My thoughts on the victories are mixed. Spotlight is a worthy Best Picture winner. In terms of the decade so far (2010-2015), it’s a notch behind 12 Years a Slave, and a notch above The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo and Birdman – meaning essentially, that I think it’s a respectable winner, but not one that made me jump into the air with happiness (like I did when The Departed, No Country for Old Men or The Hurt Locker won – that last one because it meant Avatar did not win – and I like Avatar). I happened to watch Spotlight for a second time on Saturday night – my wife hadn’t seen it – and I actually think I like it a little more the second time through – it still wouldn’t make my top 10 list for 2015, but I think it would raise it a slot or two, so it would be closer. Compare that to something like Birdman, where I liked it far less the second time through (but still think is a fine film), and I’m happy that Spotlight won. For the acting awards, I am fine with Brie Larson and Mark Rylance – Larson because she is a terrific young actress, and her performance in Room (which I watched again Friday night – my wife, again, hadn’t seen it) would easily be the best in many years – and the fact that it was only third best (of the nominees) this year is because of the strength of the category, not because of her performance. Rylance was my choice of the nominees – I thought he was brilliant – although I do feel slightly bad for Stallone, who I cannot see ever winning if he didn’t win here. DiCaprio and Vikander’s wins I am more mixed on. If Vikander had won for her excellent performance in Ex Machina, than I’d be thriller. However, despite the fact that I think she is the best thing about The Danish Girl – it isn’t a good movie, and her performance is clearly a leading one, not supporting. She is an immensely talented actress – I just wish she would have won for something else – or someone like Rooney Mara (also a lead – in Carol) or Jennifer Jason Leigh had won this time around.
As for DiCaprio, it’s hard to get too mad about it. Afterall, DiCaprio is one of the best actors currently working, and he should have an Oscar already – I would have voted for him in The Departed (when they didn’t nominate him – instead going for his inferior performance in Blood Diamond that year) or The Wolf of Wall Street – where he was clearly the best of the nominees. This was also a ridiculously weak year in this category – and the Academy still nominated poorly, so it’s not like he beat someone clearly superior this year. Still, what bugs me is that DiCaprio now joins a depressingly long list of tremendous actors winning for work that is nowhere near their best. DiCaprio is fine in The Revenant – he’s probably as good as he could be given the role – but it’s not a particularly good role, and he doesn’t do much. In terms of DiCaprio’s career, I think he’s been better in This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Titanic, Catch Me if You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception, J. Edgar and Django Unchained. That’s 11 films. For me than DiCaprio is now an actor like James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story), Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond), Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou), Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful), John Wayne (True Grit), Paul Newman (The Color of Money), Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Julianne Moore (Still Alice) of actors who certainly deserve an Oscar, but won for performances that are nowhere near their best (and those, by the way, are just the lead actor/actress winners).
Let’s get the other depressing wins out of the way as well. I hated Sam Smith winning for that awful Bond song – The Writing’s on the Wall. Yes, this was a ridiculously weak category this year (it often is), and they nominated poorly – but still, that song is awful. Its looks even worse given just how powerful that Lady Gaga performance was right before Smith won. Easily the worst win of the night. I wasn’t fond of Alejandro G. Innaritu’s second win in a row for Best Director for The Revenant. It’s an impressive technical achievement, sure. But the movie is a long, grim slog that I don’t see all of import that Innaritu, and others, think it has. The Academy clearly loved the film – I wouldn’t be shocked to find out (not that we ever will) that the film actually had more #1 votes than anything else in the Best Picture lineup – but the preferential ballot gave it Spotlight, because The Revenant was too divisive (if so, yah for the Preferential ballot!). Still, George Miller’s achievement in Mad Max is even more impressive from a technical level, and it’s also the best film nominated. Miller will now, probably, never win a Best Director Oscar – it’s hard to see him topping that. It’s hard to feel too bad – Miller does after all have an Oscar at home (for animated film – for Happy Feet). Still, Miller winning would have been the coolest win of the night. I don’t have as much of a problem with Emmanuel Lubezki winning his third straight Oscar for cinematography for The Revenant – it’s the one element of the film I have nothing but praise for, and Lubezki is one of the great DP’s currently working. Having said that, so is Ed Lachman – and his work on Carol was great, and he’s never won. John Seale’s work on Mad Max: Fury Road is also brilliant. And I will always feel bad whenever Roger Deakins loses – even if Sicario isn’t his best work (which is saying something, since it’s brilliant) – but he’s one of the best in the world, and he just keeps losing. It was expected, but I still feel it’s ridiculous that Amy beat The Look of Silence for Best Documentary. I really liked Amy – no complaints there – but what Joshua Oppenheimer has achieved with The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence is the best achievement in documentary filmmaking in years – and the fact he lost for both of them is sad. I was even sadder that the brilliant Don Hertzfeldt didn’t win Best Animated Short for the amazing World of Tomorrow. I didn’t see all the nominees – including the winner, Bear Story, so I’m not about to start badmouthing a film I have not see – and the winners seemed genuinely nice, and their win meant a lot to them. Still, a win for Hertzfeldt would have helped the career of one of the best filmmakers working in the world today – and who does it all independently.
Now, on to the good winners. I was happy to see the parade of Mad Max: Fury Road people winning – all of which was deserved on merit alone, and it was wonderful to see so many women on the team winning – women are grossly underrepresented in the “below the line” categories – Jenny Beaven’s jacket was also the best thing I saw last night. It was wonderful to see Ex Machina win Visual Effects – that’s a film that cost $15 million to make, and it beat out film that cost 10 times or more – and it was richly deserved (so would have Mad Max win, but it won enough). Son of Saul becomes one of the best Foreign Language film winners ever, so that’s great – even if I did love Mustang perhaps even more. It was nice to see my #1 film of the year – Inside Out – win, even if it was just animated film, and we all knew it would win. The best win of the night was clearly to Ennio Morricone for his score for The Hateful Eight – he is one of the best composers in cinema history, and at 87 he becomes the oldest winner in a competitive category ever. And the greatest thing about it is that he deserved the award – his Hateful Eight score is among his best, which is saying something.
As for the ceremony itself, I though Chris Rock’s monologue was brilliant – he addressed #Oscarsowhite wonderfully, without getting personal in naming names. It was a blistering and hilarious monologue. He didn’t fare as well for the rest of the night – but he kept things moving along, which is what he’s supposed to do. I would gladly see him host again. The presenters were a mixed bag, as they always are – some of them doing wonderfully (Louie C.K.), some of them very awkward (Sacha Baron Cohen) and mostly, forgettable. The speeches didn’t do much for me either – the Mad Max crew were fine, I liked Pete Docter’s speech for Inside Out, and I loved the fact that Brie Larson gave thanks to Telluride and TIFF – which gave Room a big boost early in the season (thanking festivals is something more winners should do). Yes, everything still ran on way too long, but I think the ceremony was mostly good.
So, that’s about it. The Oscars are in the books for another year – and we all get a few months reprieve from talking about them.