Oscars 2016: Favourites fell, unknowns were crowned and history was made

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor in,The Revenant on stage at the 88th Oscars on Feb 28, 2016.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor in,The Revenant on stage at the 88th Oscars on Feb 28, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

This will go down as the most tumultuous Oscars in recent times - favourites fell, unknowns were crowned and history was made, even as questions of racial bias swirled around the entire event because of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

In an upset, no single movie picked up three or more of the major awards, as is traditional.

The big prizes of the night - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Original and Best Screenplay, Adapted - were split among pictures.

In fact, the Best Picture winner, the social drama Spotlight, won only two Oscars, the fewest for a winner in that category in recent years.

The first bombshell dropped early on, when a small film that nobody saw won Best Visual Effects. It beat the heavily picked favourite, a science-fiction blockbuster that was part of an iconic billion-dollar franchise.

Ex Machina, a low-budget look at artifical intelligence, snatched the prize from the highly tipped Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie that cost many times more to make.

The snubs for the hugely successful seventh movie in the Star Wars series continued as the night wore one.

The space opera was not expected to win any of the major awards, but it was tipped to win at least one or two accolades in the five technical categories in which it had been nominated.

But the picture, and director J.J. Abrams, came away with nothing, crushed by another science-fiction franchise film, Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Australia-born road-carnage epic emerged as the night's top winner with six wins.

Many who had predicted this outcome said it was a backhanded way of recognising the long and varied career of Australian director George Miller, 70, who helmed all four Mad Max movies, as well as crowd-pleasers such as Babe: Pig In The City (1998) and the Happy Feet animated films (2006, 2011).

But another industry stalwart with a long career, riding on a wave of sentiment after a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe win, saw victory snatched away from him.

Sylvester Stallone, 69, emerged as the one to beat in recent weeks for coming back as his beloved Rocky Balboa character in Creed.

But it was the relatively unknown British actor Mark Rylance, 56, who won the statuette for his portrayal of Communist spy Rudolf Abel, in the Steven Spielberg-directed thriller Bridge Of Spies.

What happened? One theory is that academy members eligible to vote in the acting categories must be themselves actors and so prefer to reward a person they admire, rather vote than for a single performance.

Thus the supporting actor category is known for rewarding actor's actors - see J.K. Simmons' win for Whiplash (2014).

The highly esteemed Rylance fits the bill; the other nominees - Christian Bale, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hardy and, yes, even Stallone himself - are leading men who can sell tickets on star power.

As had been predicted, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won Best Director for the western The Revenant, making him the first helmer in decades to win that accolade in two consecutive years.

Last year, he clinched it for the drama Birdman (2014).

And in another unusual occurrence, the Mexican film-maker's project failed to win Best Picture, a prize which tends to go hand in hand with Best Director.

Birdman nabbed both, as did The Artist (2010), The King's Speech (2009) and The Hurt Locker (2008).

The winner of Best Picture prize, Spotlight, came with its own oddities. The movie, about the exploits of Boston Globe reporters exposing systematic child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, is the most low-key Best Picture winner in a long time.

With its two modest wins - for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay - it is the least awards-bedecked of recent Best Picture winners, which tend to clean up.

Birdman, for example, won four Oscars; 12 Years A Slave (2013) three; Argo (2012) three; The Artist five; The King's Speech four, The Hurt Locker six; Slumdog Millionaire (2008) eight; and No Country For Old Men (2007) four.

This has been the most fragmented and socially divisive Oscars in recent memory.

In the next few years, when new rules aimed at breaking the power bloc of older white men in the academy's 7,000 voters take hold, things might become even more unpredictable.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

Repeat telecasts of the 88th Annual Academy Awards will air on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on March 2 (9pm), March 4 (10.30pm) and March 6 (4pm).