As expected, Chris Rock took no prisoners in addressing the #OscarsSoWhite controversy surrounding this year’s Academy Awards. “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right it’s racist!”, he said at the beginning of his epic introductory monologue. Just like any other Oscar host before him, Rock also had spotty moments: The jabs at Will and Jada went a tad too far, the girl scout cookie bit was borderline NPH’s prediction box gag, and don’t get me started on Stacey Dash. But overall, the ceremony benefitted from Rock’s energy and I won’t mind seeing him host again in the future.
Here are the rest of my 2016 Oscar highlights:
Zero Wins for Brooklyn and The Martian. Two of this year’s Best Picture nominees went home empty-handed. The Martian had the misfortune of being nominated alongside Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite zooming into the race with 7 nominations, the Ridley Scott space caper never took off. Brooklyn, on the other hand, barely stood a chance with its three nominations.
Adam McKay Calls Out Corruption. While The Big Short fell, well, short in being a formidable Best Picture threat, it still managed to win Best Adapted Screenplay. The film’s sole victory gave director/co-writer Adam McKay a platform to re-assert its message: “If you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates who take money from big banks, oil, or weirdo billionaires. Stop!”
The Swedish Girl. It’s been a watershed year for breakthrough actress Alicia Vikander. She was ravishing as a sexy cyborg (Ex Machina) and compelling as the wife of Jessica Chastain Eddie Redmayne in drag (The Danish Girl). While her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress didn’t have quotable gems, her edgy, accidental ode to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast left quite an impression.
Mad Max Rages On. As expected, George Miller’s Mad Max reboot conquered the technical categories, winning for Costume, Make-Up, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound, and Sound Editing. Apart than taking home the most statuettes, the “Mad Max-ers” also provided the most colorful speeches. Personal favorites: Costume Designer Jenny Beavan, dressed as a biker but sounding like a duchess, and Production Designer Colin Gibson, sharing his victory with the multinational crew and calling it the first Oscar for diversity.
Chivo’s Three-peat. Thanks to The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki is now the first cinematographer to win a third consecutive Oscar. Still, there was nary a trace of entitlement or cockiness in his acceptance speech – just plain old gratitude and admiration for his colleagues. Humility wins.
Ex Machina’s Visual Effects Upset. Alex Garland‘s sci-fi tale spent the least on visual effects, but was an eye-popper nonetheless. Its “utterly unexpected” victory over frontrunners Mad Max and Star Wars once again proves that less is more.
Star Wars Droids Counter-Upstaged. The seventh Star Wars saga may have lost in all its categories, but it was nothing a quick cameo by C3PO, R2D2, and BB-8 couldn’t fix. It was a cute scene-stealer made even cuter by that cutaway to Jabob Tremblay.
Animation Wins: Viva Chile! Bear Story’s Animated Short Oscar was a maiden triumph not just for its Chilean team, but also for their entire homeland. We felt like joining their mini celebration, even if we had to endure those Minions again (they presented).
Animation Wins, Part 2: Fuzzy inside and out. Anomalisa put up a good fight. Still, none of this year’s Animated Feature nominees resonated more than Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out. Even more resonating was the inspirational speech by producer Jonas Rivera and director Pete Docter following their win: “There are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna be scared. That’s nothing you can choose, but you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”
“Hart”-felt Shout-Out. Hilarious as Chris Rock was, offended parties still needed a source of solace from the #OscarsSoWhite uproar. Kevin Hart became that unlikely source. While introducing The Weeknd’s performance, the comedian delivered this optimistic shout-out: “At the end of the day, we love what we do and we are breaking major ground doing it. These problems of today will become problems of the old. Let’s not let this negative issue of diversity beat us.” It was a departure from Hart’s usual shtick and a welcome breather from Rock’s caustic repartee. In a ceremony that largely approached an issue with mockery, Hart’s message was right on target.
50 Shades of Soulful. Sure, sacrificing two Best Song nominees from the performance line-up addressed time constraints. But, it was also tantamount to saying that they didn’t have a chance anyway. Among the songs that did make it was Earned It by The Weeknd, which we blame for giving 50 Shades of Gray a shot at Oscar gold. The R&B singer delivered a fine performance, replete with subdued S&M elements and dancing dominatrices. It was a visually arresting interpretation of a well-written song, which by the way already won a Grammy: another case of a bad film redeemed by a good soundtrack. Meanwhile: no reports of Lauryn Hill in the vicinity.
