Oscars 2015: 'Birdman' Wins, as Hollywood Atones for Its Superhero Movies

As if to atone for Hollywood’s current obsession with superhero movies, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave its Oscar for best picture to Birdman, a movie about an actor trying to redeem himself after playing a superhero onscreen by attempting a serious stage play. In the run-up to the awards, many handicappers, predicting a Birdman win, pointed to the fact that two of the last three best picture winners — The Artist and Argo — have also dealt with show business, a subject that’s obviously close to home for the Academy's 6,000-plus voters.

But the film industry’s love affair with Birdman probably went deeper than that. At Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, where Birdman was also named best film, Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy praised that crowd for holding out “against the tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry.” Even though many in the audience at the 87th annual Academy Awards, which took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, will return to their offices Monday morning to resume planning the next decade’s worth of superhero movies, on Sunday night they were happy to applaud a film that gives superhero movies a great big raspberry.

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"I don't now how that happened," Alejandro Inarritu, the movie's Mexico-born director, said as the winning film team gathered around the mic, but the movie's star, Michael Keaton, gave the credit all to Inarritu, saying, "this guy is as bold as bold can be."

It was a night full of stirring political speeches, and before Inarritu surrendered the stage, he dedicated his award to his fellow Mexicans. The director said he hoped that the Mexicans living in Mexico "find and build a government that they deserve" and that those Mexicans who have come to the U.S. find "respect and dignity."

Just moment earlier, Inarritu picked up the best director award, and he jubilantly confessed that as a good-luck charm he was wearing the tighty whities Keaton wore in the film: "They are tight, they smell like balls," he laughed.

And Inarritu had gotten his first call to come to the stage just minutes before that, when Birdman got the Oscar for best original screenplay. He wrote the film with his three screenwriting partners Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo. Inarritu recalled how three years ago, he asked them all "to follow [him] in a crazy idea, [and] because they are crazy, they did."

Birdman's cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki —known as Chivo, which is the name Jessica Chastain used affectionately when she opened the envelope — also was awarded an Oscar of his own, his second in a row after his win last year for Gravity.

But while Fox Searchlight's Birdman took four key Oscars, the wealth was spread around. In fact, all eight best picture nominees got at least one Oscar, albeit not necessarily the ones each was looking for. Searchlight's The Grand Budapest Hotel, which also collected four Oscars, proved to be popular in the craft categories, as was Sony Pictures Classic's Whiplash, which picked up three Oscars.

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In terms of distributors, Searchlight dominated with eight awards, while Sony Pictures Classics took four.

An exuberant Eddie Redmayne delighted in receiving his first Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. "I don't think I'm capable of articulating what I am feeling right now. I'm fully aware that I'm a lucky, lucky man," he said, before going on to testify that "this Oscar belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS," the disease with which Hawking has lived throughout his life. "I will be its custodian," Redmayne promised.

ALS also was referenced in Julianne Moore's acceptance speech as best actress for playing a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice. She spoke of how people with Alzheimer's "deserve to be seen so we can find a cure," and she also explained that when the movie's two directors, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, found out in 2011 that Glatzer had been diagnosed with ALS, Glatzer told Westmoreland that what he really wanted to do with his life was continue to make movies.

J.K. Simmons took home the first Oscar of the night for his performance as a ruthlessly demanding music teacher in Whiplash.

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The veteran character actor and sometime Farmers Insurance pitchman took a very personal tack in his acceptance. After thanking his wife, Michelle Schumacher, and acknowledging their two children, he urged the black-tie audience to call their parents, saying, "Call your mom, everybody, call your mom, call your dad. If you're lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them."

By contrast, Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress for playing the resilient mom in Boyhood, used the podium to make a pointedly political statement. After reading off a requisite list of thank-yous, she segued into a call for gender equality, saying it was time for "wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America" that had stars like her fellow nominee Meryl Streep giving her an enthusiastic round of applause.

