Oscars 2015 Running Diary

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Another Academy Award ceremony is in the books and I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the show this year. I had high hopes for Neil Patrick Harris given how he’s crushed hosting the Tony’s the last few years, but despite a strong start I thought his hosting abilities fell a bit flat. The jokes were way too punny and most of the bits that he did went over like a lead balloon. I don’t know if it was the writing or him, but it just didn’t work. Thankfully there were some great speeches and musical performances to make up for the flaws in the ceremony.

As always, I kept a running diary of my thoughts and observations while watching the Oscars. See if your thoughts match mine or find out what you missed.

8:30 – Thank goodness it’s starting. I didn’t think I could take any more red carpet nonsense. Let’s do this, Neil Patrick Harris.

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8:31 – Bradley Cooper always brings his mom as a date.

Watch the opening number here.

8:32 – Cumberbatch with a flask. He knows it will be a long night.

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8:33 – NPH is breaking out the magic early.

8:33 – Anna Kendrick is always a good addition.

8:34 – Now Jack Black, the voice of cynicism?

8:35 – Kendrick has had enough of his negativity.

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8:36 – The Rock is sitting with Oprah?

8:38 – #Smurfs2burn

8:39 – I wonder if Lupita Nyong’o ‘s dress is comfortable?

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8:40 – I really don’t know why Robert Duval was nominated. I was unimpressed with The Judge.

8:41 – A Ruffalo wink!

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8:41 – “The actor goes to.” First flub of the night.

8:42 – JK Simmons for Whiplash. Excited for him – he’s so good in that movie.

Watch his speech here.

8:43 – Simmons speech was a PSA for calling your mom. Sweet and unexpected.

8:44 – Ha – A shout out to Simmons’ role in Farmers Insurance commercials.

8:45 – The guy from PriceWaterhouse Cooper looks like  Matt Damon.

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8:46 – Octavia Spencer is now in charge of guarding NPH’s Oscar predictions. That bit didn’t really work.

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8:46 – Liam Neeson and JK Simmons in less than a three minute span? The Oscars are off to a scary start.

8:48 – Dakota Johnson in a red dress. A little too on the nose. #redplayroom

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8:49 – Begin Again was a cute movie. Go rent it. Adam Levine was actually good in it.

Watch the performance here.

8:51 – I was trying to put my finger on what was missing from the Oscars thus far. Tattoos. He needed to take his jacket off for this?

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8:57 – Please tell me one of the people opening the doors back there is Pharell.

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8:58 – Grand Budapest Hotel for costume design. Two for two!

8:59 – This lady better walk a little faster – her time will be up by the time she gets to the mic.

9:00 – Man, these jokes are TERRIBLE. I expected better from NPH.

9:01 – Reese Witherspoon to present best makeup and hairstyling.

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9:02 – Grand Budapest Hotel wins, ruining my perfect Oscar ballot. Also, that’s rubbish.

9:03 – Channing Tatum in a tux is never a bad thing.

9:05 – A joke about Bermuda shorts? Let’s take this commercial break to regroup and come up with some better material.

9:09 – Nicole Kidman and to present best foreign film. Good time to remind you that Jimmy Fallon blew his chance to date Kidman. That story is never not funny to me.

9:10 – Yay! Ida won. I really enjoyed that film. #Polandrepresent

9:12 – That dude just played chicken with the orchestra trying to play him off and won. I’ve never seen that happen.

9:13 – Octavia is not doing her job – she’s looking at the stage, not the lockbox.

9:14 – Introducing the Best Picture nominees this way seems really rushed.

9:15 – On no. We’re in the audience now. Get back on stage, Harris.

9:16 – Seat fillers getting a little love.

9:18 – EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

Watch the performance here.

9:19 – Andy Samberg performing in a cape and a powder blue tux is everything. Also – is that a possum?

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9:19 – Audience members are getting LEGO statues. Damn – celebrities get everything.

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9:20 – Please tell me that is Will Arnettt as Batman. Plus Questlove!

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9:20 – That may be the most fun that we’ll see all night.

9:21 – I feel bad for the stage hands that have to clean up the stage after that. That was a lot of confetti at the end.

9:24 – No one in the audience loves their LEGO Oscar more than Channing Tatum.

9:25 – Olivia Pope and Michael Bluth to present Best Live Action Short. Confession – I blew this category off this year.

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9:26 – The camera people really messed that up.

9:26 – More acceptance speeches should start with “Crickey.”

9:27 – I do hope that guy gets his free donut; he wasted enough time  talking about it.

