Buffeted by accusations of racism or just plain indifference, Oscar awarded its top honor to a movie that aimed to make a difference far beyond Hollywood.
“Spotlight,” which chronicled The Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse, made such a powerful statement that it became mandatory viewing for a special Vatican commission. The film won best picture and just one other award, original screenplay. The last best picture winner with just two Oscars was “The Greatest Show on Earth,” in 1953.
“We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable,” said director Tom McCarthy.
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“The Revenant,” which picked up three awards, including director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) and actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), seemed to have the edge for the top prize in the final days before the ceremony. But the academy may have thought the frontier revenge tale was too much of a slog, with too little to say.
Still, “Revenant” made a bit of academy history. Iñárritu is only the third person to win best director two years in a row. The last time that happened was back when Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for “A Letter to Three Wives” in 1950 and “All About Eve” in 1951. Before that: John Ford, for “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1941 and “How Green Was My Valley” in ’42.
And Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who chased locations from the snows of Alberta to the tip of South America, is the first person to win best cinematography three years in a row. (He won for “Birdman” last year and “Gravity” the year before.)
The academy took pity on DiCaprio, not just because in 22 years he had five acting nominations and no wins but also for the sheer misery he endured during the bone-chilling filming of his revenge tale. The academy loves actors who suffer for their art.
DiCaprio is probably happy he isn’t breaking any Academy Awards records. The late Peter O’Toole still firmly holds the title for most acting nominations — eight — with zero wins.
The evening’s other big upset came midway through, in the supporting actor category. While many were rooting for sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone, who returned as Rocky Balboa in “Creed,” Mark Rylance won for his understated portrayal of a Soviet sleeper agent in “Bridge of Spies.”
After years of smaller roles, Brie Larson nabbed her first Oscar nomination — and a best actress trophy — for her steely vulnerability as a young woman held captive with her little boy in “Room.” Like DiCaprio, she was the front-runner all awards season.
DiCaprio fans may have been hoping that his “Titanic” co-star, Kate Winslet, would win supporting actress for “Steve Jobs” so the two could have a little backstage reunion. Instead, as expected, Alicia Vikander, who had a breakout year in several films, won for what was really a lead-actress role in “The Danish Girl,” playing the supportive wife of a man undergoing historic gender-reassignment surgery.
“Mad Max: Fury Road,” nominated in 10 categories, won six, the most of the night, all in technical categories. The other “message” picture among the best picture contenders, “The Big Short,” which took on Wall Street greed, won for best adapted screenplay. The other big nominees — the immigrant drama “Brooklyn” and Matt Damon’s crowd-pleasing “The Martian” — were shut out.