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 for best picture, 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,” said Innaritu, 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. Innaritu 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 and Albuquerque native 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.
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 that winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer,” said Moore. “If that’s true, I’d really like to thank the academy because my husband is young than me.”
Harris gave the Academy Awards a cheery tone that sought to celebrate Hollywood, while also slyly parodying it. “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — I mean brightest,” he began the night, alluding to this year’s all-white acting nominees.
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 Arquette.
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation,” said Arquette. “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 the Rev. 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 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,” said Legend of the period film. “We know that the voting rights act that 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 in his acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay for his “The Imitation Game” script. Moore said when he was 16 years old he tried to kill himself. “Stay weird, stay different,” he implored.
Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a European caper released in March when many awards contenders were still shooting, tied for the most Oscars with “Birdman.” The academy awarded Anderson’s latest confection with awards for production design, score, costume design and makeup and styling.
The best supporting Oscar went to 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 Sunday’s early awards went as expected, though Disney’s “Big Hero 6” pulled off something of 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 nominee — 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,” said Poitras, 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.”
At Hollywood’s studios has 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 cheery 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.
Beth Harris, Sandy Cohen, Lindsey Bahr and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.
List of 87th Academy Award winners
Winners at Sunday’s 87th annual Academy Awards presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Best picture: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Actor: Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything.”
Actress: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice.”
Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash.”
Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood.”
Directing: Alejandro G. Inarritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Foreign language film: “Ida.”
Adapted screenplay: Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game.”
Original screenplay: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Animated feature film: “Big Hero 6.”
Production design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Cinematography: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Sound mixing: “Whiplash.”
Sound editing: “American Sniper.”
Original score: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Original song: “Glory” from “Selma.”
Costume design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Documentary feature: “CitizenFour.”
Documentary (short subject): “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.”
Film editing: “Whiplash.”
Makeup and hairstyling: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Animated short film: “Feast.”
Live action short film: “The Phone Call.”
Visual effects: “Interstellar.”
— The Associated Press