9:27 – The orchestra needs to get aggressive with playing people off or we’ll never get out of here; they backed down once and now it’s chaos. Throw JK Simmons in there!

9:28 – That was a long lingering shot on John Travolta for no apparent reason

9:29 – Now the Best Documentary Shorts…..didn’t see these either but I’m right again.

9:30 – WHAT IS UP WITH THAT POM POM DRESS???

9:31 – Viola Davis is here to tell us about the award ceremony that wasn’t deemed important enough for TV.

9:33 – Oh dear. More crowd work

9:34 – Oyelowo perfectly sums up how I feel about the Oscars thus far:

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9:34 – After applause for David Oyelowo NPH says “Oh, now you love him.”

9:35 – Gwyneth Paltrow is friends with everyone.

9:39 – Tim McGraw to sing for Glen Campbell. Such a sad and beautiful song.

See his performance here.

9:42 – Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear during a Birdman tribute. That’s confidence.

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9:42 – Ha! Miles Teller on drums.

9:44 – Miles Teller and Margot Robbie to talk about another award ceremony that wasn’t TV worthy.

9:45 – Siena Miller and Chris Evans present the sound categories. No patter, just down to business.

9:46 – Whiplash wins Best Sound Mixing. Good on them – that movie sounded great.

9:48 – It’s always fascinating to watch the dynamic of multiple winners on stage. Shouldn’t you sort out time allotments before you get on stage? It’s always one person hogging the mic and others trying to get a word in edgewise.

9:49 – American Sniper for Best Sound Editing. Always bet on the movie with a lot of gunshots.

9:51 – Jared Leto is always interesting. I like the flower on his lapel.

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9:53 – I love that Emma Stone is still holding her LEGO Oscar.

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9:54 – Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette wins Best Supporting Actress.

Watch her speech here.

9:55 – She’s cramming a lot into this speech.

9:56 –Using her time to call for equal wages and rights for women. #girlpower

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9:57 – Meryl and J Lo are all “right on, sister.” Ethan Hawke is also a fan.

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9:59 – Here’s the Peeta that won’t throw paint on you….Josh Hutchinson.” Either I’m tired or that was actually clever.

10:00 – Rita Ora to perform the nominated song from Beyond the Lights.

Watch her performance here.

10:02 – Does Chloe Grace Mortez’s dress have pockets?

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10:03 – Visual effects – Guardians of the Galaxy or I riot.

10:04 – Boo! Interstellar wins. Sigh…I’m too old to riot.

10:06 – Kevin Hart better watch it – Anna Kendrick is not going to put up with his foolishness. She already threw a shoe at Jack Black tonight.

10:07 – Feast is such a cute animated short. Definitely watch it if you get the chance – especially if you are a pet owner. And honestly, the other animated shorts this year were kind of meh.

10:08 – I do dig NPH’s maroon jacket.

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10:09 – The Rock and Zoe Saldana make a nice couple. Here to present Best Animated Feature.

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10:11 – Big Hero 6! Never been so glad to get a pick wrong. Such an adorable movie.

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10:13 – Are the orchestra playing NPH off?

10:20 – Chris Pratt in the house. Hopefully adding some much needed personality to these proceedings.

10:21 – Even Star Lord can’t make this interesting. Grand Budapest Hotel wins Best Production Design.

10:23 Confirmation – That WAS Will Arnett. Fabulous!

10:24 – Idris Elba? Now you have my full attention again.

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10:25 – Birdman wins for Cinematography. Edward Norton looks delighted.

10:30 – Meryl Streep for the In Memoriam aka “Bring out your dead” segment

Watch the segment here.

10:32 – I’d forgotten that Edward Hermann died. 😦

10:34 – Hmmm….Robin Williams didn’t get the last spot. And no Joan Rivers?

10:35 – I hate when they do this – no need for a whole separate performance after the montage. No disrespect to Jennifer Hudson – she’s great. But this is unnecessary.

Watch her performance here.

10:42 – Phew. I was just thinking to myself that this show was severely lacking in Cumberbatch. His been fairly low profile tonight.

10:44 – Dang – another one wrong. I would have thought putting together footage over twelve years would have earned Boyhood Best Film Editing. But Congrats to Whiplash!

10:46 – Lucious Lyon in the house! Please tell me that you people are watching Empire.

10:47 – Is Howard really getting this chocked up over The Imitation Game? This is really weird (Watch it here).

10:48 – The sound editing is just awful for this show. Either that or the microphone just attacked Terrence Howard.

10:49 – NPH just can’t seem to say David Oyelowo’s name right.

10:50 – Oyelowo and Jennifer Anniston to present Best Documentary Feature.

