Nothing about the 88th Academy Awards was black and white. Instead, one of the most politically and socially charged ceremonies in recent memory shined a spotlight on Hollywood’s best and brightest, as well as gray areas behind the glamour.
From the first moments hosting what he called “the white People’s Choice Awards,” host Chris Rock came out with the velocity of the high-octane cars of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the occasionally powerful, sometimes brutal claw-swipe of the bear in “The Revenant.”
Rock spared no one — both those protesting on the #OscarsSoWhite side, and on Hollywood’s casual overlooking of people of color. “Is Hollywood racist?” he wondered aloud, after poking fun at Oscar boycotters like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. “Is it ‘burning cross’ racist? No. Is it ‘Fetch me some lemonade’ racist? No.” But he pointed out that the very liberal but largely non-minority Hollywood elite can be “sorority racist — like, ‘We like you, Rhonda. But you’re not a Kappa.'”
In fact, Rock’s razor-sharp, equal opportunity critique of both sides of the diversity gap earned him goodwill across the board — and racially pointed sketches sending up the Best Picture nominees featuring the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones continued to keep things fierce and funny, carrying the host through the less well-received choice of bringing actress-turned-arch-conservative Fox News host Stacey Dash on stage before the liberal-minded showbiz glitterati (see: screen shots of Chrissy Teigen’s face at the crucial moment).
Veering away from the socially relevant, Rock also scored daddy points by hard-selling his daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies to the boldface nominees in the front seats. “It would mean so much to my little girls if we could beat Linda Dunn.” He tabulated the total sales on a telethon-style toteboard, and noted to those who didn’t kick in, “Harvey Weinstein, you can kiss my a–!”
The host’s biggest vote of approval perhaps came from “Room” star Jacob Tremblay: after Rock gave the pint-sized actor and fellow presenter Abraham Attah of “Beasts of No Nations” apple boxes to better reach the microphone, Tremblay noted Rock “is the zebra in ‘Madagascar.’”
Away from Rock there was the usual of-the-moment parade of eye candy: Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt assured all Hollywood screenwriters they find them hot (even if they were reading from a script) and the perennially ethereal Cate Blanchett paid tribute to her top allies, the costume designers.
There were several other chuckle-inducing bits: comedic duo Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe traded their usual glowers for punchlines; a faux-drunk Tina Fey and sober-faced Steve Carell created maximum laughs with minimum dialogue and Jared Leto most certainly made the word “merkin” dominate the night’s Google searches.
Then things swung political again — literally — when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took the stage to rousing applause. “I’m the least qualified man here tonight,” he reminded, before urging the worldwide audience to pledge to intervene whenever they encounter a situation when sexual consent has not been granted, especially referring to college campuses.
“We must and we can change the culture,” said an Armani-clad Biden, who then introduced “my friend” Lady Gaga to perform a blistering rendition of her Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens to You” from the on-campus sexual assault documentary “The Hunting Ground.”
“Bridge of Spies'” best supporting actor winner Mark Rylance capped off his surprise victory by paying tribute to his director Steven Spielberg, of whom he said “unlike some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days, he leads with such love that he’s surrounded by masters in every craft on his film.”
Conversely, filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu — winning his second best director Oscar in two years — had to praise his leading man, “The Revenant’s” Leonardo DiCaprio. “Leo, you are ‘The Revenant’ — thank you for giving your soul, your art, your life.”
Receiving a thundering standing ovation when he was named best actor, DiCaprio, too, had high praise for Iñárritu, costar Tom Hardy and his longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese.
The actor, who has famously championed awareness of climate change, also took the opportunity to shine a light on the issue, noting how far south “The Revenant” had to go to shoot its harsh, wintry landscapes in a year of the globe’s highest recorded temperatures. “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take this night for granted.”
In addition to naming the various cast, crew and support team members that helped make “Room” come to life, best actress winner Brie Larson also thanked the most commonly desirable denominator for all movies. “Thank you to all of you who saw it,” she said.
Finally, when “Spotlight” took the Best Picture trophy, none of the speeches from the producers spoke quite as loudly as star Michael Keaton’s caught-on-camera, read-my-lips victory lap up, in which he was captured mouthing a triumphant “F— yeah!”