February 28, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: 10 Thoughts On The Oscars


As the last notes of the not-remotely-accidentally-chosen “Fight the Power” fade from the closing credits of the 88th ACADEMY AWARDS telecast, 10 quick thoughts on the show and awards.

1.  Sometimes smart is all but indistinguishable from lucky, and that was the case for the Academy this year, which had chosen Chris Rock to host the Oscars before the nominations were announced and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy exploded.  Rock was the ideal choice to host in this difficult year, and he did a mostly spectacular job within the context of a show that’s always bloated by definition.  He was acerbic and incisive (his line about Hollywood being “sorority racist” was an instant classic), but he never went over the top in any direction.

2.  The Academy’s worst decision was luckily over with quickly:  having Sacha Baron Cohen and all his schtick present the very serious Room for its Best Picture clip.  Cohen would have been much better placed as the presenter of some technical category, where he could have done his quips before presenting the nominees.  (Most unfortunately applicable reference:  Olivia Wilde’s frozen visage as Cohen delivered his routine beside her, making her look as trapped as an inhabitant of Room itself.)

3.  Best upset:  the tiny-budgeted Ex Machina defeating Star Wars, The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road for its beautifully executed minimalist CG effects.

4.  Worst upset:  Sam Smith’s painfully bland Bond theme “Writing’s On the Wall” from Spectre toppling the Diane Warren/Lady Gaga song about sexual predation–particularly awful because the win followed Vice President Biden’s introduction and Gaga’s powerful performance of the song, complete with a stage full of actual sexual assault survivors with empowerment messages on their forearms.  It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that.

5.  Biggest upset:  Mark Rylance’s perfectly calibrated performance in Bridge of Spies toppling Sylvester Stallone’s presumed lifetime achievement award for Creed.  Stallone was very good in Creed and not undeserving, but truthfully his lifetime achievements (other than financially) have been few and far between.

6  Most personally satisfying upset:  Spotlight‘s Best Picture win over The RevenantSpotlight is no cinematic masterpiece; it’s a small-scale piece of work that completely lives up to its modest ambitions.  Despite those limitations,, which made it less exciting for me than the more daring The Big Short, it’s far preferable to the showy but massively overrated Revenant, a film whose legitimate accomplishments (including Emanuel Lubezki’s exquisite photography) were eclipsed by its pretentiousness for some of us.  More objectively, Spotlight‘s win seemed to validate the idea that the Academy’s preferential ballot helps consensus choices over divisive ones, because while the latter may garner passionate first-place votes, the second- and third-place selections may be decisive.  On the other hand, the Producers Guild has the same kind of ballot and gave its award to The Big Short, so as William Goldman says, Nobody Knows Anything.

7.  Happiest non-upset:  Brie Larson and her long-foretold, much-deserved win for Room, an emotionally overwhelming performance by a great young actress.

8.  Biggest “we’ll see” non-upset:  Is Alicia Vikander the next great actress/giant star, or an extremely hard-working talent who’ll never quite live up to the hype?  She was very fine in The Danish Girl, but her true potential is still in question.

9.  Clearest new trend:  remember when it was a shock for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars not to match?  After decades when the split was a rare occurrence, it’s happened 3 times in the past 4 years.  The work of Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron and Inarritu’s on Revenant seems to suggest that the Academy values splashy CG-heavy work from its directors, but not quite so much the final results.  A similar split seemed to inform the technical awards, where Mad Max: Fury Road won half a dozen prizes but none above the line.

10.  Biggest relief:  we’ll never, ever have to hear again that Leonardo DiCaprio is owed an Academy Award.  The truth is that his work in Revenant, for all its much-vaunted physical difficulty, wasn’t close to his best work, but at least he’s put the award behind him, and now can, one hope, make films without regard for their award potential.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."