This past award season has really been more about the #OscarSoWhite trend than the actual movies nominated. The same could be said about Chris Rock’s job as the 2016 Oscar host.
Walking onto the stage, Rock wasted no time bringing up the lack of diversity represented at this year’s Academy Awards. Rock killed it for the most part, making hilarious commentary on “The White People’s Choice Awards.” Naturally, the African American comedian took plenty of shots at Oscar voters, but he also had plenty to say about Jada Pinkett Smith and other actors that chose to boycott the ceremony. “Jada Pinkett boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” he joked. “I wasn’t invited.” Rock also wasn’t afraid to single out Jada’s husband. “Will Smith is complaining because he didn’t get nominated for Concussion. If he wants it all about merit, can we complain about the $20 million he got for Wild Wild West.”
Ultimately, Rock made a wise choice not boycotting the Oscars and staying on as host. His opening monologue touched base on every relevant issue that’s holding Hollywood back. In addition to discussing sexism and racism, Rock also poked fun at celebrity ego and reminded us that there are more important things than being nominated for an Academy Award. He accomplished this with wit, class, and pitch perfect comedic chops. Rock had several other humorous bits throughout the rest of the night too, most notably interviewing Compton moviegoers about the Oscar nominees. No big surprise, they all loved the overlooked Straight Outta Compton.
While Rock did a commendable job at addressing the Academy’s diversity problem, there were times when it felt like this year’s Oscar ceremony put too much focus on white guilt. We essentially got a neverending parade apologies from the Academy with presenters insisting that change is coming. The fact that Fight the Power played off the show is about as subtle as a Glee performance. Let’s just hope that the Academy does make good on their promises and the movie industry starts to move towards a more colorful future.
Now that we’ve talked all about the Oscar controversy, let’s discuss what actually won at the 88th Academy Awards. It was a tight race for Best Picture, but many assumed that The Revenant had it in the bag. While Alejandro González Iñárritu did win Best Director for the second year in a row, Spotlight pulled a major upset and took home the Academy’s top prize. In some respects, this isn’t too surprising. I even wrote a feature not too long ago on why The Revenant wasn’t a lock for Best Picture. Spotlight’s big win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards was a significant indication of its passionate fan base. At the same time, The Revenant had been gaining so much momentum lately that it seemed unstoppable.
What’s especially shocking is that Spotlight only won one additional Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The last Best Picture winner to receive only one other award was 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth. As somebody who preferred Spotlight over The Revenant, though, this was easily among the most pleasant surprises of the night for me personally. Meanwhile, this year’s other major Best Picture contender, The Big Short, won a single award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s a deserved win for an immensely well-written film, but am I the only person who thinks Adam McKay should’ve won an Oscar for Anchorman instead?
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road won the most awards overall for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing. Mad Max didn’t sweep every technical category, however. Perhaps the biggest shocker of the night was seeing Ex Machina upset for Best Visual Effects. In a category made up of mostly massive blockbusters, it was awesome to see this award go to an independent film that delivered such convincing visuals on a modest budget. With that said, seeing BB-8 roll onto the stage reminded us all why Star Wars: The Force Awakens probably should’ve won here.
It was a no-brainer that Best Animated Feature would go to Inside Out, Best Documentary Feature would go to Amy, and Best Foreign Language Film would go to Son of Saul. The same can’t be said about the short film categories, which are always pretty unpredictable. Bear Story won Best Animated Short, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness won Best Documentary Short Subject, and Stutterer won for Best Live-Action Short.
Emmanuel Lubezki received his third consecutive Best Cinematography Oscar for The Revenant. Where Lubezki has been well compensated by the Academy, legendary composer Ennio Morricone only had an Honorary Oscar to his name up until this year. The 87-year-old finally won his first Best Original Score Oscar for The Hateful Eight. Talk about an overdue win.
Speaking of overdue winners, Leonardo DiCaprio took home his first Oscar in the Best Actor category for The Revenant. Leo gave the most humble, well-spoken, and thought-provoking acceptance speech of the night. As for Best Actress, Brie Larson won for her remarkable work in Room. While those wins were pretty much etched in stone, Best Supporting Actress was a tougher call. In the end, Alicia Vikander of The Danish Girl prevailed over Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara.
While we saw plenty of deserving Oscar winners this year, we also saw some major snubs. Almost 40 years after the original Rocky, it looked like Sylvester Stallone would win Best Supporting Actor for reprising his most iconic role in Creed. At the last second, however, Mark Rylance swooped in and stole the award. Don’t get me wrong, Rylance is a great actor and his performance in Bridge of Spies was certainly worthy of a nomination. Compared to the emotional impact of Stallone’s work and the overall influence Rocky Balboa has had on our pop culture, though, Rylance clearly gave the lesser performance.
So why did the Academy snub Sly? Perhaps it’s because Stallone has done so many bad movies over the years, winning countless Razzies. Even the Razzies gave him an award for redemption this year, though. Yet, Oscar voters just couldn’t look past Stallone’s hit and miss career. You could make a similar argument for why Eddie Murphy didn’t win for Dreamgirls and Mickey Rourke didn’t win for The Wrestler. The Academy is full of elitist snobs that won’t let certain performers join their little club. Thus, Rocky seems forever destined to be an underdog.
The verdict for Best Original Song was also a major disappointment. Til It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground was easily the best and most important song nominated. After Lady Gaga’s passionate performance earned a standing ovation, it’s victory seemed like a forgone conclusion. Alas, the winner was Spectre’s Writing’s on the Wall, a mediocre song that’s been relentlessly shoved down our throats. To give Sam Smith credit, he at least gave one of the more touching acceptance speeches of the night. Years from now, though, Writing’s on the Wall is destined to fade from our memory where Til It Happens to You will continue to pack a powerful punch.
Aside from those unforgivable snubs, the ceremony itself ran on too long and the late Abe Vigoda was strangely excluded from the In Memoriam segment. Despite it’s faults, though, this was a fun Oscar telecast on the whole. Along with Rock owning the screen, we also got some fun appearances from Ryan Gosling paired up with Russell Crowe, Steve Carell with a drunk Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., and Sacha Baron Cohen. Even Vice President Joe Biden showed up, although I’m not sure why they played the Indiana Jones theme to introduce him. On a final note, the best new innovation this year’s Oscar ceremony included was a ticker in which winners were able to list off all the individuals they wished to recognize. Because after all, nobody has time to thank everybody in their acceptance speech.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some Girl Scout Cookies from Chris Rock’s daughter.