It’s true—the Oscar telecast is getting less and less interesting each year. There are many reasons for that, which we won’t get into here. But last night’s wasn’t the worst. It was saved by a controversy and several surprise—even shocking—wins.
As host, Chris Rock was a relatively equal opportunity offender, and that worked well last night. Perhaps the best line of the night was Rock saying that yes, it wasn’t fair that Will Smith wasn’t nominated for Best Actor for Concussion (a notion up for discussion), but that it also wasn’t fair that he was paid 20 million dollars for Wild Wild West. In some ways, this says it all in terms of the #OscarsSoWhite “controversy.” Institutional racism is an issue that permeates our society, it’s true. And… what America saw last night, for the most part, was wildly over-privileged people—of every color—swelling with self-importance and nearly putting their shoulders out of joint patting themselves so vigorously on the back.
One of the great surprises was the choice of Spotlight for Best Picture. Given The Revenant’s momentum and the predictions of the official prognosticators, this was a bit of a surprise. Spotlight wasn’t my official prediction, but it was my choice, and I hope the win means that more folks will see this excellent film. Its social significance, apart from its excellence, will keep this as a classic.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Mark Rylance’s win for Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies. This was “supposed” to be Sylvester Stallone’s nostalgic win for his best career performance in Creed, as well as a vote for a film by a black director starring a young black star. The category was stuffed with great performances, and any could have legitimately won. But Rylance was the best of the actors (and that’s saying a lot!), and gave a subtle, genuinely beautiful performance that helped ground that film. Since he is an acting legend, especially on stage and across the pond, I assumed he’d win an Oscar “eventually.” I had no idea that eventually would be last night.
The other big surprise was the Best Visual Effects award for Ex Machina, a relatively little-seen film that was probably best known for Alicia Vikander’s other great 2015 performance, and one that most Oscar voters must have had in mind as they voted her the Best Supporting Actress award for her work in The Danish Girl.
The many awards racked up by Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t a surprise, except for costumes, which to my mind just got caught up in the coattails of the many technical awards given to the film. There were at least three other films that could have won that award, and would have deserved it.
That big exhale sound you might have heard last night or this morning was America’s sigh of relief that Leo has finally won his Oscar. No one “deserves” an award just because they have been nominated X number of times, but it was still fun to see him win.
One happy surprise was the win for Sam Smith’s and Jimmy Nape’s Spectre song, “Writing’s on the Wall.” While everyone writing in advance seemed to want to see Lady Gaga win for “’Til It Happens to You,” and the performance of that song turned into A MOMENT, it didn’t win, and the better song did. I completely support the sentiment of The Hunting Ground and its song, “’Til It Happens to You,” but it was a bit much to upholster what was to be a performance of the song with layers and layers of emotional meaning; besides, I was afraid Lady Gaga was going to spontaneously combust at certain points during her performance. I’m glad she’s OK.
Whether he deserved it this year or not—always a question with career awards—composing legend Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) finally got his long-awaited Oscar. And his homage to fellow legend John Williams was a moment of true class. Google him and see what great work he’s done.
History was made last night in the Best Cinematography category. Four times earlier in the Academy’s history, a man has won this award two years in a row. The Revenant’s Emmanuel Lubezki won his third in a row last night. He won last year for Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and the year before for Gravity. His work on these three wildly different films attests to his talent. He just passed into legend last night, and he has years of great work before him.
The Revenant’s director, Alejandro Iñárritu, made his own mark in film history by winning his second Best Director Oscar last night, a year after winning it for Birdman. He’s busy at the moment with the television series, “The One Percent,” so it’s unlikely he’ll repeat next year.
There were some things that worked well, and many that didn’t. The Star Wars creatures bombed, as did Stacey Dash, and the whole Girl Scout Cookie thing. There are so many ways the telecast could be improved. But for some unknown reason, they haven’t asked me. Maybe someday I’ll offer my ideas on this site. In the meantime, I’ll watch, be surprised, be disappointed, and still be unable to look away.