Leonardo DiCaprio, Spotlight, Brie Larson win top Oscars

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In an upset, Spotlight won Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards over heavily favoured The Revenant.

The Revenant director Alejandro G. Inarritu became only the third person in history to win back-to-back Oscars, joining an exclusive group that also includes John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Inarritu was honoured the previous year for overseeing Birdman.

In an evening where race dominated the conversation, said that this generation had an opportunity to “liberate ourself from all prejudice” and looked forward to a day when “the colour of the skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair”.

The Revenant‘s Leonardo DiCaprio earned his first Oscar after five previous nominations for pushing himself to physical extremes as a hunter left for dead in the wilderness. Accepting his statue, DiCaprio noted that the production had to leave Canada for Argentine in search of snow.

“Climate change is real,” said DiCaprio. “It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

Brie Larson nabbed the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of an abducted woman in Room. In a moment of gratitude that convey the technological changes roiling the entertainment business, Larson looked beyond streaming services and on-demand platforms to thank moviegoers “… for going to the theater and seeing our films.”

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Brie Larson hugs co-star Jason Tremblay as she takes the stage to accept the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Room. Photo: Reuters

The Oscars unfolded in the wake of perhaps the gravest crisis the annual show has faced. Backlash over the lack of nominations for actors of colour for the second straight year, threatened to overshadow the broadcast itself, leading to boycotts from top figures such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, a viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and a protest outside the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles led by Reverend Al Sharpton. Returning for a second stint as the broadcast’s host, Chris Rock lost no time dispensing with the elephant in the room. In a monologue that took on the issue of race head on, Rock went on to note that he considered quitting the hosting gig, before saying he reconsidered. “The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart,” said Rock. He added, “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.” In his opening remarks, the comedian called the Oscars the “the White People’s Choice Awards”, dubbed Hollywood “sorority racist”, and said that black performers want more “opportunity” to loud applause. It was a subject that Rock returned to throughout the programme with gags that included imagining nominated films such as The Revenant and The Martian recast with African-American actors such as Whoopi Goldberg and Tracy Morgan, and nods to black history month that included tributes to comedian Jack Black. In a major upset, Mark Rylance scored a best supporting actor win for his portrayal of a Soviet agent in Bridge Of Spies over heavily favoured Creed star Sylvester Stallone. “I’ve always just adored stories,” said Rylance. “So for me to have the chance to work with, I think one of the greatest storytellers of our time, Steven Spielberg, has been such an honour. And unlike some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days, he leads with such love.”

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Chris Rock selling Girl Scout cookies at the Oscars! Photo: Reuters

In addition to Rylance’s victory, The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander scored a best supporting actress win, Hungarian Holocaust drama Son Of Saul was named best foreign film, and Inside Out picked up a best animated feature statue. Spotlight co-writer and director Tom McCarthy used his speech accepting the best original screenplay award to urge greater vigilance against sex crimes. “We have to make sure this never happens again,” said McCarthy. While Adam McKay, The Big Short director and co-writer, used his victory in the adapted screenplay category to urge viewers, “don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil, or weirdo billionaires. Stop.” US Vice President Joe Biden used his moment introducing best song nominee Lady Gaga (Til It Happens To You) to raise attention about the issue of sexual violence on college campuses. “Let’s change the culture,” said Biden. “We must and we can change the culture so that no abused woman or man…ever feel they have to ask themselves, ‘what did I do?’.”

Eventual best song winner Sam Smith, honored for the Spectre theme The Writing’s On The Wall, used his moment at the microphone to dedicate his award to the LGBT community.

“I stand here tonight as a proud gay man,” said Smith, hoisting his Oscar aloft.

The political appeals extended to technical categories, where Mad Max: Fury Road dominated, winning six statues for sound editing, sound mixing, film editing, costumes, makeup and hair, and production design in the early awards.

Costume design winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road) evoked the threat of global warming in her speech, saying, “it could be horribly prophetic – Mad Max – if we’re not kinder to each other and if we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere.”

After six prior nominations, Ennio Morricone, the man best known for providing the backdrop to classic Spaghetti Westerns such as The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, earned his first competitive Oscar for The Hateful Eight. His victory brought the crowd at the Dolby to their feet.

At the broadcast’s midpoint, academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the stage to say that the changes in the group’s rules and makeup were necessary, and that its members needed to try to do more to encourage greater diversity across the film industry.

“Our audiences are global and rich in diversity and every facet of our industry should be as well,” said Isaacs. “Every one in the Hollywood community has a role to play in bringing about the vital changes the industry needs so that we can accurately reflect the world today.” – Reuters

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