BLOG: A Spotlight on the 88th Academy Awards

What other picture did you think I would use for this post? (Credit: Getty Images)
What other picture did you think I would use for this post? (Credit: Getty Images)

by Ken Bakely

First off, yay Leo!

My personal prediction score was 17/24, or 71% (about par for the course). I’m happy that my bet on Spotlight winning Best Picture panned out. It’s not my favorite out of the nominees, but I’m not overly upset that it won. It was great to see Mad Max: Fury Road take home six statuettes, and even more wonderful to witness 87-year-old Ennio Morricone win his first competitive Oscar, clinching the Best Original Score award for The Hateful Eight, following an unprecedented career of more than six hundred projects over the past seventy years. Interestingly, Mark Rylance was able to capture the Best Supporting Actor trophy, after many (myself included) had long switched over into believing Sly Stallone had the Oscar in the bag. The word on the street is that Rylance hardly campaigned at all, so it was up to the studio’s PR department to rally the votes.

I missed all three short film categories, which are often hard to predict, since only a small group of Academy members watches and votes there, and on average, I am only able to catch one or two out of the fifteen total nominees spread out across the three prizes. I don’t think anyone saw the Visual Effects win for Ex Machina coming, so I’m not too torn up about missing that call. Other surprises included “Writing’s on the Wall” inexplicably winning Best Original Song. I generally like Sam Smith, but I thought this particular composition was overly maudlin and drippy, essentially a poor man’s “Skyfall”. Additionally, while I understand that Smith was likely overwhelmed and talking out of nervousness in his acceptance, his claim that he might be the first openly gay man to win an Academy Award is patently untrue, and one of those winners was not ready to let that be forgotten.

Now, for some thoughts on the ceremony itself…

This year, the Oscars were produced by David Hill and Reginald Hudlin, who took the reins from Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. Hill and Hudlin’s leadership brought in some different elements, like a revised order of precedence in the schedule of awards presentation (starting with screenplay and moving based on the process of film production). However, some old problems returned – once again, the show was way too long. Best Picture was not announced until (precisely) the stroke of midnight on the east coast, according to the Naval Observatory’s clock on Some of the new introductions to this year’s proceedings backfired as well – namely, the odd decision to only have the most famous of the Best Original Song nominees perform. My suggestion is to have everyone sing or no one, and for the sake of pacing, I veer strongly towards the latter. Another aspect of the show making its first, and hopefully last, appearance was the ticker of “thank yous” that rolled across the bottom of the screen after a win. In theory, having potential winners list their laundry-list acknowledgements beforehand would lead to substantive acceptance speeches, but most recipients just took it as an opportunity to name even more people onstage.  

Of course, Chris Rock hosted the festivities. One of the main topics of speculation before the ceremony was whether or not Rock would address the controversy over the lack of diversity among the nominees. The answer is “yes” – and unambiguously. While taking shots at the implicit racism in Hollywood casting and marketing, Rock also pointed out the pointlessness of the melodramatic side of the protests, as well as the boycotting, especially Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s loud refusal to attend the ceremony. An amusing man-on-the-street segment saw Rock interviewing moviegoers in Compton, California, and finding that while most of the folks he talked to hadn’t heard of the nominated films, they agreed that the #OscarsSoWhite movement was important in the context of discussing larger societal issues. By putting things in relative perspective, Rock made sure the controversies were addressed without appearing preachy.

The Oscars this year weren’t a disaster by any means, but as usual, at least a third of the broadcast’s runtime could have been cut. I’d say we need another reshuffle of the creative team, but that doesn’t seem to have done us any good. I think Chris Rock’s return to the Academy Awards was successful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him host a third time somewhere down the road, as it would be interesting to see a more diverse range of material from him – this year, everyone’s mind was on one thing only. The Academy has been making incremental changes in the structure of the show in recent years, but a more drastic overhaul is desperately needed in order to make the program more enjoyable and entertaining.

In any case, that wraps up’s (minimal) Oscar coverage for the 2015-16 season. Many more months of movies await.