"Birdman" held up a mirror to Hollywood and its struggling actors and received in return the film industry's highest recognition on Sunday, the Academy Award for best picture.
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu's story of a washed-up, former superhero actor attempting an improbable comeback on Broadway won four Oscars, including best director, the second consecutive win in that category for a Mexican filmmaker.
"Maybe next year the government will inflict immigration restrictions," said Innaritu, recalling last year's best director winner for “Gravity” — Alfonso Cuaron. "Two Mexicans in a row. That's suspicious, I guess."
Eddie Redmayne won best actor with his painstaking portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," keeping "Birdman" lead and former superhero actor Michael Keaton from a big comeback moment.
Each of the eight best picture nominees went home with at least one award, but it was a disappointing night for "Boyhood," Richard Linklater's unprecedented endeavor to depict the simple story of a boy growing up over 12 years, all with the same actors. It won only one Oscar — best supporting actress — of its six nominations.
Wes Anderson's caper, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" proved popular among the 6,100 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who vote for the Oscars, winning four awards on its nine nominations.
"Whiplash," the independent film about an aspiring jazz drummer and his tough mentor from young director Damien Chazelle, won three Oscars.
It was a night in which the controversy over the lack of diversity among this year's nominees was front and center. First-time host Neil Patrick Harris opened the telecast with a quip: "Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest, I mean brightest."
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."
Common and John Legend got a standing ovation for their performance of "Glory" from the 1960s civil rights drama "Selma."
It won best song, delivering the sole Oscar to "Selma," the film at the center of the diversity debate, sparked by the exclusion of ethnic minority actors from the four acting categories. The nominations sparked the Twitter hashtag "#OscarsSoWhite.
The Academy rewarded heavy favorites and veterans with their first Oscars in the three other acting races.
Five-time nominee Julianne Moore won best actress for her portrayal of a woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer's in "Still Alice."
J.K. Simmons won the best supporting actor as a monstrous music teacher in "Whiplash” and Patricia Arquette won best supporting actress for her role as a struggling single mother in "Boyhood."
"To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation," said Arquette in accepting the award. "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 theater, perhaps the loudest coming from a fellow supporting-actress nominee who Arquette bested: Meryl Streep. "Made my night," Streep told Arquette backstage, where Arquette expanded on her comments.
When asked how she felt about former Sony head Amy Pascal's recent remarks on wage disparity — in short, that it was up to women to ask for more, Arquette said, "I think we need federal laws that are comprehensive. People think we have equal rights. We won't until we pass the ERA once and for all."
The best documentary award went to "Citizenfour," director Laura Poitras' feature about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who detailed the secret mass surveillance programs.
"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."
Snowden applauded the award in a statement.
"When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant," he wrote. "I'm grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. 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."
Poitras met Snowden while working on a documentary about governmental surveillance in the post-9/11 era. She began receiving emails from "Citizenfour," who wrote, "I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you was extremely high-risk."
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.
Poland's "Ida" clinched best foreign-language film and 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."