Chris Rock was right, this year the Oscars really were a little different
The cast of Best Picture winner “Spotlight” takes a selfie backstage at the 88th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Actress Stacey Dash speaks onstage during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 28, 2016.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Michael Keaton and the cast and producers of “Spotlight” celebrate after winning the Oscar for best picture.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The production team and cast of Spotlight celebrate the award for best picture.(Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, winner of Best Director with Tom Hardy(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Whoopi Goldberg(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Rylance thanks Steven Spielberg before accepting his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Adam McKay, front, and Charles Randolph with their Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Bringing an end to an unpredictable and tumultuous Oscar race, the newsroom drama “Spotlight” took home the top prize for best picture at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, emerging victorious in what had widely been seen as a three-way race with the brutal frontier epic “The Revenant” and the financial crisis dramedy “The Big Short.”
Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Academy Award — after four previous acting nominations — for his starring role as a man who survives a vicious grizzly bear attack in “The Revenant.” Brie Larson earned the lead actress prize for her performance as a mother who has spent much of her life in captivity in the drama “Room.”
The evening marked the climax of one of the most controversial Oscar seasons in Hollywood history, as a bitter debate over the lack of any acting nominees of color for the second year in a row roiled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Unlike in many previous years, no single film dominated the night, as academy voters spread their love around to a wide range of contenders.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who captured the directing prize last year for “Birdman,” won again for “The Revenant,” making him the first director to win the prize back-to-back in 65 years. The adapted screenplay prize went to “The Big Short,” while the original screenplay award went to “Spotlight.”
The gonzo dystopian action film “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a summer action thriller that proved one of the dark horses of this Oscar season, had a strong showing, pulling in six awards, including for editing, costume design and production design. But the year’s biggest box office behemoth, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” nominated for five awards, came up empty-handed.
Also striking out was “The Martian,” an audience favorite that had seven nominations.
In the weeks leading up to the show, there was widespread speculation on how host Chris Rock would address the #OscarsSoWhite issue.
Taking the stage to Public Enemy’s hip-hop anthem “Fight the Power,” Rock immediately set about tackling the elephant in the room. He welcomed the audience to “The White People’s Choice Awards” and went on to unleash a barrage of jokes about race and discrimination in Hollywood.
“Everybody wants to know … ‘Is Hollywood racist?’” Rock said. “You’ve got to go at that the right way. Is it burning-cross racist? No.... Hollywood is sorority racist. ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given Rock’s acid-tongued comedic style, a few jokes seemed to teeter on the brink of too edgy for a room that is tense under the best of circumstances.
“This year, things are going to be a little different at the Oscars: In the ‘In Memoriam’ package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by cops on their way to the movies,” he cracked to scattered, uncomfortable laughter. “Yes, I said it all right.”
But for the most part, the audience in the Dolby Theatre seemed to welcome the chance to address the thorny question of diversity in the film industry head-on and to finally release the tension that had built for weeks amid calls for a boycott of the ceremony.
While saying that black actors “want opportunity — and not just once,” Rock made a point to note the complexity of the issues of inclusion and discrimination. “Everything is not sexism,” he said. “Everything is not racism.”
Fittingly for a year that had been widely considered more unpredictable than usual, the evening delivered a number of surprises, large and small.
Mark Rylance was an unexpected winner in the supporting actor category for his performance in the Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies,” beating out Sylvester Stallone, who had widely been expected to score an Oscar knockout for his return to the role of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.”
The indie sci-fi film “Ex Machina” earned the visual effects prize, an upset in a category dominated by bigger, flashier films such as “Mad Max” and “Star Wars.”
Throughout the evening, the theme of honoring survivors of one kind or another recurred. Accepting the original screenplay award for “Spotlight,” which chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigation uncovering the sexual abuse scandal among Catholic priests, the film’s co-writer and director, Tom McCarthy, acknowledged both the reporters and the victims.
“We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable, and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome is really an inspiration to all,” McCarthy said. “We have to make sure this never happens again.”
Mark Rylance, left, Brie Larson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alicia Vikander in the winners room.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Songwriter Jimmy Napes, left, and singer Sam Smith won the original song Oscar for “Writing’s on the Wall” for the film “Spectre.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Brie Larson with her Oscar for lead actress for the film “Room.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Alejandro G. Inarritu with his Oscar for directing for the film “The Revenant.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Alicia Vikander won the supporting actress Oscar for her role in “The Danish Girl.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Leonardo DiCaprio with his lead actor Oscar for “The Revenant.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Production designers Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson celebrate winning the production design Oscar for their work on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Ennio Morricone, 87, won the Oscar for original score for “The Hateful Eight.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes won the Oscar for foreign language film for “Son of Saul.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Rylance displays his Academy Award for his supporting role in “Bridge of Spies.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Directors James Gay-Rees, left, and Asif Kapadia take home an Academy Award for their documentary feature “Amy” about late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy holds her Oscar for documentary short subject. Her winning film, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” is about honor killings in Pakistan.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Gabriel Osorio, left, and Pato Escala win the Academy Award for animated short film for their film “Bear Story.” Their win is the first win for their country, Chile.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Emmanuel Lubezki wins the Academy Award for cinematography for this work in “The Revenant.” He is photographed with the presenter of the award, actress Rachel McAdams.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
“Inside Out” producer Jonas Rivera, left, and director Pete Docter take home the Oscar for animated feature.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Margaret Sixel holds her Oscar for film editing for her work in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The winning visual effects team for “Ex Machina,” from left, Mark Ardington, Paul Norris, Sara Bennett and Andrew Whitehurst.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Winning “Mad Max: Fury Road” sound editors Mark Mangini, left, and David White, right, pose with actor Chris Evans, who presented the award.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” makeup and hairstyling winners Damian Martin, second from left, Lesley Vanderwalt and Elka Wardega stand with the awards presenters, actors Margot Robbie and Jared Leto.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” costume designer Jenny Beavan holds her Academy Award. She is photographed with Cate Blanchett, who presented the award.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
“The Big Short’s” writers Adam McKay, left, and writer Charles Randolph win the adapted screenplay category. McKay also directed the film.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
“Spotlight” writers Josh Singer, left, and Tom McCarthy win for original screenplay. McCarthy also directed.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Late in the evening, Vice President Joe Biden took the stage to issue a call to end sexual violence, introducing Lady Gaga’s rendition of her Oscar-nominated song “‘Til It Happens to You” from the documentary film “The Hunting Ground,” a performance that earned a standing ovation.