Screenwriter Graham Moore had many in the audience on their feet for his acceptance of his award for best adapted screenplay for The Imitation Game. He spoke of how Alan Turing, the subject of his film, never got to stand on a stage as he was doing, and admitted that when he was 16, he tried to kill himself "because I felt weird and different." His message, therefore, was "stay weird, stay different, and when it's your turn and you're standing on the stage, please pass that message on."

Disney Animation Studios claimed both awards for animation. For feature film, the trophy went to Big Hero 6 and filmmakers Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli, who prevailed over the rival film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, from DreamWorks Animation. In the short animation film category, the winner was Feast, a film from Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed, that tells the story of a man's life through the eyes of his dog.

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Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, the documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was hailed as the year's best documentary feature. Poitras, who shared the award with Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutsky, offered thanks to Snowden "for his courage" and also said that "the disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don't only expose the threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself."

The award for best foreign-language film went to Poland's Ida, an austere, black-and-white drama about a young woman, about to become a nun, who discovers secrets about her family. Its director, Pawel Pawlikowski, marveled at the fact that a movie about "the need for silence and withdrawal from the world" now found itself at the center of the world stage, and he wasn't about to surrender his moment on that stage, either, persevering through the play-off music so that he could thank his fellow Poles who worked on the film: "You are resilient, courageous, brave and funny," he said before telling them to go get drunk.

Following a performance of "Glory," written for the film Selma, that had audience members from Chris Pine to David Oyelowo in tears, Common and John Legend won the Oscar for best original song. Their acceptance turned into one of the evening's most political moments as Common connected the struggles between young kids in Chicago to those of others around the world from Paris to Hong Kong, and Legend said, "Selma is now because the struggle for justice is now," pointing to the fact that the Voting Rights Act is being compromised while thousands of black men are incarcerated.

The prolific composer Alexandre Desplat —who was nominated for both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game — won his first Oscar for his Budapest score, capping off what he called "a beautiful decade for me in Hollywood."

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel staked out winning territory early in the evening as Milena Canonero won her fourth Oscar for the movie's costume design, and Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier quickly followed her to the stage, winning in the makeup and hairstyling category for the same movie. Budapest also took the award for production design, which went to Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock.

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The intergalactic Interstellar claimed the prize for best visual effects, with the award going to Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher.

While a lot of Academy members will confess they don't know the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, there appeared to be a certain logic to the awards in those categories: American Sniper, with its precisely recorded gun shots, won the editing award for Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman, while the musical mix in Whiplash won the mixing award for Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley. And, showing a lot of enthusiasm for Whiplash, the Academy also voted the award for film editing to Whiplash's Tom Cross, who thanked the movie's stars Miles Teller and Simmons "for delivering gold to the cutting room every day" before telling the movie's director, Damien Chazelle, "Your art changed my life."

Two movies about crisis hotlines won the short film awards. For live-action short, the winner was The Phone Call, from Mat Kirkby and James Lucas, in which Sally Hawkins plays a crisis-hotline counselor. For documentary short, the winner was Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, from Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry, about the suicide hotline dedicated exclusively to U.S. veterans.

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Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs used her ceremonial appearance to do more than just welcome the guests, delivering a rousing call for the motion picture industry to accept its "responsibility to protect freedom of expression around the world." And the broadcast turned appropriately solemn for the "In Memoriam" tribute, introduced by Streep, which appeared to be more expansive than it has sometimes been in the past, finding room for 50 filmmakers.

Host Neil Patrick Harris kicked off the proceedings at the Dolby Theatre with a musical number, "Moving Pictures," written by the Oscar-winning Frozen team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, that used a lot of multimedia razzle-dazzle to put him in the middle of famous motion picture scenes. He was joined by both Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, who contributed to the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-like patter. And then Harris followed that up by introducing a magic trick that turned into a running gag throughout the ceremony.