Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oscars 2015: Staying Weird, Staying Alive

So another Oscar ceremony is in the books. I’m not unique, I’m sure, in finding my greatest satisfaction in the unexpectedly pointed remarks of many of the winners, as they received their statuettes for films that touched (however lightly) on serious matters.  There was Patricia Arquette’s shout-out in favor of equal pay for women, which elicited Meryl Streep’s enthusiastic “You go, girl!”  There was Eddie Redmayne, honored for playing Stephen Hawking, symbolically giving his award to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis sufferers (though he made clear the Oscar would live at his house). Soon afterward, winner Julianne Moore was equally eloquent about the need to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Triple-winner Alejandro González Iñarritu needled the audience about immigration issues, and the writers of “Glory” (the Oscar-winning song from Selma) both sang and spoke so powerfully about civil rights that it was no surprise to see Academy members with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Even yawn-worthy categories like Best Documentary Short Subject led to poignant speeches. I had not heard of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, but the words of its co-directors will stay with me, especially Dana Perry’s mention of the son that died by his own hand, and her plea that “We should talk about suicide out loud.” Who would have guessed that an hour or so later, Graham Moore—accepting a screenwriting Oscar for The Imitation Game—would announce that at age sixteen he too had tried to kill himself, “because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong.” He addressed himself directly to “that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do.  Stay weird, stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”

As always, a memorable (though somber) part of the evening was dedicated to those Hollywood figures who had passed away since last year’s ceremony. The painter who’d provided portraits of the deceased beautifully captured the exuberance of Geoffrey Holder, the husband of my very first dance teacher. And I was moved to see recognition for others I’d interviewed over the years: cinematographer Gordon Willis, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., and particularly Charles Champlin, veteran film critic of the Los Angeles Times.

Hollywood generally doesn’t love movie critics (though Life Itself, a documentary feature about the life and career of the late Roger Ebert, was short-listed for one of this year’s nominations.) But the film industry had a rare affection for Charles Champlin, who was considered both knowledgeable and fair-minded. By the time I interviewed Champlin in 2008, he was long retired and suffering from health issues. When I asked about the films of the Sixties, he simply didn’t remember certain matters on which he had once boldly taken a stand.  I came home with one of his books, The Movies Grow Up: 1940-1980, which begins by explaining that “my generation grew up with the movies and without television. The movies entertained us, inspired us, consoled us, shaped us profoundly; taught us (although not invariably wisely or well) and attempted to spare us from some bitter truths about the world.” By the time I met Champlin, though, he was thinking less about movies than about, well, life itself: “The world slips away from us very fast, I think. It’s like sand through your fingers. You think you’ve got it all in your hand, but it’s gone through your fingers.”  Rest in peace, Chuck.  

Coming soon: on Saturday, May 2, 2915, I'll be on a panel discussing "The Secrets of Interviewing Famous People." It's part of the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual three-day conference in New York City. Click here for more info.


  1. I haven't read much of Charles Champlin's writing - but I certainly know the name - and I was pleased to see him included in the In Memoriam sequence.

    I found the Oscars ceremony just okay. I'm afraid I recorded it on the DVR and sped through much of it - including the interminable songs (except for the incredible Lady Gaga with the Sound of Music medley, which was beautiful.) I also skipped the speeches, so I missed most of the moments you cited. Neil Patrick Harris was game and had some moments, but in the end did not go down as a classic host. Still, he beat out Seth McFarlane at least. In the end I watched the entire 4-ish hours in about an hour and forty minutes. Not admirable, maybe, but I consoled myself putting those two plus hours I saved to good use.

  2. Lady Gaga was certainly a surprise. I couldn't help noting how the prominent tattoos clashed with the dress and the nostalgic mood. But that's just me, I guess.