Monday, February 29, 2016

Oscars 2015 Recap: Spotlight Stuns in a Weird, Wacky Night

A scene from "Spotlight", the surprise winner of the 2015 Best Picture
When I recap the Oscars every year, I always remind readers that I'm a movie critic, not a fashion/gala/whatever-the-hell-the-Oscars-are critic. So I can't pretend that I'm qualified to analyze the 88th Academy Awards, or Chris Rock's performance in hosting it. I'll just say that hosting the Oscars is an awkward job in general, but this year it was an especially tricky task, given that controversy swirling around the white-washing of the nominations. Rock had to chastise the Academy for its biases while simultaneously ensuring that he didn't lose the audience's goodwill.

It's a tightrope that he walked reasonably well, even if it resulted in a performance that featured more barbs than laughs. Rock made it clear that he wasn't especially happy to be there, which gave his opening monologue—so typically a rote exercise in congratulatory back-slapping—some unpredictable juice. (His most caustic zinger: his promise that the annual "In Memoriam" montage would exclusively comprise black people murdered by police on their way to the movies.) Yet as the show went on, Rock's act wore somewhat thin, and his obligatory attempts to rub elbows with the celebrities—as in the limp extended bit involving Girl Scout cookies—fell flat. (I also wonder if Rock will receive flak from other minority groups for focusing his ire exclusively toward the lack of representation for black actors, which would be quite the irony.) But again, hosting the Oscars is hard, and if Rock lacked the charm and improvisational gifts required of a great host, he was at least appropriately transgressive.

On to the movies. This year, the Manifesto went just 16-for-21 (76%), a step down from last year's 17-for-21 performance. That brands me a poor prognosticator, which is just fine with me; I'll happily trade some predictive cachet in exchange for some legitimate surprises.

On to a quick recap of the show, with the awards listed in order of their presentation:

Best Original Screenplay
Predicted winner: Spotlight—Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Inside Out—Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve
Actual winner: Spotlight—Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

No surprise here. My brain is still struggling with the notion of Tom McCarthy—the guy who played the amoral reporter on The Wire—making a hard-hitting movie venerating the nobility of journalism.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Predicted winner: The Big Short—Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: The Big Short—Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
Actual winner: The Big Short—Adam McKay, Charles Randolph

Forget the award—Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe absolutely slayed in presenting this category. Who else is excited for The Nice Guys this May?

The show followed award this with a half-clever, half-tired montage inserting black comedians—including Whoopi Goldberg, Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan—into scenes from Oscar-nominated movies (Jeff Daniels referring to money as "white dollars" was pretty hysterical). Rock then brought on Stacey Dash as the new director of the Academy's "Minority Outreach Program", a maneuver that had me thoroughly confused until I read this.

Then, Sarah Silverman introduced Sam Smith to perform "Writing's on the Wall", randomly disparaging James Bond's sexual virility in the process. As for Smith's performance, it was fine, but the song is hardly the type to fire up the Oscar crowd (or so I thought). Rock, in a rare bit of outright offensiveness, followed Smith's performance by saying, "My favorite song is 'Father Figure,'" because apparently all gay musicians sound alike.

This was followed by the first of four segments where a pair of actors (here Kerry Washington and Henry Cavill) presented clips from two different Best Picture nominees. I understand that the Academy needed to shave time—eight separate presentations would have been agony—but the method was weird, as it resulted in one presenter simply standing awkwardly while the other spoke.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Alicia Vikander—The Danish Girl (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Kate Winslet—Steve Jobs
Actual winner: Alicia Vikander—The Danish Girl

Nothing to it. Also, in case you missed it, Alicia Vikander officially exploded in 2015. I'm officially setting the over-under for her career Oscars at 2.5.

Best Costume Design
Predicted winner: Cinderella (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Carol
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road

Ouch. Serves me right for picking an upset. Also, Cate Blanchett presented this award via a silky walk-and-talk, further proof that Cate Blanchett can improve absolutely anything.

Best Production Design
Predicted winner: Mad Max: Fury Road (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Mad Max: Fury Road
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road

No argument from me on this one.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Predicted winner: Mad Max: Fury Road (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Mad Max: Fury Road
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road

I'll admit that I Googled "merkin" when Jared Leto told me to, though I had to take my eyes off Margot Robbie first.

After that quick-hitting triple play from Mad Max: Fury Road, Benicio Del Toro stumbled through his introduction of The Revenant, followed by Jennifer Garner showing him how it's done in teasing Fury Road.

Best Cinematography
Predicted winner: The Revenant—Emmanuel Lubezki (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: The Revenant—Emmanuel Lubezki
Actual winner: The Revenant—Emmanuel Lubezki

Not a surprise here, as we all OH MY GOD RACHEL MCADAMS' DRESS. (Also, I'm a bit disappointed that, after winning this category for the third straight year, Lubezki didn't conclude his speech by saying, "I'll see you all again up here next year.")

Best Film Editing
Predicted winner: Mad Max: Fury Road—Margaret Sixel (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Spotlight—Tom McArdle
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road—Margaret Sixel

At this point, George Miller had to start wondering if he should have actually written an acceptance speech for Best Director.

After this, Angela Bassett dropped in to deliver the "Black History Month Minute", pretending to honor Will Smith before ultimately revealing that she was talking about Jack Black. It was a cleverly disguised joke, though it probably played better on the page than the screen.

Best Sound Editing
Predicted winner: Mad Max: Fury Road (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road

This was the first memorable speech of the night—these guys actually seemed excited to be up there (to the point where ABC had to bleep them). It's always nice to see craftsmen who actually enjoy being recognized for their work.