Mark Rylance KOs Sylvester Stallone. Many were sentimentally rooting for Sylvester Stallone to finally claim the Oscar that evaded him 39 years ago. But in a scenario akin to Rocky Balboa‘s career ups and downs, Sly lost the Best Supporting Actor trophy to Bridge of Spies‘ Mark Rylance. Stage veteran Rylance articulated his surprise with this memorable line: “I don’t know how they separate my acting from your glorious acting in these wonderful films that you’re in, which everyone must see…I don’t know how they separated the five of us from all the other supporting actors who are making films at the moment. It’s a wonderful time to be an actor and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Louis CK Glorifies Documentary Short Nominees. It doesn’t matter whether you thought Louis CK was championing the nominees of his favorite category (“This is the one Academy Award that has an opportunity to change a life”) or lampooning them (“This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic. This is going to be the nicest thing they’ll ever own in their life.“). The point is he directed attention to one of the most taken-for-granted Oscar categories. As for eventual winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness), she’ll relish the fact that she now has two Oscars to keep. She won her first for 2011’s Saving Face.
Dave Grohl’s Stirring Eulogy. This year’s In Memoriam montage was devoid of unnecessary theatrics and overpowering applause: Just Dave Grohl on a chair, guitar on hand, delivering an acoustic take on The Beatles’ Blackbird. Despite the perplexing song choice, the performance was simple, solemn, and heartfelt – the way tributes should be.
Tremblay Stands Tall. Jacob Tremblay could barely reach the mic while presenting Best Short Film with Beast of No Nation’s Abraham Attah. As Chris Rock comically came to the rescue with apple boxes, the starstruck Room star showed his appreciation, saying, “Thanks, Chris! I loved you in Madagascar!” Thus, he stole the show once again.
Üdvözöljük az Oscars, Hungary. OK, First up: Sofia Vergara and Byung-Hun Lee as Best Foreign Language Film presenters? We see what you did there, Academy. As expected, the said award went to Son of Saul, thereby culminating its awards season sweep with Hungary’s second Oscar.
Lady Gaga Sends Chills. Lady Gaga capped off her stellar award season with a haunting Oscar performance. The singer was nominated for Til it Happens to You, which she co-wrote with Diane Warren for the campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground. Emotions escalated when 50 sexual assault survivors joined Gaga mid-performance and stood with her hand in hand towards the end. The song didn’t win, but the solidarity displayed was a triumph unmeasurable by any statuette.
Complimenti, Morricone! Sure, maestro Ennio Morricone received an honorary Oscar in 2007, but that didn’t inhibit the Academy from honoring him once more. The 87-year-old composer received a warm standing ovation after winning his first competitive Oscar for The Hateful Eight. His acceptance speech, which he delivered in Italian, was pure wisdom, in which he highlighted the codependence of music and film as only a legendary composer could.
Bad Night for Sam Smith. Of course, Sam Smith isn’t the first openly gay Oscar winner, as he almost claimed. It’s just that this whole brouhaha feels so anti-climactic and unwarranted following what we thought as a Lady Gaga sure win. So, let’s just take his well-intentioned LGBT shoutout at the end of his speech as a shot at redemption – both fom the aforementioned gaffe and from his uncharacteristically shaky performance earlier in the show.
Iñarritu Soars Once Again. Thanks to The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñarritu now belongs to an elite trifecta of back-to-back Best Director awardees (His “forefathers” John Ford and Joseph L. Manchiewicz being the other two). Both Iñarritu’s winning years were riddled with racial controversy – a fact he insightfully addressed in his acceptance speech: “So what a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and make sure for once and forever that the color of the skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”
Bless you, Brie. Brie Larson showed profuse gratitude after undisputedly winning Best Actress. Her Oscar highlight, however, happened before her big win. After Lady Gaga’s performance, Larson was seen standing from her seat to hug the sexual assault survivors as they walked off-stage.
Finally, Leo. It was a moment 23 years, 5 nominations, and thousands of memes in the making. After much clamor, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his first Oscar for The Revenant, proof that these acting awards are often only a matter of timing. The result was received with a prolonged standing ovation and a teary-eyed Kate Winslet, making it the most tweeted moment in Oscar history. In his speech, he thanked every single person who helped him in his journey, from Martin Scorcese to Alejandro G. Iñarritu. After which, he made the call to fight climate change. “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted”, he concluded. The speech sounded like he’d been holding it back for years. It was a moment so overdue, the orchestra even spared him the cut-off music.
Spotlight Bookends the Show. We thought we heard the last from Spotlight after their Best Original Screenplay win. But in a pleasantly shocking blindside, the earnest journalism drama beat The Revenant to the evening’s highest honor. The surprise Best Picture win prompted producer Matthew Sugar to further assert the film’s cause: “This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”