It’s that time of year once again when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences trots out an overlong and congratulatory show. It’s a night that dedicated movie nuts and live-performance-obsessed junkies tend to view with great anticipation. I’m in the camp that roots for the underdogs, snoozes at the musical numbers, and gets a kick out of the mockery of it all. As someone who cares a little more about the movies themselves than the spectacle of who wore what, here is my take on this year’s Oscars.
Though I’m not much for the show itself, the subject of Chris Rock hosting just can’t be glazed over. All eyes were on Rock as the black host of an awards ceremony for all-white nominations. Would he bend to the whim of Hollywood or savage it for its blind racism? It turns out he did both and neither. Chris Rock did exactly what I expected him to do — he spoke his mind with honest feelings in a heated situation. He brought light to the lack of diversity in the nominations, but also to aspects of the protest that appeared to him as strange. You can agree or disagree with his stance on the Academy, but you can’t deny that Rock brought much-needed clarity and balance. The fact that he speaks his mind is why he gets hired and why he stands apart from other hosts. He even had some decent jokes about Kevin Hart being cast in so many roles.
Mad Max: Fury Road was poised to sweep the technical awards and did just that. It reeled in just about every category from Film Editing to Sound Editing to Costume Design (I thought Cinderella had this one). The film didn’t win for Best Picture or Best Director. While there were probably many contributing factors, the Academy doesn’t tend to favor genre pictures for such higher categories. At least they know a good-looking movie when they see one.
The biggest surprise of the night was Ex Machina taking home the award for Best Visual Effects. This little sci-fi film by Alex Garland went up against the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both of which sank more money into their incredible visual effects. But the “simplicity” of turning Alicia Vikander into an android was such a flawless feat that it rightfully deserves such recognition. It’s a case of less being more — and proof that you don’t need to crowd the screen to create the best visual effects.
Speaking of Alicia Vikander, she won Best Supporting Actress this year, but not for Ex Machina. It was her role in The Danish Girl that caught the Academy’s attention as a young and talented actress on the rise. She was one of the few actors accepting an award that was actually surprised: in her ecstatic acceptance speech she was nearly reduced to tears. Mark Rylance won the award for Best Supporting Actor in Bridge of Spies. More collected and humbled, Rylance thanked Spielberg and expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to be in a movie directed by such a talented director.
Best Documentary went to Amy which showcased the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. Personally, I didn’t feel as though I learned anything new about her through the film, and the story itself — a young and eccentric singer downed by fame — isn’t revelation either. I was hoping for either Cartel Land or The Look of Silence, both films that shed light on serious issues. That said, all the nominees were superb this year. All of them can be viewed on Netflix and Amazon Prime as of this writing.
Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” for Spectre took home a somewhat surprising win for Best Original Song. Though it was probably the most popular song from last year’s films, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good song for a James Bond movie. Smith’s win also came as a bit of a shock considering the superior performance of Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens To You” for The Hunting Ground.
It was a lock from the moment I saw it as far as I’m concerned, but I’m glad Inside Out took home the award for Best Animated Feature. This picture was one of Pixar’s best in at least half a decade, and Pete Docter deserves such an accolade for pushing the studio further into doing challenging animated films. Worth noting is that Inside Out was the only computer-animated movie in this category, going up against movies that were either 2D-animated (such as When Marnie Was There and Boy and the World) or stop-motion (like Anomalisa, and Shaun the Sheep Movie).
There were two winners in the “about time” category for the night. Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest composers of all time, finally won an Oscar for his score on The Hateful Eight. Morricone has been nominated several times and even received an honorary Oscar a few years ago: this is his first win for one particular score. But, of course, the big talk was around Leonardo DiCaprio finally landing an Oscar for Best Actor in The Revenant. While I appreciate that the hard-working actor who rose from initial teen heartthrob status (Titanic) has finally received such acclaim, this win is like Scorsese winning an Oscar for The Departed: my reaction is equal parts “finally” and “THAT’S the winning role?”
The pick for Best Picture was very safe this year (as it is most years). Spotlight was about Boston Globe reporters revealing the Catholic Church’s extensive cover-up of sexual abuse perpetrated by American priests. With its heavy focus on scandal and journalism, the film was a shoe-in. The acceptance speech shined more light on the subject matter. Similarly, Spotlight and The Big Short won for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay for focusing on issues of the not-too-distant past that shouldn’t be forgotten.
And that’s all, folks!
Which films did you want to win or thought should have been nominated? Let us know.