It feels a little more futile for me to be keeping up with the Oscars every year, but somehow I always end up watching anyway. I skipped the Emmys and Golden Globes, but fully intended to watch this year's ceremony. Alas, at some point over the last year my TV stopped being able to pick up the digital signal for my local ABC station, and I didn't notice. Of course, ABC still refuses to stream the Oscars live without a pre-existing cable contract, and only in certain markets, so I was out of luck. I resolved to just skip the whole ceremony, enjoy my evening, and catch up with the clips the next day. And then I went out to dinner with the family in a restaurant with a television, and ended up catching the middle hour anyway. When I got home and poked around online, Chris Rock's monologue was already available, and then I managed to get the TV reprogrammed in time to watch Leo talk about global warming and "Spotlight" win Best Picture.
24 hours later, the whole telecast is online in various places. I polished off all the parts that I missed in a little over an hour, happily skipping several thank you speeches, musical numbers, and the recaps of the Best Picture nominees. Say what you will about who should have won, and Chris Rock's performance as host, but this was one of the most exciting and interesting Oscars in some time. For one, it was completely unpredictable, full of politics and controversies. Aside from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson's locks on Best Actor and Actress, everything else was up in the air. Rylance beat Stallone. Iñárritu won two in a row, and Lubezki his third, but the big prize went to "Spotlight," which didn't win anything else except screenplay. "The Martian" was shut out completely as "Mad Max: Fury Road" rampaged through all the technical categories to rack up the highest total of the night: six Oscars for the fourth entry in a summer action franchise. The big exception was the Visual Effects Oscar, which went to the very deserving "Ex Machina."
And then there was the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which had everyone on edge all evening. Chris Rock's ten minute monologue seemed hellbent on making everyone as uncomfortable as possible, but I appreciated the guts it took to deliver it. Yeah, the jokes were stale and Rock's may no longer be the best choice of provocateur for this situation, but he's still able to keep people's attention. That really was the whole point of the controversy, to make sure that the industry is aware of its representational shortcomings. I don't think that either the Compton or the Girl Scout cookie bits worked, but they sure helped to keep everything in context, and everyone on their toes. The presenters were certainly a diverse crowd too - Whoopi, Lou Gossett Jr., Kerry Washington, Lee Byung-Hun, Priyanka Chopra, Morgan Freeman - and kudos to whoever got Joe Biden and Louis C.K. on the list. Tell Sacha Baron Cohen and Stacey Dash to stay home next year. Oh, and Dave Grohl singing the Beatles for the Memoriam was a welcome break from years and years of warbling divas. I wasn't a fan of most of the musical performances, but he and Lady Gaga had a great evening.
There were the usual disappointments. I really, really wanted Don Hertzfeld to win Best Animated Short, and for Roger Deakins to break Lubezki's streak. Neither of those things happened. I was bracing myself for "Revenant" to take Best Picture after Iñárritu's win, and was so relieved when it didn't. I still can't help getting caught up in the races, even if my biggest position this year boiled down to that I didn't want "The Revenant" or "The Big Short" to win Best Picture. I liked both movies fine, but I just didn't like what that would indicate about the industry as a whole if they won. "Spotlight," while not one of my favorites, was a perfectly solid, respectable winner for a very strange and wild year. It's rare that the bulk of Oscar drama hasn't dwindled by the night of the ceremony, but this time around the race actually picked up after the nominations and got more uncertain with every industry award checkpoint along the way. I wish we had more years like this, even if the movies themselves weren't the best crop.
My favorite thing about last night's ceremony was pretty minor. The Animation categories are usually presented by kid celebrities or a comedian with no real tie to the industry. This year they had animated characters present both. The Minions presented Best Animated Short and Buzz and Woody from "Toy Story" presented Best Animated Feature. And it was charming and weird, and felt right.