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Categories: Features

From statistical anomalies to shocking upsets, this year’s Oscars change everything.

leooscarThe 88th Oscars was perhaps the most talked-about and, therefore, important Oscar ceremony in a generation. In the cloud of #OscarsSoWhite – a controversy that shone a much-needed spotlight on the lack of diversity in Hollywood – and given hype around Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant, it was the intersection of two very different perceptions of the ceremony, both of which engulfed what would normally be a lackluster happening, here and gone without much interest from those outside the industry, in a tornado of social media scrutiny.

Now the 2016 Academy Awards have come and gone, we’ve officially witnessed what might be the most important ceremony we’re likely to see for a very long time. Quality of presenters, performances and speeches aside, it was at once the culmination of everything we criticize the Oscars for and everything we love them for, at times exhaustingly predictable and at others outright shocking. Either way, we’ll never be able to joke about Leo being overdue for an Oscar again. It’s the end of an era.

Leo is, of course, the main talking point coming out of the ceremony. It’s a bittersweet feeling, because while I’m certainly glad he won (despite the Don’s Plum controversy), it’s a shame that such a foregone conclusion – and one that will most likely instantaneously kill two years’ worth of quality memes – is the thing on everyone’s mind after a ceremony so full of highlights and shocks. Here are 10 points of interest – Leo not included – that stood out to me.

chrisrock

1. Chris Rock was the right choice

In his monologue and a few solid skits throughout the show, emcee Chris Rock did an excellent job of roasting the Hollywood elite and pointing out the institutional discrimination against African Americans in Hollywood. Almost every joke of the ceremony poked fun at the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in some way, and most of the best ones came from Rock. He also didn’t shy away from roasting Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, joking “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

Overall, he was an effective host, certainly a massive improvement over the inoffensive but bland performance by Neil Patrick Harris last year. One bit that involved Rock interviewing patrons of a theater in Compton about their favorite films of the year – most of them hadn’t heard of the likes of Bride of Spies or Brooklyn – was especially memorable.

2. But it didn’t all work

One joke, however, was a low point for the night. Poking fun at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting company that tallies the Oscar ballots, Rock introduced three young asian children, presenting them as the accountants themselves. In a fashion reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ recent debacle at the Globes, Rock finished the gag with “if anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.” In a night trying to celebrate diversity, it was an odd – and unfunny – diversion.

samsmith

3. Bond beats 50 Shades & Gaga

Lady Gaga gave an impassioned performance of “‘Til It Happens to You” to match John Legend and Common’s stunning rendition of “Glory” last year, only to lose to Sam Smith, whose performance of the already divisive “Writing’s on the Wall” (which I, for the record, like) was hardly exceptional.

Despite Lady Gaga and writer Diane Warren, an eight-time nominee with no wins, being the clear frontrunners for the Best Original Song category for their theme from documentary The Hunting Ground, it was Smith and cowriter Jimmy Napes who took home the award. It shouldn’t have been that surprising after they clinched the Globe in the same category, but it nonetheless gave me a bit of a shock, especially since they got Vice President Joe Biden to introduce Gaga’s touching performance. Biden’s speech, which called for recognition of the problem of campus sexual assault explored in The Hunting Ground, was an especially important moment. Diane Warren is Original Song’s Roger Deakins, I guess.

4. Lubezki and Iñárritu can’t stop winning

Speaking of Roger Deakins, while he’s been losing Best Cinematography every year since the dawn of time, Revenant DP Emmanuel Lubezki has been picking them up faster than you can say “extended take”. His win this year makes three consecutive victories, but it’s hard to argue that the cameraperson behind Gravity and Birdman isn’t deserving of so many trophies.

This year also marked the second consecutive win in Best Director for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, whose DGA, BAFTA and Globe successes for The Revenant had been too much to ignore. He’s the first person to win consecutive directing Oscars since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1951, and now has four Oscars under his belt. In two years, he’s won more directing Oscars than women have in the history of the Academy Awards. But despite his expected directing win, Iñárritu wasn’t able to go back-to-back in Best Picture as well…

spotlight

5. “Spotlight” breaks all the rules

Spotlight, for all its critical acclaim and Oscar-bait importance (note: I loved the film), should not have won Best Picture. Its only other award was for Best Original Screenplay, and no film has ever only won Screenplay and Picture. Beyond that, it only won ONE of the major precursors, losing the Globe, DGA and BAFTA to The Revenant and the PGA to The Big Short. The latter is especially shocking, as the winner of the PGA has won Best Picture every year since the Academy instated the preferential ballot, where votes rank their Best Picture choices based on preference and the consensus choice wins. In theory, this ensures that the winner is one that is liked by a majority of the voting body, which is necessary when you have up to 10 nominees.

