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Oscars 2015’s 20 Best, Worst and WTF Moments

From stirring speeches to truly ‘Awesome’ musical performances.

The names have been announced, the corks on the champagne bottles have been popped, and we can finally put a pin in the 2015 Oscars. Some of the statuettes went to the expected favorites (we’ve been keeping your Oscar-winner seats warm for months, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette). There were a few upsets in store (RIP, Boyhood as a sure thing for Best Picture). And a handful of nice surprises — people really love The Grand Budapest Hotel! Lady Gaga can sing the hell out of old showtunes! — kept things lively during the nearly four-hour long ceremony.

Related: Oscars 2015: The Complete Winners List

And as always, along with the stirring speeches and the musical extravaganzas, there were a smattering of dud jokes, D.O.A. gags and plain old weirdness that happened during the broadcast of the 87th Annual Academy Awards. Here were 20 things that had us cheering in our living room, booing at our TV and straight-up scratching our heads in bewilderment.

Best: Neil Patrick Harris’ Musical Monologue

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Kevin Winter/Getty

You hire Neil Patrick Harris to host your awards show for two reasons: He’s very good at the job; and the man knows how to turn an opening monologue into a full-blown, Broadway-style spectacle. Which is exactly what he did at the start of his first time MC-ing the Oscars, breaking into an ode to the movies being like “a magic trick, done in plain sight.” He namechecked Chaplin, Brando and Marty McFly from Back to the Future; he inserted himself into scenes from The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Into the Woods. When that musical’s star Anna Kendrick came onstage, the two started to sing a duet — only to be interrupted by Jack Black, who starting bemoaning an industry devoted to superhero movies and cinema on your iPhone screens. It was a classy throwback and totally tongue-in-cheek, somehow both irreverent  to the notion of Hollywood narcissism and reverent to the medium’s history. It was, in essence, the complete Neil Patrick Harris package in a little under seven minutes.

Worst: The Prediction Box Gag

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It was an attempt at a playing-the-long-game joke: Harris told the audience that he’d gone to PricewaterhouseCoopers — the firm that tabulates Oscars votes — last week and gave them his “Oscar predictions.” A briefcase that held these speculations were then locked in a clear box, to be opened at the end of the night; the host even enlisted Octavia Spencer to keep an eye on it. But what started as a thin joke got even more threadbare as the evening wore on, with the callbacks to it feeling more than a little forced. By the time Harris finally opened the bag, the show was nearing the three-and-a-half hour mark — and the payoff was a weak series of jokes that would have been groan-worthy even if they weren’t holding up the Best Picture announcement.

Best: Common and John Legend’s Moving Performance of ‘Glory’

In a night full of stirring musical performances, Common and John Legend’s powerful rendition of “Glory” from the movie Selma proved to be a highlight. Standing in front of a set of the Edmund Pettus Bridge among a chorus of people dressed like marchers, the performance recognized not only the biggest hit among the Best Song nominees, but also the most poignant. Legend’s a cappella crooning at the close was especially wrenching for its minimal, emotional rawness, triggering the biggest standing ovation of the night – plus plenty of tears, as the camera panned over actors David Oyelowo and Chris Pine in the audience. “Selma is now,” said Legend as he and his musical partner accepted the award for Best Song. “Because the struggle for justice is now.”

Worst: Harris Undermining His ‘Best and Whitest’ Joke

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Kevin Winter/Getty

Harris cut right to the controversy that has consumed this awards season by opening with, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry — I mean brightest.” It was a safe but still pointed jab at the uniformity of last night’s nominees: All but one of the eight films up for Best Picture concerned a white man, and the exception (Selma, obviously) was denied nods for both star David Oyelowo and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who would have been the first African American female to be nominated for the Best Director award. But then, The Help‘s Octavia Spencer was practically treated like help when she was ordered not to snack (?!?) so she could partake in a prolonged and not entirely satisfying magic trick, and Oyelowo was drafted into a joke that insulted the Annie reboot starring Quvenzhané Wallis. If it was an attempt to make the proceedings more inclusive, it was at best tone-deaf. This is just yet another reason why the Academy needs to do a better job of acknowledging and honoring diversity — so its hosts don’t overcommit to awkward, self-conscious stunts.

Best: ‘Everything Is Awesome’

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This had to be the least-ironic interpretation of The Lego Movie‘s theme song to date, because for these few minutes, everything truly was awesome. First of all, Tegan and Sara were onstage at the Oscars, looking fantastically badass in matching leather moto jackets, and then came an assist by those plucky Lonely Island dudes. And then the film’s composer, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, reminded everyone who is old enough to remember of the video for “Whip It,” and then Oprah and Emma Stone were awarded Lego Oscars and seemed genuinely delighted about it, and Questlove jammed alongside Will Arnett’s Batman and then. . .It was the most action-packed, exhilarating, breathless, carefree moment of the whole night.

