Copy-paste headline of the day: “Leonardo Di Caprio finally got an Oscar for acting.” Between-the-lines interpretation? A man who makes a very good living by playing pretend was finally recognized by the rest of his also-pretending peers for something any layman could have told you 20 years ago: “Hey, that nice-looking blue-eyed blonde dude is convincing.” That’s pretty much all most people who keep track of these things is interested in when referring to the recent 88th edition of the Academy Awards. But there is more to say about the ceremony, which glorifies the Hollywood industry every year. So let’s talk about Oscars 2016, shall we?
The Elephant (or Bear Bait) in the Room
So, yes. After more than two decades of effortless excellence and five nominations, the sixth time is the charm for Leonardo Di Caprio. (All it took was fighting a bear. Had he known that before!) His harrowing role in The Revenant made him this year’s Best Actor in Oscar’s eyes. In case you think it’s been a long wait, consider he’s only 41 years old, still at his prime. Al Pacino won his at 52 for Scent of a Woman, long after the glory days of The Godfather and Serpico. So it could’ve been worse for Leo. Still, he deserved it, we all wanted it, everybody’s happy. Great. Moving on.
Winners and Losers
As it turns out, nearly all the rest of the winners this year came as a surprise. Maybe it was the whole #OscarsSoWhite fiasco (more on that below), but Academy voters this year were all over the map as far as spreading statues around. There were multiple winners, sure. Both Di Caprio’s The Revenant and director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road got plenty of love from the Academy, but there wasn’t an award-sweeping juggernaut as in past years.
It almost felt like most of the films with multiple nominations got at least one Oscar, as if the Dolby Theater was one of those Kindergartens where all the kids get a trophy during a sports match. It wasn’t true, of course. Films like Carol, Joy, Trumbo, The Martian and Straight Outta Compton went home empty handed. And obviously every one of the nominees deserved to win. It’s just not often you see so many of them actually do it.
According to the numbers, the big dog this year was Mad Max: Fury Road. It swept most of the technical categories, winning in six out of its ten categories (Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup, the Sound twins), yet it lost Best Visual Effects to Ex Machina. Alicia Vikander, the star of that chilling robot allegory, was named Best Supporting Actress for her turn in The Danish Girl, the lone prize for that film.
In comparison, The Revenant only won three of its twelve nominations, but they were all big wins: Best Actor for Di Caprio, Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu (his second year in a row) and Best Cinematography for Emmmanuel Lubezki (who’s on an impressive three-year streak). Yet it didn’t receive the Best Picture nod, for that honor went to journalism drama Spotlight along with Best Original Screenplay.
Day of the Underdogs
Two upsets, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and Brie Larson (Room), won as Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress, respectively. This meant Supporting fave Sylvester Stallone of Creed joined the loser’s circle as well. The mono-winner list also included The Big Short (Best Adapted Screenplay), Spectre (Best Original Song), The Hateful Eight (Best Score for Italian spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone), Inside Out (Best Animated Film, beating Anomalisa), Amy (Best Documentary), Son of Saul (a Best Foreign Language Film nod for Hungary) and Bear Story (Best Animated Short, as well as the first Academy Award win for Chile).
“Racy” Humor at the Oscars 2016
In case it wasn’t abundantly clear for the viewers at home, there was controversy this year at the Academy Awards. Internet denizens ranting under the #OscarsSoWhite let the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences know they do see skin color, or rather the lack thereof in acting nominees for the second year in a row. And that made them mad. Steps were ta Add to that the fact that the host of the event, picked months in advance, was Chris Rock, the most racially-themed African American stand-up comic possibly after Dave Chappelle. There was a sense, pretty much from the get-go, that the Academy was definitely going to overcompensate by giving the world Oscars 2016: the blackity-black-blackest Oscar ceremony in history!
As it turned out it wasn’t exactly that, but wasn’t far from it, either. And it managed to remain consistently interesting all the way through, compared to past editions.
Many little touches added to the freshness. First of all, the order of award categories was changed slightly to reflect the real-life schedule of a movie production. So, instead of beginning with Supporting Actor or Actress, it was the screenplays first. The order wasn’t followed to the letter, of course. Otherwise you would’ve known halfway through who the Best Actor and Actress winners were and Best Sound Mixing would’ve come just before Best Director. Still, it was a refreshing change of pace.
Another nice, albeit impersonal touch was the bottom scroll. Every nominee beforehand gave out the names of people to thank. Their lists would show on screen ticker-tape style should they get the Oscar. No longer would the winners of lesser categories bog down the running time of the event with attempting to remember every name in their endless list. It’s a nifty trick if you leave out the fact that people like to hear their name said out loud, but it gave more people time to talk about their countries of origin (Australia came up frequently) or particular causes (Di Caprio proved the existence of climate change by having to film in Argentina for the snow).
Like a Rock
Unlike his previous engagement as Oscar host, Chris Rock managed to be funny and confident throughout. His sharp opening monologue touched on all the important points regarding the controversy. He managed this without being neither boring not offensive, which was quite a feat. On the lack of diversity in nominations he pointed out it’s happened before, especially during the sixties on any year Sidney Pointier didn’t open a film. The difference is that nobody complained back then because there were real issues for African American to protest. “When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree,” the comedian quipped, “it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.” He called Hollywood racist to its face, but more like “sorority racist” that “burning cross racist.” (He did acknowledge this was also changing.)
The rest of the ceremony’s entertaining parts felt written by Rock himself. If not, at least they were tuned to his wavelength. One skit showed many of the acting nominees, in excerpts of their respective films, either interacting with or being completely replaced by African Americans. (Whoopi Goldberg mopped the QVC set in Joy. Tracy Morgan ate a danish in drag on The Danish Girl. Leslie Jones replaced the bear in The Revenant. Rock himself was ignored from Mission Control by Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig in The Martian.) A Black History Minute short made you believe it was about Will Smith, who boycotted the Oscars 2016. That’s before Angela Bassett pulls a bait-and-switch by revealing it was about Jack Black.
A Golden Smile
Other more down-to-earth moments also struck a positive chord. Things like Rock interviewing people at a cinema in an African American neighborhood. Or him trying to help his daughter sell Girl Scout cookies to the rich crowd. The jokes that landed outnumbered those that didn’t. One that fell flat was the bit about Stacey Dash being AMPAS’ new outreach coordinator.
Even awards presenters not known for their comedy chops—Charlize Theron, Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe—got a chuckle or two. It was presenter Louis C.K., however, who took the prize for funniest-because-it’s-true moment of the night. While presenting Best Documentary Short (won by A Girl in the River), he quipped how that category was his favorite because it really mattered to its nominees. The reason is they don’t make money out of their work. As a result, an Oscar statue might actually be the nicest thing they will ever have in their “crappy apartment.”
“This Oscar,” assured the comedian and filmmaker, “is going home in a Honda Civic.” It was a hilarious and humbling comment on awards and cinema in general. It’s also a great way to put a cap on Oscars 2016 for now. See you next year, golden boy.