'Spotlight' Wins: Oscar Race Ends on a Much-Needed High Note

The Spotlight team wins Best Picture
Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy for Spotlight! This year’s Best Picture win for Spotlight was a triumph and an encouraging endnote for a very negative season. The good guys can still win. Tom McCarthy’s drama about the courageous Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of sex abuse and subsequent cover-ups in the Catholic Church pulled an upset when it looked as if Alejandro G. Iñárritu was about to make history by being the first person to win back to back Oscars for Best Picture and Director. (He would have been a very worthy winner!) Spotlight made its own place in history, as it broke a record held by 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth for being the last film to win Best Picture and only one other award. (Spotlight won Best Original Screenplay.) The ranked ballot probably accounted for its win in a tight year, but seeing the film win let last night’s Oscar broadcast end on a high note after a shaky evening.

Things started relatively well when host Chris Rock began by jumping straight in to the controversy about the all-white slate of acting nominees. He roasted folks on both sides of the argument by calling out Hollywood for its casual racism and nudging Jada Pinkett Smith for her boycott by saying that she’s in TV and probably wouldn’t have been invited anyways. (Will Smith was also the subject of a few good zingers.) His monologue also acknowledged the possibility that the outrage might have been an overreaction, but the string of jokes, which mostly earned hearty laughs, respected people who felt slighted by the alleged whitewashing.

However, as his jokes continued, the absence of black nominees essentially fueled all of his material. This choice highlighted an ongoing problem in the #OscarsSoWhite outrage: the conversation for inclusion has excluded Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, and other actors from the conversation. Diversity isn’t a black and white issue, and for all the jokes that landed last night, the conversation felt awfully simplified. Iñárritu made a great point about opportunity in which speech, as did a member of the Mad Max team, proving some diversity among the winners.

Less amusing was a bit in which Rock highlighted the absence of Straight Outta Compton by going to a movie theatre in Compton and interviewing black moviegoers about the Best Picture nominees. Rock made a fair point about a disconnect between audiences and Academy members, but he did so by belittling nominees like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies. More often than not, however, he handled things with the right tone, but the best laugh of the night went to a moviegoer who called Angelina Jolie Pitt’s critically reviled By the Sea the best “white people movie” of 2015.

Otherwise, the unpredictable year for Oscars held true to things being up in the air. Mad Max: Fury Road dominated the technical awards as expected, while The Revenant almost seemed likely to grab Best Picture after it netted a third consecutive Oscar for Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki after Gravity and Birdman, and a win that let Leonardo DiCaprio claim the Oscar that has long eluded him. A string of upset wins made for an exciting show, beginning with the out-of-nowhere win for Ex Machina in the Best Visual Effects category over heavy favourites like Star Wars and Mad Max. The right film won, since Ex Machina seamlessly integrated technology and performance.

Another big, but welcome, upset was in the Best Supporting Actor race where Mark Rylance beat favourite Sylvester Stallone in a knockout. Rylance’s subdued performance as a Russian spy in Bridge of Spies was one of the year’s best turns. Even better, his win proved that a performance itself, and not a campaign, could still fuel a victory. Stallone was largely tipped to win for the sentimental factor that went with seeing him reprise his role as Rocky Balboa for (presumably) the last time, but Rylance’s composed performance was a favourite from the outset and had seemed to have cooled as the actor made fewer appearances on the campaign trail.

Less welcome was the upset of Sam Smith in the Best Original Song category for Spectre’s ‘Writings on the Wall.’ This win made ‘Wall’ the second song from a James Bond film to win an Oscar (after Adele’s “Skyfall”) and even a die-hard fan must admit that this song is one of the worst Bond themes ever. The win seemed especially surprising after favourite Lady Gaga commanded the house with her chilling, if awkwardly staged, performance of ‘Til It Happens to You’ from The Hunting Ground in which fellow survivors of sexual abuse took the stage in solidarity. This performance was a highlight of the night, as was The Weeknd’s sexy rendition of ‘Earned It’ from Fifty Shades of Grey.
Other highlights included Alicia Vikander’s win for The Danish Girl in which she netted Best Supporting Actress for the year’s single best performance. Well done. It was also nice to see Ennio Morricone finally win a competitive Oscar for his work composing the score for The Hateful Eight. And Kate Winslet’s joyful reaction shot of Leo winning the Oscar was priceless.

Leo’s win and the other Oscars for The Revenant made a notable showing for Canada as several films shot in Canada, co-produced by Canada, or made by Canadians took home Oscars. Like the Alberta-shot Revenant, whose brutally cold shoot probably cost it a few votes after a whiny campaign irked everyone, the Toronto-shot Spotlight did the maple leaf well. One of the highlights of the night, in my opinion, was simply seeing Brooklyn and Room presented together as Best Picture nominees. As the second and third Canadian co-productions to earn Best Picture nominations, last night really was a great spotlight for Canadian film. American actress Brie Larson, as expected, took home Best Actress for Room, while Canadian-Pakistani winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was a mild but worthy upset in the Best Documentary Short Subject for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. The director’s inspiring acceptance speech was one of the most genuine and effective moments of the night.

Equally inspiring was the strong showing for new independent distributors. Spotlight’s win is the first for relative newcomer Open Road, while aggressive boutique distributor A24 nabbed wins for Room, Ex Machina, and doc Amy. For all the concerns about a stale environment, last night’s awards acknowledged a large group of mavericks and innovators. Rewarding talent, after all, is the point of the show.

The winners:

Best Picture:


Best Director:

Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Best Actor:

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress:

Brie Larson, Room

Best Supporting Actor:

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress:

 Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Original Screenplay:

Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Best Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short - Adam McKay, Charles Randolph

Best Documentary Feature:


Best Foreign Language Film:

Son of Saul – Hungary

Best Animated Film:

Best Cinematography:

Best Film Editing:

Best Costumes:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score:

Best Original Song:

"Writing's on the Wall," Spectre

Best Visual Effects:

  Ex Machina

Best Sound Mixing:

Best Sound Editing:

Best Make-Up:

Best Animated Short

Best Live Action Short

Best Documentary Short

Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Picks for best dressed:

 Best: The Big Short's Margot Robbie


Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan

Kate Winslet

Rachel McAdams