"Birdman" soared at the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday, winning best film as well as directing honors for Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
The dark comedy, starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up movie superhero who seeks redemption on the Broadway stage, won four Oscars, including original screenplay and cinematography.
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Heading into Sunday's ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, "Birdman" was pitted against "Boyhood," Richard Linklater's unique coming-of-age story shot over a 12-year period. But "Boyhood" managed to win only one Academy Award: Patricia Arquette for supporting actress as a beleaguered single mom.
Arquette's win was expected as were the other three acting honors.
Julianne Moore won lead actress for playing a professor with early Alzheimer's in "Still Alice," while Eddie Redmayne won lead actor for portraying theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his struggle with ALS in "The Theory of Everything."
J.K. Simmons won supporting actor for his ruthless music teacher in "Whiplash."
The quartet had not only been critical darlings this awards season but had nabbed nearly every top honor in their categories, including the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA.
The star-studded ceremony at times turned political, with equal pay, women's rights, and the struggle for justice -- especially for minorities and immigrants -- taking center stage.
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Iñárritu called for better treatment of Mexican immigrants in America as well as a better government for Mexicans. Singer-songwriters John Legend and rapper Common earned Oscars for original song for "Glory" from the movie "Selma," the historical drama about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s crusade for voting equality. And Legend took the moment to eloquently question how much has really changed in the past half century.
"Selma is now," Legend said, "because the struggle for justice is right now." He went on to say that voting rights are being compromised in some parts of the country and called America "the most incarcerated country in the world," adding that more black men are under the control of the correctional system than were enslaved in 1850.
Arquette used her acceptance speech to call for equality and wage parity for women.
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But there was plenty of entertainment, with Lady Gaga performing a rousing medley from "The Sound of Music," which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. She was hugged at the finish by the film's star, Julie Andrews, who gave the original score Oscar to Alexandre Desplat for "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
The win meant that Wes Anderson's whimsical comedy about an eccentric hotel concierge also won four Oscars. Besides score, "Budapest" won Oscars for production and costume design as well as makeup and hairstyling.
Meanwhile, "Whiplash," a drama about a young drummer and his ruthless teacher, won three -- for editing, sound mixing and for Simmons.
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"I am grateful every day for the most remarkable person I know, my wife," Simmons said, commenting on her "love, kindness, wisdom, sacrifice." He then goaded his two kids -- as well as kids everywhere -- to call, not text, their parents.
Graham Moore got a rousing standing ovation from the star-studded audience as he accepted his trophy for adapted screenplay for "The Imitation Game," about the struggles of gay Enigma code breaker Alan Turing, who eventually committed suicide.
After thanking friends, family and co-workers, Moore said that at 16 he tried to kill himself because "I felt weird and different, and I felt like I didn't belong." He said his trophy sends a message to all of those who feel like they're weird and don't belong. "Yes, you do," he said, welling with emotion. "Stay weird, stay different, and then when it's your turn, and you're standing on the stage, pass along the same message."
In other honors, Disney claimed two Oscars -- one for animated feature for "Big Hero 6" and the other for animated short for "Feast." "Interstellar" took honors for visual effects. "American Sniper" won for sound editing. The best foreign language film went to Poland's "Ida," which has been an awards season favorite. And "The Phone Call" won for live action short film. "Citizenfour" won for documentary. "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" won for documentary short subject.
Host Neil Patrick Harris kicked off the awards with a valentine to the movies -- but with a bite.
"Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest, er, brightest," he quipped as he opened the show, referring to controversy over the lack of diversity in the nominees. He then moved into a lavish musical number celebrating the films with dazzling special effects that placed him in such films as "Star Wars" and "Risky Business."