This was surely the first Oscars where more attention was paid to the people who hadn’t been nominated than the people who had. Sitting through the 3.5 hour ceremony, it was hard not to notice every set of five nominees was uniformly white – and there were a lot of them.
But in terms of what happened, as opposed to what should have and didn’t, here are the things worth talking about.
Mad Max Fury Road
Let’s start with the parochial bit, because you can bet the news bulletins will. What an incredible achievement for George Miller’s movie, which cleaned up in the categories that related to the look and sound of the film.
Best Film Editing. Best Production Design. Best Costume Design. Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Best Sound Editing. Best Sound Mixing.
Six Oscars in all. Six! The most ever for an Australian film, and it was particularly delightful seeing Margot Robbie present the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar to another Australian.
Cobbling all of that excellence together arguably deserved Best Director ahead of Alejandro Iñárritu, but it’s hard to resent one of the most interesting filmmakers alive today for his back-to-back wins. The bottom line is that The Revenant is billed as a ‘serious movie’ and Mad Max is a fantasy blockbuster, and while that makes the latter more watchable, it means that the Academy voters were always more likely to support the former.
George Miller can rest on his many, many laurels.
In his monologue, Chris Rock immediately went there. Of course he did. Rock has spent decades wittily confronting America with its racial shortcomings, and he spent practically his whole monologue confronting the monochromatic elephant in the room.
Moreover, he did it so well that when he finished and the white people took to the stage to begin handing one another trinkets, you could sense the disappointment in the overwhelmingly white room.
That said, Rock’s gag about how women shouldn’t mind that they get asked what they’re wearing because men all wear the same thing fell horribly flat, and some commentators have observed that his insight into sexism fell somewhat short of his insight into racism – although I liked the Björk swancallback.
But his willingness to mock every aspect of the process – including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, the leaders of the boycott – was admirable nevertheless.
His sharpest observation, for my money, came in the form of a sketch inserting African-American actors into some of the Best Picture nominees, ending with Chris Rock being marooned on Mars by Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. This is the bigger, and more challenging, issue behind #OscarsSoWhite. The vast majority of Hollywood movies are stories about white men. Even Straight Out Of Compton was written by white men.
The Oscars often overlook award-worthy non-white actors – I would have handed last year’s Best Actor straight to David Oyelowo for Selma last year, but neither he nor the director Ava DuVernay was even nominated.
But the bigger issue surely is that not enough actors of colour get significant roles in the first place. Hollywood has a lot of work to do. And by choosing which movies to watch, the responsibility ultimately falls on all of us.
The scrolling thanks
This innovation was supposed to mean snappier, more meaningful speeches. While a noble idea, it didn’t really work. The blathering thanks to profound statement ratio was the same as ever, only more speeches were awkwardly interrupted by ‘The Ride Of The Valkyries’. (Does it get any whiter than Wagner, incidentally?) When this happened after less than a minute in many cases, I tended to wish that Odin’s winged handmaidens would swoop down and hasten the rude orchestra on to Valhalla.
When Chris Rock introduced the Clueless star to wish America a happy Black History Month, nearly everyone watching in Australia said ‘Huh?’. When I did so on Twitter, @anythingbutfifi pointed me to this article, which explained that she’s a Fox News contributor nowadays, and suggested cancelling Black History Month in response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
I’m pretty sure the whole thing was a joke at her expense that she wasn’t in on. She wasn’t the only one, but Chris Rock earned the right to amuse himself for a bit. (The other joke on the subject, with Angela Bassett, made me laugh out loud.)
Stephen Fry likened her to a bag lady at the BAFTAs. But now not only does she have two more Oscars than he does, but she accepted her one for Mad Max: Fury Road wearing an awesome embroidered jacket.
Cameo of the evening went to C3-PO, R2-D2 and BB8. Although I couldn’t help noticing that two in three of the droids were white.
This was the most moving moment of the night for me. An elderly man who was helped to the stage and also needed a translator, winning at the age of 87 for a score that was probably the best thing about The Hateful Eight. The bonus was that we got to hear what ‘Tarantino’ sounds like in Italian.
Spotlight wins best picture
This was a surprise to most viewers, with The Revenant or The Big Short tipped by most. And on a day when Cardinal Pell is giving evidence to the Royal Commission, too! Still, Hollywood loves a cause, and this one has, justifiably, been hard to ignore. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m glad that a movie about this subject beat the tale of some guy lost in the wilderness.
Despite having been widely tipped, the winner of Best Supporting Actress (for The Danish Girl) was the most overwhelmed and enthusiastic winner of the night. It was a reminder that while we can be cynical about the awards, and analyse the politics ad infinitum, being recognised by one’s peers still means an awful lot to those lucky enough to pick up a little gold statuette.