“Ricky Conlon wins the fight. Apollo Creed wins the night.” The ending of Ryan Coogler’s Rocky retooling Creed, one of the central films undervalued by this year’s notorious white-centric nominees, ends with the kind of honorable tie that’s become popular in sports films, where even objectively losing ends up its own distinct achievement. I felt very much that way while watching last night’s Oscar ceremony, which didn’t quite spread the wealth totally evenly – Brooklyn and The Martian are the two Best Picture nominees that went home empty-handed – but where more than one film left the night having made a deep, indelible impression.
If you hold Best Picture as the signifier of the night’s big winner, then it was Spotlight‘s night. If your measure of the night’s winner is what won the most big prizes, then The Revenant was the film of the night, honored for its three foremost auteurs, Alejandro Inarritu (Director), Emmanuel Lubezki (Cinematography) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor). And if you’re judging the night’s winner as the film most frequently and fondly rewarded, then Mad Max: Fury Road left the night undeniably shiny and chrome. It was almost bizarre to see Inarritu win Director after George Miller was thanked so graciously by all his film’s well deserved winners.
Spotlight had the grace of winning the first and last awards of the night and nothing in between, proving a Best Picture winner doesn’t need to pad itself with wins to feel fully deserved. And while Max won the most awards of the night, they still found ways to spread the wealth around. The Hateful Eight entered the night with a good degree of ill will, due to the length and moral ugliness of Tarantino’s film. That didn’t deter Ennio Morricone from winning a long overdue Original Score Oscar, picking up a sweet embrace with fellow nominee John Williams to rival the profound romance of Carol.
The biggest surprise of the night, though, belonged to indie sci-fi darling Ex Machina, picking up an extremely unlikely win in Visual Effects. It was definitely the most palpable moment of joyous surprise for me, a gasp filling my lungs and a smile extending ear-to-ear. It’s exactly the kind of thrilling, unusual work this category was made to acknowledge, and if it doesn’t quite make up for ignoring Under the Skin entirely last year, it was a very moving gesture in the right direction.
Not everything was as pleasingly forward-thinking as we’d dream of. The hopes that Don Hertzfeldt’s existential delight World of Tomorrow might win were dashed by a likely heartwarming sketch about CG-bears. Any hopes the Academy may devote their Documentary Feature category for a powerful, carefully political act of bravery were politely excused by Asif Kapadia’s Amy taking the stage. These aren’t brave choices exactly, but they weren’t particularly dubious wins either. The same could not be said for Original Song, where Sam Smith won for his limpid Spectre dirge, taking it from more politically deserving or quality nominees, and being presumptuous enough to assume himself the first openly gay Oscar winner – How dare you trounce upon Pedro Almodovar!
The show itself couldn’t quite keep up with the cinematic, if not quite racial, diversity of winners, but it did a very good job of injecting a self-congratulatory event with confrontational discussions about racism in Hollywood. Chris Rock’s monologue was the nicely acidic highlight of his hosting efforts, which would soon depreciate in cringe-worthy jokes at Clueless star Stacey Dash’s expense and a lack of insight as to the other ways homogeneity is limiting the Academy’s focus. While black nominees are what many hasten to think of with regards to #OscarsSoWhite, the lack of conversation about Latinos, Asians, women and LGBTQ nominees is the kind of half-measure that keeps this year’s ceremony from ascending to greatness.
The technical credits were similarly inconsistent, as the musical performances struggled desperately, and often failed, to enliven the damp tones of the Original Song nominees – points to The Weeknd for bringing some subversive flair to the night (Jacob Tremblay’s had quite a journey this year, hasn’t he?). When it came to the Sound categories, though, the show knew precisely how to illuminate the credits and differences of the categories. Sound Editing was punchy montage of whizzing, whirring sounds while Sound Mixing played up the intricate balance of aural experiences. It was a moment that deeply understood how to appreciate below-the-line craft, and this year no award felt cheap or secondary. Was it a perfect night for inclusivity? Heavens no, but it proved my dreadful assumptions about this season, if not wrong, then a bit too strong.
— Lena Houst (@Lena_Houst) February 29, 2016
Best Picture: Spotlight
Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay & Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Best Original Screenplay: Thomas McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight
Best Animated Feature: Inside Out
Best Documentary Feature: Amy
Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
Best Animated Short: Bear Story
Best Live-Action Short: Stutterer
Best Documentary Short: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Best Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Best Costume Design: Jenny Beaven, Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song: “Writings on the Wall”, Spectre
Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina