Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s satire about an ageing movie star trying to reinvent himself as a credible Broadway actor, took best picture and three other top awards at the 2015 Oscars, upending an awards season that had largely been playing out according to expectations.
Longterm favourite Boyhood – which took best drama and best director at the Golden Globes last month – lost out in both categories to Birdman at the final hurdle, although Patricia Arquette secured best supporting actress.
Iñárritu dedicated his award to his fellow Mexicans in Mexico and those in the United States who deserved “dignity and respect”, a reference to stalled immigration reform in Washington.
It was one of a number of politically tinged speeches at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, with others using the platform to highlight the battles for women’s equality, rights for African-Americans and and the problems faced by young people struggling with their sexual identity.
Emmanuel Lubezki’s prize for cinematography with Birdman, following his win last year for Gravity, marked fresh disappointment for Roger Deakins, nominated 12 times in the same category – last night for Unbroken – and never a winner.
The Imitation Game also had a relatively meagre night, though consolation came with Graham Moore winning for best adapted screenplay.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s ruritanian fable, swept best costume design, makeup, production design and score.
American Sniper, which many fancied as the dark horse of this year’s race, and which had ignited a row over its depiction of US troops in Iraq, wound up with just one award, for sound editing.
Birdman did fail to score a best actor award for Michael Keaton. In a very tight race, it was Eddie Redmayne who proved victorious for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He dedicated the award to the film crew and his wife, the Hawking family and to “everyone around the world suffering from ALS”. Such sentiments were echoed by best actress winner Julianne Moore, who took the award for her portrayal of a woman diagnosed with early onset dementia in Still Alice, one of whose directors is an ALS sufferer.
JK Simmons, as expected, won best supporting actor for his role as a tyrannical music teacher in Whiplash, which also won for editing and sound mixing, bringing its haul to three.
Arquette used her best supporting actress acceptance speech stage to demand equal pay for women – a sore point in Hollywood since hacked Sony emails confirmed that even A-list stars such as Jennifer Lawrence suffered discrimination. Meryl Streep stood and cheered the call.
Selma, which depicts the US civil rights struggle, won best original song for Glory, which John Legend and Common performed during the ceremony, reducing many in the audience to tears.
Accepting the award, Legend said voting-right restrictions and incarceration rates for black men showed that there was continuing need for action. “The struggle for justice is right now.”
The award did little to dampen criticism over the lack of nominations for Selma’s David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, and Ava DuVernay, the director. A diversity protest outside the event was cancelled at her request.
Laura Poitras won best documentary feature for Citizenfour, her intimate portrayal of Edward Snowden and the aftermath of his whistleblowing about government surveillance. Snowden, who has found sanctuary in Russia, did not attend, but issued a statement expressing gratitude that the film-maker had overcome his initial reluctance to participate. “My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”
The ceremony was free of any major blunders, but some critics complained that it fell flat. John Travolta, whose mangling of the name of the singer Idina Menzel ignited a wave of social media mockery last year, joined her on stage to co-present an award and seek redemption.
There was minor upset in the foreign language film category, with Poland’s Ida trumping Russia’s Leviathan – both films which have stirred up some controversy in their homelands.
Director Paweł Pawlikowski pushed the 45-second acceptance speech limit to thank “my Polish friends who are in front of the TV, the crew who were in the trenches with us and who are totally drunk now – and you were fantastic”.