Sam Smith adds an Oscar to his crowded mantle while Ennio Morricone finally takes one home

Lady Gaga and young people during theAcademy Awards on Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

One veteran musician finally took home an Oscar at Sunday’s Academy Awards, while a well-decorated newcomer added another trophy to his crowded mantle.

Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer credited with more or less inventing the sound of the spaghetti western, won original score for his music for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” The nomination was Morricone’s sixth in a career that’s stretched over more than half a century and previously earned him an honorary Oscar in 2007. Yet this was the 87-year-old composer’s first official win.

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In his acceptance speech, Morricone, through a translator, thanked the other nominated composers as a group but specifically saluted “Star Wars”’ John Williams, a perennial academy favorite — and a musician who, at 84, has been working nearly as long as Morricone.

For original song, Sam Smith, the 23-year-old British singer who scooped up multiple Grammy Awards in 2015, won for “Writing’s on the Wall,” his theme song from the latest James Bond movie, “Spectre.”

Accepting the prize with the song’s co-writer, Jimmy Napes, Smith said he’d read a news article that led him to believe he might be the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. (The assertion was instantly mocked — and refuted — online). Then he dedicated the prize to “the LGBT community” and said, “I hope we can all stand together as equals one day.”

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Though another Bond theme, Adele’s “Skyfall,” won original song in 2013, “Writing’s on the Wall” was widely expected to lose this year to “Til It Happens to You,” Lady Gaga and Diane Warren’s song about college sexual assault from “The Hunting Ground.”


Gaga delivered a starkly dramatic performance of the song on Sunday’s telecast, staring directly into the camera as she banged away at a white grand piano. Near the end she was surrounded by a large group of young people with phrases like “Survivor” and “Not your fault” scrawled on their arms.

Smith also performed on the show, as did the Weeknd, whose “Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey” was nominated for original song. In contrast with Gaga, though, both men opted for a lower-key approach, crooning carefully over polished accompaniment.

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The other two nominated songs — “Simple Song #3” from “Youth” and “Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction” — weren’t performed Sunday, with the omission of the latter inspiring a searing open letter from the song’s vocalist and co-writer, Anohni, who would’ve been the first transgender artist to perform at the Academy Awards.

If academy officials didn’t make room for such a first, though, they did extend an invitation to Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters frontman (and awards-show staple) who sang the Beatles’ “Blackbird” during the annual “In Memoriam” sequence.


Another music-related moment came in the documentary feature category, which was won by “Amy,” director Asif Kapadia’s film about the late British soul singer Amy Winehouse. (Music documentaries previously won in 2013, with “Searching for Sugar Man,” and 2014, with “20 Feet from Stardom.”)

In his speech, Kapadia said he wanted to make a movie that went beyond Winehouse’s reputation as a hard-partying “tabloid persona” and showed “what she really was.”

And then there was the bit of music that opened and closed Sunday’s show in what felt like host Chris Rock’s acknowledgment of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy: “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy’s late-’80s classic of hip-hop rebellion.


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