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HOLLYWOOD, United States, Feb 29, (Agencies): Leonardo DiCaprio won his long-awaited first Oscar for revenge epic “The Revenant” Sunday but journalism drama “Spotlight” took best picture in a surprising end to Hollywood’s glittering awards season.
The night was overshadowed by a simmering race row, addressed head-on by black host Chris Rock, who delivered a series of caustic jokes targeting the Academy’s overwhelmingly white male membership.
As well as DiCaprio’s best actor award, “The Revenant” picked up the statuettes for best director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu — his second in a row — as well as for best cinematography.
But “Spotlight”, a searing study of The Boston Globe’s investigation into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, grabbed best picture honors in one of the shocks of the 88th Academy Awards.
The film had only taken one other award — best original screenplay — and Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre gasped as a stunned cast and crew headed onstage to accept the trophy.
“This film gave a voice to survivors. And this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” co-producer Michael Sugar told the audience.
“Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”
A defeat for “Creed” star and Tinseltown darling Sylvester Stallone was the other big surprise of the night, as he was snubbed for best supporting actor, with the trophy going against the odds to Britain’s Mark Rylance for “Bridge of Spies.”
George Miller’s stark action epic “Mad Max: Fury Road” was the big winner in the technical categories, taking home Oscars for best costumes, production design, make-up, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
DiCaprio’s success for his grueling star turn as 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass came 22 years after his first of four unsuccessful acting nominations. For the 41-year-old actor, the fifth time was a charm.
He thanked a long list of figures who have helped him in his career, including filmmaker Martin Scorsese, before speaking on his passion — climate change.
“Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work together and stop procrastinating,” DiCaprio said to applause.
First-time nominee Brie Larson picked up a widely predicted best actress statuette, having dominated the awards season with her performance as a kidnapped mother in “Room.”
But it was not all celebration, as a row over the lack of ethnic minority acting hopefuls overshadowed Hollywood’s biggest night.
“Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards — otherwise known as the white People’s Choice awards. You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job,” joked Rock, 51, who continued with a series of jibes at the Academy throughout the night.
For the second year running, all 20 nominees in the main acting categories were white, and an angry social media backlash under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has grabbed the awards season headlines.
Rock, who hosted despite calls for him to join a boycott, unleashed a fierce monologue — one he apparently rewrote in the wake of the scandal to hold the Academy’s 6,000-plus voting members, overwhelmingly white men, to account.
Former radio DJ Inarritu, just the third filmmaker to win back-to-back Academy Awards for best director, picked up the theme as he hailed his latest Oscar as a tribute to diversity.
“There is a line in the film that says, ‘They don’t listen to you when they see the color of your skin’,” Inarritu said.
“So what a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and, you know, this way of thinking and make sure for once and forever that the color of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”
The first acting award of the night went to Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, who dazzled on the red carpet in a strapless pale yellow Louis Vuitton gown, for her supporting role in transgender love story “The Danish Girl.”
“This is insane,” a visibly moved Vikander said, hailing her co-star Eddie Redmayne: “Thank you for being the best acting partner. I could have never done it without you. You raised my game.”
It was a huge night for “Spotlight” director Tom McCarthy, who also picked up the Oscar for best original screenplay.
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph took the adapted screenplay Oscar for financial crisis satire “The Big Short” — which had also been a best picture contender.
Mexico’s Emmanuel Lubezki made history with his third consecutive Oscar for cinematography, for his dramatic work on “The Revenant.”
One of the moments of the night came when Lady Gaga led the Oscars in a rally against campus sexual assault, bringing together survivors who joined arms in solidarity.
The pop star, who recently has spoken out about being raped as a teenager, was introduced by Vice-President Joe Biden, who personally took part in Hollywood’s biggest night to lend his voice to the cause.
Erik Davis, managing editor of film website Fandango described the evening as “one of the most consistently entertaining Oscar shows in memory.”
“Whether or not it was intentional, the show had a unifying theme, and every Chris Rock joke was a perfect riff on that theme,” he said.
With deft timing and an impactful blend of humor and searing commentary, host Chris Rock took the bull by the horns at the Oscars, attacking the diversity crisis roiling the industry and not letting go all night long.
Rock didn’t merely acknowledge the elephant in the room. From his first words to his farewell remarks, he brought it stage front and center, and kept it there.
“I counted at least 15 black people in that montage!” he said of the opening film clips.
He went on to call the Oscars the “White People’s Choice Awards,” and noted that if they had nominated potential hosts, “I wouldn’t have this job. You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
He was referring, of course, to the fact that every acting nominee was white for the second year running, a development that led to the OscarsSoWhite backlash. It also led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to announce sweeping changes meant to increase diversity in its membership — changes that the academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, made reference to as she called on the industry to join in creating change.
“With opportunity comes responsibility,” Boone Isaacs said. “It’s not enough to just listen and agree. We must take action.”
Rock, in some of his lighter comments, joked about the people who’d urged him to boycott the awards show.
“How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something?” he asked, and also cracked a few barbs at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith, who opted not to attend the show. Maybe it wasn’t fair that Smith hadn’t been nominated for best actor for “Concussion,” he said, but it also wasn’t fair that he earned $20 million for “Wild Wild West.”
Brie Larson’s journey to winning a best-actress Oscar for “Room” began years ago when she learned to stand up for herself against casting directors who wanted to objectify her.
They’d tell her she had auditioned well, but asked her to come back wearing a denim miniskirt and heels.
“I personally always rejected that moment,” Larson said backstage Sunday night. “They were asking me to wear a jean miniskirt and heels to be sexy, but that doesn’t make me feel sexy. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Asked how she felt now, a smiling Larson thrust her statue in the air and replied, “Feeling pretty good.”
Larson won for her role as an abducted woman who creates a world inside a small shed for her son and then finds it difficult to adjust to life after she is freed.
“This time a year ago I was still trying to figure out who I was,” she said. “I had spent about a year prepping and then doing the film. Who I was when the movie was over was so far from what I was before the movie. I’m standing here now completely myself. I feel very strong and happy to be holding this gold guy.”
Nobody could accuse Ennio Morricone of not having earned the best original score Oscar he collected on Sunday for his work on Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”.
Still working at 87, the Italian composer has created the music for some 500 films over the course of a 55-year career that took off as a result of his work for his childhood friend Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” of the 1960s.
Morricone beat rivals John Williams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”), Carter Burwell (“Carol”) and Johann Johannsson (“Sicario”) to the coveted honor — his first competitive Oscar win.
“My tribute goes to the other nominees, and in particular to the esteemed John Williams,” Morricone said through a translator.
“There isn’t a great soundtrack without a great movie that inspires it. I want to thank Quentin Tarantino for having chosen me to make this extraordinary (score).”
His compositions for films such as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” used combinations of whistling, yodelling and rare wind instruments to brilliantly evoke the atmosphere of the American frontier.
Interspersed with gunfire, whip cracks and representations of coyote howls, those seminal scores also helped to structure the narrative of Leone’s minimal dialogue productions.