Turns out there was a great deal of surprising diversity among last night’s Oscar winners. And it was all about championing the outsider.
From best picture winner Spotlight on down, the outsiders were on a quest to expose greed, corruption, and hate, forcing micro and macro change, and attaining spiritual awakening.
Spotlight strangely went from frontrunner to underdog yet pulled off the win for OpenRoad with the help of its great ensemble cast and Oscar-winning best original screenplay (Josh Singer & director Tom McCarthy). It’s the best journo procedural since All the President’s Men with its detail and depth surrounding newsroom reporting at the dawn of the new millennium.
As unheralded editor Tom McCardle emphasized, “It’s a movie about reporters making phone calls, knocking on doors, creating spreadsheets, and dealing with constant politics and pressure. It turns the mundane into a triumph, albeit one filled with pain and tragedy along the way.”
And it couldn’t have happened without the outsiders to uncover the egregious Boston archdiocese scandal. From the Spotlight team at The Globe to editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) to attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), their passion, patience, persistence prevailed. Journalism isn’t dead — it just smells funny.
As for The Revenant, the trio of Oscars for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (a history-making three in a row), and Leo DiCaprio represents an extraordinary achievement for this metaphysical wilderness survival adventure. It too embraces triumph, pain, and tragedy. DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass — an outsider among the trappers — discovers how to make nature work for him and overcome vengeance during his rebirth.
Not surprisingly, Mad Max: Fury Road was the big crafts winner, snagging six Oscars for production design (Colin Gibson), costume design (Jenny Beavan), makeup & hairstyling (Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini), sound editing (Mark Mangini and David White) and mixing (Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo), and editing (Margaret Sixel). George Miller’s triumphant return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland had a new millennial aesthetic in finding beauty in the quest for freedom and humanity.
Meanwhile, the shocking VFX win for Ex Machina (Double Negative’s second in a row and third in the last six years) represented the biggest Goliath victory of the night, going up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant, Fury Road, and The Martian. The award was shared by DNeg’s Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, and Mark Ardington alongside Milk VFX’s Sara Bennett.
The effectiveness of Alex Garland’s low-budget sci-fi thriller rested with the beguiling performance of The Danish Girl best supporting actress winner Alicia Vikander as android Ava and the ability of Domhnall Gleeson to fall in love with her. DNeg did the outstanding CG work, first using sharpies and paper to design Ava, and then relying on body tracking and parts replacement without ever resorting to green screen to keep the actors focused and natural during the live-action shoot. It’s simple, seamless and elegant, and another instance of the Oscar going to an emotionally powerful, character-driven performance.
Frontrunner Ennio Morricone finally won best score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a western about outsiders if ever there was one. More than a nostalgia trip for his legendary work with Sergio Leoni, this music was totally unique to his canon: dark and brooding, it’s the slow arrival of death itself and very horrifying.
Another surprise was Sam Smith’s controversial best song win for “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre, beating Lady Gaga’s powerful “Til It Happens to You” (in collaboration with Diane Warren) from The Hunting Ground. Picking up where Adele’s Oscar-winning Skyfall left off, it tenderly delivers a ballad about a life unfulfilled for 007 and, perhaps, a fond farewell to the Daniel Craig era.
Although there was no surprise in Pixar’s Inside Out taking best animated feature (the studio’s most imaginative and adult movie), Pete Docter’s impassioned acceptance speech underscored Pixar’s successful 20-year ethos since Toy Story: ”Anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering. There are days you’re gonna feel sad, angry and scared, that’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff, make films, draw, write. It will make a world of difference.”
Likewise, Gabriel Osorio’s best animated short winner, Bear Story (a first for Chile) embraces freedom and dignity for the independent thinker. In this case, a poignant allegory about a lonely bear who builds an elaborate mechanical diorama in an attempt to remember a happier life with his wife and son before being abducted into the circus.
Osorio’s grandfather was exiled by Pinochet for being a socialist: ”The idea of representing this story with animals came to me very quickly and the idea to use bears came with the notion of using the circus as a metaphor for the military fascists,” he explained.