Alejandro G. Iñárritu made Oscar history in a couple of ways Sunday night becoming the first director to win back to back Oscars in 66 years, and only the third ever to do it after Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford. He also became the third Mexican director in a row to win (his victory last year for Birdman, and Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity), a true statement of diversity in a broadcast that basically pummeled the industry audience with jabs at the mostly white nature of the nominees at the Dolby for much of its three hour and 36 minute running time. But this key winning moment became a complete embarrassment for the Academy as the show’s producers, who already had exhibited quite a trigger-happy finger on cueing the orchestra to cut off winners at 45 seconds, incredibly began to play Iñárritu off just as he was trying to make a key poignant point about his own path to this moment and the need to ignore questions of color and ethnicity in giving opportunities. Iñárritu would not let this happen and he fought against the rising strains of “Flight Of The Valkyries” to get just the kind of heartfelt moment into the show the producers, Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, had encouraged winners to make.
“I hadn’t even used all my time when they started to play me off.” — The Revenant director Alejandro González Iñárittu
This was a real miss in an otherwise entertaining, at times even inspiring, Oscars broadcast that had some genuine suspense and surprises in the mix for a change. But that doesn’t excuse the shabby treatment of now four-time Oscar winner Iñárritu, and he was well aware of it when I caught up with him just as he entered the Governors Ball after the show. “I hadn’t even used all my time when they started to play me off,” he told me, growing a little agitated as we discussed the matter. He said he was determined to have his say and was clearly peeved that all the talk of diversity only seemed to be about African-Americans, with no mention from Rock or anyone else about Asians, Latinos and other minorities looking for help to follow their talent and dreams. He used the word “racism” to describe the tone of that aspect of the show. Former Academy President Hawk Koch told me he too was angry about the treatment Iñárritu received, while a current Governor also agreed it was something they needed to review.
Producer Hudlin, very happy at the Governors Ball, told me he was pleased with how the show went overall, but after dancing a bit around my question about why they tried to play off Iñárritu he finally offered, “it was just one mistake in a three and a half hour show.” A pretty big one if you ask me, but stuff happens. One head of another major organization felt Rock and company hammered home their points with a bit of overkill. “I doubt the audience tuning in was doing so to see this kind of barrage,” he said. Still, with the endless negative publicity the Academy has endured since the nominations it was inevitable.
With that aside the mood in the theatre was upbeat and no one seemed 100% sure just how things were going to turn out, as the first half of the show was so lopsided with Mad Max: Fury Road victories it appeared the George Miller epic might be staging an upset sweep against favored The Revenant. But as I mused on Friday when I learned the screenplay awards would be
presented first, there was a real possibility more Academy history would be made as Spotlight was a shoo-in to win the Original Screenplay award but likely nothing else until the Best Picture envelope was opened more than three hours later. At The Night Before benefit Saturday, I actually warned Spotlight producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust this could happen. That scenario did play out when presenter Morgan Freeman announced it as the Best Picture winner. It is the first time in Academy history that a movie won only the first and last awards handed out. It also became the first film since The Greatest Show On Earth to win Best Picture and only one other award. That was way back in 1953, the first year the Oscars were televised. In many ways this most unpredictable Oscars lived up to its advance hype with a lot of anomalies. Warner Bros and Village Roadshow’s Mad Max:Fury Road led everyone with six Oscars, followed by The Revenant with the trio of awards it was virtually guaranteed by previous Guild victories for Iñárritu at DGA,
Cinematography and Leonardo DiCaprio, who was heavily favored to win and did. In a year in which there was also a huge major studio presence in the nominations, it turned out upstart indies A24, with three big wins, and Open Road, with Spotlight, really made a mark. In fact Open Road President Tom Ortenberg told me he thinks his is the “youngest” company, at 4 1/2 years, to pull off a Best Picture victory. There were a lot of happy party goers at West Hollywood’s Palihouse, where the company held a viewing party and post-show celebration. One after another of the newly minted Oscar winners made grand entrances with their shiny statuettes as they descended the steps to a cheering crowd after first making the rounds at the Governors Ball.
A24 had much to cheer about also with its key wins for Brie Larson as Best Actress in Room, Best Feature Documentary Amy and a surprise win for Ex Machina in Visual Effects. Company head David Fenkel was almost speechless when I caught up with him exiting the Dolby. Before the show, Larson’s mother and agent were among those thanking Deadline for its coverage of Room’s debut at Telluride over Labor Day, something they credit for helping send the film on its path to the Oscars where it was a Best Picture nominee. Larson even thanked Telluride directly in her acceptance speech, a first for the fest and probably upsetting to Toronto where it won the Audience Award after first playing in the Rockies. This can only help Telluride in further grabbing some plum awards contenders. (And kudos to Larson for mentioning several of the festivals, including Toronto, at the top of her acceptance speech.) Best Director nominee Lenny Abrahamson was hoping against hope for a miracle Best Picture upset too but was thrilled with the recognition the film got.
