LOS ANGELES — In an underdog win for a movie about an underdog profession, the newspaper drama “Spotlight” took best picture at a 88th Academy Awards.
Tom McCarthy’s film about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests won over the favored frontier epic “The Revenant.” McCarthy’s well-crafted procedural, led by a strong ensemble cast, had lagged in the lead-up to the Oscars, losing ground to the flashier filmmaking of Alejandro Inarritu’s film.
But “Spotlight” — an ode to the hard-nose, methodical work of a journalism increasingly seldom practiced — took the night’s top honor despite winning only one other Oscar for McCarthy and Josh Singer’s screenplay. Such a sparsely-awarded best picture winner hasn’t happened since 1952’s “The Greatest Show On Earth.”
The night, however, belong to host Chris Rock, who launched immediately into the uproar over the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees, and didn’t let up. “The White People’s Choice Awards,” he called the Oscars, which were surrounded by protests (including one outside the Dolby Theatre by the Rev. Al Sharpton) and boycotts.
Streaks, broken and extended, dominated much of the evening. After going home empty-handed four times previously, Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar, for a best actor in “The Revenant” — a gruff, grunting performance that traded little on the actor’s youthful charisma. DiCaprio, greeted with a standing ovation, took the moment to talk about climate change.
“Let us not take our planet for granted,” he said. “I do not take tonight for granted.”
His director, Inarritu won back-to-back directing awards after the triumph last year of “Birdman.” It’s a feat matched by only two other filmmakers: John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. “The Revenant” also won best cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki, who became the first cinematographer to win three times in a row (following wins for “Gravity” and “Birdman”), and only the seventh to three-peat in Oscar history.
Inarritu, whose win meant three straight years of Mexican filmmakers winning best director, was one of the few winners to remark passionately on diversity in his acceptance speech.
“What a great opportunity for our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and to make sure for once and forever that the color of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair,” said Inarritu.
The night’s most-awarded film, however, went to neither “Spotlight” nor “The Revenant.” George Miller’s post-apocalyptic chase film, “Mad Max: Fury Road” sped away with six awards in technical categories for editing, makeup, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and costume design. Roundly acclaimed for its old-school craft, Miller’s “Mad Max” was assured of becoming the evening’s most awarded film.
“Us Mad Maxes are doing OK tonight,” said editor Margaret Sixel, who’s also Miller’s wife. The flurry of wins brought a parade of Australian craftsmen onstage, including sound editor Mark Mangini, who celebrated with a loud expletive.
Best actress went to Brie Larson, the 26-year-old breakout of the mother-son captive drama “Room.”
But the wins at times felt secondary to the sharp, unflinching hosting of Rock, in his second go around. His much anticipated opening monologue left few disappointed.