Monday, February 29, 2016

10 Highlights from This Year's Academy Awards Ceremony

The four acting Oscar winners
With the ceremony behind us, it's time to remember everything that happened at this year's Academy Awards. For many, it marked one of the most exciting races in recent years. In fact, the year was not without some big surprises. For starters, the racially charged evening by host Chris Rock is likely to split many viewers. Even then, it's still great to know that this year wasn't the least bit dull. In the annual two part wrap-up, I will be recounting the highs and lows of the ceremony. In this article, I will be highlighting the positive, of which there's plenty to choose from.

1. Chris Rock

While the whole Oscars So White conversation may have been a tad obnoxious, especially if you watched it unfold in real time, there's something important about how Chris Rock handled it. His opening monologue was rich with powerful symbolism, such as comparing the conflict to the Civil Rights Movement and making comments about Paul Giamatti's range between 12 Years a Slave and Straight Outta Compton. Even if he mostly did his part to prod the audience, he still came away as one of the best hosts solely for his ability to keep the show moving, never allowing a segment to last too long or throw in any unnecessary music numbers just for pomp and circumstance. Along with three clever videos that were racially charged, he did what he did best: comment on the racial divide in America. Was he always on point? Not necessarily. However, he still kept the show going, and that's the most important thing of all.

2. The Stage Production

When it comes to The Oscars, the typical expectation is to have your presenters be dull and straightforward. However, Rock and producer Reginald Hudlin did the unexpected by turning the stage itself an engaging experience for the viewers. During almost every presentation, the stage evolved to fit within a production. For example, Cate Blanchett presented Best Costume Design while walking through various props, the camera always focused on her face. It's a measure that was repeated throughout the night, including for Best Visual Effects and Best Editing. To say the least, the stage was its own art form this year, and I wish that I had more resources/time to deeply analyze every little intricacy on the stage.

Scene from Bridge of Spies
3. The Best Sound Editing/Best Sound Mixing Presentation

Following the intriguing choice to turn the evening into a narrative of the process, the show quickly went into the familiar inventive presentations for additional categories. In what was the best of the night, the one-two punch of Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (both went to Mad Max: Fury Road) featured clips from the nominated movies reflecting what they did best: sound. Without words, the clips played in a furious fashion, creating experience necessary to properly judge the quality. It was a riveting experience, and one that embodies what The Academy should do when having fun with their own ceremony.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road wins 6 Oscars

There was a reason that Louis C.K. joked during the Best Documentary Short that Mad Max: Fury Road was the winner. Up until that point, it seemed like director George Miller's crazy car film was going to win it all. It ended up with a healthy, unexpected six awards that ranged from Best Editing to Best Visual Effects to Best Costume Design. Joining Gravity and The Grand Budapest Hotel in sweeping these fields, it was rather fun to watch the winners come up and give  speeches, if just because of how odd some of them looked. Best Costume Design winner Jenny Beavan came up in a leather jacket featuring a familiar logo for fans of the film. While they were absent from the latter half's winnings, the film ended up winning twice as many as the second biggest hauler: The Revenant.

5. The Weeknd performs "Earned It"

In a year that had lousy song performances (not to mention the absence of two nominees), it was strange to see The Weeknd walk away with the best performance for "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey. If nothing else, he managed to create an intriguing, sultry mixture of S&M themes with Robert Palmer dance techniques. While the song isn't immediately one of the best in the awards' history, it definitely was the best of the night. If nothing else, it could just be that the others lacked artistic merit (or in the case of Lady GaGa: humbleness) in how they were represented. Still, it's still weird to know that you can say that there was a "seductive" performance at the Oscars this year.

