BOYLE: Oscars recognize socially-conscience films

Every year I dread watching the Oscars. Bloated award shows about a bunch of celebrities I don’t really care about are not usually how I enjoy spending nearly three hours of my Sunday nights. But every year I watch The Oscars. I’m a movie nerd, but most importantly, I’m a chump.  So I give in, tune in to ABC and usually come out desperately bored and endlessly frustrated at the Academy’s selections. However, thanks to a fantastic host and some unpredictable victories, much to my surprise and delight, I actually enjoyed watching The Academy Awards this year.

This year’s Oscars seemed keen to recognize especially socially-conscience films. “The Big Short” (take that, big banks), “Spotlight” (nice try, Catholic Church), “The Martian” (yeah, international cooperation and science!), “The Revenant” (the environment, maybe?) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (better luck next time, ruthless apocalyptic warlord dictators!) each received acclaim for tackling bigger issues and calling for change. The Oscars ceremony stole all the socially-conscience liberal thunder, however, calling attention to and dealing with its own problems.

For the second year in a row, all 20 acting nominees were white, reigniting the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that set Twitter ablaze last year. While many outsiders may say, “So what, maybe there weren’t any great performances by actors of color this year,” (which simply isn’t true, by the way. Just watch “Creed,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Sicario” or even “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), the real question is: “Why aren’t there more?”

Host Chris Rock, a black comedian, did a fantastic job probing this question. After all, it’s not the Academy, necessarily, who create and cast movies. Instead, let’s point our attention to the studio heads, producers and directors. Why are they all so white? And why can’t they cast black actors in “non-black” roles?

Through sharp, honest, well-written and often downright blunt humor, Rock rightfully and expertly called attention to these issues. Were the (mostly white) audience members visibly uncomfortable? Sometimes. Were they laughing? Definitely.

Rock deftly tip-toed the line between critical commentary and overly apologetic. At times, the ceremony dealt with the issue so bluntly it almost came off as disingenuous and dismissive, as if the entire Academy responded with obligatory “Here’s jokes about us being racist and white. See, we’re not actually that racist and white.” Rock, however, maintained control of the narrative and message at hand, arising as perhaps the biggest winner of the night.

But enough with politics. This is about the movies, darn it. Who won, who lost, who surprised, who got snubbed and who finally decided to give the completely bonkers and amazing “Mad Max” a watch?

George Miller’s insane fourth installment in the post-apocalyptic action-thiller “Mad Max” franchise gained love from audiences and critics alike when it released last May. Many considered it the best movie of the year, though few believed it to be Oscar-worthy. It simply appeared to be too explosive, in-your-face, feminist and weird for a bunch of out-of-touch old guys to ever appreciate. Instead, “Fury Road” drove off into it’s insane high-octane desert-wasteland sunset as the ceremony’s most decorated movie, winning six golden statues.

Veteran Shakespeare actor and multiple Tony award-winner Mark Rylance deservedly won Best Supporting Actor for his moving, out-of-nowhere heat-check performance as the Soviet spy with a heart of gold in the underrated Steven Spielberg thriller “Bridge of Spies.” As for Sylvester Stallone’s latest portrayal of the perpetually down-on-his-luck boxer Rocky Balboa, perhaps it’s only fitting he will go down as a loser in the history books but a winner in our hearts.

Sam Smith won the Best Original Song award for his “Spectre” tune but was completely shown up by Lady Gaga’s powerful live performance of “Til It Happens To You.” I’m still upset about the real snub in this category, however, where the Wiz Khalifa’s “Furious 7” sappy ballad “See You Again” failed to garner even a nomination. I’m a “Fast and Furious” superfan. The Academy has wronged me before, but I’ll never forgive them for this one.

Of course, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar, even though his performance in “The Revenant” (and the movie in general) may leave much to be desired. And with her Best Actress win, Brie Larson publicly challenged Jennifer Lawrence for the America’s Biggest Sweetheart Championship Belt.

Heading into the night, “The Revenant,” much to my dismay, was declared the odds on favorite to win the grand prize. As both a journalism major and a movie nerd, I couldn’t have been happier or more surprised when the rousing newspaper love-letter “Spotlight” ended up sneaking in to first place. In 50 years, snobby film students may look back at “Spotlight” to which “Mad Max: Fury Road” lost. For now, however, “Spotlight” is a beyond-worthy recipient, deftly telling a story that needed to be told, just like the subjects of the film itself (Yay newspapers!).

So, was this year’s Oscar’s bloated and boring? Maybe. The acceptance speeches are still too long, and general audiences still don’t care about half the awards. But, did I enjoy this year’s Oscars? Yes, most definitely. And that’s a truly award-worthy achievement in and of itself.

Till next year, Oscars. See You Again (seriously, where was Wiz?!?).