LOS ANGELES — The long take of “Birdman” has stretched all the way to the Academy Awards, where the jazzy, surreal comedy about an actor fleeing his superhero past took Hollywood’s top honor in a ceremony punctuated by passionate pleas for equality.
On a stormy night in Hollywood, the 87th annual Academy Awards — which came in humbled by backlash to its all-white acting nominees — bristled with politics and heartfelt speeches about women’s rights, immigration, suicide prevention, governmental surveillance and race.
In a battle of B-movies, the Oscars awarded “Birdman” best picture, opting for a movie that epitomizes Hollywood — showy, ego-mad, desperate for artistic credibility — over one (“Boyhood”) that prized naturalism and patience. “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” also won best director for Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, best original screenplay and best cinematography.
“Maybe next year the government will inflict immigration restrictions,” Innaritu said, recalling last year’s best director winner, Alfonso Cuaron. “Two Mexicans in a row. That’s suspicious, I guess.”
Inarritu, a larger-than-life figure of frizzy hair regularly wrapped in a scarf, concluded the night’s many moving speeches that called for societal progress. Inarritu said he prays his native country finds “a government we deserve” and that immigrants to the U.S. “can be treated with the same dignity and the respect of the ones who came before and [built] this incredible immigrant nation.”
The ceremony at the Dolby Theatre, hosted by Tony Award veteran Neil Patrick Harris, was heavy on song-and-dance to near-Grammy levels. Lady Gaga lavishly performed “The Hills Are Alive” from “The Sound of Music” with a rapt Julie Andrews looking on.
“I’m going to go have a drink,” Lady Gaga said, in tears backstage after performing a song medley from “The Sound of Music.”
The awards overwhelmingly went to less-seen independent films and were widely spread around. All eight of the best-picture nominees won awards, including Eddie Redmayne for best actor for his technically nuanced performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”
“Please know this: that I am fully aware that I am a lucky, lucky man,” said the young British actor. “This belongs to all of the people around the world battling ALS.”
All of Sunday’s big winners were first-timers, including best actress winner Julianne Moore, who won for her performance as an academic with early onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”
“I read an article that said winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer,” Moore said. “If that’s true, I’d really like to thank the academy because my husband is younger than me.”
Harris gave the Academy Awards a cheery tone that sought to celebrate Hollywood, while also slyly parodying it. He began the night: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — I mean brightest.”
Though Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-making “Boyhood” was the critical favorite for much of awards season, it won only best supporting actress for Patricia Arquette.
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation,” Arquette said. “We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Cheers erupted throughout the Dolby, perhaps the loudest coming from a fellow supporting-actress nominee Arquette bested: Meryl Streep. “Made my night,” Streep told Arquette backstage.
Tears streamed down the face of David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma” and was infamously left out of the best actor nominees, during the rousing performance of the song “Glory” from the film. Immediately afterward, Common and John Legend accepted the best song Oscar with a speech that drew a standing ovation.
“We say that ‘Selma’ is now, because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend said. “We know the voting rights act they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justices where we live in the most incarcerated country in the world.”
Graham Moore also moved the star-studded audience, accepting best adapted screenplay for his “The Imitation Game” script about Alan Turing, who was chemically castrated for being homosexual. Moore said when he was 16 years old, he tried to kill himself, and urged others to never lose faith: “Stay weird. Stay different.”
Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a European caper released back in March, tied for the most Oscars with “Birdman.” The academy awarded Anderson’s latest confection with more awards (production design, score, costume design and makeup and styling) than any previous film by the director.
Best supporting actor went to J.K. Simmons, a career character actor widely acclaimed for one of his biggest parts: a drill sergeant of a jazz instructor in the indie “Whiplash.” Simmons fittingly accepted his supporting acting Oscar with some straightforward advice, urging: “Call your mom. Call your dad.”
Most of the awards went as expected, though Disney’s “Big Hero 6” pulled off an upset in the best animated feature category, besting DreamWorks’ favored “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
The Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki became the first to win best cinematography twice in a row. After last year winning for the lengthy shots of the space adventure “Gravity,” he won for the stretched out takes of “Birdman.” Recalling Inarritu’s plans to shoot it as if in one shot, Lubezki said he responded: “It sounds like a nightmare.”
The black-and-white Polish film “Ida” took best foreign language film, marking the first such win for Poland despite a rich cinema history. Director Pawel Pawlikowski charmed the audience with a bemused acceptance speech that ran drastically over his allotted time.
Pawlikowski remarked at the irony of having made a quiet, ruminative film, “and here we are at the epicenter of noise and attention. It’s fantastic. Life is full of surprises.”
Several of this year’s biggest box-office hit nominees — Clint Eastwood’s Iraq war drama “American Sniper” and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Interstellar” — had to settle for single wins in technical categories. “Interstellar” won for visual effects, while “American Sniper” — far and away the most widely seen of the best-picture nominees — took the best sound editing award.
The Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour,” in which Laura Poitras captured Snowden in the midst of leaking National Security Agency documents, won best documentary.
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself,” Poitras said, accepting the Oscar. “When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.”
Hollywood’s studios have increasingly focused on mounting global blockbusters, the Oscars have become largely the providence of smaller indies. In the night’s opening routine, Jack Black, playing villain to the chipper Harris, lamented Hollywood releases “opening with lots of zeroes, all we get is superheroes.”
“Birdman” was thus a fitting winner: a meta-movie about an actor (Michael Keaton) reconciling himself to his superhero fame. Backstage, co-writer Nicholas Giacobone warned: “Birdman 4” will open next summer.