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The Oscars: How is the ceremony so far?

A mysteriously hit-and-miss Neil Patrick Harris was a sometimes fumbling host.
Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris has been oddly so-so as this year's Oscars host.

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How much of a mess are the Academy Awards? Not even NPH — the obvious go-to guy who kills at the Tonys and Emmys — could conquer them. He was to be the second safe choice in a row, after last year’s Ellen DeGeneres show. Sometimes the Oscars think outside the box and pay the price: Seth MacFarlane singing about boobs in 2013; the dynamic duo of a dazed, noncommittal James Franco and an energy-pill-high Anne Hathaway in 2011.

It all started well. Neil Patrick Harris ascended from the floor onto the stage of Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre for his first Oscars gig and immediately addressed the biggest elephant in the room. “Tonight we celebrate the best and whitest — sorry, best and brightest,” he quipped, winkingly referring to the heavy snubbing that befell “Selma.”

But this was a false start. Savage quips were immediately — as in the next sentence — replaced by singing. Harris launched into one of those songs that Billy Crystal used to do — except only about a third of it was dedicated to jokes. Singing about “moving pictures” — it’s 1895 all over again! — he offered a sloppy valentine to the medium he’s shilling for at this awards show, at least. Harris inserted himself into movies, most of them old — say, blocking Sharon Stone’s business from “Basic Instinct” — but also the night’s only feted musical, “Into the Woods.”

Speaking of which, he was soon joined by Anna Kendrick, as well as Jack Black, who channeled his inner Tenacious D to offer the position that maybe movies are crap and this whole thing is a corrupt love-in. The Oscars do this every now and then: addressing that maybe the ceremony — and maybe even movies themselves — are irrelevant. And as usual, it had no real answers — just a flashy song-and-dance number performed by one of entertainment’s brightest lights.

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Harris couldn’t really make the Oscars his own, though his best moment was almost certainly a genuinely improvised bit of silliness when he did a song and dance following J.K. Simmons’ earnest plea for everyone to call their parents — call, not text — while accepting his Best Supporting Actor prize for “Whiplash.” He seemed oddly nervous, fumbling through questionable jokes about Oprah’s weight and Octavia Spencer’s snacking, and brutally butchering the name Chiwetel Ejiofor. But occasionally got his groove back. Later he joked about “Selma” star David Oyelowo’s snubbing to David Oyelowo.

But to the question all of you most wanted to know: Did the Costume Design trophy go to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? (OK, some of us were worried it wouldn’t.) It did, deservedly, as did the make-up and hairstyling award, for a film that successfully turned the ageless Tilda Swinton into a 90-something prune. In fact, it’s pretty odd that such an OCD filmmaker as Wes Anderson has not swept the technical awards before.

Meanwhile, “Ida” won Best Foreign Language Film over titles like “Timbuktu” and “Wild Tales.” Perhaps more importantly, it made an instant star out of director Pawel Pawlikowski, became one of the few winners to ever conquer the nosy, impatient orchestra, who were all set to drown him out far quicker than they would, say, a J.K. Simmons. He persisted and they actually shut up, only coming back when he would let them. Good on ya.

Some major categories don’t have clear winners, but the two Supporting awards played out as expected. While Supporting Actor went to shoe-in Simmons, the Supporting Actress trophy went to Patricia Arquette, who spent 12 years making “Boyhood.” Arquette got mocked by some for not sculpting her hair, but that seemed like a political statement, as though demanding vapid journos pay attention not to her looks but to her work. She spent her speech preaching for equal rights for women, in a year when it was revealed certain actresses are paid less than their male counterparts.

The winners so far:

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Best Supporting Actor:J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Costume Design:"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Make-up and Hair Styling:"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Foreign-Language Film:"Ida"
Best Live Action Short:"The Phone Call"
Best Documentary Short:"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"
Visual Effects:"Interstellar"
Sound Mixing:"Whiplash"
Sound Editing:"American Sniper"

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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