Oscars 2016 | The 5 Biggest Surprises of the Night

The fact that Oscar prognosticators exist, and actually have an ounce of credibility, owes a lot to the fact that the Academy Awards tend to follow a series of patterns. The film with the most nominations usually wins Best Picture. Films about the Holocaust tend to win everything. Et cetera. Et cetera. So although the Oscars usually have at least one or two surprises every year, the frontrunners in each category usually win everything. 

Usually. Not so much this year.

This year, a large number of categories went in unexpected directions, eschewing “conventional wisdom” to reward underdogs and dark horses, and preventing one of the biggest movies in history from taking home a single, solitary award.

Let’s take a look at the most surprising moments from the Oscars 2016, the ones that proved the pundits wrong and left the audiences at home scratching their heads… sometimes even in a good way.

Also: Oscars 2016 | All the Winners Are Here

Spotlight Wins Best Picture

Open Road Films

Tom McCarthy’s exceptional drama – about the Boston journalists who cracked open a worldwide conspiracy to protect child molesters within the Catholic Church – was considered an early frontrunner for Best Picture, but eventually became a dark horse after enormous amounts of buzz for The Revenant and The Big Short and even Mad Max: Fury Road.

This may be the most surprising Best Picture win in recent memory, and it’s the first Best Picture winner with only two overall wins since  The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952. Spotlight also took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, a richly deserved award for a film that deftly tackles a broad subject and highlights the human tragedy of without seeming maudlin or manipulative.


Mark Rylance Wins Best Supporting Actor

Dreamworks Pictures

Mark Rylance has been a mainstay at practically every awards show this year, but usually just as a nominee, not a winner. As such, pundits believed Best Supporting Actor was probably destined to go to either Sylvester Stallone for Creed (honoring a lifetime of work, and the influence of the Rocky movies), or Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight (it was a great performance, and he’d been snubbed many times), or Tom Hardy for The Revenant (which had a lot of awards momentum, and could also have doubled as a win for Mad Max). 

But to their credit, the Oscar instead went to Rylance, whose performance in Bridge of Spies is – if we are completely honest – the very best part of Bridge of Spies. His character’s cool demeanor could have been an implausible tick for a lesser actor, but he somehow makes a relaxed personality seem plausible, even though he’s playing a Russian spy on trial in America at the height of the Cold War. When people ask why he isn’t worried, he always responds, “Would it help?” That’s an enlightened attitude that a lot of us nervous wrecks in the world could learn from, and it sticks with you long after the movie is over.


“Writing’s On the Wall” Wins Best Original Song

There is a strange and inaccurate belief out there that the Academy loves James Bond theme songs. Sorry folks, but they don’t. Only one James Bond song had ever won an Academy Award before this, and it was “Skyfall,” just a few short years ago. 

Topping it all off, “Writing’s On the Wall” is far from the most popular of Bond songs. Reactions to the theme were mixed upon its original release, and even those who liked it (I think it’s decent enough) wouldn’t put it in the upper echelon of James Bond song canon.

It seemed like the star power of Lady Gaga, combined with the timely subject matter of “Til It Happens To You” would probably put the song over the top in this category. Sure, the song was for a relatively obscure film, but that hasn’t stopped the Oscars before. (Remember when The Motorcycle Diaries won? Of course you do.) This category doesn’t always go to the most visible or popular song nominated – “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie lost last year – so this one came as quite a bit of a shock.


Ex Machina Wins Best Visual Effects


One of the most acclaimed films of the year, Ex Machina is a small, independent, relatively low-budget film about a scientist testing the artificial intelligence of his robot. The visual effects are mostly used to emphasize – at turns – the humanity and inhumanity of Alicia Vikander’s character, a robot whose personality and motives are inscrutable and strange. It was competing with visual effects extravaganzas like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian, and it seemed unlikely to compete in such a high-tech environment.

But kudos to the Academy for recognizing that, even though those other films have impressive visual effects, Ex Machina is a work of genuine art that could not have been possible without the careful application of its technology. The Oscars like to skew classy in this category – Hugo defeated Rise of the Planet of the ApesLife of Pi beat The Avengers and The Hobbit – but they’ve also given a lot of VFX awards to mainstream blockbusters (and wannabe blockbusters) like AvatarThe Golden Compass and Spider-Man 2.

Ex Machina was a long shot, especially considering it was up against a film that, in theory, should have been a juggernaut…


Star Wars Goes Home Emptyhanded

Walt Disney / LucasFilm

It’s one of the biggest movies in history, beloved by practically everybody who saw it. And even though it was nominated for five Academy Awards, it didn’t win a single one of them. Not even Best Visual Effects, which should – again, theoretically – have been a total lock.

What happened? Maybe Star Wars just doesn’t stick out the way its competitors do. Mad Max: Fury Road was in your face with its sound effects, while Star Wars rehashed a lot of familiar noises that voters take for granted: light saber hums, X-Wing flybys, blaster fire. Ex Machina had a more memorable CGI character (sorry Maz Kanata), and John Williams didn’t compose a new theme that was as hummable as his creations from the original trilogy, giving Ennio Morricone the room he needed to finally win a competitive Oscar.

But you know, in a recent article I pointed out a quote from George R.R. Martin that applies here: “The reward for popularity is popularity.” Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t need an Oscar to make its mark, but a lot more people are going to see Ex Machina now, and that’s what’s really important here.

Top Photo: A24

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.


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