Home Entertainment Oscars 2016: Chris Rock Scores and ‘Spotlight’ Takes Center Stage

Oscars 2016: Chris Rock Scores and ‘Spotlight’ Takes Center Stage

At the Academy Awards, Chris Rock scattered a wide range of race-related jokes, but also sent Girl Scouts through the audience to spike cookie sales. Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times

Los Angeles, February 29, 2016: In a ceremony that became a raucous diversity lesson under the guidance of its host, Chris Rock, “Spotlight,” a newspaper drama about the Roman Catholic Church cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, snatched top honors at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday. It beat out “The Revenant,” which had been widely viewed as the favorite, but which nevertheless earned a best actor prize for Leonardo DiCaprio, his first Oscar, and a best director award for Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Michael Sugar, a “Spotlight” producer, said he hoped the win would “resonate all the way to the Vatican.”

“The Revenant” wound up capturing three Oscars over all, compared with two for “Spotlight.’’ “Mad Max: Fury Road” led all films with six awards, including several in the technical categories.

Until the surprising finish, it seemed as if little attention would be paid to the movies. The limelight, at least in the early hours, was squarely on Mr. Rock and prickly questions of race in Hollywood.

“If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get the job,” Mr. Rock snapped as the show opened.

In a politically contentious year, Mr. Rock, the evening’s host, took the only safe course: He unloaded on everyone.

“Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” Mr. Rock said, “I wasn’t invited!”

It was a jab at Jada Pinkett Smith, and at those who had called for a boycott, because the Oscar acting nominees, for the second consecutive year, were all white.

In the end, Mr. Rock spent virtually the whole monologue on the subject of diversity, mostly spoofing it but occasionally adding more biting commentary, as when he quipped that the annual “In Memoriam” tribute would honor black people who were “shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”

Moving on to the awards, he said, “You want diversity? We got diversity. Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron,” and the two actresses appeared to present the night’s first award, for best original screenplay.
It went to Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for “Spotlight.” That award was immediately followed by the best adapted screenplay Oscar for Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for “The Big Short,” an arch primer on financial collapse. It, like “Spotlight,” was widely considered to have a shot at the night’s top prize, best picture, so the two came out of the gate neck-and-neck.

Thirty minutes into the show, Mr. Rock was still hitting the diversity theme, hard. He introduced a skit that had Whoopi Goldberg and others trying to edge their way into acting roles reserved for whites. Ms. Goldberg swished a mop next to Jennifer Lawrence in a scene supposedly from “Joy.” In another spoof, Jeff Daniels declined to spend $2,500 to save a stranded black astronaut, played by Mr. Rock, on Mars, in a takeoff on “The Martian.”

Ms. Goldberg was back later to introduce a video recap of the Governors Awards, which went to Meryl Streep, Debbie Reynolds, and Spike Lee. “It’s easier to be president of the United States as a black person than be head of a studio,” Mr. Lee had said then. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy’s president, immediately followed Ms. Goldberg with comments addressing the diversity issue.


“It’s not enough to just listen and agree,” Ms. Isaacs said. “We must take action.”

The split in top prizes capped a chaotic year in which “Spotlight,” seen as a front-runner after its debut in a string of September festivals, watched competitors win key awards from the producers guild, the directors guild and the British film academy.

But voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences embraced the confusion, honoring “Spotlight” as the best picture, while spreading its acting awards among four films. Brie Larson was named best actress for “Room”; Alicia Vikander was named best supporting actress for “The Danish Girl”; and Mark Rylance was best supporting actor for “Bridge of Spies.”

Rachel McAdams, center, and other members of the “Spotlight” contingent react when the film was named best picture. Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times

Mr. DiCaprio, who had long been considered a lock for his performance as Hugh Glass, a real-life frontiersman left for dead, in “The Revenant,” seemed to be the main event, however.

“Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world,” Mr. DiCaprio said, adding a political theme that was matched, if not one-upped, by others as the night moved on.

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now,” Mr. DiCaprio said.

He also paid tribute to Mr. Iñárritu, who in turn played a diversity theme that dominated the night.

What an opportunity, to “make sure for once and forever that the color of the skin become as irrelevant as the length of our hair,” said Mr. Iñárritu, who is from Mexico.

