This has been one hot mess of an Oscar season — but it was the kind of hot mess that might one day lead to a less crappy Oscars.
We’re speaking, of course, about whether this would or wouldn’t be Leo’s year.
RELATED: Complete list of Oscar 2016 winners
DiCaprio won for grunting and growling and dragging himself over snow and through cold water and being abused by a bear for “The Revenant” — all things that are way more manly than just learning your lines and not tripping over the furniture. His win arrived so late in the night — nearly 3 ½ hours in, which is only 50-some minutes longer than the movie itself — we might have forgot about the other thing that actually mattered: whether the Academy would finally be shamed into recognizing non-white performers and non-white stories.
This was the year of #OscarsSoWhite, which revealed a voting body truly oblivious of its own, largely white, largely male privilege. This was the year the sole trans nominee (for the song “Manta Ray,” from the doc “Racing Extinction”) wasn’t even invited to the ceremony. This was, like any other year, a year of snubs, including Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Ryan Coogler for “Creed,” more than a token one (namely screenplay) for “Straight Outta Compton” and, most annoyingly perhaps, young, adorbs Jacob Tremblay for “Room.”
But surely the Oscars’ biggest and best screwup was this: Before any discussion of race had gone down, no less than Chris Rock had already been announced as host.
It was the comedian’s job to burn the Oscars down so they can finally begin anew. When he took the stage Sunday night, he didn’t do quite that, but he didn’t mince words. He started by calling it the “White People’s Choice Awards.” About the token opening montage of scenes from the year’s movies (such as, uh, “Get Hard,” “Ted 2” and actual big time snub “Beasts of No Nation”), he quipped, “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage.” At the night’s end, he said he’d see us all at the BET Awards, and shouted a call to Black Lives Matter that seemed both sincere and an eff-you to those who think supporting them is controversial.
Late in the show Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs came out to offer an earnest promise to reflect a diverse America. Rock wasn’t so nice, not even to those on the side of good. He pointed to the long history of black snubs over the ceremony’s 88-year history, cracking, “When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s hard to care about Best Documentary Short.” He was even cruel to some activists; about Jada Pinkett Smith, he snapped, “Her boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties: I wasn’t invited.”
Whether Rock was simply trying to not burn all the bridges is unclear; after all, he did make a joke about Apple exploiting the work of Chinese kids. But he did allow that Hollywood wasn’t full-on racist, but “racist in the way you’ve grown accustomed to.”
He also identified the real problem: the lack of non-white roles in Hollywood, the place the Oscars are celebrating. His biggest ire was perhaps justly reserved for Hollywood liberals, who, he said, were nice to black people…but not when it comes to casting them. “We want opportunity,” he said, a puckish grin still on his face. “We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.”
But he mostly tried to couch shaming into big, affable jokes. That meant splicing black actors into lily-white movies, from Tracy Morgan taking over Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” to Leslie Jones replacing the besieging bear in “The Revenant” to Rock himself in “The Martian.” (That was a bit unfair: “The Martian” was one film that made room for two black actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover, plus multiple women, plus a Norweigan dude.)
Meanwhile, awkward silence met the apparent joke-or-something appearance of Stacey Dash, the “Clueless” actress who was, speaking of clueless, critical of not just #OscarsSoWhite but Black History Month as well. Was the joke on us? Her? Rock just seemed to enjoy trotting her out for an uncomfortable non-laugh.
Sadly, Rock couldn’t stop Sam Smith from warbling uncomfortably through the worst Bond song ever — yes, even worse than the Madonna one, and which mysteriously took home the Best Song trophy several hundreds of hours later.
But Rock was mostly tasked with being angry yet funny, which was fitting for a show that kept feting “Mad Max: Fury Road.” At one point George Miller’s action movie-cum-feminist salvo won three awards in a row — out of a total of six it would win through the evening. For awhile it was easy to feel like it may sweep the Oscars, seeing as it kept beat sure-thing title “The Revenant” for award after award. But these were technical awards — the ones it was always most likely to nab. All one could do was enjoy the brief block of fun, and witness the ridiculously excitable sound, editing and production design techies who made the fool thing happen. I mean, really witness it.
That film’s wins were a nice semi-surprise, while the genuine upsets came later, when “Bridge of Spies” spy Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting trophy over Sylvester Stallone’s autumnal, heartbreaking appearance in “Creed.” We’re not sure if the Shakespearean legend deserved it; he was twitchy and weird where Stallone was grounded and lived-in.
Oh, and “Spotlight” took the Best Picture trophy over favored (and undeserved) title “The Revenant.” It also took home Original Screenplay.
Slightly less shocking was supporting actress Rooney Mara losing for “Carol” to Alicia Vikander’s almost as excellent work in “The Danish Girl.” (Nevermind that both parts were co-leads.) Completely not shocking was, along with Leo, Brie Larson scoring Best Actress for “Room,” which is a good a time as any to let you know that, in addition to being in “Short Term 12” and “21 Jump Street,” the very talented actress is also a former teen pop almost-starlet.
Speaking of locks, the Hungarian “Son of Saul” inevitably won the Oscar for Foreign Language Film, even when “Mustang” — about a group of Turkish girls oppressed by their patriarchal elders — might have been a more novel win, even from the Academy’s perspective.
At least there was an attempt to make the more “boring” awards seem palpable to non-cinephile audiences. The sound effects and sound design awards contained crackerjack, engaging montages that helpfully demonstrated the difference between two categories no plebeian understands or cares about. No less than Joe Biden introduced no less than Lady Gaga to get people to see the sadly little-seen film she wrote a song for, the sexual abuse doc “The Hunting Ground.”
Louis C.K. scored one of the night’s best yuks while introducing, of all things, the Best Documentary Short Subject trophy, arguing that the people who make them are the only ones in the room who are just in it to change the world. “You cannot make a dime on this,” he said, pointing out they weren’t even making documentary features. “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic.” (For the record, the award went to the grim-sounding “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.”)
Speaking of which, Best Documentary Feature went not to the very important, very novel, very upsetting “The Look of Silence” — about the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s — but to “Amy,” which itself was about how fame and success destroyed the excessively talented Amy Winehouse.
What better way to end this pretty lengthy piece than with the award you were all waiting for: Best Animated Short! OK, we had skin in this game, being as we’re huge, incorrigible, obnoxious fans of “World of Tomorrow,” Don Hertzfeldt’s bleak-slash-hilarious look at humanity’s grim future. (It now streams on Netflix. Ditto “The Look of Silence”!) And of course, it didn’t win, and neither did the big favorite, Pixar’s lovely “Sanjay’s Super Team.” Instead it went to “Bear Story,” a Chilean film about the pain of being an exile, which fact makes it hard to carp about. That said, it should have went to “Tomorrow,” a film about how we all one day die and are never remembered. Speaking of which, what happened in “The Revenant” again?