“I counted at least fifteen black people in that montage!”
Thus did emcee Chris Rock kick off the 88th Academy Awards after an animated intro full of lamps with adjectives on them and Oscar statuettes being imbued with all the colors of the rainbow. After the actors and actresses of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered up their second consecutive slate of twenty white nominees in a row, the Academy faced an online onslaught of #OscarsSoWhite criticism and went into full damage control mode, enlisting writer/director and former BET CEO Reginald Hudlin as an additional producer and basically giving second-time host Rock a free pass to do whatever came to mind. This served him well for a surprisingly outrageous monologue and a few later comedy bits, until later in the ceremony when he threw away a significant chunk of goodwill on a quick, pointless, unfunny, racist gag that had nothing to do with anything.
It was one surprise in a night full of several, some of them not so tasteless. A few movies I really liked in 2015 came away with bragging rights, so I got that going for me.
The following movies won the awards, from most to any-at-all:
Mad Max: Fury Road: 6 — Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
The Revenant: 3 — Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu); Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Cinematography (Chivo!)
Spotlight: 2 — Picture, Original Screenplay
Amy: 1 — Documentary Feature
The Big Short: 1 — Adapted Screenplay
Bridge of Spies: 1 — Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)
The Danish Girl: 1 — Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander)
Ex Machina: 1 — Visual Effects
The Hateful Eight: 1 — Original Score (Ennio Morricone)
Inside Out: 1 — Animated Feature
Room: 1 — Actress (Brie Larson)
Son of Saul: 1 — Foreign Language Film
Spectre: 1 — Original Song (Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall”)
Total standing ovations: 3 or 4? Not many.
Total winners orchestra’d offstage: at least 10
Total musical numbers: 4, only 3 of them nominees
Total dance numbers not including the Original Song performances: 0, third year in a row. Gratuitous Academy Awards dancing may officially be a thing of the past.
Most memorable moments (not a complete rundown of every single thing that happened), all labeled according to Eastern Standard Time:
8:33 — Rock’s monologue wakes up the room exactly as hoped, joking that he didn’t opt out of the evening because “the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.” He also took jabs at the boycotting Wil Smith family, who thought Concussion‘s snubbing was unfair (“It’s also not fair that Wil was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West!”), and wrapped it all up by describing Hollywood’s overall demeanor as “sorority racist”. (“We like you, but you’re not a good fit for us.”)
8:43 — Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron present Best Original Screenplay to Josh Singer and The Wire costar Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, the first of tonight’s winners to suffer this year’s new innovation: a complete list of their thank-yous scrolling at the bottom of the screen during their long walk to the stage, partly to save time and partly to make sure all their business associates and loved ones are officially name-checked in case they’re forgotten during the speaking time at the mic. The scroll moves quickly and is easily ignored, making it the equivalent of the “Special Thanks” in the end credits of every movie that no one reads except the filmmakers’ friends and families who were told in advance to look for their names.
8:48 — Adapted Screenplay co-winner Adam McKay takes a potshot at banks, oil companies, and “weirdo billionaires”. Frankly, I expected many more winners to take tonight’s opportunity to speak out against the inexplicably unstopped Donald Trump menace, but most of them stood silent and stuck to complimenting their loved ones or trumpeting their pet causes instead.
8:57 — Comedy montage of “what if black actors costarred in this year’s white films”. SNL’s Leslie Jones replaces The Bear in The Revenant; a mostly recovered Tracy Morgan tags in as The Danish Girl; Chris Rock takes over as The Martian (with special guests Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels gamely playing along); and Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg mops her way through the background of Joy. If you forgive Morgan a little for lapsing into shtick, it all works.
9:06 — Kerri Washington and Henry Cavill introduce the first two of eight Best Picture nominee montages. I mention this only because I’ve decided I simply must possess the secrets of Cavill’s wondrously commanding, stentorian voice, which sounds like he went back in time, absorbed the essence of twenty Hollywood leading men in their prime, and now speaks with their collective charisma. Someday his tones must be MINE.
9:18 — Rock makes a crack about Todd Haynes’ Carol being the “third-best” “girl-on-girl” film of the year. As a just-introduced Cate Blanchett weaves her way through a labyrinth of dresses and dummies to present Best Costume Design, she doesn’t look terribly impressed by that intro. The winner, Fury Road‘s Jenny Beavan, takes the stage wearing a bedazzled leather jacket, striped scarf, and necklace that looks like the cord on our landline receiver. But she uses her too-brief time to speak out about Hollywood gender disparity, kind of a downplayed part of the night’s overall agenda.
9:21 — Fury Road‘s Production Design winners Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson thank the multiple nations whose citizens took part in the filmmaking process and thereby consider their award the night’s “first Oscar for diversity.”
9:24 — Suicide Squad costars Margot Robbie and Jared Leto introduce Best Makeup & Hairstyling. Leto’s jokes about merkins and Magic Mike 2 fall DOA.
