The Oscars at Almost 4 Hours: Even So, Neil Patrick Harris Did the Trick

The Academy Awards for me was a surprise, notably in that I mostly enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris' performance. In the past, when he's hosted the Tonys and Emmys I've not always been impressed, perhaps because he tried too hard to show off skills that were adequate but not thrilling.

At the outset, I thought here we go again, bland, so-so singing with not so catchy lyrics, though against a clever background of cinematic screen moments into which Harris injected himself. And when Anna Kendrick joined him in song, the disparity in vocal ability was apparent, not to mention the charisma factor, which was eclipsed when Jack Black bounded onto the stage in a funny moment.

As the opening wound down, Harris was in much finer voice and his patter was often clever, in particular his bit about predictions in a locked box to be overseen by Octavia Spencer. His later spoof on Birdman, when he appeared in his undies, supposedly locked out of his dressing room, forcing him to appear onstage for his next introduction was very funny, not to mention daring. Fortunately, his workouts have put him in good stead.

So, for me the show worked and moved along at a steady page, albeit with a running time of 3 hours and 40 minutes, beginning with J. K. Simmons expected win as supporting actor in Whiplash after which he urged everyone to call their parents!

The look of the show was great, including the clever bellboy escorts, reflecting The Grand Budapest Hotel, though the choice to seat some nominees in box seats slowed down the proceedings, as Costume Design winner Milena Canonero for The Grand Budapest Hotel took forever to get to the stage, whereas Make-Up/Hair Stylist winners Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier for the same film were in regular theatre seats and had much easier access.

Another annoyance was why the orchestra was cued to play some people off too soon, as in the case of Foreign Language winner Pawel Pawlikowski, director of the Polish film Ida, though in other instances the folks were allowed to stay on for quite a bit longer.

And please do away with the Honorary Awards dinner and get the esteemed winners back onto the Oscar stage where they belong. The Academy's excuse is the show runs too long, but some of the highlights of the past have been when cherished stars, often overlooked by Oscar, have been honored, like Deborah Kerr, Kirk Douglas and Peter O'Toole. The standing ovations have been thunderous, but not so here. Viola Davis simply introduced a short video clip of Jean Hersholt winner Harry Belafonte, filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and screen legend Maureen O'Hara. Even with such slights, other Oscar shows have brought the winners onstage, but there was no such moment here.

The supporting Actress winner was Patricia Arquette for her stunning performance in my favorite film Boyhood, the earlier Oscar front runner, whose hopes sagged in the last couple of months and won no other award, not even for editing, which the Film Editors Guild had granted it a few weeks ago. Arquette's initial acceptance was a bit slow, reading names off a sheet of paper, but she closed with a rousing shout-out for women to have equal opportunity and brought the house down.

One of the highlights of the evening was John Legend and Common's performance of the soon-to-be anointed Best Song winner Glory from Selma. Their rendition afforded them a standing ovation, which the audience repeated when they accepted their awards with an eloquent speech in support of the struggles that continue worldwide.

Almost three hours in, the standout of the show was a magnificent performance by Lady Gaga doing a medley of songs from The Sound of Music. Which is why I feel a bit guilty, on the one hand marveling at her voice and the emotional entrance of the amazingly sprightly Julie Andrew in her 80th year, when I wonder what the purpose was in honoring one very successful movie when there were so many others? Even that year there were classics such as Ship of Fools and Doctor Zhivago.

Clearly this is the prejudice of producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who have come a long way since their disastrous hiring of Seth MacFarlane two years ago, but it was arbitrary and if it took away from the world paying tribute to the honorary winners it was wrong, though it was very entertaining.

Typically, in extending the writing awards, Graham Moore of The Imitation Game (adapted) and the scribes of Birdman (original) weren't shown awaiting judgment, but for some reason the directors were, as if the television audience could really recognize any of them as opposed to the writers. This is a slight repeated every year and should be rectified.

And while Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood didn't win, I admit Alejandro G. Inarritu's speeches on receipt of that award, for Original Screenplay and Best Picture were terrific, in particular his support of immigration rights. Likewise, Graham Moore's tale of youthful gay terror was spellbinding.

Also, well received was Documentary Feature winner Citizenfour's producer Laura Poitras regarding whistle blowers and her admonition for greater access to what's going on in our government, which was about as political as the show got.

Because Birdman got some of the important awards, such as writing, directing and cinematography it wasn't so clear Michael Keaton wouldn't win in the Best Actor category, but, as earlier expected, Eddie Redmayne got the nod for his incredible portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He dedicated his award to all those battling ALS.

And the least surprising winner was Julianne Moore for her deserved depiction of an early Alzheimer's Disease victim in Still Alice.

So, the show was long, the better part of four hours, but it didn't seem such and for that I give kudos to the production staff, and to Neil Patrick Harris I tip my hat.

Michael Russnow's website is