5 Things to Watch at The Oscars

neil-patrick-harris-oscars-02092015-600x450It’s about time the awards season wrapped up. Since the arrival of the new year, it feels like every Sunday has been dominated by a three-hour plus ceremony, from the good (Golden Globes) to the tedious (Grammys). Even this past weekend’s SNL40 celebration had the feel of an award show, stretching out over three and a half hours and with more celebrity appearances than most red carpet blowouts.

Fortunately or not, the season culminates at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night with the 87th Academy Awards, usually the best and always the most significant awards ceremony.

This year’s event could have a number of intriguing elements so here are five things to look out for on Sunday night.

1.NPH Takes Over Hosting Duties

Based simply on past precedent alone, Neil Patrick Haris should absolutely kill as this year’s Academy Awards host. Though it is his first time helming the Oscars, he’s an award show veteran. He’s hosted the Tony Awards four times and has two stints hosting the Primetime Emmy Awards under his belt. He seems to work well as a master of ceremonies because he’s the rare combination of someone who is funny (for evidence, watch nearly any episode of “How I Met Your Mother”) and a gifted stage performer, having won a Tony Award winner for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” this past June. Whether that can translate into success on the Oscar stage will be interesting to see. There is less pressure at the Tony Awards because its lower profile and lends itself to lots of self-deprecating humor because of the perception (unfortunately probably fairly accurate) that most of America doesn’t know much or care about Broadway. As host of the Oscars, Harris is taking over the most high profile award show gig in the world. If the writing is sharp and his musical performances are entertaining (he’s got to be doing at least one), he could go down as one of the show’s best emcees.

  1. Acceptance Speeches

For every one of the winners, this is pretty much the most important moment of their professional lives, so it’s always cool to see how they react once they hear their name called. It’s hard to forget Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s shock at winning Best Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting,” Cuba Gooding Jr. having a manic episode after winning Best Supporting Actor for “Jerry Maguire,” or Adrian Brody making out with Halle Berry upon his Best Actor win for “The Pianist.” You also sometimes get situations where winners seize upon the spotlight to make a political statement, like Michael Moore calling out George W. Bush after winning Best Documentary for “Bowling for Columbine.” I wasn’t alive for this one, but personally, I’m hoping someone pulls a Brando and does something crazy like this:

  1. Keaton or Redmayne?

With so much lead up to the Oscars, most of the major awards are going to be all-but predetermined cakewalks for the winners. Julianne Moore (Best Actress for “Still Alice”), J.K. Simmons (Best Supporting Actor for “Whiplash”) and Patricia Arquette (Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood”) might as well just fine tune their acceptance speeches. Only two of the major categories seem to still be hotly contested and the first is the race for Best Actor, which appears to have come down to Michael Keaton for “Birdman” and Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything.” For much of the lead up, Keaton appeared to be the slam-dunk pick – an outstanding comeback performance by an actor who hadn’t appeared in a high-profile role in nearly 20 years but is widely respected within the industry. Keaton grabbed the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but Redmayne won the award for Actor in a Drama. The young Brit then went on to surprisingly grab the Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking, a significant foothold and generally a strong prognosticator of Oscar success. As good as both actors are, Redmayne’s role is the kind of performance that more traditionally wins Oscars. The Academy loves to give awards to actors who transform themselves for a role or portray a character suffering from a disability. Redmayne is doing both in “The Theory of Everything.”

  1. Birdman or Boyhood?

The other major category that has come down to the wire for the second year in a row is the one for Best Picture, this time between “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” Since its release this past summer, “Boyhood” has gone from the small indie film that might sneak into the Oscar conversation, to the odds-on favorite, to likely runner-up, to its current position as a neck-in-neck contender with “Birdman.” After “Boyhood” won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and “Birdman” was upset by “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for Best Musical or Comedy, it appeared “Boyhood” was going to run away with the Oscar. Then “Birdman” captured best ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won top honors from the Directors Guild and, most significantly, the film took the Producers Guild Award for Best Film. The only film to win all three of the top Guild honors but not the Oscar was “Apollo 13”, which ended up losing to “Braveheart” in 1995. Even with that much standing against it, “Boyhood” still somehow managed to stay in the conversation by winning the top prize at the BAFTA Awards in London earlier this month. With its surprising Guild success, the smart money is on “Birdman” to come away as the big winner. That said, it seems unfathomable that “Birdman” could win Best Picture while Keaton, the primary reason the film works so well, falls short. I’d say if Keaton ends up winning Best Actor, expect “Birdman” to roll to victory, but if he loses out, I’d say the signs point to a “Boyhood” victory.

  1. Social Media Moments

The Academy Awards has always been a heavily talked-about event, but in recent years, it’s evolved into a hugely popular social media event. Last year, two of arguably the most memorable moments from the ceremony had nothing to do with awards. Most people thinking of last year’s ceremony will first recall either host Ellen DeGeneres taking the “world’s most famous selfie” with stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto and Bradley Cooper or John Travolta inexplicably introducing musical performer Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem.” Now that we’ve been “blessed” with Twitter, these moments will explode all over the Internet nearly as soon as they occur. It’s not a question of if they will occur during the 2015 ceremony, but simply when.

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