Sunday, February 28, 2016

Academy Awards 2016

Of course the thing everyone was holding their collective breath for was wondering what Chris Rock would say after so many black filmmakers boycotted the Oscars because there were no blacks nominated for the major awards--for two years running now. And he did not disappoint. The first surprise, however, happened before he took the stage. The opening of the program was a lengthy montage of every major film released during the past year. It was actually fairly impressive. When Chris Rock took to the stage he addressed the controversy head on. At times the audience was startled into silence, but he forged ahead, ending on the fact that there simply needs to be more opportunities given to blacks. He was nervous, to be sure, but he was also funny and said what needed to be said. But the thing is, he didn’t let it go after that, and kept right on hammering away at it. Another montage in which black comedians were inserted via computer graphics into some of last year’s films was terrifically funny, while a Black History Month piece honoring, who else but Jack Black, was wonderfully clever. Rock also did a piece outside a movie theater in Compton with black moviegoers, that was a stark reminder of how artistically divided the country really is.

The next big surprise was the order of the awards. Usually the first award goes to best supporting actor, and then there is a long spell of minor awards before the rest of the major awards at the end of the show. This year, however, the conceit was that the order would attempt to follow the filmmaking process itself by starting with the writers. The first award was for original screenplay, a category that even included a nomination for an animated film. The award went to Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, the film about the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church and the molestation of boys by priests. Next, for adapted screenplay, Charles Randolph and Randall McCay won for The Big Short, about the housing crash in 2008, adapted from the book by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame. After that the first of the acting awards was given out, shoehorned in among the more technical awards, and best supporting actress went to Swedish actress Alicia Vikander for her performance in the British film The Danish Girl.

Costume design was up next, an award that usually goes to a costume or historical drama, though not usually for science-fiction or other challenging wardrobes, so it was a surprise that the Oscar went to Jenny Beavan for Mad Max: Fury Road. She had won previously back in 1987 for a more traditional historical drama, A Room with a View. Production design, an incredibly unsung award, was given to Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson for Mad Max: Fury Road yet again. Make up and hairstyling went to Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, making it a clean sweep for Mad Max in the visual design awards. This led, quite naturally, to the award for cinematography. The Oscar went for the third year in a row to Emmanuel Lubezki, this time for his work on The Revenant. After the film is shot, it must be edited, and this award was given to Margaret Sixel and continued the dominance of Mad Max on the technical side of the awards. Sound editing went to Mark Mangini and David White, again for Mad Max, while sound mixing completed the sweep for Mad Max, going to the team of Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo. Visual effects, formerly known as special effects, broke the streak and went to the team of Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett for Ex Machina, a British sci-fi film about robots with artificial intelligence.

The animated film categories were next, beginning with a tedious intro by the minions. The short film award went to Bear Story from Chile. The feature category was introduced by Pixar’s Woody and Buzz and was won by, no surprise, Pixar’s Inside Out. From here it was on to another award for acting, best supporting actor. The obvious sentimental favorite was Sylvester Stalone for Creed, but the award went to Mark Rylance in Stephen Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies for playing a captured Russian spy. Louis C.K. did a terrific introduction to the documentary short subject. The winner was A Girl in the River, about the hundreds of women who are killed in Pakistan because of “honor” every year and one who survived. The feature documentary award was given to Amy, a documentary about the late R&B singer Amy Winehouse. Honorary awards that were given out the previous November went to Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee, and the humanitarian award went to Debbie Reynolds. Vice President Joe Biden even made an appearance making an appeal for stopping sexual abuse on college campuses across the country in conjunction with the film The Hunting Ground.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American herself, made her speech about how the Academy is working toward making the steps necessary to reflect the diversity that is inherent not only in the country but in the worldwide audience as well. This year’s memoriam of actors and filmmakers who died in the last year was especially poignant because of the well-known names among them. The roll included actors Robert Loggia, Alan Rickman, Lizabeth Scott, Christopher Lee, Maureen O’Hara, Omar Sharif, Dean Jones, Alex Rocco, and Leonard Nimoy, director Wes Craven, composer James Horner, writers James White and Melissa Mattheson, film critic Richard Corliss, and producer Jerry Weintraub. The winner for live action short film was given next, and went to the British film Stutterer, while best foreign language film was given to the Hungarian Holocaust film Son of Saul. Best film score was won by the great Ennio Moricone, an award that was long overdue, for his work on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. And best song from a film went to “Writing’s on the Wall” from yet another James Bond film, Spectre. One of the other new wrinkles in the program was that many of the nominees submitted lists of people they wanted to acknowledge and when the winners were called they scrolled beneath them as the made their way to the stage. But by this point the show was it was supposed to be over, and yet there were still all of the major awards to go.

The big four were still held until the very end. The best director Oscar was awarded to Alejandro Iñárritu for the second year in a row, this time for the historical drama The Revenant. Iñárritu had also won two others the previous year, for best picture and best screenplay, making his total four Oscars in two years. The award for best actress went to Brie Larson for an incredibly dramatic performance in the film Room, about a woman who has been held captive with her young son who was fathered by her captor. Next came the award for best actor, the well-deserved Oscar going to Leonardo DiCaprio for his performance in The Revenant. His speech about the dangers of climate change was warmly received. And in the spirit of social relevance, Morgan Freeman introduced the best picture award, going to Spotlight for its portrayal of Boston’s major newspaper to uncover the scandal in the Catholic Church, and the second year in a row that Michael Keaton starred in the best picture. Now that’s a comeback. All things considered, it was a good show, and the fact that DiCaprio won even sits well with me. He’s old enough now, and done enough work, that he certainly earned it. If there was a disappointment it was that Sly Stalone didn’t win, but at least Ennio Moricone was given the recognition he richly deserves. And I’m excited to take a look at Spotlight and review it for next year’s show.

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