Oscars 2015: Nine Inside Jokes Explained

John Shearer/Invision/AP
Neil Patrick Harris during Sunday night's Oscars

References to "Chinese bucks," "the Dependent Spirit Awards" and the box-office grosses of this year's nominees may have left non-entertainment industry viewers scratching their heads.

Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris made a few jokes over the course of Sunday night's three-and-a-half-hour broadcast that may have gone over the heads of those who don't follow the entertainment industry as closely as the Dolby Theatre audience does.

Harris made references to box-office flop Smurfs 2, Harvey Weinstein's famous fiery temper, Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards and even his and Jason Bateman's shared past as child actors.

In addition, Jack Black brought up Hollywood's avarice for "Chinese bucks" during his rant in the middle of Harris' "Moving Pictures" opening song and best supporting actress presenter Jared Leto poked fun at Meryl Streep's many Oscar nominations.

Read on to find out the stories behind these and more inside jokes from Sunday night's Oscars.

"This industry's in flux, run by muckity-mucks, pitching tents for tentpoles and chasing Chinese bucks."— Jack Black

When Black interrupted Harris' "Moving Pictures" opening song, he took issue with the glowing way the Oscars host, at that point joined by Anna Kendrick, was describing movies, saying Hollywood's merely focused on making money, partly by churning out superhero-focused sequels. One of the business concerns Black pointed out was how the industry's "chasing Chinese bucks."

China is the world's second largest film market, after the U.S., with its box office surging by 36 percent to $4.76 billion in 2014. As a result, studios seek to get their movies released in the country. But unless the movie is a Chinese co-production, a highly sought-after status, China restricts the number of foreign films imported to 34 a year, creating stiff competition for a Chinese release. Still, the few Hollywood films that made it into China last year dominated its box office, with Transformers: Age of Extinction earning a record $320 million in the country, possibly due in part to the film's specially introduced Chinese elements. Interstellar was the second-best U.S. release of the year.

Furthermore, a number of Hollywood firms have struck deals with Chinese companies. Jeff Robinov's Studio 8 secured $200 million in financing from Chinese conglomerate Fosun, believed to be the largest Chinese investment to date in U.S. film production. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also bought its own film company and stuck a deal with Lionsgate to bring the Twilight saga and other films to China. Chairman Jack Ma was also wooed by Hollywood moguls when he visited L.A. in October. Meanwhile, Universal and Disney strengthened their ties to China, with NBCUniversal launching a Beijing office and Disney expanding its partnership with Shanghai Media Group to include the co-production of films and development of TV shows.

“The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.” — Neil Patrick Harris

The host made the above pun after Citizenfour won the Oscar for best documentary feature. After Edward Snowden famously disclosed classified information from his time working for the NSA, including the existence of government surveillance programs, he was labeled a traitor by many people, including House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Secretary of State John Kerry and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Snowden's revelations to journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentarian Laura Poitras serve as the subject of Citizenfour. 

Although Snowden has not been charged with treason, and some believe his actions don't constitute such behavior, at least as its defined in the constitution, he has been charged under the Espionage Act with “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person." Snowden is currently living in exile in Russia, but the Obama administration insists he return to the U.S. and face the charges filed against him.

Greenwald wasn't amused by Harris' comment, telling Buzzfeed News, "I thought it was pretty pitiful, given Hollywood’s fondness for congratulating itself for doing things like standing up for McCarthyism and blacklists. So to just casually spew that sort of accusation against someone who’s not even charged with it, let alone convicted of it, I think is, you know, stupid and irresponsible."

"Tonight, on this stage, we have come together to celebrate and hopefully to fall in love with moving pictures all over again. OK, maybe not Smurfs 2." — Harris

At the end of his opening monologue, Harris joked about his 2013 sequel to the live-action/animated film, in which he co-starred with Sofia Vergara, Hank Azaria and Glee's Jayma Mays, with Katy Perry, Christina Ricci and George Lopez lending their voices to the movie. Although it made $347.5 million worldwide on a $105 million budget, the movie only scored a 14 percent freshness rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Still Smurfs 2's box-office haul was less than the $563.7 million pulled in by the first Smurfs film, which had a budget of $110 million.

"American Sniper [is about] the most prolific sniper in history, with over 160 confirmed kills. Or, as Harvey Weinstein calls it, a slow morning." — Harris

The Weinstein Company head is known for his fiery temper and has been often called a bully. But he's claimed that his past outbursts were caused by spikes in his blood-glucose level, which is now under control. Still jokes about his aggressive behavior have continued, with Jennifer Lawrence saying to Weinstein in her 2013 Golden Globes acceptance speech for her role in Silver Linings Playbook: "Thank you for killing whoever you had to kill to get me up here today."

"Welcome back to the Oscars, or as I like to think of them, the Dependent Spirit Awards." — Harris

The Oscar host welcomed the audience back after a commercial with this comment, a reference to the Independent Spirit Awards, which took place on Saturday in keeping with their tradition of being handed out the day before the Oscars and honor independent films. Harris' remark would suggest that the movies honored at the Oscars are not indies and instead made within (and dependent on) the studio system and its resources.

But, in fact, many of the Oscars' big winners were indies (and were some of the same titles that won at the Spirits). Birdman, for instance, won the top prize at both the Spirit Awards and the Oscars. Furthermore, beyond Birdman, many of the same films were nominated for and won awards at both shows: Boyhood, Selma, Whiplash and Citizenfour. Indeed, specialty distributor Fox Searchlight, went home with the most Oscars, with eight, while Disney and Paramount were the major studios to receive the most awards, tied with two each.

"He's easily the most well-adjusted child star in this room. Please welcome... Jason Bateman." — Harris

Like Harris, who first shot to stardom with his role in Doogie Howser, MD, Jason Bateman is a former child star. The actor, who has most recently also moved into directing, got his start on '80s TV shows like Little House on the Prairie and Silver Spoons. While Harris has gone on to star in How I Met Your Mother, movies like the aforementioned Smurfs films and on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bateman is now known for his roles in Arrested Development and movies like Horrible Bosses, Bad Words, Identity Thief and Juno.

"Here are two actors whose movies have grossed more than yours." — Harris, introducing presenters Zoe Saldana and The Rock.

This year's best-picture Oscar nominees were the lowest-grossing films in that category since it was expanded to include as many as 10 films in 2009. By Feb. 16, the eight nominees for best picture had earned $999.5 million globally, nearly $400 million of which came solely from American Sniper, less than the $1.99 billion earned worldwide by last year's nine best picture contenders and behind the total grosses of the 2013 and 2011 contenders. Harris was likely referring to this year's best-picture nominees' low grosses with his remark, and Saldana and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are known for starring in box office hits like Guardians of the Galaxy, which actually was nominated for two Oscars but didn't win either, and the last two Fast and Furious movies.

"The nominees are four women plus – in accordance with California state law – Meryl Streep." – Jared Leto presenting the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Meryl Streep has received a record 19 Oscar nominations over her career, so it would seem that The Academy is legally required to include her among each year's Oscar nominees. Still, despite her many nominations, Streep has only won three Oscars, a total that didn't increase last night as she lost the best supporting actress prize to Patricia Arquette.

"If you're at an Oscar party with guys who made The Lego Movie, now is the time to start distracting them." — Harris, introducing the presenters of the best animated feature Oscar.

The Lego Movie was memorably snubbed in the category of best animated feature, even though the hit film was a favorite to score a nomination, when Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 15.