Worst: Eddie Redmayne Losing It

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There were those who thought that Redmayne’s overenthusiastic, overwhelmed reaction to winning Best Actor for The Theory of Everything was cute; it was undeniably genuine. And we aren’t saying that we wouldn’t feel a little beside ourselves if we found ourselves onstage collecting an honest-to-goodness Academy Award. But when the British actor lost it a little ways into his speech, exclaiming “Wow” at the statuette, doing an odd little jig, contorting his face and fiddling with his collar — it was awkward, to say the least. Following it up by mentioning the Hawking family and then saying he’d be the award’s custodian didn’t help any. Where is Kanye when you need him?

Best: Patricia Arquette’s Fired-Up Feminist Acceptance Speech

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Though Arquette’s much-deserved Best Supporting Actress win for Boyhood came at the expense of the great Meryl Streep, even the actresses she beat couldn’t help but get on their feet after hearing her message. After thanking the film’s team, Arquette used her platform to talk gender politics: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” she said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Cue an excited Meryl Streep standing up and pointing, followed by a standing ovation from many actresses in the audience. It was a badass political statement to make, and Arquette – who played a working single mother of two in the movie – was the perfect person to make it.

Worst: ‘Boyhood’ Almost Getting Totally Shut Out

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As if to highlight the futile gambit of Oscar predictions: For months, the Best Picture was Boyhood’s to lose — and Birdman started to pick up steam in the final stretch. Going into the night, most critics assumed the vote would split, with wins in the big categories divided among both. But other than Patricia Arquete’s glorious victory, director Richard Linklater’s 12-year odyssey ended up with nothing. Maybe this wasn’t officially an upset, because everybody knows the Academy loves to lavish movies about the entertainment business with awards (see: ArgoThe Artist), but it was certainly a disappointment. Both movies were remarkable achievements of a totally different kind:Birdman was a smart, challenging, technical masterpiece, and Boyhood was a smart, deeply felt and wholly original experiment. Neither deserved to be overlooked.

Best: ‘Citizenfour’ Winning Best Doc

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Kevin Winter/Getty

Documentarian Laura Poitras became best-known during the Edward Snowden leak when she was one of the journalists at the forefront of disseminating the whistleblower’s explosive hack to the public. When she went up to accept the Best Documentary award for Citizenfour, Poitras spoke of the sacrifices Snowden made as a result of leaking his cache of documents and explained that she “share[s] this award with Glenn Greenwald and the many other journalists who are taking risks to expose the truth.” Following the win, Edward Snowden released a statement from Russia through the ACLU that says, “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.”

Best: Tim McGraw’s Tribute to Glen Campbell

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In the most touching tribute of the night, country superstar Tim McGraw, dressed in a tuxedo and his signature black cowboy hat, performed a sparse rendition of Glen Campbell’s Oscar-nominated song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” from the film Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me. The song is the last ever written by the 60-year veteran of country music, who penned it as a love letter to his wife, Kim Campbell, and daughter when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. Campbell, 76, was too ill to attend the ceremony, but his wife and daughter were in the audience, having hand-picked McGraw to cover the song. “Music utilizes all of the brain, not just one little section of it,” Kim Campbell told Rolling Stone Country. “Everything’s firing all at once. It’s really stimulating and probably helped him plateau and not progress as quickly as he might have.” It was a beautiful tip of the Stetson to a man who has given so much of himself to music, and whose legacy endures.

Worst: Joan Rivers and Elaine Stritch Left Out of ‘In Memoriam’

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Though it seems every ‘In Memoriam’ tribute is bound to leave out at least one big name, the omission of Joan Rivers at the Oscar broadcast seemed like a major oversight. Rivers had more than earned her place at the table: as an actress, a director and a general personality, it was shocking that she wasn’t among the austere portraits onscreen in the otherwise moving tribute. Meryl Streep’s heartfelt introduction, in which she quoted Joan Didion — “A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty” — was pitch-perfect, as was Jennifer Hudson’s gorgeous performance of “I Can’t Let Go.” But the lack of Joan was jarring, as was the absence of Elaine Stritch, the legendary actress and singer who was the subject of 2013’s documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. Twitter was outraged; no word yet on what was behind the decision to leave the two women out.

Best: ‘Ida’ Director Keeps Going and Going…

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There are acceptance speeches that start getting the play-them-offstage music way too soon; there are some podium rants that, frankly, you wish would get the symphony treatment five seconds in. And then there was Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s speech, which simply ignored concepts like time limits or embarrassment over those cued-up strings that tell you to wrap things up. Upon winning the Best Foreign-Language Film for Ida — a movie that, as he noted early on, was praised for its silences — Pawlikowski began to talk. But when he began to hear the telltale fanfare, the man began to speak a little quicker. . .and then kept going and going, to the point where the orchestra eventually gave up (posing a new challenge for our live-updating infographic tracking the length of the night’s speeches). As he rhapsodized about his parents, his late spouse, his kids and his native country, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Then the music came up for a second time, and the filmmaker still kept on for another 10 seconds. Take that, Academy!

