The movie world's own collective revenant finally came to an end on Sunday night as the 88th Academy Awards capped off six long months of speculation, soul-searching and social butterflying. Truth be told, it's been an unusually compelling Oscar season from start to finish: The lack of a frontrunner kept the pundits on their toes, while the lack of any non-white people in any of the major categories kept the voters on their heels. And though #OscarsSoWhite will obviously be what history takes away from this year's show (at least, it better be), it wasn't the only thing that made 2016 such a standout. Here are the 10 biggest things we learned from last night's show.
Leonardo DiCaprio Finally Caught Him What He Could
Thank God that Leo finally won an Oscar, because Hollywood may not have been able to survive another year of jokes about how badly he supposedly wanted one. For whatever reason, the world had decided that an actor using his clout to collaborate with major filmmakers on creatively ambitious projects was something to be mocked, and so DiCaprio became Gollum lusting after his precious — someone even made a videogame about the Titanic star's "desperate hunt" for one of those little gold men. Because really, nothing says Oscarbait like a nearly wordless performance in which an actor covers himself in a mask of his own spit and eats a bison's liver. Sure, all the hunting and grunting DiCaprio did in The Revenant may not stack up to his revelatory work in films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Catch Me If You Can, but mocking a superstar for having the guts to challenge himself is exactly the kind of bullshit that makes people feel like the Oscars do more harm than good. Let the man have his trophy.
This year's Oscars were obsessed with exposing the blind-spots of a beloved institution, and so it was extremely fitting that the prize for Best Picture went to a film about ... people who were obsessed with exposing the blind-spots of a beloved institution. Spotlight might be one of the whitest stories ever told (and the least flashy movie in competition), but there wasn't a more appropriate choice among this group of nominees. A laser-focused procedural about the Boston Globe journalists whose work revealed the child abuse that the Catholic church had been perpetuating in plain sight, Spotlight is a testament to the idea that systemic problems must not be allowed to become permanent ones.
A Big Year for the Little Guys
Rocky Balboa may be the cinema's ultimate underdog, but Sylvester Stallone was the heavy favorite to win Best Supporting Actor. So when venerable British thespian Mark Rylance walked away with the category for his beautiful performance as a soft-spoken Russian agent in Bridge of Spies, it was an early hint that these Oscars would be a big night for a new breed of little guys. That theme continued throughout the show: Not only did indie distributor A24 snag three trophies and prove that it can hang with the big boys, they were behind the evening's biggest shock: Ex Machina, the company's $15 million sexy robot movie, beat Star Wars for Best Special Effects.
It Never Hurts to Do Your Homework
For a guy who won an Oscar, Sam Smith didn't have the greatest night. Sure, his live performance of Spectre theme "Writing's on the Wall" was flawless, but the track itself was widely felt to be the weakest of the Best Original Song nominees; it didn't help that the British musician was forced to accept his award in the wake of Lady Gaga's powerful tribute to the victims of sexual abuse. But Smith then went out of his way to make things worse: Blithely misremembering the details of an Ian McKellen quote, Smith suggested that he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar (the venerable thespian's comment had, in fact, been limited to the acting categories). The oversight soured a positive sentiment into an unfortunate bit of grandstanding, and the newly minted Academy Award winner was confronted with some intriguing blowback from the likes of Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
"Genre" Isn't a Dirty Word, Anymore
Once upon a time, most films that so much as flirted with genre elements were considered too déclassé for the Academy Awards (or, more often, not considered at all). And while the rise of CG has certainly put a dent in that thinking — it was a watershed moment when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won 11 Oscars in 2003 — it was still a pleasant surprise to see a variety of less straight-laced fare snatch some golden glory away from the more "correct" films in their category. In fact, there was a stretch towards the beginning of the show where it seemed like Mad Max: Fury Road was going to steamroll the competition all night, as George Miller's frenzied post-apocalyptic masterpiece drove away with six Oscars in short order. Later in the show, The Hateful Eight composer Ennio Morricone won Best Original Score for a hyper-violent Western, and Ex Machina scored a win for its hardnosed sci-fi magic.
A deeply confused Stacey Dash wasn't the most clueless thing about this year's show. Virtually everything about the Oscar ceremony was designed in reference to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but that single-minded focus exposed the Academy to a number of other embarrassing and hurtful oversights. We already knew that the Academy had failed to reserve airtime for the first trans nominee since the Seventies, but the show slathered insult on top of injury by pissing away precious minutes with a dumb Star Wars skit and — worst of all — a bit in which three cute Asian children (one of whom had a Jewish last name) were displayed onstage as the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Woof.
Three Cheers for Chivo
There's a reason they call this dude "The Master of Light." In case there was any lingering doubt — and there really wasn't — The Revenant cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki will be remembered as one of the all-time greats of his field. As predicted, Alejandro González Iñárritu's favorite DP became one of the first people in Academy Awards history to win three consecutive Oscars in the same category (his previous wins were for Birdman and Gravity). In the immortal words of Oscar-losing R&B star The Weeknd: Lubezki "earned it."
The Act of Re-Killing
Listen, Amy is a strong film, and it's not exactly the feel-good story of the year. But the Academy committed a grievous error in 2013 when it awarded Best Documentary to Twenty Feet From Stardom instead of Joshua Oppenheimer's monumental The Act of Killing, and last night they proved that they learned nothing from their mistake. Masterfully exposing the continuing fallout from the 20th Century's most invisible genocide, Oppenheimer's film supplied the men behind Indonesia's mutilated history the rope they needed to hang themselves. His follow-up, The Look of Silence, found the filmmaker shifting his attention away from the perpetrators of the slaughter and towards their victims — the results were somehow even more powerful. These two movies will outlive us all, but the Oscars blew another golden chance to help Oppenheimer's message about an unspoken past to reach a wider audience while there's still time for them to have an impact on the present.
Donald Trump Lost Every Category
Future Commandant-in-Chief Donald J. Trump may not have been nominated for anything, but that doesn't mean he didn't get crushed at several different points during the night. Not only did a couple of winners send some oblique shade in his general direction, but two Oscars were awarded to Mexicans; the Best Picture award went to a movie about the necessity of unimpeded journalists; and Joe Biden enjoyed the biggest ovation of the night. Even Andy Serkis got in on the fun, raising hopes that one day he might strap on his motion-capture suit in order to star in the inevitable Trump biopic.
Jack Nicholson Might Be Dead
… Did anyone see him last night? Should we send someone by his house just to check in?