Friday 19 January 2018

Oscars analysis: the good, the bad and the very surprising

This year's Oscar winners were a mixed bag - some were predictable, but a sizeable number of the awards raised many eyebrows, writes our Irish Independent film critic

Mark Rylance (Best Supporting Actor), Brie Larson (Best Actress), Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor) and Actress Alicia Vikander (Best Supporting Actress) celebrate their Oscar wins.
Mark Rylance (Best Supporting Actor), Brie Larson (Best Actress), Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor) and Actress Alicia Vikander (Best Supporting Actress) celebrate their Oscar wins.
Steve Golin, Blye Pagon Faust, Nicole Rocklin, and Michael Sugar, pose won Best Picture for 'Spotlight'.
Eddie Redmayne presents the award for best actress.
Room for me: Writer Emma Donoghue.
Searing opening monologue: Host Chris Rock speaks onstage.
Comfortable: Jenny Beavan.

Paul Whitington

Some years one is flabbergasted by the sheer injustice of the Oscars, like the time Rocky was deemed a better picture than Taxi Driver and All the President's Men, or when Art Carney won Best Actor instead of Jack Nicholson for Chinatown, or Al Pacino for The Godfather Part II. The Academy voters have a talent for getting it horribly wrong, but this year, justice has mainly been served.

Of course we're feeling slightly aggrieved in this country, having netted just two Oscars from nine nominations, with one of those going to an American actress who happened to be starring in an Irish film. But I don't think that diminishes our filmmakers' huge achievement in getting so many nominations in the first place, and elsewhere there've been worthy winners in practically all categories in this, a non-vintage cinematic year.

If Leonardo DiCaprio hadn't won Best Actor on Sunday night, it would have been interesting to watch him trying to grin and bear it. This is Leo's fifth nomination, his win for The Revenant was richly deserved, and an indulgent audience of peers readily forgave the jet-setting star for his po-faced, environmentally-themed acceptance speech.

He was a shoo-in from way back, and so was Brie Larson's Best Actress award for her extraordinary work on Lenny Abrahamson's Room. I always predicted that Alejandro G Inarritu would win Best Director in spite of the fact that he won with Birdman last year, and his fluent, seamless handling of his western epic The Revenant was positively breathtaking at times. But there were some real surprises elsewhere.

Chief among them was the fact that Spotlight pipped The Revenant to Best Picture. Tom McCarthy's superbly choreographed drama based on The Boston Globe's investigations into clerical sex abuse had seemed to fall out of fashion as the long awards season progressed, and was seen by some to be making up the numbers here.

Sylvester Stallone looked pretty pleased with himself as he turned up at the Dolby Theatre, and must have been confident about his chances in the Best Support Acting category. His revival of his most famous character in the boxing drama Creed would have been the obvious choice, and Christian Bale (The Big Short) and Tom Hardy (The Revenant) were supposedly his closest rivals, but instead a rather sheepish looking Mark Rylance emerged to accept the gong for Bridge of Spies.

He seemed nervous giving that gracious speech, and may have been wishing he was anywhere else but on that brightly lit stage, but he's an extraordinary actor, and richly deserved his Oscar.

So did Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander, who beat out the likes of Kate Winslet, Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams and Jennifer Jason Leigh to prove that great actors excel even in bad films. The Danish Girl plodded along, and Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of a man transitioning into a woman was totally eclipsed by Vikander's portrayal of the poor woman who had to put up with him.

Room's author Emma Donoghue seemed to enjoy her evening, and was probably not entirely crestfallen to lose out to Adam McKay for The Big Short in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. And one suspects that both Michael Fassbender and Saoirse Ronan realise that may not be their last bite at the Oscar cherry.

In pre-Oscar interviews, Lenny Abrahamson had been admirably realistic in assessing his chances of winning the Best Director award: still, his stomach must have been doing funny things in the moments before the winning name was called. Room's awards run will change his career forever.