10:51 – Is the winner wearing leather arm bands?

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10:57 – Oh good. More jokes about the locked Oscar picks. Because that’s really working.

10:58 – John Legend and Common to perform “Glory.”

Watch the performance here.

11:00 – Really like the stage presentation for this song with the bridge and the marchers. Really captures the movie.

11:02 – That was legitimately powerful. Chris Pine is crying.

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11:03 – That was a tough segue to pull off.

11:04 – Finally – a solid joke “Benedict Cumberbatch is the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.”

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11:04 – Ha – John Travolta and Indina Menzel as presenters. That’s a solid decision. But he’s still hella creepy. Stop touching her face.

11:05 – A well-deserved win for “Glory.”

Watch their speech here.

11:07 – Common for President. Awesome speech. He and Patricia Arquette should team up.

11:08 – John Legend’s speech was great too.

11:12 – Scarlett Johannson to introduce whatever Lady Gaga is up to.

11:13 – Ugh – The Sound of Music? The timing of this couldn’t be any worse after that powerful Selma moment.

11:14 – Nothing against The Sound of Music, but it’s almost 11:15. Ain’t nobody got time for a tribute to a 50 year old musical.

Watch the performance here

11:15 – Why the hell is Lady Gaga standing so far back on the stage?

11:20 – OK. Wholly unnecessary, but Gaga did a fantastic job.

11:20 – Nice moment with Julie Andrews. But did Lady Gaga go back in time? Since when is she throwing around words like “incomparable?” I blame Tony Bennett for this.

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11:23 – The good night for Grand Budapest Hotel continues with a win for Best Original Score.

11:24 – Now Adrian Brody is winking at the camera. Is that the new go-to move?

11:29 – Is Eddie Murphy going to actually do something tonight?

11:30 – Birdman for Best Original Screenplay.

11:31 – I just love how Alejandro Inarritu says “Birdman.”

11:32 – Does Michael Keaton have snacks?

11:33 – Kneel down. Oprah is on stage.

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11:35 – The Imitation Game with a somewhat surprising win for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Watch his speech here.

11:35 – Ha! He thanks Oprah.

11:37 – Good use of his time. Nice speech by Graham Moore. “Stay weird, stay different.”

11:41 – Ben Affleck here to present Best Director, which is kind of ironic.

11:42 – Can we, as a nation, just agree to stop saying Birdman’s subtitle?

11:43 – The momentum is building for Birdman. Alejandro Inarritu wins.

11:44 – Was that John Stamos in the audience? Has he even been in a movie?

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11:48 – Home stretch – Cate Blanchett here to present Best Actor.

11:49 – I would love if they used the fake baby scene from American Sniper for Bradley Cooper. Just so everyone on Twitter would lose their minds.

11:50 – Let’s cut to the chase – did Michael Keaton bring his hot son?

11:51 – Ha! Cate Blanchett introduces the winner by saying “okey dokey smokie.”

11:52 – Eddie Redmayne? For reals? Michael Keaton was robbed.

Watch his speech here.

11:53 – A fine performance and a fine speech. Not my choice, but Redmayne was adorable in his excitement.

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11:54 – Alright, alright, alright – Matthew McConaughey to present Best Actress.

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11:56 – Hope no one was waiting to see Gone Girl. That clip just gave away a big plot twist.

11:57 – That pause had me worried, but it’s Julianne Moore for Still Alice.

Watch her speech here.

12:00 – Ugh – ENOUGH WITH NPH’s OSCAR PICKS ALREADY!

12:03 – Sean Penn is here to present Best Picture and look unhappy.

12:04 – “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” This is why we don’t let Sean Penn talk. Birdman for the win!

12:06 – We’ll wrap this up with some thoughts from Michael Keaton:

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So what did you think about the Oscars? How did NPH do? What were your favorite moments? Sound off in the comments below.

Whiplash – A Review

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There are a lot of movies about inspiring teachers that bring out the best in their students and show the remarkable power that a dedicated and supportive teacher can have on the lives of their students.

Whiplash is not one of those movies.

It’s important that you realize that going in, because if you think you are getting something along the lines of Mr. Holland’s Opus or Stand and Deliver, you are in for one hell of a shock. Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) teaching philosophy is much closer to that of a Bobby Knight – there’s a whole of lot of yelling, there is little room for error and you may or may not have to duck things that are being thrown at you. This is a tense and riveting look at a different kind of teacher/student relationship and questions the lengths people should go to in order to achieve greatness.

