LOOKING BACK AT THE OSCARS

The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 26, 337 days from today.
Ceremony recap and highlights

It’s been almost a month since Spotlight surprised Oscar prognosticators and took home the award for Best Picture. There is not so much that has happened since then, so I’d like to start with a brief recap of this year’s ceremony.

Going into this year, it was clear that some long-standing statistics were going to fall. For The Revenant, The Big Short or Spotlight to win the top prize would require a break from history to some extent. AwardsDaily lays out a relatively comprehensive list, with some of the most important stats that were maintained being the necessity of a SAG ensemble nomination and an industry bias against late-breakers; stats that fell included the super-predictive PGA win and ACE Eddie nomination.

Oscar bloggers tried after the fact to explain why Spotlight’s win made sense. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, noted that while the PGA voters are producers, the largest Academy branch is full of actors, whose pro-Spotlight leanings at the SAG awards should have been taken into greater account in the preferential ballot. (If you want to feel happy about Spotlight winning again, look at this article on the response at the Boston Globe and this gif of Michael Keaton walking to the stage.)

Ratings were very low. According to the New York Times, they “declined by roughly 8 percent from last year’s telecast — which itself was considered a ratings failure — as 34.3 million viewers watched host Chris Rock … It was the lowest-rated Oscars in eight years, according to early Nielsen data, and the third-lowest since Nielsen began tracking viewership in the mid-1970s.” Reasons included angry Black viewers, not-celebrity-enough Chris Rock and “nominated films not widely seen by mainstream audiences.” (That last reason seems unlikely, since Mad Max raked in many of the early awards.) ABC has reportedly asked for more control of the show as the Academy is looking to renew its contract.

Still, that’s not to say the show was low on action. Top moments you may not have noticed include:

  • Bizarre musical cues: When people go on or off stage (and when people take too long to wrap up their speeches), the Oscars orchestra begins to play. This ceremony, there were some odd choices. The play-off music was Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (which got played nine times), Julianne Moore walked out to the tunes of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” from The Graduate, and “La Bamba” was played after Chris Rock’s bit featuring three young Asian children posing as the Academy’s accountants.
  • Morgan Freeman eating cookies: He came to present the award for Best Picture. He stayed because there were Girl Scout cookies. He left immediately. Buzzfeed reports.
  • Sam Smith thinking that he was the first gay Oscar winner: He’s not, according to the New York Times and a previous gay Oscar winner.
  • Joe Biden showing up: Apparently, he is the first sitting Vice President to attend the Oscars since Herbert Hoover’s veep Charles Curtis at the fourth ceremony in 1931.
  • Brie Larson hugging the sexual assault survivors: A large number of sexual assault survivors joined Lady Gaga onstage for a Best Original Song performance; according to Buzzfeed, Brie Larson hugged all of them as they left.
  • Jacob Tremblay and Star Wars: Again, he’s the cutest.
  • Frozen moments: Vulture paused the screen and commented on the results. Highlights include numbers 12, 13 and 40.
 
Chris Rock, the Asian joke and Academy diversity

In his opening monologue, Chris Rock made clear that the subject of #OscarsSoWhite would not be ignored. He came back to the topic of diversity at the Academy Awards many times through the ceremony, with one liners and videos highlighting what would happen if top contenders starred African Americans as well as the Academy Awards’ separation from black America. (One interesting article on the latter says that this is more of a classism problem than a racism one.) Celebrities were suitably shocked in cutaways to the audience (save for David O. Russell, who was having a great time) and Rock got reasonably good reviews on his take on the state of the industry. (“For a few minutes Chris Rock tore the smiling mask off of the industry … It was as if a chasm had suddenly opened between this single black performer and all those increasingly uneasy white people. The industry likes to obscure its racism and sexism, but its inequities and hollow insistence that the only color it cares about is green have become untenable as more people speak out. So, I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed watching that room squirm,” wrote the New York Times.)

Some of this initial praise was soon put into perspective. Rock’s commentary only reached so far as black Oscar diversity, much narrower in scope than the full conversation other minority groups were looking forward to having. More problematic was a gag involving Asian children dressed as accountants — it seemed shocking to many that a host brought in to confront Hollywood racism would respond with some of his own. Twenty-five Asian members of the Academy, including Ang Lee and George Takei, sent a letter to the Academy ahead of its monthly board of governors meeting protesting “tasteless and offensive skits” about Asians. In response, Dawn Hudson, the CEO of the Academy, wrote that it “was never the Academy’s intent to offend anyone” and that the organization “will be exercising more oversight” going forward “to ensure that material in future telecasts [will] be more culturally sensitive.” (People were not thrilled by Hudson’s response; according to the New York Times, “Mr. Takei, speaking by phone late Tuesday, said Ms. Hudson’s note was ‘patronizing’ and infuriating. ‘It was a bland, corporate response,’ he said. ‘The obliviousness was actually shocking. Doesn’t anyone over there have any sense?'”)

And what’s the status of the sweeping changes that the Academy promised to its membership? This month, it approved three new “diversity” board members: “One black man, Reginald Hudlin of the directors branch (an Oscar nominee for 2012’s Django Unchained, he also co-produced February’s Oscars), but also a man of Hispanic descent, writers branch member Gregory Nava (an Oscar nominee for writing 1983’s El Norte) and a woman of Asian descent, short films and feature animation branch member Jennifer Yuh Nelson (an Oscar nominee for directing 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2).” But it also tiptoed away from the most controversial aspects of its response to #OscarsSoWhite, quietly changing the requirements of which Academy members will not be eligible to vote in next year’s Oscars. It’s a bit of a diversity cha-cha — two steps forward, one step back.

 

Spotlight on 2016 predictions
With the last Academy Awards just a few weeks behind us, you know what the Internet is doing now — predicting who is going to win next year! Some of the strong contenders for Best Picture are The Birth of a Nation, Manchester by the Sea and Silence; possible acting nominees are Lupita Nyong’o, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, David Oyelowo, Alicia Vikander, Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep. The articles are fun to read, but it’s ludicrous to think that they have any predicting power.

Other News

  • Oscars humor: The 2016 Hater’s Guide to the Oscars, probably my favorite article every year, came out just before the ceremony in late February. Highlights included its take on Alejandro Iñárritu (“Why are directors all such awful people? We should replace the Oscar broadcast with three hours of Alejandro González Iñárritu being mauled by a bear”), Eddie Redmayne (“Join us next year when Kirk Lazarus here plays an amputee heroin addict … an amputee heroin addict who also happens to be Che Guevara. Fuck Eddie Redmayne”) and Rachel McAdams (“McAdams got nominated because she spent two hours wearing reporter clothes, which in Hollywood counts as portraying a legitimate physical disability. Holy shit, she’s wearing chinos. She threw vanity right out the window for this one!”).
  • Goodbye Leo meme: While Leonardo DiCaprio finally has an Oscar to call his own, the Internet has lost one of its favorite memes. Buzzfeed compiled a list of the best ones, one guy illustrated Leo’s dreams coming true and Mashable determined that Amy Adams is the new Leo.
  • Los Angeles Times reporters: According to the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times’ tickets to the Oscars were originally taken by newspaper executives rather than the actual reporters who needed the tickets to report on the actual Academy Awards.
  • Mark Rylance: As you may remember, Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance has won two Tony awards. Though his Oscars speech was quite nice, his acceptance speeches at the Tonys were super weird.
  • Carol spoof: A bit dated now, but at the Indie Spirit Awards, Kate McKinnon crushed a parody of Carol.
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