Extending the survival theme further, DiCaprio devoted the bulk of his acceptance speech to an impassioned call to save the planet in the face of the global warming crisis, saying, “It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively and stop procrastinating.”
But it was the issue of diversity that dominated the proceedings, popping up in moments both earnest and humorous.
On the serious side, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has drawn both praise and criticism for spearheading dramatic changes aimed at doubling the number of women and minorities in the academy’s ranks by 2020, spoke of the importance of extending opportunity to those who are underrepresented in the entertainment industry.
“While change is often difficult, it is necessary,” Boone Isaacs said. “I am confident that together we can shape a future of which all of us can be proud.”
Jennifer Lawrence(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
“The Martian” actor Matt Damon(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Actress Priyanka Chopra(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Taylor Kinney, left, and Lady Gaga arrive at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.(Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)
“Titanic” costars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite on the red carpet.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Amy Poehler and Michael Keaton(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Charlize Theron(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Weeknd and Common
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP; Angela Weissangela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)
Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) and Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (supporting actress, “Spotlight”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
From left, actress Margot Robbie, best actor nominee Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”) and actress Jennifer Garner.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
People protest the all-white slate of acting Oscar nominees and lack of diversity in the industry near the 88th Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center.(David McNew / AFP/Getty Images)
Taylor Kinney, left, and Lady Gaga(Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)
“Director Ridley Scott and Giannina Facio, left, and supporting actor nominee Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”) with Charlotte Riley.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Supporting actor nominee Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”) with actress Charlotte Riley.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Best actress nominee Cate Blanchett (“Carol”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Nominees and former costars Kate Winslet (supporting actress, “Steve Jobs”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (best actor, “The Revenant”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Leonardo DiCaprio(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Christian Bale with wife Sibi Blazic.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Reese Witherspoon(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Model Heidi Klum(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Model Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Kerry Washington(Christopher Polk/Getty Images; Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Supporting actress winner Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Naomi Watts, Olivia Munn, Priyanka Chopra(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP; Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP; Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Cinematographer Ed Lachman, Spirit Award winner and Oscar nominee for “Carol.”(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Mindy Kaling(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Jordan’s foreign-language nominee “Theeb” is represented by, from left, director Naji Abu Nowar and actors Jacir Eid and Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Sofia Vergara, costar of ABC’s “Modern Family,” on the red carpet.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Byung-hun Lee.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Governors Ball chef Wolfgang Puck.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
From left, model Heidi Klum, best actress nominee Saorise Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and last year’s supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”).(Left and right - Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; center - Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
“Room’s” young actor Jacob Tremblay shares a stretch of red carpet with “Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Original song nominees Jimmy Napes, left, and Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall,” “Spectre”).(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Nominated film editor Hank Corwin (“The Big Short”) and wife Nancy arrive at the 88th Academy Awards.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Orlando Jones during the arrivals.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Tobias Lindholm, center, director of Denmark’s foreign-language nominee “A War,” arrives with the film’s lead actor Pilou Asbæk, right.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
“Beasts of No Nation” actor Abraham Attah.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Morning show host and former NFL player Michael Strahan addresses the media on the red carpet.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Composer Carter Burwell, nominated for original score for “Carol.”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Model Dorith Mous on the red carpet.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the nominated live-action short feature “Shok” arrive on the red carpet for the 88th Academy Awards.(Valerie Macon / AFP/Getty Images)
Sofia Vergara at the 88th Academy Awards.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
“Beasts of No Nation” costar Abraham Attah arrives at the 88th Academy Awards.(Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP)
Orlando Jones arrives for the 88th Academy Awards.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)
TV personality Stephanie Bauer on the Oscars red carpet.(Jason Merritt / Getty Images)
TV personality Giuliana Rancic at the 88th Academy Awards.(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
TV personality Maria Menounos at the 88th Academy Awards.( Ethan Miller/Getty Images, left, Jason Merritt/Getty Images, right)
But for the nominees, as always, the evening came down less to the sweeping issues facing the entire industry and more to smaller, more personal moments of drama.
At one point, Tom Hardy, a supporting actor nominee for “The Revenant,” was spotted pacing around the lobby, looking anxious.
Asked if his nerves had something to do with “The Revenant’s” Oscar prospects, the British actor, who recently became a father for the second time, said no.
“I’m just waiting for my wife to finish breast pumping in the bathroom,” Hardy said wryly. “She has to do it every hour.”
Times staff writers Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.
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