Miles Teller stars as Andrew, a first year music student at Shaffer Conservatory, a one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. Andrew is a drummer and is trying to catch the eye of conductor Terence Fletcher (Simmons), a legendary instructor at the school whom Andrew thinks can help him achieve the legendary greatness that he aspires to. Fletcher finally invites Andrew to join his ensemble as a backup, but Andrew quick realizes that Fletcher has more in common with a drill sergeant than your run of the mill teacher; Andrew is shocked that students stand silently and bow their heads, averting any eye contact, when Fletcher enters the room. Fletcher’s kind and comforting words to Andrew after the first class were revealed to be a ruse simply to obtain personal information about Andrew so Fletcher would know what buttons to push to get a reaction out of Andrew. Fletcher’s philosophy can be summed up with this one line of dialogue: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

Andrew suffers but also becomes more resolved; after being publicly humiliated in a class, Andrew practices the drums until his hands bleed. He cuts off any outside distractions, including a budding relationship with a girl he has quietly liked for a while, and becomes hardened and more determined. Drumming becomes his obsession, to the detriment of his psychological well-being. This is a sacrifice that Andrew is willing to make to be the best at what he does. Andrew and Fletcher seem to share the same world view that suffering is a necessary part of the commitment to your craft.

This probably makes it sound like Whiplash is tough to watch and I’ll admit that for me there were scenes that were a little difficult to witness. Seeing other people suffering or humiliated, even fictional people on screen, is tough for someone with my emotional makeup to handle. But despite the occasional struggle, I couldn’t look away from Whiplash. The story was too compelling and I just wasn’t sure how it was going to resolve itself; would Andrew finally snap? Would this type of instruction ultimately make his stronger and better? Would there ever be an end to the sadistic manner of Fletcher’s composing? Would there be any sort of comeuppance for Fletcher? I had to watch to see how this would all play out and I admit that I didn’t quite see the story ending up like it did. Teller and Simmons bring these characters to life in such a real way that it’s easy to forget that they are playing a role; in a year of great performances, both of these actors stood out.

The most interesting part of the movie for me was the philosophical questions that it raises about suffering, motivation and praise. On some level, I tend to agree with Fletcher’s philosophy – the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality can be very detrimental. When praise is too frequent and effusive, it ultimately becomes ineffective and meaningless. I’ve had colleagues that heap superlatives and praise on just about everything – like Donald Trump level hyperbole – and while I think that they think they are being helpful, no one took the words remotely seriously because it was too often and too much to ring sincere. Simply doing my job is not “awe-inspiring” or “extraordinary.” In my opinion, telling people that they are awesome all the time makes them lazy and complacent. They drink the Kool-Aid and begin to think that they are pretty great and that everything they do is pretty great. I do my best work when I am trying to prove someone wrong that who has doubted my abilities or if I am trying to earn commendation from someone who is more Spartan in their compliments. A well-time and heartfelt compliment that I feel I have earned is much more meaningful than praise that feels routine or insincere. When I taught college courses, I gave praise when I thought it was legitimately appropriate and corrected students when they were wrong; my students said that I was “strict but fair.” By happenstance, this is the quote of the day on my office whiteboard:

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I know – my handwriting needs some work

 

So I can’t say that Fletcher’s thoughts don’t have some veracity or that he is completely off base. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to approval.

Of course, Fletcher takes this to the extreme and I think that is where the damage can be done. There is a difference between being judicious in your compliments and abuse and Fletcher crosses that line. He specifically seeks out a student’s vulnerabilities and uses them against them. Tough love is sometimes necessary to push people to reach the best of their abilities, but degrading language and physical assaults are a different story. That’s not motivation; that’s just cruelty and psychological warfare and while that may work for some people, it is too high a price to pay. It’s good to push people, but pushing people over the edge is a horse of a different color. The difficulty, of course, is knowing how individual people will respond; what might motivate one person might discourage another. Andrew may ultimately turn into the great drummer that he always wanted, but at what cost? Do the true greats have to suffer to become great? Whiplash has made me ponder a lot of these questions and while the world view that Fletcher and Andrew have is destructive, is it ultimately successful?

Whiplash was an interesting film to watch, but it has also made me think about the issues that it addresses long after the film ended. To me, that’s the sign of a great film and while it may not be the most relaxing or fun movie to watch, I think it’s worth seeing and contemplating the philosophical models presented. Ultimately, the school of thought that Fletcher belongs to swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, but that’s not to say that there isn’t some merit to his thinking – though the execution is harmful. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller both give captivating performances that you can’t take your eyes off of, no matter how dark and troubling the story becomes.

Whiplash is currently in wide release.