Coming in, the 88th annual Academy Awards was characterized, more than any of its predecessors, by plenty of justified criticism of the lack of diversity in nominations. Certainly, we have registered ours.
When the night finally arrived, Hollywood's production of its grand spectacle delivered an unexpectedly impressive show of diversity and talent. The night's musical dimensions featured surprises that were especially memorable.
We'll start with a few overall impressions.
QUICK OVERVIEW OF OSCAR NIGHT...
Whooo, boy. Black celebrities boycotting OSCAR's big night used the occasion to hold a rally for the lead-poisoned residents of Flint, Michigan. Fans of the late ABE VIGODA are crying foul that he was left out of OSCAR's "In Memoriam" segment. Too much attention again went into the stupidly annoying red carpet and the insanely expensive attire. Dustin Lance Black (whoever he is) is calling-out SAM SMITH for wrongly asserting himself as the first openly gay winner of an OSCAR. And on MSNBC — interrupting its 24/7 Trumpathon — there's a feature story on "Oscar's Most Political Aspects."
This must be the day after. Where's Jimmy Durante when we need him, with his trademark, "EVERYBODY wants ta get inta the act!" -?
Let's get to it.
"SPOTLIGHT" was the surprise BEST PICTURE OSCAR winner. It's the best movie about newspaper journalism since "All the President's Men," so we were glad to see it honored. It tells the true story of the central role of the Boston Globe in researching and exposing the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, how widespread it was, and how many church authorities went to huge lengths to protect perpetrators and cover-up scandal. (The win is also being seen as a game-changer for its production company, Open Road Films.)
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO finally won a BEST ACTOR OSCAR for his role in "The Revenant." A survival story loosely based on truth, set as a controversial portrayal of early 19th century North American fur trapper / explorers and their interactions with Native Americans. We still have mixed reactions to the film. We found it beautifully made, but over-the-top in its unsurvivable g-forces and its ersatz simplifications of Indian spirituality, juxtaposed with a revenge chase sequence like "Bullitt" on horseback. Kudos to DiCaprio for using his acceptance speech to explain how hard it was for the filmmakers to find suitably cold places to make the movie, and sounding a clarion call about climate change.
BRIE LARSON won the BEST ACTRESS OSCAR, and we have more on her in a role she played off-camera.
JACOB TREMBLAY, the kid who costarred with Larson in "Room," has won big awards elsewhere for his role. He won at the OSCARs because you expect precocious, and you get genuinely intelligent capability. And, yeah, irresistible cuteness.
Lurking at the door...
Any overview must address the "Oscars So White" controversy. We were among those mystified that neither "Concussion" nor its star, WILL SMITH, received nominations, when both should have. Perhaps that can be explained as the clout of the NFL and its rich team owners. Perhaps. But if the Catholic Church couldn't keep "Spotlight" out? The Academy still has some 'splainin' to do.
L.A. Times reporter Todd Martens leads his Monday morning page-one feature with, "'Is Hollywood racist?' asked Chris Rock in his opening monologue at the 88th Academy Awards. He quickly answered his own question. 'You damn right Hollywood’s racist.'"
Martens goes on to pursue the theme, and how Rock mixed the humorous and serious to quite effectively leave exactly the right impression.
OSCAR'S BEST MOMENT WAS MUSICAL...
The most powerful moment all night was, in fact, a musical one. LADY GAGA's live performance of “Til It Happens To You,” from the film, "The Hunting Ground," a co-write by her and legendary songwriter DIANE WARREN, left no dry eyes in the house.
That single scheduled performance was a moment in three successive acts, each powerfully effective:
- an introduction by the Vice President of the United States
- a memorably powerful performance
- an epilog not seen on tv
The conclusion brought a stage full of Gaga and Warren's fellow victims of sexual assault — both female and male, and not all young. That was after Vice President JOE BIDEN introduced Lady Gaga, and included his challenge to everyone at or viewing the event. Biden asked all to take the pledge "to intervene, if ever you see someone who has not or cannot give consent." The screen displayed the web address for the pledge and the info.
LADY GAGA's powerful vocal performance at the grand piano was accompanied by a line of violin players, the house orchestra, and finally, on-stage choirlike terraces of assault survivors, each silent, holding hands for support and in solidarity, spaced just right for the messages marked on their forearms to be visible, with their simple, appropriate messages for the audience: "I did nothing wrong," "Survivor," and the like.
Warren's interview with CNN spoke to how "Gaga's performance started off vulnerable, then got more and more pissed, then ended triumphant."
Yes. And wow.
The tv audience didn't see the rest of what made the OSCAR tears flow. Following the song, DIANE WARREN awaited the survivors as they descended the stairs from the stage, so she could hug them. Actress BRIE LARSON rushed to join her, and both hugged each survivor.
That unbroadcast very human moment is explored in detail in a Washington Post story.
The off-camera hugs were especially meaningful. Warren, like Gaga, is their fellow survivor. And Larson won Best Actress for "Room," in which she played a young woman abducted and kept for years as a sex slave — something that has really happened in our society.
Journalist Chris Gardner of the "Hollywood Reporter" captured his own video of that heartfelt unbroadcast scene. Though not on tv, there's a link in the Washington Post story, above.
THE OSCARS for MUSIC & SOUND...
Since the earliest feature films, music has played a key role in what we generally regard as a visual medium. In fact, since it broke free of nickelodeon boxes with eyepieces, film has always been a multi-sensory experience.