Beyond the Spotlight and Room contingents at different areas of the hopping Governors Ball , DiCaprio led a large entourage (including actor/buddy Tobey Maguire) to the back of the room where a pizza was waiting for him after all the press he did backstage. When I congratulated him he said, “Hey I just want to eat. Let me eat!” as he grabbed a slice and talked to friend Benicio Del Toro and longtime manager Rick Yorn. I had sympathy for him. They run these winners through a gauntlet. Charlize Theron and George Miller had no idea their Mad Max film was the night’s champ in terms of Oscars with a whopping six wins. Miller was getting a kick out of it, especially when his wife Margaret Sixel won one of them for Film Editing. Right after coming up the escalator to the Ball, Eddie Redmayne asked if he did alright presenting Best Actress. There with him was The Danish Girl director Tom Hooper, ecstatic about Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress win. “She’s my third Oscar-winning actor in a row,” he said referring to previous wins for Colin Firth in The King’s Speech and Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. “Has any other director ever done that?” he asked. I will check on it Tom, but not tonight.
Although nearly everyone expected Sylvester Stallone to ride a Rocky wave of sentiment to a Best Supporting Actor win, Mark Rylance instead pulled off a small upset and took the prize for his absolutely brilliant performance in Bridge Of Spies, much to the delight of his director Steven Spielberg. “I am told I am only the second actor to win in a Spielberg movie after Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, ” Rylance told me thinking Ralph Fiennes had also won for Schindler’s List, but he didn’t. Spielberg and Rylance were having a great time at their table right near the entrance to the Ball and in fact were among the last to leave sometime after 11 P.M. Spielberg thanked me for championing the film (it was number one on my year-end top 10 list) but said he had just one regret about the movie. “I only wish Tom Hanks could have taken this ride with us,” he said, noting that Hanks was truly great in a subtle role. I offered that the kind of performance that Hanks gave is reminiscent of what Gregory Peck did in To Kill A Mockingbird but flashier roles seem to carry the day now at the Oscars.
That’s not the case though with Rylance, who asked the director if his win would help the film (which opened in October) financially. “Maybe with the DVD,” Spielberg mused. Rylance has to head back to New York to continue his new play, Nice Fish in for a limited run through March 27 off-Broadway. When I suggested his Oscar win will definitely help the box-office there, Spielberg corrected and said it’s already completely sold out. Rylance told me he got the day off to come to Hollywood. “Normally I would be doing two shows today,” he said. His next film is Spielberg’s The BFG, in which he plays the title role of the Big Friendly Giant. The Roald Dahl story has a screenplay from Spielberg’s E.T. writer Melissa Mathison (who sadly passed away and was actually part of this year’s In Memoriam reel). The film opens July 1 but Rylance hasn’t seen it yet. “I haven’t shown it to him, because it is still in post-production,” Spielberg said .
Although there were stories of extra tight security this year, I didn’t notice any difference as this was a very smoothly run operation, even with Vice President Joe Biden in the house to introduce his “friend” Lady Gaga to perform her nominated song, “Til It Happens To You.” Sadly she and 8-time Oscar bridesmaid Diane Warren lost to Sam Smith’s James Bond song “Writings On The Wall.” Biden though was happily holding court and taking pictures with anyone who asked in the upstairs area of the Govs Ball before most went on to Vanity Fair and other soirees around town. Biden wasn’t the only one adding a political touch to the proceedings, as many took the occasion to push a cause — including an impassioned plea from DiCaprio on Global Warming. Politics aside, overall I would say this was a fun Oscar show, smartly paced with some great comic bits by a terrific Chris Rock, who lived up to all the hype and pressure on him to perform. Some of his taped bits were priceless , including a visit to a
Compton movie theater where nobody has heard of Spotlight, Bridge Of Spies OR The Danish Girl. Hmmmm. Even if this was a reboot of a similar bit he did when he hosted in 2005, it still killed, as did a piece that re-cast white movies with black actors in the leads. And I have to say the real highlight of the show for me was in the tumultuous standing ovation for 87 year old The Hateful Eight Best Music Score winner Ennio Morricone. He seemed overwhelmed with this long overdue win for a true maestro.
I am betting the Academy and President Cheryl Boone Isaacs is happy to have this Oscar show in the history books. She told me she was just happy she didn’t trip on the long walk out to make her remarks on diversity and what the Academy is doing to bring it about. That job, including a purge of the membership rolls and a doubling of minorities and women, starts now. Okay, maybe Tuesday.