by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
In a night filled with a handful of surprises here and there, the 88th annual Academy Awards saved its biggest, if not entirely unexpected, shock for last, investigative journalism procedural Spotlight walking away with the Best Picture Oscar moments after existential colonial America revenge thriller The Revenant picked up awards for Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu. 'This film gave a voice to survivors,' said clearly surprised Spotlight producer Michael Sugar seconds after taking the stage, 'and this Oscar amplifies that voice which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it's time to protect the children and restore the faith.'
The movie, an examination of the Boston Globe putting a microscope to the Catholic Church and the scandals involving a number of their priests, an investigative sojourn that revealed a cover-up of massive proportions that spanned the entire globe, was initially seen as the Best Picture frontrunner when it was released to theatres last November. But in spite of glowing reviews and solid box office numbers, perception in the industry began to change with the December releases of both The Revenant as well as the housing crisis comedy-drama hybrid The Big Short. Going into Sunday's telecast those were the films seen as having the most momentum to take home the top prize.
After snatching up the award for Best Original Screenplay alongside Josh Singer, Spotlight director and co-writer Tom McCarthy sounded slightly resigned this potentially could have been his much-lauded film's only Oscar. 'We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome is really an inspiration to all,' he said solemnly. 'We have to make sure this never happens again.' In the end, it was the first time since 1953 that a Best Picture winner took home less than three Academy Awards, Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth the last film to claim the Picture/Screenplay victory combination.
As for The Revenant, it picked up three Oscars, two for the aforementioned Iñárritu and DiCaprio, it's last in Best Cinematography for veteran Emmanuel Lubezki's innovative and expressive camerawork. Winning an unprecedented third Academy Award in a row, Lubezki did not take this honor lightly. 'This is incredible,' he said with a massive smile after accepting his award. He followed that exclamation of joy moments later backstage stating, 'I never saw the Academy Awards as a competition. I think it's something that you guys created. It's more a celebration of the craft and the art of filmmaking in general. And I'm just so lucky to be here.'
For DiCaprio, his Best Actor was viewed as something of a foregone conclusion by most in the industry, and it was clear he had prepared his remarks accordingly, delivering arguably the night's most politically-minded acceptance speech. 'I just want to say this,' he began. 'Making The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.... I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.'
George Miller's apocalyptic dystopian actioner Mad Max: Fury Road was arguably the night's biggest winner, the long-in-coming sequel (it had been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) taking home Oscars for Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Each winner took the stage with giddy enthusiasm, clearly dumbstruck and surprised their high-octane genre thriller was being accepted by Academy voters. But that did not keep a few of the winners from making statements DiCaprio would soon echo later. 'What another lovely day,' said costume designer Jenny Beavan. 'I just want to say one quite serious thing. I've been thinking about this a lot, but actually it could be horribly prophetic, Mad Max, if we're not kinder to each other and if we don't stop polluting our atmosphere - so you know, it could happen.'
Editor Margaret Sixel, a documentary veteran, who had to be convinced by her husband - who happened to be Miller himself - to take the job cutting Mad Max: Fury Road in the first place, took her moment to recognize and thank the Academy for the many accolades Mad Max had received that evening. 'Us Mad Maxers are doing okay tonight,' she said with a contented grin. 'You know, Mad Max was the best-reviewed film of 2015. Audiences loved it, and to be honored tonight is just more than we could ever have hoped for.'
After snatching the Best Actress prize for her stunning turn in Room, Brie Larson took her moment to thank those who helped put her small, independent feature on the map, allowing it to get noticed by the Academy in the first place. 'I want to start big because the thing that I love about moviemaking is how many people it takes to make it, so I want to start first with the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, who gave us a chance, who gave us a platform first,' she gushed. 'Thank you to everyone who participated in Room. Thank you to all of you who saw it. Thank you to the fans. Thank you to the moviegoers. Thank you for going to the theater and seeing our films. I appreciate it.'
In something of a minor surprise, Mark Rylance took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, expected winner Sylvester Stallone of Creed forced to sit and watch as he stepped up onto the stage. 'I want to just say thank you to my fellow nominees,' he said with heartfelt authenticity. 'I don't know how they separate my acting from your glorious acting in these wonderful films that you're in, which everyone must see. I don't know how they separated the five of us from all the other supporting actors who are making films at the moment. It's a wonderful time to be an actor and I'm proud to be part of it.'
On the flip side, as most predicted Alicia Vikander won for Best Supporting Actress for her superlative work in The Danish Girl, the moderately fictionalized story of Transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, making sure to single out her nominated co-star Eddie Redmayne in her acceptance speech. 'Thank you for being the best acting partner,' she happily proclaimed while Redmayne looked on joyfully. 'I couldn't have done it without you. You raised my game.'
The Big Short took home the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Son of Saul was named Best Foreign Language Film, Amy Best Documentary and Inside Out Best Animated Feature, all of which was expected by most prognosticators. Independently produced science fiction thriller Ex-Machina took home the prize for Best Visual Effects, emerging victorious over bigger budgeted frontrunners Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian and The Revenant, while veteran composer Ennio Morricone received the night's longest and loudest ovation after winning the Best Original Score Oscar for his work in The Hateful Eight. 'Thank you, the Academy, for this prestigious acknowledgement,' he said through an interpreter. 'There isn't a great soundtrack without a great movie that inspires it. I want to thank Quentin Tarantino for having chosen me... I dedicate this award to my wife, Maria.'
Then there is the case of Sam Smith, picking up the Academy Award for Best Original Song for his Spectre theme song, 'Writing's On the Wall,' alongside co-writer Jimmy Napes. In what he hoped would be an important moment for LGBTQ acceptance in the entertainment industry, the singer instead planted his foot firmly in his mouth, not only misquoting icon Ian McKellan, but also coming off as something of a clueless, self-absorbed jerk in the process as he wrongly proclaimed to be the first openly Gay man to win an Oscar. While there was nothing wrong with his speech in and of itself, the fact he didn't appear to research his comments before making them was just plain foolish.
Host Chris Rock tackled the #OscarSoWhite controversy right from the start, not holding back at any point throughout the night, especially during his pointedly political opening monologue. 'Well, I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People's Choice Awards,' he began. 'You realize, if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job. You all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.'
Same time, Rock also took aim at those saying he should have stepped down as Oscar host and boycotted the event. 'No one with a job ever tells you to quit. I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard, but I realized they're going to have the Oscars anyway. They're not going to cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart. I don't need that. Kev makes movies fast. Every month. Porno stars don't make movies that fast.'
'Now the thing is, why we protesting? That's the big question. Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know? It's the 88th Academy Awards. It's the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times...You've got to figure that it happened in the '50s, in the '60s, you know? In the '60s, one of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn't put out a movie.... And black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time.... Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.'
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