Who Gives a Gaga? or (Oscar Minor Winners)

Meryl Streep agrees!Another Academy Awards ceremony come and gone. It wasn’t good, but there were moments. First of all, my limited predictions were spot-on (you’re welcome.) Actually, there wasn’t much disagreement about who would win, and there weren’t any surprises. Ratings were down, but something like a billion people still watched, so who’s counting except the guys who set next year’s 30-second commercial price?

Lady Gaga sang a medley of songs from The Sound of Music, in honor of that movie’s 50th anniversary. So, a film that is frequently cited as an example of how the Academy got it wrong (five Oscars, including Best Picture) was granted fifteen minutes after 11 PM (Eastern), as we struggled to stay awake to find out who won the big prizes. I appreciate Lady Gaga more than a lot of middle-aged people I know, but I thought her performance had a tinge of parody to it, like she was mocking “serious” singers. The over-emoting, the vibrato, the consonants with no separation before the next word… But her key changes were spot-on and Julie-Freaking-Andrews gave her a tearful hug, the ultimate endorsement. Which Gaga didn’t need, and seemed to appreciate. So, yawn.

Patricia Arquette gave a (wonderful) shout-out for women’s rights, Meryl Streep jumped out of her seat; John Legend and Common performed the hell out of their Selma-song (also wonderful), and Chris Pine cried. For most of the evening, the B-list crowd in the orchestra section acted like Congresspeople at a State of the Union address – standing and clapping robotically lest some camera register their displeasure. J.K. Simmons implored us to call our parents (I call my mother three times every week); the rest of the winners echoed that and added their own causes, and thanked everybody who’s ever worked for them. Seriously – these people are public speaking professionals; nobody seemed able to nail a message without diluting it (even Arquette.)

Host Neil Patrick Harris was painfully not in his element (theater gays and wannabes.) Maybe it was the 5’ screen I watched on, but every time he bombed I could see his face fall. I felt terrible for him, and I hope he’s never cast in a movie I care about. The opening number was sharp (although not close to what he’s done at the Tonys); everything else was downhill. I liked the Birdman/underwear bit, except Sesame Street already cornered the spoof market for that film. The individual jokes from Harris’ “magic trick” were decent, but the 3-hour setup killed them.

Here’s why the Oscars matter: nominees and winners have a better chance of making their next movie if acknowledged. Nominations are crucial, wins are better. Most awards shows are just conversation starters. Director’s Guild? New York Film Critics Circle? Golden Globes? Please. Oscar is the Holy Grail. That’s why Ava DuVernay needed to be nominated for Selma. It’s why people get so upset over Oscar “snubs.” I’m glad Julianne Moore won Best Actress, but let’s face it – she’ll have no trouble scoring work either way. Carmen Ejogo should have been nominated for her performance in Selma. And so on. And yawn. (More than five hours, including the inane red carpet pre-show.)

Causes were the highlight of the evening. Women’s rights, ALS, Alzheimer’s, veteran’s hotlines, suicide hotlines. Suicide was mentioned twice last night, as if it’s a disease that might be cured. I’ve considered suicide myself; I’ve benefitted from a hotline; I still think about it, the struggle goes on. As it does for so many. I watched. I read the re-caps. I sighed a lot. The advertisers counted me as a viewer. A one-in-a-billion viewer. Life goes on.