Oscars 2016: Two Irish films win, best actor for DiCaprio
Brie Larson named best actress as Ben Cleary wins best live short at 88th Academy Awards
Two parallel Oscar ceremonies took place on Sunday night in Hollywood.
The world saw Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight win best picture and Mad Max Fury Road become the most successful Australian film ever with the Academy.
Meanwhile, a palimpsest event confirmed the extraordinary advance of Irish cinema. We had a deserved winner.
Ben Cleary, a Dubliner, won best live action short for the excellent Stutterer. Somewhat overlooked in the weeks succeeding the nation’s record nine nominations, Cleary, who financed the film himself, emerged as the only Irish-born winner.
Brie Larson, an unbackable odds-on favourite, took best actress for Lenny Abrahamson’s Room.
The American actor won virtually every precursor award, but, a year ago, this would have seemed an inconceivable result for that Irish co-production.
None of the other Irish nominees for Room or John Crowley’s Brooklyn were favourites.
So, in short, this remained an amazing night for Irish cinema. Nominee Saoirse Ronan, wearing green Calvin Klein, looked relaxed throughout.
Lenny managed a convincing good-loser face when Alejandro González Iñárritu beat him to best director.
“You say I’m ‘the winner’,” Cleary told this writer.
“I watched Room and cried about three times and tried to hide it from my friends. We might have won an Oscar tonight, but, for Irish film, getting those nominations was a win.
“I feel honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as those films. Hopefully it’s the start of something.”
The race for best picture was said to be the closest for years and so it proved. Iñárritu won best director for the frontier revenge drama The Revenant, but best film went the way of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight.
There were gasps and whoops in the press room when Morgan Freeman announced that McCarthy’s searing drama – treating the Boston Globe’s investigations into clerical sexual abuse – had snuck past The Revenant.
To that point, Spotlight had won just won award. It is the first time since 1952 that a best picture winner took just two Oscars.
“This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” Michael Sugar, producer of Spotlight, remarked.
Earlier, when talking to the press after winning for best original screenplay, McCarthy twitched when a light creaked above his head. “That’s the Catholic Church,” he said in mock fear.
Despite losing out on best picture, Iñárritu, who triumphed for Birdman last year, becomes only the third person ever to win best director in successive years. The last person to manage that feat was Joseph L Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950.
Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated four times previously for acting prizes, finally won the Oscar for his leading performance in The Revenant.
He took the opportunity to make a call for action on global warning.
“Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow,” he said.
“Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together.”
The press room erupted when his name was read out.
Backstage he was asked if, when he heard “Mark R…”, he feared that fellow nominee Mark Ruffalo may have triumphed.
“No, but he told me that, at the Baftas, whoever was giving out the award slowed down the ‘r’ and his team began congratulating him.” (Rylance won there too.)
Mad Max Fury Road, cleaning up in the technical awards, easily topped the charts with six Oscars.
For the early part of the evening the backstage area seemed like a transposed corner of Sydney as endless Australian professionals turned up to wave their awards.
Jenny Beavan, who won for costume design, was asked about the controversy that kicked up when Stephen Fry compared her to a bag lady at Bafta.
“I’m very happy to talk about it,” she laughed. “I really don’t do frocks, and I absolutely don’t do heels. I simply can’t wear them. I’ve got a bad back, and I look ridiculous in a beautiful gown. And this was an homage to Mad Max that I didn’t get it quite right.”
Mad Max Fury Road is now easily the most successful Aussie film ever with the Oscars.
Before kick-off there was much chatter concerning what Chris Rock, the evening’s host, would say about the lack of black nominees in the acting sections.
He said plenty, but took a line that may have surprised some activists.
Noting that no such objections arose during the 1960s, the African-American comic said: “Black people did not protest because we had real things to protest at the time.
“We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about best cinematography.”
If anything the organisers responded with overkill. There were three sketch breaks – all pretty funny, to be fair – on racial diversity and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy President, mentioned the subject in an address to the audience.
“It’s not enough to just listen and agree,” Isaacs said. “We must take action.”
After a few years of fitful shows, the 2016 edition was efficient without ever bringing down the house.
Rock was consistently spiky throughout, but the musical numbers were drably staged and lacking in pizzazz.
Vice President Joe Biden turned up to introduce Lady Gaga singing Til It Happens to You, from The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus rape.
When the tune lost best song to Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre, Gaga did not sustain – to reference her most famous tune – anything like a poker face.
Hand was slapped over gaping mouth. Brow furrowed If I were Mr Smith, I’d have kept my head down at the Vanity Fair party.