9:28 — While complete opposites Benicio del Toro and Jennifer Garner try to get through the third and fourth Best Picture nominee montages for The Revenant and Fury Road, at one point the Oscars’ director cuts to a view of someone sitting out in the audience in a bear costume. If there were other jokes planned to go with it, or a joke in the first place, they never happened.
9:38 — Fury Road editor Margaret Sixel calls Mad Max: Fury Road “the best-reviewed film of 2015”. No one really cares to fact-check her or even disagree because it’s just awesome enough that we as a society have decided to pretend it’s true.
9:41 — Angela Bassett narrates a quick “Black History Month Minute” prerecorded gag that salutes the famous, overlooked costar of Enemy of the State and Shark Tail…the Jack Black. (Yes, he’s in both. Feel free to go back and watch for yourself. In Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State he and Seth Green and a few others are just lackeys for the Big Bad, but he’s totally up in there.)
9:46 — One of the winners for Fury Road‘s Sound Editing wears a shiny silver skull-‘n’-crossbones amulet. This crew really doesn’t care what you think of their fashions. At all.
9:53 — Oscar pools nationwide hit their first spoiler as Ex Machina takes Best Visual Effects. “So utterly unexpected,” says one of the winners speaking for us all.
9:57 — Olivia Munn and Jason Segel have the honor of uttering the night’s first lame “This show is SO LONG…” joke, then mock their roles as hosts of last November’s annual offscreen Sci-Tech awards (“so exclusive, none of you could come”), at which a bunch of smart inventors and filmmakers won statues for facilitating simultaneous animator collaboration, for incorporating 3-D printers into stop-motion animation, for making something called an Image Shaker, and for keeping some organization caled the SMPTE going for a full century. Clearly I’m an experienced authority on Hollywood gizmos.
9:59 — Brief random onstage cameos by C-3PO, R2D2, and BB-8 proving his magnetic ball structure is the real deal. (The end credits confirm Anthony Daniels himself was indeed on hand as Threepio.) They compliment John Williams out in the audience, josh about Threepio’s resemblance to Oscars, and exit stage right without contributing much except an implied reminder as to which film made all the monies last year.
10:04 — On behalf of his daughters in the Girl Scouts, Chris Rock and a Los Angeles troop invade the audience and sell lots and lots of Girl Scout cookies to famous people who have fine taste in cookies and cash on hand.
10:06 — The Minions from Minions animatedly present Best Animated Short Film to Gabriel Osorio’s “Bear Story”, Chile’s very first Oscar-winning creation and my favorite of the bunch, which was inspired by his grandfather’s own terrifying experiences with an oppressive regime. I got a bit upset when he and collaborator Pato Escala got orchestra’d off while trying to talk about it.
10:07 — Another animated presenter segment, this time with Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody (voiced again by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) handing off Best Animated Feature to Inside Out in a moment of pure conflict of interest. When director Pete Docter and company approach the stage, the toys appropriately go limp and drop to the ground.
10:13 — Future hosting candidate Kevin Hart waxes optimistic: “These problems of today will eventually become the problems of old.” He then introduces Best Original Song nominee The Weeknd, who’s accompanied by five female violinists, a pianist, an acrobat, and seven scantily clad dancers. Call it mixed results for that whole “women in entertainment” issue that Jenny Beavan alluded to earlier.
10:23 — More prerecorded comedy gold with Chris Rock interviewing average folks in front of a Compton movie theater about this year’s nominees, prodding them with questions about the racial controversy (“Did you think about rioting and looting?”) and asking if they’d seen any of the nominees. (Nice, chuckling lady who’s heard of few of them: “Where are you getting these movies from?” Rock: “These are real movies!” Lady: “Like in London and stuff?”)
10:27 — A slightly befuddled Patricia Arquette announces the next Oscar-pool upset as Mark Rylance trumps Stallone for Best Supporting Actor.
10:36 — Louis CK with real talk about the nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject, none of whom are probably famous or millionaires or likely to change status anytime soon: “You cannot make a dime on this [award]. These people will never be rich. This Oscar’s going home in a Honda Civic.”
His speech was funny-because-it’s-true up until the winner took the stage. The director of A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is Emmy Award-winning Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who also won the same category in 2012. Just to be clear: on the ol’ Oscar scorecard, she’s now won as many Oscars as Martin Scorsese, Three 6 Mafia, and Louis CK put together.
10:44 — In the night’s most jaw-dropping misstep, the mandatory annual segment bringing in the accountants from ballot-counting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, instead of the real deal, has Chris Rock ushering in a trio of Asian kids in tiny suits and glasses. Because Asians and math! Ho ho ho! Stereotyping is hilarious as long as no blacks are harmed in the making of! What. The Heck.
10:48 — The Girl Scout cookie tote board stands with an ending balance of $65,243.00. Thankfully the troops hit up the audience for cookie sales before the accounting gag sucked the air out of the auditorium.
