Well, it was certainly better than last year. The improvements started with the host — Chris Rock was nearly perfect. I can’t think of anyone else who could have handled the monstrous, angry elephant in the room like Rock did. He discussed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with an appropriate balance of frustration and humor, and his comedy bits, which frequently made callbacks to the diversity problem, were on point. I also think the awards themselves were pretty sensible. There weren’t a ton of surprises, but overall I found most of them hard to disagree with. Let’s get into some of the lowlights and highlights of the entire show:
1. Sam Smith beats out Lady Gaga; is not actually the first openly gay man to win an Oscar
“Writing’s On The Wall” was a Bond theme nobody seemed to like, especially as a follow-up to Adele’s superior “Skyfall” from three years prior. But that’s not the only reason why Sam Smith’s win was unbearably cringeworthy — it was heartbreakingly too soon after Gaga’s gut-wrenching performance, undeniably one of the night’s best moments. To make matters worse, Smith claimed that he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar, which he wasn’t, and then went on to proclaim it as a breakthrough for the LGBTQ community, which it wasn’t. He wasn’t even the first openly gay person to win for Best Song — Elton John won for “The Lion King” in 1995. You should have seen the Daily Film group chat as this happened — our writers were basically competed to see who could roll their eyes the hardest.
2. Oppenheimer snubbed again
This marks the second time this decade that one of Joshua Oppenheimer’s monumental documentaries has been snubbed by a music film, previously by “20 Feet From Stardom” in 2013 and this time by “Amy.” It is certainly much easier to watch a film about music personalities than one of Oppenheimer’s treatises on the perpetrators of genocide, but to fail to recognize the importance of “The Look of Silence” and “The Act of Killing” is a grave, ironic error, especially considering the socially conscious face the Academy puts on each season. In 100 years, we will look back at these docs as the best of their time.
3. The Andy Serkis tease — and Alicia Vikander’s snub for “Ex Machina”
The inclusion of the little highlight reel of Andy Serkis doing mo-cap was not only jarring and out of place, but insulting to those like me who believe in the power of technology-assisted acting. It was bad enough to include a reel of an actor that has never won and never will win an Oscar due to dated technicalities in the rules about acting tech, and it was even worse to do it on the night Alicia Vikander was bafflingly awarded for her performance in “The Danish Girl” rather than “Ex Machina,” the infinitely superior film and performance. The only reason Vikander wasn’t recognized for her stunning portrayal of the artificial Ava was this technicality, the same reason Scarlett Johannson wasn’t nominated for “Her” and Serkis hasn’t been nominated for, well, anything.
4. We’re all getting real sick of the “Ride of the Valkyries” play-out
They need to come up with a better way to do this. It felt like every time a recipient was getting into the meat of their speech and were about to make points that were actually meaningful, the music played them out immediately. I don’t think most people (other than the networks and advertisers, of course) care if the Oscars run long — we want to hear the speeches! The strange choice of “Ride of the Valkyries,” a woefully stupid and unintentionally ironic nod to “Apocalypse Now,” worsened an already obnoxious feature.
5. Minions present “Best Animated Short”
Christ, Minions are awful.
1. Louis C.K.’s bit about Best Documentary Short
In a monologue that felt straight out of one of his specials, Louis C.K. delivered an incredibly sweet series of jokes that really put some pathos into the underappreciated categories. C.K.’s bit could have easily been just another joke about Documentary Short’s place in the “who cares” realm, but instead, the comedian made an excellent point about the kind of people who get awarded at the Oscars.
“You came here winners, and you’re going to leave here millionaires.” He said. “It’s not going to make that big of a difference.”
The reason he loves this category is that it changes peoples’ lives — the people who are nominated for documentary short are hardworking, honest artists with things to say, and it was so awesome to hear a star as big as Louis C.K. champion them. What an unexpected, brilliant moment. And who better to deliver it? C.K. felt honest and real, as always.
2. Leo and Larson take it home
The acting categories were the feel-good decisions of the night, and that joy was embodied in the crowd’s immediate standing ovation in reaction to Leonardo DiCaprio finally taking home the gold after years of snubs. He should have won for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but I think we’re all fine with him winning this time. Brie Larson’s victory was also a highlight, and her little high five with adorable “Room” co-star Jacob Tremblay was heart-melting. No one didn’t see these picks coming, but they were still deserved and certainly a pleasure to watch happen.
3. Lady Gaga and Dave Grohl’s performances
Music is always one of the best reasons to watch the Oscars. I’m always partial to the stage’s pit orchestra, which always plays some really neat little arrangements of classic film tunes for those who pay close enough attention. But this year’s ceremony was also graced with two more absolutely stunning performances. Dave Grohl played The Beatles’ “Blackbird” over the “In Memoriam” segment, which was a beautiful choice, and Lady Gaga (after being introduced by Vice President Joe Biden) played a fantastic rendition of her original song “’Till It Happens to You,” a rousing ballad about sexual assault featured in “The Hunting Ground.” As she finished, she was joined onstage by dozens of sexual assault survivors in the most powerful moment of the night. Twitter rightfully exploded.
Also, Biden walked onstage to the Indiana Jones theme, and it was perfect. Someone get Lucas and Spielberg on the phone; we have our next Harrison.
4. Chris Rock interviews black people outside Compton theater
This was a beautiful little wake-up call. Effectively piercing the film industry’s incestual bubble of influence, Chris Rock went to a regular theater in Compton to interview regular black filmgoers — none of whom gave a shit about any of the films nominated this year. They did, however, care about “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed,” the year’s biggest nomination snubs. This bit was as hilarious as it was biting.
“Do you think ‘Trumbo’ should have been a bigger hit?” Rock asked some lady.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” sweeps the technical categories… except for “Ex Machina”’s deserved win
Okay, we knew it wasn’t going to win Best Picture. But this is the next best thing: The Academy basically saying, “Yeah, we know Mad Max rules, but here’s your consolation prize because we can’t give it the big one.” Anyone who understands how film is made (or even those who merely have a refined appreciation for great action film) knows just how much of an achievement, technical or otherwise, “Mad Max” was. It’s amazing and hilarious just to be able to say that “Mad Max” won six Oscars, and it was even more amazing to get to hear speeches from the film’s mind-bogglingly talented Aussie crew. I want that costume designer lady’s blinged-out leather jacket so bad.
The one technical category “Mad Max” didn’t conquer was “Visual Effects,” which went to the fabulous “Ex Machina” for the wonderful effects work done to bring Alicia Vikander’s Ava to life.
A few more casual observations:
-Spotlight was a safe, but very good choice for Best Picture.
-Chris Rock’s Suge Knight bits were hilarious.
-I think someone forgot to put fresh batteries in Patricia Arquette before she walked onstage.
-The Girl Scout cookies bit worked better than Ellen’s pizza bit did a few years ago.
-Jared Leto sucks.
-Our film writer Danny Hensel predicted 17 out of the 24 awards correctly on his Facebook, which I think is pretty impressive. He’s upset because he got 19 / 24 correct last year, but that’s like Dudley being pissed that he only got 36 presents for his birthday instead of 37.