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2016 Oscars: The Best And Worst Of The 88th Academy Awards

2016 Oscars: The Best And Worst Of The 88th Academy Awards

Well, thank heavens that’s over. The 88th Academy Awards are done and dusted, and for the umpteenth year in a row, your stalwart Playlist buddies found themselves staying up way past their bedtimes in their respective time zones, despite having faithfully promised themselves they wouldn’t, to watch the whole thing through to the bitter end.

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None of us are about to say the night was an unqualified success, but even the most crotchety in the Playlist (and there is significant dissension in the ranks, unusually enough) have to admit there were some bits that sucked less than others. So here’s our hot-take roundup of the highlights and lowlights of the 2016 Oscar ceremony.Best: The Opening Monologue
Firstly, let’s just say there is a diversity of opinion in the Playlist ranks over Chris Rock‘s opening monologue, with a couple of lukewarm reactions and a couple of full-bore negative ones. But hey, I’m getting to write this piece and I thought it was great. Where some see it as overly punch-pulling, I found more evidence that Rock is, in Tina Fey‘s words, the “greatest living American stand-up comedian,” because he just thinks a little bit more, a little bit deeper and a little bit further than the obvious stance. Yes, the issue of the night was #OscarsSoWhite, and yes, Chris Rock is black. So it would have been very easy for him to have gone for the exposed white jugular (and on several occasions he did sink his teeth in, like when he claimed the “In Memoriam” section was going to be nothing but “black people shot by the cops on their way to the movies”). 

Instead, Rock took the opportunity to complicate the issue (and it’s one worth complicating when reductive hashtag culture is thriving all around) —a brave decision that is not necessarily going to make him too popular with any one group— with an idiosyncratic approach that was more about finding humor in the hypocrisy of black and white Hollywood with regards to race. Does that somewhat let white people off the hook? Were there moments of casual misogyny that we could have done without (Rihanna‘s panties, Robert De Niro “not slowing down” for Meryl Streep when in fact the reverse would have been more apropos)? Was the bit about how black people in the ’60s had better things to do than protest the Oscars “problematic” (because such protests did occur, and because it implies the climate outside Hollywood these days is less fraught)? Sure, sure and sure, but I do not think that any of that truly detracted from the power of a black man (looking awesome in his white tux, btw) standing on a stage making 80 million people listen to him talk about the systemic rape, lynching and murder of black people.

Worst: The Asian/Jewish Joke
Yeah, trotting out two Asian kids and a Jewish kid to represent people who are good at math and money, was terrible —exactly the sort of reductive, slapdash, first-idea thinking that his monologue set itself against.

Best: Compton Vox Pops
Rock’s pre-taped bit which saw him interviewing black (and one hilariously white) filmgoers outside a Compton theater was pointed and brilliant. Not only did it significantly increase the number of black people featured in an Oscar ceremony already lambasted for its lack of diversity, but it proved his own wider point about how rarefied and out-of-touch the whole silly business is anyway. And it featured an unexpected shout-out to/takedown of “By The Sea,” which is a pretty soft target, but also is 100% the whitest film of all time. 

Worst: The Girl Scout Cookies
As if in penance for a monologue that was always going to be about the discomfiting issue of race, the recurring Girl Scout Cookies segments felt positively neutered. The cozily whitebread running “gag” was no doubt designed somewhat to emulate Ellen De Generes’ pizza bit from two years ago, but which felt of a part with her hosting style in general. The switch in Rock’s persona from caustic guy taking calculated swipes at everyone in sight to proud ordinary-Joe papa using his Oscar platform to help his kids win some domestic battle was just too vertiginous a climbdown. Also, obviously the Oscars are American and they can be as American as they like, but the cultural specificity of the whole Girl Scout Cookie thing (which doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world!) felt unnecessarily insular when so many of the nominees and winners were not from the U.S. 

Mainly, though, it was boring. Not “What’s in the box?”-boring. Just boring. 