6. Mark Rylance wins Best Supporting Actor

Was there any bigger surprise of the evening than Mark Rylance beating Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor? Considering that Bridge of Spies has sadly been heavily forgotten at other awards shows, it was a relief to know that Rylance's charismatic, humorous performance managed to get an honor over yet another legacy win. As one could expect, he was just as humble and grateful as all lesser known actors who win in this field are. Still, it was glowing evidence that even if The Oscars can  be very predictable, there's still room for an upset. The only wish is that Bridge of Spies was more recognized overall, including a nomination for Tom Hanks.

7. The Movie References

One of the reasons that this year's ceremony was great is due in part to how much it felt like it was honoring movies of every sort. While some are quicker to notice the repeating Suge Knight (of Straight Outta Compton) references, there were many scattered throughout the evening, including The Revenant bear, Minions, Toy Story, Star Wars, and the surprising return of Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G of Da Ali G Show. While this character hasn't been publicly seen in probably a decade, the choice to have him comment on the lack of diversity by calling Minions "yellow people" was a fun joke and left fans of Cohen's breakthrough creation wanting more. While the cameos ranged from inspired to pointless, it still felt like The Oscars were actually honoring cinema, and that is enough to justify each one.

8. Brie Larson wins Best Actress

Among the more predictable winners, Brie Larson's performance in Room almost seemed like a lock. That still doesn't stop it from being an exciting moment when a well deserved performance takes home the trophy. With a humble speech accompanying the win, it was great to see her be thankful for the honor. Of course, it also helps that she had the best Oscar partner of the evening, where she was constantly seen interacting with Room co-star Jacob Tremblay. Considering that I was a fan going back to her United States of Tara days, there's an additional overwhelming joy I have in seeing her win. Here's hoping that she will be back sooner than later.

9. Leonardo DiCaprio's Acceptance Speech

While I am conflicted about Leonardo DiCaprio winning a legacy award for The Revenant, I will admit that he really had the momentum to give a cheesy speech. By some luck, he gave one that was very humble and full of emotion. There was a sense that it mattered to him, and that may have been enough to make his one of the better speeches of the evening. Along with conspiracy theories that maybe he held the presenter envelope in such a manner to flip off the audience, it was a legacy win that was treated as such. Now hopefully those godawful memes of The Oscars hating him will just go erase themselves from the internet.

10. Spotlight wins Best Picture

There was plenty to be concerned about regarding who would win Best Picture. Many had it pegged on The Revenant or The Big Short. However, it was a relief when Spotlight won, if just because of its cultural value that made it far more significant than its competition. The acceptance speech was the familiar garden variety of thanks and set yet another year in which the Best Picture and Best Director categories were split. In another moment of irony, Spotlight only won one other award for Best Original Screenplay... which was at the start of the ceremony. While it isn't the lowest-winning Best Picture film in history (that would be Grand Hotel), it is the lowest in quite awhile which is both unfortunate and reflective of the quality competition that it was up against this year.

Random Highlights:

1. Morgan Freeman stealing Girl Scout Cookies from Chris Rock following the Best Picture acceptance speech.

2. The strange feeling that Lou Gosset Jr. played the Jack Nicholson/butt of the jokes role.

3. The presenters each got their own scrawl with information regarding their relation to The Oscars. An interesting concept, unless you have a smaller TV.

4. The decision to have additional boxes that featured each winner's additional thanks going alongside their actual speeches.

5. The acting categories were presented cleverly the camera turning to a drape with the performer's face on it as the presenter announced their part.

6. Inside Out winning Best Animated Film.

7. Make sure to watch the closing credits carefully. It features a lot of subversive jokes. What was Chris Rock's final line? "Brooklyn!" The other references began with Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" before jumping into Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (from controversial snub Do the Right Thing). Still, the entire ceremony ended with a bear growl, as if rewarding those that stayed until the very end.

1 comment:

  1. Nice list. Grand Hotel isn't the only Best Picture winner whose only win was the top award—The Broadway Melody and Mutiny On The Bounty achieved likewise at their Oscar ceremonies. Spotlight, on the other hand, is the first Best Picture winner to only win one other award since 1952's The Greatest Show On Earth.