Assessing the Oscars: awards and ceremony

As movie fans, we will remember this year’s Oscars for its lessons about movies and audiences. What do you recall?

Real issues matter

In a year filled with films that celebrate the technique of making movies, a story about real issues walked away with the top Oscar. By naming Spotlight the Best Picture of 2015, the Academy reminds us that, no matter what movies can visually accomplish, what lasts are the stories they tell and the issues they illuminate. Without special effects or a massive budget, Spotlight focuses on real heroes who search for truth in the stories they write. As producer Michael Sugar said when accepting for the film, “This movie gives a voice to the survivors”.

Rock seizes the moment

At a celebration that could have turned bitter, host Chris Rock hit a perfect tone in his opening monologue by showing respect for concerns over diversity in the movies while bringing perspective to the conversation. By being so likable, and human, Rock helps us remember that a movie screen reflects what happens in the real world. From the moment he walked on stage Rock showed command, heart and humor. And we could not have hoped for a more balanced approach to a sensitive topic.

Surprises still happen

Almost every pollster predicted that Sylvester Stallone would be named Best Supporting Actor for Creed. But Mark Rylance – in the evening’s biggest upset – won the award for his quiet restraint in Bridge of Spies. As the three-time Tony Award winner thanked director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks, he helped us remember that the performance, not the sentiment, ultimately matters.

Girl Scouts rock

As host Chris Rock walked through the audience – in a moment reminiscent of Ellen DeGeneres ordering pizza a couple of years ago – he highlighted the efforts of Girl Scouts to sell cookies to raise money. By showing his softer side as a father, and securing significant contributions, Rock took the edge off an evening that, by this time, was feeling a bit heavy. And bringing back the cookies to the stage – as he closed the evening – was a classy bookend.

Leo rocks the audience

He received his first standing ovation when his name was announced, a popular actor who finally landed the role to land an Oscar. What Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio achieved with his acceptance speech is something we will remember. After thanking his mentors (including director Martin Scorcese) and his parents, the new Oscar winner pointed to an experience on the set of The Revenant. As the Oscar camera panned to Vice President Joe Biden, DiCaprio described how the crew had to move from Canada to South America to find a location with enough snow, a real example of climate change. In just a moment he used his personal achievement to articulate a global concern. And the audience stood up a second time.

Iñárritu ties an Oscar record

As Alejandro G. Iñárritu accepted his second Oscar in a row as Best Director for The Revenant – only the third director in Academy history to win back-to-back awards – he saluted those who express concern over diversity behind and in front of the camera. After thanking his crew, stars and family, the director issued a plea for racial tolerance by remarking that he looks for the moment when “the color of my skin becomes as irrelevant as length of my hair.” By poking fun at himself, the director humanized an issue that should not be forgotten.

Lady Gaga rocks the house

No matter that she didn’t ultimately win the Oscar for Best Song, Lady Gaga delivered the performance of the evening with her powerful rendition of ’Til It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground. At the keys of a grand piano, radiant in white, the singer delivered her lyrics as a passionate anthem for anyone who survives sexual assault. The audience at the Dolby Theater cheered as female and male survivors filled the stage halfway through the song. In a year and evening brimming with opinions and observations, this performance reminded us that people try to live at the heart of every issue that others talk about.

As Oscar closes its books for another year, we look forward to the new films that will give us hope for movie excellence. But we may have to wait a few months. In most years, the post-Oscar period is filled with less-than-memorable movies. Instead we can re-watch the winning and nominated movies now available for home viewing.

See you at the movies.

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