This says, then, that despite Mad Max: Fury Road‘s much-deserved sweeping of the technical categories and The Revenant‘s wins for Director, Actor and Cinematography, Spotlight was the film the Academy could most get behind, making its way into the top half of most voters’ ballots whereas the likes of the more divisive The Revenant might have dominated first-place votes, but also eighth-place. I was naïve to predict The Revenant based on precursors, which reminds me…

6. The comeback narrative didn’t get Stallone anywhere (see: Eddie Murphy)

Perhaps the biggest shock of the night – except maybe both Sanjay’s Super Team and World of Tomorrow losing Best Animated Short – was Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) besting Sylvester Stallone (Creed) in Best Supporting Actor. After winning the Globe and the Critics’ Choice and receiving immense applause at both ceremonies, Stallone was seen as a lock, and if anyone, it should’ve been Tom Hardy (The Revenant) who pulled an upset.

But Rylance, who not only won the BAFTA but was the only candidate nominated at every major ceremony this season, should’ve have been the obvious choice on paper. I guess it was wishful thinking that Stallone, whose comeback in Creed was the icing on the cake of an iconic career, would win against a performance so acclaimed. But we shouldn’t have overlooked the safer choice of Rylance, who puts Stallone in the same category as Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray. And Mickey Rourke. And Michael Keaton. Why didn’t I see this coming!?

wins

7. “Mad Max” witnessed

Like The Grand Budapest Hotel last year, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road went home with the most awards of the night, despite not winning in any “major” categories and being a very idiosyncratic genre film released early in the year. This says a lot about the Oscars, but the main takeaway is that we should expect the year’s big “technical achievement” (Avatar, Life of Pi, Gravity) to sweep below-the-line categories rather than splits between different films. Mad Max was my favorite film of 2015, so I’m more than happy with its wins. But this also means that both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian, two films which made my top 10 of the year, went home empty handed. Which brings up my final takeaway, and by far the biggest (and best) shock of the night…

8. A $15m film can beat 3 Best Picture noms & Star Wars for Best Effects

I jumped out of my seat in overjoyed surprise when Ex Machina was announced as the winner for Best Visual Effects, even if at the expense of the film I expected to win, The Force Awakens. This small film (by Oscar standards, at least), bested four critical and commercial juggernauts for the prize, which I suppose means that those four split the vote whereas Ex Machina had consistent support. If we’re counting Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress win as really a win for her superior performance in Ex Machina, the film is, proportionally, the biggest winner of the night. Another big winner? A24, the distributor behind not just Ex Machina but Room and Amy – respective winners for Best Actress (Brie Larson) and Best Documentary Feature (Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees) as well.

Full list of winners:

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room 
Spotlight

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Matt Damon, The Martian

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Best Original Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty
“Simple Song #3” from Youth
Music and Lyric by David Lang
“Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
“Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

Best Original Score
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Carter Burwell, Carol
Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario
John Williams Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies

Best Foreign Language Film
Son of Saul (Hungary)

Mustang (France)
A War (Denmark)
Embrace the Serpent (Colombia)
Theeb (Jordan)

Best Short Film, Live Action
Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont, Ave Maria
Henry Hughes, Day One
Jamie Donoughue, Shok
Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage, Stutterer
Patrick Vollrath, Everything Will Be Okay (Alle Wird Gut)

Best Documentary Feature
Amy

Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Best Documentary, Short Subject
Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Chau, beyond the Lines, Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam Benzine
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Last Day of Freedom, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Best Animated Feature
Inside Out
Anomalisa
Shaun of the Sheep
When Marnie Was There
Boy and the World

Best Short Film, Animated
Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Visual Effects
Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett, Ex Machina
Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams, Mad Max: Fury Road
Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner, The Martian
Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer, The Revenant
Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing
Benjamin A. Burtt, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ben Osmo, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, Mad Max: Fury Road
Mac Ruth, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, The Martian
Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom, The Revenant
Drew Kunin, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Bridge of Spies

Sound Editing
Mark Mangini and David White, Mad Max: Fury Road
Oliver Tarney, The Martian
Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender, The Revenant
Alan Robert Murray, Sicario
Matthew Wood and David Acord, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Film Editing
Hank Corwin, The Big Short
Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road
Stephen Mirrione, The Revenant
Tom McArdle, Spotlight
Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

Edward Lachman, Carol
Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
Roger Deakins, Sicario
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
The Danish Girl, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
Mad Max: Fury Road, Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
The Martian, Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
The Revenant, Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy

Best Costume Design
Sandy Powell, Carol
Sandy Powell, Cinderella
Paco Delgado, The Danish Girl
Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road
Jacqueline West, The Revenant

Best Supporting Actress
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Adapted Screenplay
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Emma Donoghue, Room

Best Original Screenplay
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen Inside Out
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Straight Outta Compton

 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Feb 29, 2016

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