Birdman's triumph continues Hollywood's love affair with foreign directors

Flashy ensemble movie Birdman won the major prizes at the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday (Monday morning Singapore time). The sprawling film beat the more intimate Boyhood, a portrait of a boy's coming of age. Until just a few weeks ago, Boyhood was tipped as the front runner.

Fittingly, Birdman examines egos in the performing arts. And the Academy's 6,000 voters liked the theme enough to give it the Best Picture prize, as well as those for Directing, Original Screenplay and Cinematography.

Its four wins ties the film, directed by Mexican Alejandro Inarritu, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, helmed by Wes Anderson. But Hotel's wins are mainly in the technical areas - Costume Design, Make-up and Hairstyling, Production Design and Original Score.

Birdman's victories recall the reception that greeted The Artist three years ago, when it grabbed the Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor and Original Score statuettes.

Like Birdman, The Artist celebrates the heartbreak and joy experienced by entertainers trying to make a name in show business. Clearly, Hollywood loves movies about itself.

Boyhood, directed by indie kingpin Richard Linklater, was shot over 12 years.

Part conceptual movie, part drama, it shows how time changes its actors. The movie about a Texan family anchored by a single mother (played by Patricia Arquette) gained Oscar heat for the audacity of its years-long filming time and its touching story.

But the small-budget movie fell in the rankings quickly in the face of the traction gained by the better-financed Birdman. Oscar-bait prestige biopics such as The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything also came on strong, aided by intense marketing campaigns.

Of Boyhood's six nominations, only actress Patricia Arquette managed a win, in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Birdman's triumph continues Hollywood's love affair with foreign directors.

Last year, Inarritu's compatriot Alfonso Cuaron won for Gravity (2013). Taiwanese-American Lee Ang won the year before that (Life Of Pi, 2012). Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist, 2011) and Briton Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, 2010) preceded him.

Inarritu noted this trend in his acceptance speech for Best Picture. "Maybe next year, there'll be some immigration rules to the Academy - two Mexicans in a row is suspicious," he quipped.

He was following up on presenter Sean Penn's off-the-cuff joke about green cards for Mexican immigrants, a remark which generated a Twitter backlash for its racial offensiveness.

The other close race of the night was in the Best Actor category.

Briton Eddie Redmayne won, but trailing not far behind him was Birdman's Michael Keaton, who looked like he would pull off a "McConnaissance" of his own. Like Matthew McConaughey, who won last year for Dallas Buyers Club, Keaton has transformed himself from light comic actor to serious drama artist.

The three-hour ceremony at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre was marked by first-time host Neil Patrick Harris' anaemic jokes and a pandering opening musical salute to the movie business.

It seemed as if the writers for the show were taking great pains to play it safe, following last year's attempts by Ellen DeGeneres to create excitement with staged selfie shots.

The year before that, in 2013, Seth MacFarlane caused groans all around with his gags about breasts.

One highlight this year was a bit that referred to the "Adele Dazeem" incident last year, when presenter John Travolta mispronounced Frozen singer Idina Menzel's name and kickstarted an Internet meme.

Yesterday, Menzel and Travolta took the stage as co-presenters, and Menzel gently mocked Travolta's inability to speak by calling him "Glom Gazingo". Their banter was funny and self-aware and it looked as if Travolta would redeem himself.

But he got uncomfortably close to Menzel at the podium, causing Harris to quip that he would be back next year " to apologise to her for all the "face touching".

The 87th Annual Academy Awards will air again on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Friday (Feb 27), 11.10pm, and on Sunday (March 1), 4.30pm.

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