A Look Back at the Academy Awards

Chris Rock OscarsFor a ceremony that traditionally glorifies vanity and glamour, this year’s Oscars telecast took a drastic turn toward the political. Hosted by Chris Rock on Sunday, Feb. 28, the 88th Academy Awards covered everything from racism to gender roles with some shocking category upsets in between.

Hollywood’s biggest night garnered controversy earlier in the year when the Academy failed to nominate people of color in any of the major categories. Nods were only granted to white actors and actresses, prompting some to question why Michael B. Jordan or Will Smith had been glossed over for their powerful turns in Creed and Concussion, respectively. The drama led many black industry members to boycott the telecast, deeming this year’s ceremony as #OscarsSoWhite.

The controversy called into question whether Rock would still host the event, but he stuck to his gig and confronted the issue head on, utilizing his specific style of satire to both acknowledge the social issue and mock it for spiraling out of control. Rock proved himself to be a capable host, delivering plenty of laughs in his opening monologue without concern for being politically correct. His writing was solid but bits were often a hit or miss, scoring with pre-recorded segments but falling a little flat with some filler audience interaction. His endeavor to sell his daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies to the crowd was endearing at first, but didn’t have the weight to be maintained throughout the show (though the post-ceremony Instagram pictures of celebrities gorging on Thin Mints might have made it worthwhile).

The night kicked off by awarding Spotlight with Best Original Screenplay, a precursor of the biggest award of the night. The Big Short grabbed the statue for Best Adapted Screenplay directly after.

Celebrity presenters for the most part seemed to be delivering better bits than usual, and memorable duos included Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe (doing press for their upcoming feature The Nice Guys) and the always hilarious Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Falling a little flat were bits by Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Mad Max: Fury Road racked up the awards as the night wore on, snagging Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Design & Mixing, and Visual Effects. Other notable wins were Best Supporting Actress, which went to Alicia Vikander of The Danish Girl, and Best Supporting Actor, which was awarded to Mark Rylance of Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone’s revival of Rocky Balboa in one of the night’s more surprising upsets.

The telecast featured several musical performances of hits that were up for Best Original Song. Sam Smith took the stage first, delivering a rendition of “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre, which ultimately claimed the Oscar. The Weekend gave an elaborate performance of “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey, but the real star of the night was Lady Gaga. Introduced by Vice President Joe Biden with a rousing speech imploring the audience to take a stand against sexual violence, Lady Gaga sat at the piano to sing “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground. Joining her on stage were real victims of sexual abuse, standing in solidarity with messages like “not my fault” written on their arms. The stirring performances earned a standing ovation, and was easily one of the highlights of the night.

As the ceremony dragged on well past its intended runtime, all attention was turned toward the show’s most prestigious categories. As the heavy favorite, it was unsurprising when Brie Larson took home the Best Actress trophy for her painfully raw portrayal of a captive mother in Room. Though it was nothing short of a shoo-in, the win was well-deserved and has cemented Larson as a heavy-hitter in the industry.

Leonardo Dicaprio OscarsPerhaps the most anticipated award of the night was that of Best Actor, which had generated intense discussion over whether Leonardo DiCaprio would finally claim the prize. His performance in The Revenant was highly praised by critics, and he also went into this category as the favorite. After five nominations dating back to 1994, DiCaprio was at long last awarded the Oscar.

Given The Revenant’s momentum in the industry over the last few weeks, many experts were certain that it would be named Best Picture. The film’s director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, had been awarded with Best Director earlier in the evening, and the film also claimed Best Cinematography under the artful Emmanuel Lubezki. But as the clock struck midnight, it was a different title that overtook the frontrunner: Spotlight.

An intense biopic about reporters from the Boston Globe who uncovered the child molestation scandal within the Catholic Church, Spotlight was touted as a favorite early in the cycle, but lost steam in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. In the end, though, the powerhouse driven by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams came out on top.

Rating reports have determined that this year’s Oscars received the third lowest viewership ever, resulting in an eight-year low. It seems that despite the controversy and anticipated hosting gig, audiences weren’t as engaged. Whether the social preaching was overkill or the films just weren’t as mainstream, the 88th Academy Awards didn’t quite live up to the hype. Perhaps next year, the Oscars will embrace a more modern formula—and ideally cut an hour of its runtime.

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