Oscars: 'Spotlight' Ultimately Prevails Over 'The Revenant' and 'Mad Max'

Best Picture - GETTY H 2016
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While host Chris Rock addressed the diversity controversy head-on, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson took top acting honors.

Amid much talk about the need for more diversity in film, which became the dominant theme of the 88th annual Academy Awards, Spotlight, which recounts journalistic efforts to expose child abuse in the Catholic Church, was named best picture of the year on Sunday night.

Following an awards season in which no preordained winner ever emerged, the Oscars ceremony itself reflected the seesaw natjonure of the contest. George Miller’s apocalyptic Mad Max: Fury Road swept through the crafts categories, winning six awards; The Revenant, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s cinematically stunning survival tale, then moved to the fore, claiming the awards for best cinematography, directing and actor, which went to Leonardo DiCaprio. But then, at the last moment, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight — which won the first statuette of the night, best original screenplay, and then appeared shut out of the proceedings — rallied and took home the top prize.

In a break with tradition, the trophy giveaways this year began with the screenwriting categories, with presenters Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron explaining that the order of the awards would track the making of a movie.

Spotlight claimed the first Oscar when Josh Singer and McCarthy won for best original screenplay. In the first of the night’s political statements, McCarthy said, “We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable, and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome is really an inspiration to all. We have to make sure this never happens again.”

The Big Short took the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for the work that Charles Randolph and Adam McKay did translating Michael Lewis’ book about the 2008 fiscal crisis to the big screen. McKay also struck a political note by saying, “If you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires. Stop!”

Hungarian movie Son of Saul was voted best foreign-language film. Director Lazslo Nemes said of the pic, set in the Auschwitz death camp, “Even in the darkest hours of mankind, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human. That’s the hope of this film.”

Pixar’s Pete Docter earned his second Oscar for directing the animated film Inside Out, sharing the award the film's producer, Jonas Rivera. (Docter’s previous win came for 2009’s Up.) “This film was really born from watching our kids grow up, which is not easy,” he said during his time onstage.

Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala, the filmmakers behind Bear Story, a stop-motion animated short film about a bear who has lost his family, celebrated their victory and saluted their country of Chile for what, they said, was its first Oscar win.

Amy, Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the late singer Amy Winehouse, was hailed as best documentary feature. “Really, this film is all about Amy,” said Kapadia. “This is all about showing the world who she really was, not her tabloid persona — the beautiful girl, the amazing soul, funny, intelligent, witty, someone special, someone who needed looking after. We just wanted to make a film to show the world who she really was.”

“This is what happens when determined women get together,” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, picking up her second Oscar, exclaimed as she accepted the award for documentary short subject for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which tells the story of a Pakistani woman who survived an honor killing. “This week the Pakistani prime minister said he would change the law about honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.”

Mad Max: Fury Road captured the first wave of crafts awards in a remarkable winning streak, taking home the Oscars for makeup and hairstyling, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and costumes. While the orchestra threatened to play her off, winning costume designer Jenny Beavan held her ground to deliver a warning that the movie’s apocalyptic vision was not pure sci-fi. “It could be horribly prophetic, Mad Max, if we’re not kinder to each other and if we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere,” she said.

That streak was broken only when Ex Machina, at $15 million easily the least expensive movie in its category, beat out big-budget movies Mad Max, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian and The Revenant to win the award for best visual effects.

In terms of distributors, Open Road Films scored key victories with its two Spotlight wins, while Warner Bros. collected the most trophies, thanks to Fury Road's six statuettes.