Oscars: What Wasn't Seen on TV

Brie Larson hugging survivors - H 2016
Scott Feinberg

Going to the Academy Awards never loses its thrill-factor, at least for this writer who grew up obsessed about them. This was my fifth year seeing them from the audience and, as always, I savored every moment of the experience, from the red carpet to the show to the commercial breaks. (I've never once gone to the bathroom during the show, for fear of not making it back inside in time to see an award presented.)

I've learned that one thing that you can always count on at the Oscars is organized chaos, with so many famous people in a small space and so much riding on the outcomes. This leads to some memorable moments that never make it onto the broadcast.

As I made my way up the red carpet into the Dolby Theatre, I heard someone shout "Marlee!" at someone they thought was Marlee Matlin (it wasn't), and was informed that Claude Lanzmann, the 90-year-old filmmaker who is the subject of the best documentary short Oscar nominee Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, was refusing to do any interviews after the third member of the press who he stopped to talk to asked him what the Shoah was.

I then encountered a number of people who I've gotten to know and like a lot over the course of this season. Room's Brie Larson and I high-fived across a ropeline as she ran down the carpet's middle lane (there's one for nominees who want to talk to the press, one for other guests and one in-between for approved people who have to move faster than the other two allow) in order to make it in time to her on-air hit with Robin Roberts. I exchanged cheek-kisses with the great Charlotte Rampling, attending the Oscars as a nominee, for 45 Years, for the first time at age 70. And I tried to calm the nerves of a very anxious Diane Warren, a best original song nominee for the eighth time, who had never won before and was favored to win that night.

Once inside the Dolby, I grabbed few of the hor d'oeuvres that were being passed around in the hallways and then went inside to check out the stage, where I found the place almost empty, save for Gary Busey seated inside with a guest and a few others. I eventually took my seat beside my colleague Chris Gardner on the first mezzanine level. (Also up there: Hamish Linklater, Finn Wittrock and several other members of The Big Short's ensemble, who went nuts when their film won the best adapted screenplay award early in the night.)

This position provided us with a great opportunity to see multiple nominees from any given category within our peripheral vision. We spotted Larson, who played a sexually abused woman in Room, hugging every single one of the sexual abuse survivors who had been on stage during Lady Gaga's performance as they filed past her out of the theater during a commercial break. And, a few minutes after that, we saw Gaga compassionately comforting Warren after their category's winner had been announced and the TV cameras were no longer on them.

Chris and I remarked, after the very first acceptance speech of the night — by Spotlight screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer — was packed with thank-yous, that the new "thank you scroll" at the bottom of the screen was doomed; people just don't know what to do at the Oscar podium except to give thanks, and that was borne out by all of the other acceptance speeches over the course of the night. (Incidentally, at the Governors Ball after the show, The Big Short's co-writer and director Adam McKay told me he had been jokingly trash-talking McCarthy throughout the night.)

Meanwhile, during commercial breaks, the Academy played clips of animated shorts that, as I understood it, were provided by the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and were intended to promote the in-the-works Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Diversity was clearly the theme of the night, not just in the remarks of host Chris Rock, but in every respect. For example, it wasn't coincidental that the list of presenters included two people who aren't particularly familiar to American audiences, but who are to international viewers: Indian actress Priyanka Chopra and South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun.

I found it rather ironic that, while the focus of almost every joke made by Rock pertained to this year's lack of diversity among the nominees because of the alleged racism of Academy members (something several Academy members told me they deeply resented), the people honored by the Academy this year were actually unusually diverse: of the 43 winners, by my count, 12 were women (10 women were honored last year), seven were non-white (this was the third year in a row in which a Hispanic person won the best director Oscar) and a stunning majority of 28 were born in places other than America (among the countries represented were England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and, of course, thanks to the Mad Max contingent, Australia).

I also noted that Quincy Jones did not adhere to his vow to present at the ceremony only if the producers gave him five minutes to speak about diversity on the telecast — that was never going to happen — and that Kevin Hart went off-script and did speak about diversity, in a way that was rather unifying.

I was surprised that the standing ovation for Joe Biden, who introduced Gaga's performance (becoming the first sitting Vice President to attend the Oscars since Herbert Hoover's veep Charles Curtis at the fourth ceremony in 1931), was somewhat delayed, especially since Barack Obama and Biden are still very popular among Hollywood's "limousine liberals."

I groaned when Sam Smith, during his speech accepting the best original song Oscar, repeated an incorrect assertion that he'd made on my podcast a few weeks ago that no openly gay person had ever won an Oscar — forgetting about Elton John in his own category, not to mention documentary filmmaker Rob Epstein, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and many others.

And I smiled when I saw that my friend Murray Weissman, a pioneering publicist who died in December, was included in the In Memoriam montage. I don't know if even Murray would have expected that, but it was the right thing to do and I commend the Academy for doing it.