To those who say the Oscars are always boring or predictable, this year’s ceremony warrants an adjustment of such an assessment. Indeed, the 88th Academy Awards weren’t just surprising, they were downright shocking in many an instance. From Chris Rock’s opening monologue to the Best Picture announcement, the show offered some true jolts.
Everyone knew that Chris Rock would be outspoken in his opener, but did anyone foresee him mentioning the raping and lynching of black people in the 1960’s? You can’t argue with his point about our nation’s shameful history of such horrors, but it was shocking to hear him express something like that at the top of Hollywood’s most self-congratulatory night.
“Spotlight” was the frontrunner for Best Picture for months, but by February 28 it had become an underdog. Losses to “The Big Short” at the Producers Guild Award and to “The Revenant” at the Director’s Guild and BAFTA rendered it a bit of an also-ran. Its losses in category after category Sunday night didn’t help matters either, despite an early win for Best Original Screenplay. But then just as you thought final presenter Morgan Freeman was going to announce director winner Alejandro Inarritu’s western had taken the top prize too, he uttered the name “Spotlight.” It’s the first movie since 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” to win Best Picture and only one other Oscar in its year’s competition.
“Ex Machina”, with a meager budget of only $15-million-dollar, bested its four $100-million-plus competitors - “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Martian”, “The Revenant” and “Mad Max Fury Road” – to take the award for Best Visual Effects. And in doing so, it became the effects Oscar winner with the lowest budget in that award’s history.
Sylvester Stallone was considered by most Oscar pundits to be a shoo-in for his reprise of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” The experts over at Gold Derby called his victory an absolute lock. But Mark Rylance’s sly performance in “Bridge of Spies” prevailed as Best Supporting Actor instead in what was one of the night’s biggest jaw-droppers.
Despite all the ginormous press and publicity surrounding Lady Gaga’s Oscar nomination for Best Song, her victory was snatched by the latest Bond song that few thought much of. Her performance of “Till It Happens to You” rocked the auditorium, but the wildly enthusiastic applause she received for singing it would have to suffice as her only prize this Sunday eve.
And speaking of the Best Original Song category, two of the five nominees did not warrant an on-air performance by the Oscar powers that be. Bias, yes. Unfair playing field, absolutely. Tacky misjudgment, incredibly so.
“Mad Max Fury Road” was expected to dominate the technical awards, but it blew out all of its heady competition in the categories of costume design, production design, hair & makeup, editing, and both sound awards. (Everyone thanked helmer George Miller, but alas, the man most responsible for the film would not get any time at the podium as his name was not called as Best Director.)
Even with the god-awful ticker tape crawl listing those the winners wished to thank, the band still started to play off most of the winners, including Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl.” Shocking that the producers of the broadcast wouldn’t let one of the key acting award winners finish unencumbered. Stupid too. Louis CK was hilarious but why should he get two minutes to do shtick before presenting when Oscar winners are robbed of their moment in the sun?
Despite rushing winners through their acceptance speech, the show’s creators found plenty of time for Chris Rock to milk a feeble Girl Scout cookies bit. Do Thin Mints deserve more screen time than the screenwriting winners? And isn’t the trolling of the audience the same Ellen Degeneres bit involving pizza from a few years back?
And while much of what Rock said in his opener were words the Academy needed to hear, too much of the comedy in the rest of the show contained terms that do not reflect well on Hollywood’s biggest night. Comparisons were made to the porn industry not once, but twice. Getting in Rihanna’s panties was too ribald of a joke and a bit sexist on Rock’s part to boot. And Jared Leto not only mentioned merkins in his presentation, but he extolled the audience at home to Google the term. These jokes may qualify as modern humor but they sully the conclusion to an Oscar season that already was way too controversial.
In fact, the Academy Awards overcompensated in trying to correct the perception that its voting membership is too old and too white at almost every instance. From funny filmed bits with Tracy Morgan to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ lengthy apology to time given to presenters like Kevin Hart and Lou Gossett, Jr. to throw in their two cents, the attempt to course correct dominated the show, and the accumulative effect felt overwhelmingly heavy-handed.
The audience in the seats appeared to laugh nervously through most of it, but it got to be too much of an endless scold and it showed on their faces. Indeed, it is a shame that the Oscars didn’t nominate one actor or actress of color this year, but it’s also a shame that so much of the focus on diversity during the broadcast ignored Hispanic, Asian-American, and LGBT talents.
The voters are one thing; the show is another. Perhaps the most shocking part of this telecast was that once again the Academy missed its chance to put on a sterling tribute for the gazillion eyeballs watching. Rushing winners off-stage, distracting ticker tape thank you’s, and dirty jokes did little to class up the show. And once again, the show failed to include some critical losses in the “In Memoriam” tribute. Where were the likes of George Gaynes, Amanda Peterson, Gunnar Hanson, and most egregiously forgotten, Uggie the dog, who was so pivotal to the success of the Oscar winning Best Picture of 2011 “The Artist.” The Academy is so boneheaded that they don’t even include the beloved canine actor who would have gotten a huge round of applause from an adoring audience in the Dolby Theater and watching at home. In fact, such missteps and mistakes once again proved that despite its PR, resources and budgets, the Oscars still have trouble putting on a smart show.
Why can’t they? The Tony’s do it almost every year, and the Emmy’s often do too, so why can’t the biggest awards show on the planet truly rock? Even with its cutting edge host, and surprise winner after surprise winner Sunday night, the most shocking thing during the show remained the unevenness and tin ear of those putting on the broadcast. #OscarsTooCrass, no?