While Hollywood may have owed Mr. DiCaprio one after four prior acting nominations, including those for “The Aviator” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it apparently figured his prize and the directing award for Mr. Iñárritu were enough.

Mark A. Mangini, left, and David White after winning an Oscar for best sound editing, one of six won by “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Mark A. Mangini, left, and David White after winning an Oscar for best sound editing, one of six won by “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
A best picture trophy for “The Revenant” would have made Mr. Iñárritu, whose “Birdman” was best picture last year, the first director in Oscar history to direct back-to-back winners. In fact, he was only the third, after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, to win consecutive directing awards.

Ms. Larson, as was widely expected, won the best actress award, her first Oscar, for “Room.” Her performance as a mother kept captive with her young son by a sexual predator was extraordinary, in that much of it was confined to a tiny room.

The earlier awards had gone to a scattershot group of films that was dominated by a run of six craft awards for the brutal action fable “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

That had left only one early Oscar, for cinematography, to “The Revenant,” a supposed front-runner. Other winners included “The Danish Girl,” “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina” and “Inside Out.”

The “Spotlight’’ win was particularly sweet for Open Road Films, a small distributor that was formed in recent years by two theater companies, AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment. In the rough-and-tumble world of Oscar campaigning, Open Road was matched against 20th Century Fox and its allies, which backed “The Revenant,” “The Martian,” and “Brooklyn,” all of which had best picture nominations.


One question that would not be answered until Monday is whether the “In Memoriam” sequence would keep its traditional spot as a ratings high-point of the evening. Those remembered included Jerry Weintraub, Maureen O’Hara, Omar Sharif, David Bowie, Leonard Nimoy and Wes Craven.

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For the most part, they were as white as the evening’s presenters were black. At the same time, they represented the academy’s past, while Ms. Isaacs promised that new processes and rules would create a different, more inclusive future.

As the evening wore on, the causes began to stack up. Vice President Joseph R. Biden added yet another when he showed to introduce Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You,” from “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault. “I really mean this, take the pledge,” Mr. Biden urged, as he begged attention for that issue, as Mr. McCarthy, of “Spotlight,” and Mr. McKay, of “The Big Short,” had urged attention for theirs.

The original song Oscar went instead to “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre.” It wasn’t a political award, but Sam Smith, one of the composers, dedicated his Oscar to the L.G.B.T. communities around the world.

Ms. Vikander’s win, as best supporting actress for “The Danish Girl,” was the night’s first acting award. Ms. Vikander, a Swede who lives in London, underscored the international quality of the nominated actors. For only the second time since the 1960s, fully half of the 20 acting nominees were not just white, but from countries that belong to the Commonwealth.

Mr. Rylance won the best supporting actor for “Bridge of Spies.” He, too, hails from London, but played a Soviet spy — that ethnic twist was a tribute to the craft of those Commonwealth players, who spoke more about the challenges of performance than the politics of casting. “It’s a wonderful time to be an actor, thank you,” said Mr. Rylance.

The best foreign language film, “Son of Saul,” a Holocaust film from Hungary. The win, widely expected, was another reminder that the movie culture is international, and the woes it examines are larger, even, than racial concerns in the United States.

Six early wins for “Mad Max: Fury Road” — for costume design, production design, editing, sound editing, sound mixing and makeup and hairstyling — soon signaled that the evening would be an uphill climb for “The Revenant,” which had been in the running for those same Oscars. But the string of wins brought tribute after tribute not for Mr. Iñárritu, but for George Miller, the seasoned filmmaker behind the brutal, kinetic “Mad Max” series.

In one of the night’s oddest moments, Pixar — through its characters Woody and Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story” trilogy — presented itself in a best animated feature Oscar for “Inside Out.” The film, about moody characters in a girl’s brain, was filled with colors — red, blue, yellow, green and purple — but not black.

In the best documentary feature category, “Amy,” about the singer Amy Winehouse, who died of substance abuse, took the award. It was a rarity among documentaries — a popular film that drew a substantial audience at the box-office for A24, and sold well in home markets. The film had edged aside “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” both of which had lavish campaigns from their backer, Netflix.