The only thing that kept those early movies from being true "silent pictures" were the musicians who performed live in the orchestra pit below the screen. Sometimes, typically in small towns, the musician was a pianist, equipped with, perhaps, a kick drum, cymbal, and rubber-ball horn.
Even when the theatre was a movie palace with a giant theatre organ with a full bank of audio effects, films through the nineteen-teens and twenties were accompanied, indeed interpreted, by talented theatre musicians. Performing not with pages and pages of full scores, but with mere lead sheets, most film studios left it to them to take a few themes and match their music-making to the action or mood on the screen, and to time everything appropriately.
It was more rare to get an orchestra in a movie theatre with sheet music worked-out — or improvised — for each instrumentalist, but it did happen in grand movie palaces in big cities.
Recommended for You
Music is, and always has been, inseparable from the movies.
In the modern era, each year's OSCARS specifically recognizes music with two statuettes, and awards two more, one each for the closely related roles of sound mixing and sound editing.
Like the other categories, many films get overlooked for their music, perhaps through cultural biases. For example, we had to settle for a snippet of the excellent traditional Irish music in a quick trailer for Best Picture nominee "Brooklyn," because it was not included in the "Best Original Score" or "Best Original Song" categories.
It seems a bit crazy that only two OSCARs go for music, when so much of the industry and its annual celebration are married to music, musicians and composers. But they do sneak-in things.
Take the fine musical note at the show's midpoint. The trio of "Star Wars" 'droid stars — C3PO, R2D2, and the new BB8 — bumbled onto the stage so '3PO could admire how much OSCAR looks like him. Or really, so they could do a much-deserved shout-out (beep-out?) to composer extraordinaire JOHN WILLIAMS, the most prolific film score composer of all time.
Eventually, the makers of music and wizards of sound received their official due. Here are the nominees and winners for the music and sound categories, with a comment or two.
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE) OSCAR...
• "The Hateful Eight" — WINNER— ENNIO MORRICONE
• "Bridge of Spies"
• "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
We're commenting here. It was satisfying that the great film composer ENNIO MORRICONE finally won the OSCAR. After all, those early Clint Eastwood "spaghetti westerns" all notably featured his music. The five-note whistled intro to "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is one of the world's most recognizable themes.
We will join any standing ovation for Morricone's lifetime achievement.
But we know nothing about the work for which Morricone won this award, nor are we likely to. Not being voting members of the Academy has its advantages — like not being obligated to see everything.
We avoid any film made by Quentin Tarrantino. After experiencing enough of them to know he employs a signature penchant for smartassed brutality, an inhuman outlook, and always with snide quips about "the mess" of his contrived murder and mayhem which are supposed to be a kind of inside joke among his characters and the audience? We find it a singularly appalling pornography, and we just won't go.
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG) OSCAR...
Presented by last year's winners, JOHN LEGEND & COMMON
• “Writing’s On The Wall,” from the film, "Spectre" — WINNER
• “Earned It,” from "Fifty Shades of Grey"
• “Manta Ray,” from "Racing Extinction"
• “Simple Song #3,” from "Youth"
• “Til It Happens To You,” from "The Hunting Ground"
SOUND EDITING OSCAR...
• "Mad Max: Fury Road" - WINNER - Mark Mangini & David White
• "The Martian"
• "The Revenant"
• "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
While we congratulate achievement by sound wizards? We just don't do post-apocalyptic visions of rich oligarchs being opposed by rebels who are mysteriously capable of racing about a fried Earth, shooting people. We didn't see it when Mel Gibson did it, and we're unlikely to see the remake.
SOUND MIXING OSCAR...
• "Mad Max: Fury Road" - WINNER - Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudoff & Ben Osmo
• "Bridge of Spies"
• "The Martian"
• "The Revenant"
• "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
MORE LIVE MUSIC..
Performances at the 2016 Oscars included:
- SAM SMITH sang "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre."
- DAVE GROHL sang the Beatles' "Blackbird," playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by the house orchestra, for the "In Memorium" tribute to (almost) all the film industry people who died since the last OSCARs presentation. Simple, dignified, effective, and a model for future observances.
OSCAR'S OTHER "GOTTA TALK ABOUT IT" MOMENT...
Finally, the most meaningful non-musical moment came with the acceptance of the OSCAR for "DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)." In her acceptance, the filmmaker of the WINNER, "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness," left meaningful impact.
The film is a true story of "honor killings." Those are murders of women that happen in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Typically, when a girl or woman has been raped, her family kills her because it happened. Or, as in the film, because a young woman defies her family's orders to accept an arranged marriage (for economic gain for the family members), and she instead marries someone of her choice, for love.
The young woman in the film was shot in the face, multiple times, by her family members, then thrown in a river. Thanks to being found and receiving prompt, then recurring, surgeries, she lived. Most "honor killing" victims do not live.
The filmmaker, who risked death to make her documentary, told the global OSCARs audience that, after seeing her film about the horrifically barbaric and widespread practice in his country, the Prime Minister of Pakistan vowed to change the laws. Presumably that will finally proscribe penalties so harsh it will end these rampant murders and aid those fleeing the threat.
ALL THE OSCAR WINNERS & NOMINEES...
There's no shortage of angles and tangles in OSCAR coverage, anyplace you turn today. For the basic news of every OSCAR nod in each category, the Academy's own site provides a quick read.
With a rancorous election year still to be resolved, the movies, as always, will offer welcome respites. Then it's next year's OSCARs, and the to-be-answered questions of whether the Academy's changes are sufficient to avoid a sequel to Oscars So White.