Though the Oscars telecast fell to an eight-year low in Nielsen’s overnight ratings — not surprising given that three of 2015’s most popular films (“Creed,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Straight Outta Compton”) were largely absent from the major categories — host Chris Rock and a number of unpredictable categories made the ceremony one of the most memorable since “Crash” beat “BrokeBack Mountain.” We round up our favorite moments of the night, in no particular order.
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“Spotlight” Wins Best Picture
The showdown between “Mad Max: Fury Road” (six wins) “The Revenant” (three, including Best Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio) might have signaled a path to victory for Tom McCarthy’s kitchen-sink journalism drama — but, as evidenced by Michael Keaton’s fist-pumping “Fuck yeah!” at Morgan Freeman’s announcement, “Spotlight” nabbing the top prize still came as a bit of a shock. Variety’s Guy Lodge noted on Twitter that it gave the Oscars an “elegant” symmetry: “Spotlight” won the night’s first award (Original Screenplay), the night’s final award (Best Picture), and nothing in between.
Tracy Morgan Loves These Danishes, Gurl
Chris Rock’s strong opening monologue, which wasted no time in taking the Academy to task for yet another year of #OscarsSoWhite, set the table for this even funnier pre-taped gag, with Rock and other black performers assuming roles in lily-white nominated movies — Whoopi Goldberg in “Joy,” Leslie Jones in “The Revenant.” But it was Tracy Morgan, on the comeback trail after being critically injured in a 2014 car accident, who landed the night’s biggest laugh. Reprising his daffy “30 Rock” persona, he ribbed Tom Hooper’s period drama with a perfectly placed pastry: “These Danishes is good, gurl!” has us chuckling even now.
Leo’s Long Wait Pays Off
Speaking of “The Revenant,” star Leonardo DiCaprio ended his “always a bridesmaid” Oscar losing streak by winning Best Actor (his sixth Oscar nomination overall) — and then marked the occasion in style. In his acceptance speech, he made a classy, impassioned plea for politicians to accept the science behind climate change, watched as his statuette was engraved at the Governor’s Ball, and welcomed a string of well-wishers at the swanky Vanity Fair party. Plus, his victory — the most predictable of the night — gave us this brilliant bit of flipbook art.
Louis C.K. Celebrates Civic-Driving Documentarians
It will come as no shock to anyone familiar with his stand-up, but Louis C.K. turned in the most clever awards presentation of the night (sorry, Sarah Silverman) by refusing to sugar-coat the cold, hard facts of the category. As he said of the nominees for Best Documentary Short — which went to “A Girl in the River” (HBO, March 7) — “these people will never be rich as long as they live.” Paying tribute to the evening’s unsung filmmakers while needling the mansion-dwelling glitterati, the comedian achieved in short order the balance of warm feeling and sharp humor that Ricky Gervais has been trying (and failing) to strike at the Golden Globes for years. C.K. is smart enough to know that hosting the Oscars is a thankless task, so don’t expect him to take the reins anytime soon. But it’s still nice to dream, right?
Mark Rylance Wins with Grace
Upsetting sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”), Rylance accepted his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor with an eloquent paean to storytellers — including his “Bridge of Spies” director Steven Spielberg — and a nod to his fellow nominees. Stallone’s loss, 39 years after he fell short in the Best Actor race (playing the same character, Rocky Balboa) may be heartbreaking, but it’s hard not be pleased to see perhaps our greatest living stage actor receive kudos for his on-screen work, especially after the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild all whiffed when it came to his brilliant turn in “Wolf Hall.”
Brie Larson Is Actually the Sweetest
Before winning the Best Actress prize for her performance in “Room,” in which she plays a rape survivor, rising star Brie Larson showed why she’s been such a popular presence on the awards circuit this year. After Lady Gaga — whose “Til It Happens to You” lost out, shockingly, to Sam Smith’s Bond theme in the Best Original Song category — performed her number from “The Hunting Ground,” backed by dozens of sexual assualt survivors, Larson hugged every last one as they left the stage, a real-life example of the strength and humanity she brought to one of 2015’s toughest roles. (Watch video of the hug line, tweeted by The Hollywood Reporter’s Chris Gardner, below.)
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) February 29, 2016