No one who cares about cinema considers the Academy Awards to be a reliable indication of great art. But the Oscars do provide an interesting view of what Hollywood thinks of current movies. And reasonably often, they actually reward good films. To a reasonable degree, they did so last night.
My wife and I didn’t watch the Oscars this year. No, we didn’t boycott them. We had theater tickets, purchased months before we were thinking about the Oscars. (We saw Aubergine) at Berkeley Rep. I recommend it.) So I got to read about the winners after the fact.
I’ll just say one thing about this year’s racial controversy: As of two years ago (and I see no sign of significant change since then), 94% of the more than 6,000 Academy Award voters were white. For a Los Angeles-based institution, that can’t be a coincidence. On some level, it’s intentional.
Okay, onto the winners:
Best Visual Effects: I’m putting this one first because Ex Machina‘s win was the only win that surprised and delighted me. With all the big, action-packed adventures to choose from in a category dominated by blockbusters, the Academy went with a low-budget, cerebral, commercially unsuccessful science fiction story about the mind. And yes, it had amazing effects on a small budget.
Best Picture: I’m perfectly fine with Spotlight‘s win. I would have preferred The Big Short, but just barely. Besides, The Big Short broke too many rules to win.
Best Director: Although I only gave The Revenant a B+, I think it deserved this particular Oscar. It had script problems, but Alejandro González Iñárritu did an amazing job turning that script into a film. By the way, Iñárritu won this award last year for Birdman, making him only the third person in Academy history to win Best Director two years in a row (the others are John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz). But Iñárritu has yet to make anything as good as his Babel.
The two screenplay awards: Since The Big Short and Spotlight were my two favorites amongst this year’s Oscar bait, I’m glad they won. And I’m glad they weren’t competing with each other in this category. (The Big Short won Adapted Screenplay; Spotlight Original Screenplay.) The irony, of course, is that both were based on actual events. It’s just that in the case of The Big Short, someone wrote a book about the actual even first.
Animated Feature: I would have voted for Anomalisa, but the Academy would never give this particular award to an R-rated film with an explicit sex scene. But Inside Out was an excellent second choice.