Best: The First Hour Or So When “Mad Max: Fury Road” Kept Winning
At their best, the Oscars are the apotheosis of the Hollywood dream factory, and no dream was lovelier last night than the one that started to take hold after “Mad Max: Fury Road” took its fifth, then sixth Oscar… could it possibly take one of the big awards? Dammit, this happens every year where we all say we don’t care and it doesn’t matter… but then, it’s two hours in and you’re sozzled and weirdly invested in spite of yourself and you dare to hope, to dream… And then reality kicks in and Alejandro Iñárritu wins for “It Was Very Cold,” and you remember that Todd Haynes didn’t even get a nomination in this category and you’re back to not really giving a toss again.

Worst: Mostly Predicted Winners Winning 
There were a few surprises, ranging from the pleasant to the Sam Smith, but mostly the Oscars went the way the bookies suggested they would, which is always dull. It means you can’t even get too up in arms over the wins you disagree with most (“Amy” over “The Look of Silence,” Iñárritu over George Miller, Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl” and not literally any other movie she’s ever been in), because you’ve had weeks to prepare yourself for their inevitability. It made for a curiously slack, saggy ceremony where it was often hard to think of anything interesting to say about the winners, especially since none of them even had the decency to cry or wear a stupid dress or something. 

Best Presenter: Louis C.K.
Some of the presenters did well —Ryan Gosling, Jacob Tremblay and Abraham Attah (though I really want to start the rumor that there’s major beef between those two) and Olivia Munn were all various degrees of charming/funny, Joe Biden was statesmanlike, and getting Quincy Jones to give Ennio Morricone his first Oscar was a stroke of genius. And Tina Fey reminded us all of a simpler time when comedy could just be about the perfect alcoholic slurring of the word “nominees.” But as far as presenting crowns go, last night’s sits firmly atop the receding ginger hairline of King Louis. While Rock was undoubtedly the right choice to host this year, CK made a pretty good case for him getting the gig in future if he wants it, with a short, very funny intro to Best Documentary Short that was not only witty and sweet, but put all the assembled big dogs in their place and was actually about the award he was giving. Even if, ironically, the winner, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy had received this “life changing” award once before, and so perhaps the Oscar will in fact only be one of “the [two] nicest thing[s she]’ll ever own.”

Worst Presenter: Sarah Silverman 
There’s off-the-cuff and there’s just ill-prepared, and Silverman, who can be such a brilliantly acid presence, seemed sadly the latter during her rambling intro. Of course, cursed with intro-ing the horrible, wibbly Sam Smith “Spectre” song, perhaps she felt that a last-minute improvised riff was in the spirit of a song that sounds like it was made up on the spot while gargling, but the unfunny, unfocused stuff about James Bond not being good in bed just felt immensely old-hat and off-target. Even sorrier, her parting shot —”I don’t think he’s street enough”— was the one bit that landed, and it points to what she could have done with the speech if she’d been on form. Tying it in to the Idris Elba Bond rumors and to the outright racist comments that surfaced around that idea could have made it relevant to the overriding theme of the night. Though nothing could have rescued her from having to say the words “the brilliant Sam Smith” with a straight face, so perhaps all her effort was going into not corpsing. 

Best: Montages And Category Clip Compilations
This year, there seemed to be a fresh approach taken to one of the usually more workmanlike aspects of the show —the clip compilations and montage sequences that accompany the nominee roundup. It was especially noticeable in a few categories: the Best Editing montage was extremely well edited; the Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing clips actually did a great job at communicating just what the hell the differences between those two categories are; and the two Screenplay categories benefitted enormously from having their presenters read out the script in tandem with the scene playing out onscreen. In a year when the overarching social justice narrative threatened to drown out the actual supposed function of the Oscars (celebrating film!), small, thoughtful alterations as such redressed the balance a little. 

