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Host Neil Patrick Harris kicks off ‘whitest’ Oscars

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Host Neil Patrick Harris kicks off ‘whitest’ Oscars

/ 10:13 AM February 23, 2015
Host Neil Patrick Harris speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Host Neil Patrick Harris speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. AP

LOS ANGELES, United States — Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris wasted no time kicking off a stormy 87th Academy Awards and conceding the ceremony’s much-discussed lack of diversity.

“Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — I mean brightest,” said Harris in a Dolby Theatre introduction Sunday. All of this year’s acting nominees are white, a ratio that led some to push for a boycott of the broadcast.

The night’s first Oscar 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.

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“If I may, call your mom,” said Simmons. “Call your dad. And tell them how much you love them. Don’t text or email. Call them.”

Harris’ opening quickly segued into a song-and-dance routine that celebrated a love for movies, complete with a villain to his sunny outlook in Jack Black. The comedian jumped on stage to counter that Hollywood wasn’t so fabulous, making movies “opening with lots of zeroes, all we get is superheroes.”

“After ’50 Shades of Grey,'” Black added, referring to this weekend’s top box office draw, “they’ll all have leather whips.”

Hard showers fell on the red carpet as guests arrived at the ceremony, as workers dispensed pink towels for soggy celebrities. One former Oscar nominee, Viola Davis, said on her way into the ceremony that Hollywood’s diversity problems run deeper than the Oscars.

“You have to greenlight more stories that include people of color,” said Davis, asked about how to improve diversity in Hollywood. “You can’t get nominated for anything you’re not in.”

This year’s Academy Awards are buzzing with something the Oscars haven’t always had in recent years: genuine intrigue at who the night’s biggest winners will be.

With a co-leading nine nominations, Alejandro Inarritu’s backstage comedy “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” flies in with the strongest wind at its back. It topped the acting, directing and producing guild awards, which are often strong predictors of what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will vote for.

“Birdman” also won best feature at Saturday’s Independent Film Spirit Awards, further boosting its momentum. At the pre-Oscars beachside bash, star Michael Keaton, who won best actor, proclaimed the film “bold cinema” and “a game changer,” a judgment shared by many in Hollywood who no doubt recognize something in Keaton’s character’s out-of-control ego.

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But the coronation of “Birdman” is far from assured. Many believe the landmark of Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood” will ultimately prove irresistible to academy members. Best director also appears to be a toss-up between Inarritu and Linklater.

Best actor could also be a nail biter, going to the young British star Eddie Redmayne for his technically nuanced performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” or to Keaton for his career-topper in “Birdman,” as an actor trying to flee his superhero past.

But whether suspense will be enough to pull viewers to the telecast on ABC remains to be seen. Harris will hope to continue the recent ratings upswing for the Oscars, which last year drew 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment telecast in a decade.

This year’s crop of nominees, however, is notably light on box-office smashes. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” (six nominations including best picture) is the only best-picture candidate to gross more than $100 million domestically. (A runaway hit, it recently surpassed $300 million.)

Planned performers include Lady Gaga, Jack Black, Jennifer Hudson and Anna Kendrick, as well as Oscar-nominated original songs: Common and John Legend (“Glory” from “Selma”), Maroon 5 (“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”), Tim McGraw (“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell . I’ll Be Me”), Rita Ora (“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”) and Tegan and Sara with the Lonely Island (“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”).

Oprah Winfrey (a co-star in “Selma”) will be among the presenters, as will Eddie Murphy, Chris Pratt, Kevin Hart, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Cate Blanchett, Channing Tatum and John Travolta.

Increasingly, ratings are driven by moments that spark social media frenzy, like when Travolta famously mispronounced the name of singer Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem” at last year’s show. Sunday night, he gets a chance for redemption.

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TAGS: 87th Academy Awards, Awards, Entertainment, Neil Patrick Harris, Oscar Awards, Oscars, US entertainment, whitest Oscars
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