarre intrigue and comedic brilliance.
So while Birdman won Best Picture and should be hailed as a daring and entertaining film, only time will tell if it will continue to soar, or whether the Academy’s self-indulgence propelled it too close to the sun.