10:49 — Whoopi returns in person to cover the awards not good enough for broadcast: the Board of Governors’ side-quest hand-off of Honorary Oscars to Gena Rowlands and director Spike Lee, and this year’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Debbie Reynolds. The short montage of that previous evening confirms Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson had the privilege of being there for Spike Lee, who did show up despite his later misgivings about the whole thing.
10:52 — Mandatory AMPAS President speech starring Cheryl Boone Isaacs, speaking about creating opportunities, taking responsibility, and empowering all her constituents: “Each of you is an ambassador who can influence others in the industry.” She concludes with an MLK quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
10:54 — Oscar winner Louis Gossett, Jr., introduces the In Memoriam segment. Musical accompaniment is Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl covering a Beatles tune called “Blackbird”. Once it’s over, the internet gets upset that the recently departed Abe Vigoda is forgotten or set aside for next year, though the 2016 deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie make the final cut.
11:02 — Kid power! Room‘s Jacob Tremblay and Beasts of No Nation star Abraham Attah walk out together. Chris Rock brings out a wooden crate for Tremblay, who’s half Attah’s size. Tremblay’s response: “I loved you in Madagascar!”
11:06 — Sofia Vergara shares the limelight with Byung-hun Lee, best known as Storm Shadow from the second GI Joe flick and the new T-1000 from the even worse Terminator Genisys. Yay diversity!
11:09 — Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States of America, who confesses “I’m the least qualified man here tonight” despite a previous cameo on Parks & Recreation, delivers a very special PSA about ItsOnUs.org, part of a new initiative to end rape on college campuses. And he’s merely the opening act for Lady Gaga, seated at a piano and performing her Best Original Song nominee “Till It Happens to You” from the college-campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground. She’s surrounded onstage by dozens of actual college rape survivors, male and female, joining hands and standing in solidarity and just generally being there for each other. The audience is overwhelmed by the end, and Gaga’s overcome enough that she can barely tap the final few notes. It’s one of the most emotionally charged moments I’ve ever seen in an Oscars telecast.
11:19 — Pharrell Williams accompanies an aging Quincy Jones, who mentions how he used to refer to movie scores as “emotion lotion”, before they have the pleasure of awarding Ennio Morricone his very first-ever Oscar for The Hateful Eight. Morricone reads his prepared speech entirely in Italian with an interpreter at his side. The orchestra is waived just this once for the special occasion.
11:24 — Last year’s Best Original Song winners, Common and John Legend, for some reason give this year’s award to Sam Smith for that Bond theme I didn’t care for. Smith has been told he may be the first openly gay man to have won an Oscar. Meanwhile online, Elton John fans who loved The Lion King have one big group meltdown.
11:28 — Sacha Baron Cohen shows up as his white-guy-acting-black “Ali G” character to the amusement of the seven people who thought that was an awesome idea under the circumstances, tossing in an obligatory sex joke and introducing Best Picture nominee Room as a “movie about a room full of white people.” At his side, co-presenter Olivia Wilde instantly, deeply regrets her first appearance on an Oscars stage.
11:35 — JJ Abrams gives Best Director to odds-on favorite Iñárritu, who looks forward to a day when “the color of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.” His mostly unread thank-you scroll includes as tail-end Easter eggs his old pals Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro. Fun trivia: with The Revenant, Birdman, and Gravity, Mexican directors have won the category three years straight.
11:43 — Chris Rock describes the time as “infomercial-late”. Eddie Redmayne welcomes Best Actress winner Brie Larson to the club. Highlight of her tear-free speech is a shout-out to people like me: “Thank you for going to the theater and seeing our film!” No, thank you, ma’am.
11:51 — The One Where Leo Finally Got His Stupid Oscar. And for his one big shining moment at the podium in front of eleven billion viewers, instead of talking about anything remotely to do with the actual contents of The Revenant, DiCaprio proclaims, “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!” and speaks of “children whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.” It’s like a mash-up of five acceptance speeches he wrote for previous years that he kept in a forgotten jacket pocket till late last night. At one point the camera cuts to Vice President Biden in the audience as if this was somehow his idea.
11:58 — Best Picture goes to Spotlight, winner of two whole Academy Awards including Best Picture. Once again millions of Oscar pools are invalidated. Acting nominee Mark Ruffalo stands behind the producers and with Mike Rezendes, the reporter he played, all of them proud to have been part of what they hope will ultimately be “a voice that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.” Also, between this and Birdman, that’s two winners in a row for costar Michael Keaton.
12:01 — Chris Rock bids everyone farewell: “See you at the BET Awards this summer! Buy some Girl Scout Cookies! Black lives matter! BROOKLYN!” Glitter rains from the ceiling and gets all over everyone’s thousand-dollar tuxes and fifty-thousand-dollar dresses. The orchestra plays over the end credits at first, then stops and makes way for a completely different track: Public Enemy’s incendiary but non-nominated “Fight the Power” from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
12:06 — Ceremony fades to black. So to speak.