Things are sure to change for Benjamin Cleary, too. The young Dubliner's short film Stutterer cost just £5,000 to make, and was largely self-financed. Huge congratulations should go to him for his Best Live Action Short award.

Cleary's Oscar win is one of those dreamlike success stories, and he himself has said "I keep thinking I'll wake up and discover this isn't real".

Stutterer is a delightful little film, funny, poetic and moving. It tells the story of Greenwood (Matthew Needham), a lonely typographer with a speech impediment that overwhelms him in moments of crisis and makes even the simplest social interactions torture. Inwardly eloquent, outwardly catatonic, he has enjoyed a touching online friendship with a French girl called Ellie, but when she says she wants to meet him, he gets the jitters.

It's sensitively and cleverly made, has a nicely subversive sense of humour, and should launch a long career for this talented young filmmaker.

You can find Stutterer on the RTE Player - it's very good.

Oscar night: 10 memorable moments

Searing opening monologue: Host Chris Rock speaks onstage.

1 Chris Rock's searing opening monologue: In Chris Rock, above, the Academy found a truly harmonious pairing of host and subject. "Is Hollywood racist? You're damn right Hollywood's racist!" He didn't hold back, delivering an onslaught of unflinching barbs that served as the perfect antidote to #OscarsSoWhite. Rock also took a minute to get serious, saying: "We just want more opportunities. Leo gets a great part every year, all of you get great parts all the time. What about the black actors?"

Comfortable: Jenny Beavan.

2 Jenny Beavan's homage to Mad Max: The film cleaned up in the technical categories, including a win for costume designer Jenny Beavan, above, (Stephen Fry's "bag lady"). The audience were visibly unimpressed by her leather jacket bedazzled with a flaming skull. Backstage, she addressed her informal look: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm really dressed up. I just like feeling comfortable."

3 The new 'thank you' scroll: We saw the debut of the 'thank you' crawl, an effort to curb dull speeches packed with industry names. Inside Out director Pete Docter used the scroll to surprise his kids: "Okay, yes, let's get a dog."

4 Stallone knocked out: An early surprise saw Ex Machina beat Star Wars for Visual Effects, but the biggest snub came later, when Mark Rylance scooped Supporting Actor over Sylvester Stallone. Thankfully, Sly's long-time pal Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand to tweet his support: "To me, you're the best, no matter what they say." The bromance lives on.

5 Stacey Dash's bizarre cameo: In one of the most awkward Oscars moments of all time, the Clueless star-turned-Fox News pundit appeared as "the director of our minority outreach programme". The bit fell spectacularly flat as Dash, who has vocally opposed the Oscars diversity scandal, silently shuffled off stage.

6 Hit-and-miss presenter pairs: There were great duos (Jacob Tremblay and Abraham Attah) and inexplicable ones (who was that Minions bit for? Aren't children in bed by now?). Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling did not disappoint, but we'd rather not see Ali G. Olivia Wilde was all of us cringing by his side.

7 Lady Gaga's empowering performance: The singer took to the stage for a powerful performance of her Oscar-nominated song 'Til It Happens to You, surrounded by sexual assault survivors with the words "It happened to me" and "Not my fault" scrawled on their arms.

8 Sam Smith congratulates himself: After a notably off-pitch performance of his Spectre theme, Smith accepted the award for Best Original Song and expressed his pride at being the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. His failure to fact-check was pointed out by Tom Daley's fiance, Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who tweeted: "If you have no idea who I am, it may be time to stop texting my fiancé."

9 At last!: 'Poor Leo' finally grabbed the gold, with a carefully constructed message about the environment. "Climate change is real, and it's happening right now," he said. "Let us not take this planet for granted; I do not take tonight for granted."

10 The Oscars get political: The Big Short's Adam McKay blasted presidential candidates who "take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires" and Joe Biden decried campus rape, but the Spotlight producers topped it off by calling out none other than the Pope: "This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it's time to protect the children and restore the faith." Well, it certainly wasn't boring.

Irish Independent

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