Worst: The Songs
Look, we loathe the stupid Best Song category anyway. But this year, with only three of five nominees performing (Was there any question the winner would be one of those three? Why even bother having five nominations then?), and with the categorically worst song winning, it made a more than usually vociferous case for its own axing in future. As to the performances themselves, the “50 Shades of Grey” song did allow me to make lots of “I can’t remember anything about The Weeknd” gags to myself. People who were not me seemed to admire Lady Gaga‘s admittedly, erm, impassioned rendition of that “Hunting Ground” song, but bringing on real sexual abuse survivors at the end felt less “powerful” and “moving” (which was the dictated narrative) and more “awkward” and “ill-judged.” As for Sam Smith? I’m almost starting to feel sorry for Sam Smith. He wrote a bad song, performed it horribly, won the evening’s least-deserved Oscar and then even fucked up his LGBT shout-out in his speech —as many have pointed out, not only is he not the first-ever openly gay Oscar recipient, but he’s not even the first openly gay recipient in his (daft, obsolete) category. 

Best: The Pre-Recorded Spoofs And Parodies
Not all of these landed with the same kind of impact, and it would have been nice to see some acknowledgement of underrepresented ethnicities other than African-American, but mostly the parody bits were fun. Not so much for brilliant, pointed satirical writing (except for “The Martian” skit with its instantly iconic “Twenty-five hundred white dollars,” perhaps my favorite throwaway gag of the night, alongside Rock’s “…and we’re black!” after a commercial break) as for the actual performances. Whoopi Goldberg‘s “Joy” was probably the weakest, but Leslie Jones mauling Leonardo di Caprio was such a grotesque idea that it really needed her to go as much for broke with it as she did. Maybe the best was Tracy Morgan‘s take on “The Danish Girl” which again could have simply been wildly insensitive to trans people (and bakers), if it had actually been about the film or its characters at all. It’s not —it’s about Tracy Morgan. And finally, Angela Basset‘s short “Black History Month Minute” was a one-gag bit that didn’t overstay its welcome and worked surprisingly well, especially for those of us who’d forgotten that Jack Black was in “Enemy of the State.”

Worst: Stacey Dash
For anyone who didn’t know that Stacey Dash, now a Fox News contributor, had recently made some really dim remarks about race, wheeling out the very same C-list actress, having her stand in the klieg lights of the Oscar stage and making her say something about Black History Month seemed utterly surreal. Problem was, even if you did know the context, this segment still didn’t work at all. In a way, it was an admirable attempt to incorporate a kind of black in-joke into a ceremony that is not only predominantly white, but is predominantly watched by white people. And there’s also a kind of meta thing going on, whereby Chris Rock is almost acknowledging the potential unpopularity of his own stance within the black Hollywood community who might have been expecting a more straightforward solidarity message. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t funny, Dash seemed paralysed with terror and even the few who “got it” felt like it was a complication too far. Are we meant to be laughing at her? Forgiving her? Condemning her? Is she apologizing or doubling down? For once, Rock’s nuanced stance seemed confused. And the Suge Knight stuff fell similarly flat, all of which suggests that Rock is way better at monologuing or pre-recording skits over which he can exert some control. When the night became theatrical, his grip faltered. 

Best: This Guy Obsessing Over How Quick We Were With The Winners On Twitter
Yes, this is self-serving, but dammit, our man at the Twitter coalface ruled last night and we’re just happy someone noticed: 

Best: Australians Giving Speeches
With the clutch of awards for “Mad Max: Fury Road” early on, we got to watch a succession of distinctly un-Hollywood Aussies take to the stage and deliver clearly unscripted, delighted speeches. Hearing a disparate group of film professionals, most of whom were representing teams comprised of dozens more dedicated and passionate people, talk about coming together in service of Miller’s brave and iconoclastic vision for his terrific film actually had more emotional oomph than all the “Leo finally got his Oscar!” moments in the world.

Worst: The Oscar Acceptance Speech Template Was Otherwise Largely Adhered To

  1. So Surprised!
  2. Deeply Honored (optional namechecking of other nominees)
  3. Thanks To (despite the text crawl on screen that made no difference)
  4. Finish Big, With An Issue (environmentalism, LGBT rights, diversity)
  5. Get Played Off With Turgid, Sometimes Wildly Inappropriate Muzak (Was that Wagner‘s “Ride of the Valkyries” after “Son of Saul“‘s win?)

Best: Minions
Everybody adores these little fellas, right? Utterly delightful. Couldn’t get enough.

What did you hate, love and love to hate last night? Let us know below. 

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