by STEVEN ARVANITIS
From a controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in nominations to the mystery surrounding the true front-runner for best picture, Oscar season has been unusually compelling this time around. The night started off with a bang, with relatively enjoyable host Chris Rock quickly addressing the “#oscarsowhite” controversy, cracking jokes at the temperamental atmosphere of Hollywood. He further deconstructed the academy award rules, poking fun at the separation between “best actor” and best “actress,” as well as myriad self-aware quips at the racist nature of Hollywood, “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but it ain’t the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like: ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa,’” and how real issues regarding civil rights and discrimination were being fought for in the 60’s rather than just an awards show.
After that lengthy monologue, with many more regarding the subject to appear later in the show, the awards commenced, with the structure and sequence of the awards presented intended to mirror the film-making process. The awards for original screenplay and adapted screenplay went to “Spotlight” and “The Big Short,” respectively, although the first surprise of the night came when the riveting, cerebral “Ex Machina” beat out “The Force Awakens” for best visual effects. That was the first of three wins that night for film distributor A24 (“Amy,” “Room”) whose success bodes well in terms of distributors possibly taking more risks.
The introduction of the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing awards started what would be a sweep for “Mad Max: Fury Road” in the technical field, eventually winning 6 awards, the most of any film that night. The film would go on to also win for best makeup & hair-styling, production design, film design and costume design. With all those awards won, the lack of a best director win for the film seems odd, given how each technical aspect apparently congeals into a cohesive whole, which wouldn’t be the case without a director who has a firm grasp on the project, but I digress.
The categories for best animated, live-action and documentary short led a balance of surprise and the expected.Bear Story” beat out the front runner, the charming, existential“World of Tomorrow,” for best animated short, making it Chile’s first ever Oscar win. “Stutterer,” beating out the expected winner, the heartfelt “Everything Will be Ok,” and “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” won for live-action short and documentary short respectively. The personable “Amy” won best documentary despite close competition with films like “The Look Of Silence” and “Cartel Land.”
The musical side of the Oscars led forth with Sam Smith winning best original song for “Writing’s On The Wall” (“Spectre”). Ennio Morricone would go on to win best original score for the “The Hateful Eight,” the first western composed by the legendary artist in years.
Emmanuel Lubezki, unsurprisingly, has now won three years in a row for best cinematography, being one of “The Revenant’s” three wins (“Birdman” and “Gravity” the two years prior). Lubezki’s ability to stunningly capture natural light, especially in the likes of his collaborations with director Terrence Malick, and form immersive long-takes that span jaw-dropping cinematic landscapes has seemed to forge a deep connection with the academy.
After running a good 30 minutes after its predicted run-time, the Oscars got on their way the final, most anticipated categories of the night. The foreign language film category boasted an impressive resume of films. from the visually and thematically rich “Embrace Of The Serpent” to the expected, though well-deserved, winner, the holocaust drama “Son of Saul.”
The acting categories contained some glaring omissions, however the races were still intriguing. The best actress category was especially difficult, with each nominee putting forth an astonishing performance, although Brie Larson ultimately won for her wonderful portrayal of a mother in “Room.” The supporting categories leveled between the expected and the unexpected. Best supporting actress went to Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl” (despite showing an arguably more impressive performance in “Ex Machina.) In the best supporting actor category Sylvester Stallone was the supposed front-runner ever since the Golden Globes, but lost out to Mark Rylance’s sly performance in”Bridge Of Spies.”
One of the more hyped up parts of the Oscars, and apparently the most tweeted in Oscar history, was Leonardo Dicaprio’s long anticipated victory, after multiple acting nominations, and the internet bursting at seams with talk of Dicaprio’s deserving resume, won “The Revenant” its third Oscar of the night, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu earning its second beforehand with a best director win.
The best picture of the year, with no true predicted front runner between “The Big Short,” “The Revenant,” and “Spotlight”, ultimately going to Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” preventing Gonzalez Inarritu from winning back to back best pictures, which would have made him the first director to do so in Academy history.
Throughout the entire show, multiple skits repeatedly called back to the diversity controversy, with multiple jokes aimed at some of the celebrities who were protesting the Oscars this year, ranging from Will Smith to Spike Lee. Much of the writing attempted to draw a lot of self-awareness and understanding out of the whole situation, showcasing a genuinely diverse and varied cast of presenters and the continual deconstruction of Hollywood and the Academy itself. The music performances ranged from the mediocre to the heartfelt, with Lady Gaga’s performance and Joe Biden’s introduction to said performance speaking out against campus rape, to The Weekend and Sam Smith’s mostly brief and graceful performances. The memorial segment featured Dave Grohl covering Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” which felt elegant, and genuine. covering the majority of losses that have been deeply felt in the film community, (with the exception of some omissions, including Abe Vigoda).
The Oscars attempted to approach things with a wariness and a self-depreciation that shows some semblance of change. We’ll just have to wait and see next year the true impact this controversy has had on the Academy, and whether they’ll truly change.