Worst: Terrence Howard’s Weirdness

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As is the tradition with Oscars broadcasts, we got several great actors getting up to run down the Best Picture nominees. Terrence Howard had the incredible honour – he certainly thought so – of introducing WhiplashThe Imitation Game and Selma. Great movies one and all, but the actor introduced them with the kind of emotional, deeply impressed rambling that could only result from someone partially reading off the teleprompter, partially ad-libbing and thoroughly unable to catch his breath. Though his enthusiasm for each film was moving, the sheer level of it was just confusing. Does he think there’s an Oscar for best introduction of an Oscar category?

Best: Lady Gaga, Alive With the ‘Sound of Music’

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Other than a clumsy intro by Scarlett Johansson that transitioned entirely too quickly from the historical impact of civil rights marches to the release of The Sound of Music, Lady Gaga’s homage to the Academy Award-winning Julie Andrews musical was pitch perfect. Yes, Twitter, Jennifer Hudson and Idina Menzel were also on hand, but that would only be relevant if the “Born This Way” singer bombed. Instead, she gave absolutely everything to the performance of four songs, including “Edelweiss” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” her chilling renditions of which made the NBC Live! version of the movie starring Carrie Underwood seem only competent by comparison.

Worst: John Travolta Overcompensating for ‘Adele Dazeem’

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Harris scored with a crack about Benedict Cumberbatch “being the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to say ‘Ben Affleck,'” and it seemed that Travolta was in on the joke. He appeared onstage to present with “Let It Go” singer Idina Menzel, whose name he so famously butchered last year (#AdeleDazeem), and it was funny for a moment. But Travolta was unable to avoid making things weird again by inexplicably caressing Menzel’s face as he owned up to the gaffe — and this after having hours earlier surprised Scarlett Johansson with an overly intimate kiss on the red carpet. No one’s laughing this time.

Best: ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Getting a Lot of Love

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With such stiff competition – and no shortage of snubs and near shut-outs – it was refreshing that Wes Anderson’s ornamental period piece The Grand Budapest Hotel got the acknowledgement it deserved for the rich details that fill every shot. The movie took home Best Costuming, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling — the latter in no small part thanks to the crazy prosthetics used to turn the beautiful Tilda Swinton into posh elderly hotel patron, Madame D. Mark Coulier, who previously won for turning Meryl Streep into a later-in-life Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, helped Swinton age 40 years for the role. Though the movie didn’t take home any top honors, it more than earned the awards for the aspects that made it one of the most delicious looking movies of the year.

Best: ‘Imitation Game’ Screenwriter Graham Moore’s Speech

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When Moore won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, he was quick to point out how unfair it was that he got to stand up and receive an award for this movie when its subject, the British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, was never fortunate enough to enjoy anything approaching acceptance. (Turing helped win World War II by cracking the Nazis’ Enigma code, but was eventually prosecuted for his homosexuality.) This was not just Moore’s humility talking: He went on to confess that he tried to kill himself when he was 16 because he, too, thought that he didn’t belong, and he encouraged anyone who felt similarly to “stay weird, stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along.” His words were heartbreaking — and yes, long may they resonate.

Best: Julianne Moore’s ‘Five Years Younger’ Joke

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Moore, like Meryl Streep, is one of those formidable talents whom you just assume has a closet full of trophies. In fact, this Best Actress statue for Still Alice was her very first Academy win, and like a true pro, she refrained from the hysterics of less-seasoned peers. Instead, Moore mentioned an article she read that claimed Oscar wins add five years to one’s life. This is where she could have dovetailed into the heartfelt discussion of Alzheimer’s, but first, she opted for a clever little joke: “If that’s true, then I’d really like to thank the Academy, because my husband is younger than me.” Her spouse Bart Freundlich might be a decade behind her, but Moore is truly ageless — and she needs to be with us for as long as possible so that she can bring home more of these things.

Worst: Sean Penn’s ‘Green Card’ Joke

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Finally, it was time for the Best Picture award to be announced, and out strode Sean Penn, sporting a dashing silver-fox ‘do. (We can only assume he’s been cast to play the lead role in The John Slattery Story.) Once he opened the envelope, he named the winner, Birdman — but not before rhetorically asking, in reference to the film’s director Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Who gave this son of a bitch a green card?” People might have forgotten that the two worked together before, way back in 2003 on 21 Grams, and the director later said backstage that he thought Penn’s joke was “hilarious.” But it undoubtedly left a sour taste in one’s mouth, and you didn’t need to take your outrage out on Twitter to have found the crack just south of good taste.

Best: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Speeches

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The Mexican filmmaker had not one, not two but three chances to give speeches — for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. Each one of them had grace notes, starting with Iñárritu thanking his cast and making sure his co-writers got their moment. During speech Number Two, he joked that he was wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty-whiteys from the film, as part of his “good-luck charm” outfit. And then, upon taking the stage with Birdman‘s producers and actors, he used his time to stump for immigration reform. (Coming after Penn’s remark, it helped make the actor’s introduction somehow seem less toxic.) Funny, heartfelt, grateful, socially conscious — these thank-yous reminded you that Iñárritu is not just an extremely talented moviemaker but also a class act.

In This Article: Oscars