“Mad Max: Fury Road” led the pack with six wins at the 88th annual Academy Awards Sunday night while the journalism drama “Spotlight” won best picture and “The Revenant” earned awards for director Alejandro G. Iñarritu and leading actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.
In a ceremony peppered with jokes and references to the controversy over the Oscar’s second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees, Chris Rock walked a delicate line between provocation and gentle ribbing with his opening monologue, declaring the Oscars “the White People’s Choice Awards.” He introduced presenter Michael B. Jordan as a “shoulda-been nominee” for his performance in “Creed.” Rock’s most trenchant commentary came from prerecorded interviews with African-American moviegoers in Compton, none of whom had seen “Trumbo,” “Bridge of Spies” or any of the major nominated films.
“Where are you getting these movies?” one woman asked.
Despite a nearby protest rally held by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles went smoothly. Winners, aided by a new thank-you scroll — a list of names, submitted in advance, that scrolled at the bottom of the screen — mostly thanked yet more people. Iñarritu, now the third director in history to win two consecutive Oscars in a row (he won for “Birdman” last year), overstayed his time to make a plea against prejudice, “and make sure for once and forever that the color of our skin become as irrelevant as the length of our hair.” DiCaprio ended his speech by encouraging political efforts to halt climate change.
The evening’s biggest surprise was Mark Rylance’s win for supporting actor in “Bridge of Spies,” an honor widely expected to go to Sylvester Stallone for his seventh portrayal of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” Rylance saluted his fellow nominees and subtly alluded to the current controversy by saying, “I don’t know how they separated the five of us from all the other supporting actors who are making films at the moment. It’s a wonderful time to be an actor.”
In a possible historic moment, Sam Smith acknowledged that he may be the first openly gay man to win an Oscar, for his James Bond theme song “Writing’s on the Wall,” and dedicated it to the LGBT community.
Kevin Hart, predicted by Chris Rock to be “next year’s host,” struck a serious note while introducing a performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Earned It” (from “Fifty Shades of Grey”) by The Weeknd. Hart encouraged overlooked nominees not to lose heart. “These problems of today,” he said, “will eventually become problems of the old.”
THE NEW BLACK CINEMA Rock, proving that black actors have difficulty getting work in Hollywood, introduced a movie-montage of Best Picture nominees in which Tracy Morgan played “The Danish Girl,” Whoopi Goldberg mopped up in “Joy,” Leslie Jones went grizzly on Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant” and Rock himself got stranded in “The Martian” ” as two white NASA officials (Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels) decided it was too expensive to bring him home.
After that sequence, Rock introduced “Clueless” star Stacey Dash as the “new director of the Academy’s minority outreach program. “I cannot wait to help my people out — Happy Black History Month!,” said Dash, who made headlines earlier this year when she spoke out about #OscarsSoWhite and questioned the celebration of Black History Month.
LOCAL WOMAN GOES HOLLYWOOD Sitting in the audience, Long Island entrepreneur Joy Mangano, the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated “Joy,” got a salute from Chris Rock. Earlier in the evening, Mangano also walked the Oscars’ red carpet.
SALUTING THE LITTLE GUYS. Louis C.K. encouraged extra applause for the noble, low-paid filmmakers in the short documentary category. “They don’t make a penny off this,” he said. “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic.”
CUTEST SELFIE.In the audience, Oscar nominee Brie Larson uses her phone to snap a photo of herself and 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay of “Room.”