The 87th annual Academy Awards lauded actors and films that tackled complex societal issues, especially those around aging.
The show kicked off with host Neal Patrick Harris singing about how movies change us, and the theme of art making a difference in beliefs, people and culture recurred throughout the three-and-a-half hour show.
Here's a recap of the winners and how they speak to causes we care about:
The Best Picture winner, Birdman, was a crazy ride that included themes of peaking young and shows the struggle to redefine oneself and what success is. Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu played with fact and fantasy, telling the story of an actor who played a superhero trying to produce a successful play. What happens to us when we feel "washed up" and how do we come back from the voices in our heads casting doubt?
Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor win for his remarkable portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything showed the ravages of ALS, the disease's effects on a family and how meeting it with dignity is possible. Hawking gave the film his stamp of approval, and even loaned his electronic voice synthesizer to it after seeing an early screening. The movie showed how caregivers stretch in what sadly often remains an unrecognized role.
“I’m fully aware that I am a lucky, lucky man. This belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family – Stephen, Jane, Christopher and the Hawking children," said Redmayne, accepting his award.
Julianne Moore said she hoped her Best Actress win for Still Alice would “shed a light on Alzheimer’s disease. So many who have it feel isolated and marginalized. The wonderful thing about movies is that it makes us feel seen and not alone. They deserve to be seen so we can find a cure.”
(MORE: Treatment and Maybe a Cure for Alzheimer's)
J.K. Simmons, nominated for his role as a sadistic conductor/teacher in Whiplash, walked away with the first award of the night for Best Supporting Actor. At 60, he has the acting chops and the personal humility of a true star. In his acceptance speech, Simmons thanked his wife, gave a shoutout to his "above average" children and had this advice to the "billion people" watching: "If you're lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them — don't text or email," he said, looking heavenward.
Patricia Arquette won for Best Supporting Actress in Boyhood, the Richard Linklater movie filmed over 12 years. The movie masterfully took on the complexities of aging and parenting as our children grow up. After what seemed like it would be a standard thank you, Arquette, 46, surprised and delighted the crowd with a rousing plea for equal rights and equal pay for women. Meryl Streep’s fist pump and “woot” of approval summed up the crowd reaction.
The performance of “Glory,” the Best Song winner from the movie Selma, brought the audience to its feet and sparked two amazing speeches from by Lonnie Lynn (aka Common) and John Stephens (aka John Legend). Common spoke of performing the song on the bridge in Selma that once represented a national divide. The song speaks to the struggle for democracy and civil rights around the world, he said. And Legend added: “Selma is now — the struggle for freedom and justice is real. There are more black men under correctional control than there were under slavery in 1850.”
Graham Moore’s win for Best Adapted Screenplay with The Imitation Game led to another speech that brought audience members to their feet and to tears. “Alan Turing never got to stand on stage like this and look out at all these disconcertingly attractive people,” Moore said, “and that seems wrong. So I’m going to use this time for this. When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and different and like I did not belong. So I would like this moment to be for the kid out there who may feel weird and different … stay weird, stay different, and then when you’re up here, pass this moment on.”
Other highlights from the ceremony:
° Tim McGraw’s simple, pure-toned singing of “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” from the Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me movie (about the singer's battle with Alzheimer's), nominated for Best Song. When McGraw finished, the camera cut to Campbell’s wife and daughter, and to Julianne Moore, who had tears in her eyes.
° A clip of Harry Belafonte’s speech after receiving the Humanitarian Oscar: “We as artists and visionaries for what’s better in the human heart and the human soul could influence citizens everywhere in the world to see the better side of who and what we are as a species.”
° Meryl Streep’s touching speech about those the film community lost this year: “They tickled us, raised our spirits, challenged our minds and shocked our complacencies… We will miss them with the same sadness as we miss an old friend. But their work will stand and remind us of how lucky we were to have had them with us for awhile.”
Glamour Meets Cause
The power of film to change hearts, minds and social agendas has been proven time and again. (Think Norma Rae, Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain.)
I hope this year's fine portrayals change the social landscape, too. At the very least, the causes of Alzheimer's, ALS, civil rights and gay rights were represented with understanding and empathy .
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