Best Sound Mixing
Predicted winner: Mad Max: Fury Road (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Mad Max: Fury Road
Actual winner: Mad Max: Fury Road

So at this point, Mad Max: Fury Road had racked up six Oscars, while no other movie had more than one. If nothing else, it seemed destined to win the award for...

Best Visual Effects
Predicted winner: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: The Revenant
Actual winner: Ex Machina

Whoa! I knew my Star Wars pick was shaky here, but I certainly didn't expect Ex Machina to walk away with the prize. Kudos to the Academy for honoring the film's subtle, brilliant effects work (even if the telecast's promo clip inadvertently spoiled one of the movie's twists).

Then, Jason Segel and Olivia Munn gave the boilerplate presentation about the Governors Award. No one ever cares about this stuff, but at least they jazzed up the clip this time around.

Then, after C-3PO flopped, Rock did his Girl Scout cookie bit. It was like Ellen DeGeneres with the pizza two years ago, only worse. And it still wasn't as bad as the freaking minions.

Best Animated Feature
Predicted winner: Inside Out (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Inside Out
Actual winner: Inside Out

That's "Oscar-winning Inside Out" to you. Terrific speech from Pete Docter, encouraging sad teenage nerds everywhere to channel their loneliness into art. Not that it hit home or anything.

Then, Kevin Hart complained about his seat before introducing The Weeknd to perform his song from Fifty Shades of Grey. It was a much livelier rendition than Smith's, though the best of the live performances was still yet to come.

After Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet introduced Bridge of Spies and Spotlight, Rock played a pre-taped bit where he interviewed black moviegoers about the Oscars. He actually did the same thing the last time he hosted 11 years ago, though he didn't include a brilliant cameo from Albert Brooks this time around.

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Sylvester Stallone—Creed (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Tom Hardy—The Revenant
Actual winner: Mark Rylance—Bridge of Spies

Whoa #2! I wasn't completely convinced that Stallone had this one in the bag, but I still squealed in delight when Patricia Arquette—who was either loaded up on valium or absolutely disgusted to be at the theater—read off Rylance's name. Excellent speech from Rylance to boot. Have you seen him yet in Wolf Hall? It's streaming on Amazon Prime. Just saying.

Best Documentary Feature
Predicted winner: Amy (confidence: 3/5)
Actual winner: Amy

Who says you need to watch the movies to predict the Oscars? Another strong speech.

Rock then made an intentionally outrageous joke about Asians; apparently he'd traded places with Ryan Gosling's character in The Big Short. Whatever. This was followed by Whoopi Goldberg doing something boring, then Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs delivering an empty, overwritten speech about diversity. I'm sure that'll satisfy everyone.

Then Louis Gossett Jr. introduced the "In Memoriam" montage, with random live accompaniment from Dave Grohl. It's a pity it didn't conclude with Alan Rickman snarling at Bruce Willis in Die Hard, but oh well.

Best Foreign Language Film
Predicted winner: Son of Saul (confidence: 4/5)
Actual winner: Son of Saul

Another nice speech. It's gratifying that so many recipients actually had something to say beyond an endless stream of thank-yous.

Then Joe Biden—Joe Biden!—dropped by to introduce Lady Gaga, who absolutely blew the roof off the theater with her searing, fire-breathing performance of "Til It Happens to You", which was clearly destined to win Best Original Song. Right?

Best Original Score
Predicted winner: The Hateful Eight—Ennio Morricone (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Carol—Carter Burwell
Actual winner: The Hateful Eight—Ennio Morricone

Maybe someday, Carter.

Best Original Song
Predicted winner: The Hunting Ground—"Til It Happens to You" (Lady Gaga and Diane Warren) (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: Spectre—"Writing's on the Wall" (Sam Smith)

Well, I certainly didn't see that coming. How many Academy members watched Lady Gaga's performance and then immediately tried to change their vote before the announcement? At least Smith gave a touching speech.

Then Sacha Baron Cohen, as Ali G, dubbed himself "yet another token black presenter" when introducing Room. That was funny. As for Olivia Wilde, I think that [censored]. (Also, the telecast played roughly 30 seconds of clips from Brooklyn, and I still had to fight back tears. What a movie.)

Best Director
Predicted winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu—The Revenant (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: George Miller—Mad Max: Fury Road
Actual winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu—The Revenant

Stay seated, George. This award felt preordained, but it surely allowed The Revenant to heave a sigh of relief in advance of the Best Picture announcement. Kudos to Iñárritu for plowing through the orchestra and finishing his heartfelt speech decrying racism.

Best Actress
Predicted winner: Brie Larson—Room (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Saoirse Ronan—Brooklyn
Actual winner: Brie Larson—Room

No surprise here. This meant that six of the eight Best Picture nominees walked away with at least one trophy.

Best Actor
Predicted winner: Leonardo DiCaprio—The Revenant (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Michael Fassbender—Steve Jobs
Actual winner: Leonardo DiCaprio—The Revenant

Finally. Again, The Revenant features probably my 143rd-favorite DiCaprio performance, but I'm happy for the man. He's earned this. He also gave a phenomenal, beautifully prepared speech: poised and gracious, with a familiar but earnest plea about climate change. We need more like him.

Best Picture
Predicted winner: The Revenant (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Brooklyn
Actual winner: Spotlight

WHOA! I knew Spotlight was one of three movies with a legitimate chance to win, but I actually would have pegged it in third place behind The Revenant and The Big Short. It wasn't my favorite film of 2015—it just missed my top 10—but it's still an excellent movie. The Academy did a good thing here.

And that's a wrap. Thanks for following the Manifesto's Oscars coverage. We'll be back with reviews of new theatrical releases soon.

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