The 88th Oscars: Middling Entertainment With a Few Surprises, and Leo at Last!

The Oscars were mostly predictable with few big surprises and Best Picture winner and major contender Spotlight winning only two awards, the first time since 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth.

As a show it was middling, opening with an attractive display of globes emblazoned with "Courage," "Talent," "Heart" and "Passion," then a film montage before emcee Chris Rock hit the stage.

As someone who didn't appreciate Rock as host 11 years ago it was a bit surprising to see a much more subdued performance, sometimes very funny and other times flat. Everyone was waiting for what he'd say in the midst of the Academy controversy brought about by only White people nominated in the twenty acting categories.

He mused about the fifteen Black people in the film montage and called the evening's event "The White People's Choice Awards." However, he was more pointed in his jokes at the boycott attempt instigated by Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. He made fun of Jada's outrage, considering her lack of film impact and mocked Will Smith for getting $20 million for The Wild, Wild West.

A later so-called tribute to Black History Month, featured Angela Bassett seemingly honoring Will Smith, only to state the true honoree was Jack Black. That's how it went, with Rock reminding us Black exclusions hadn't been dealt with in the sixties, because the community was more concerned with voting rights and lynchings.

Thus, the point was made, more so when African American Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs alluded to changes in the Academy with hopes that the industry will greenlight films and possibilities for people of color. Only then can the Academy nominate more such people.

The writing awards were the first conveyed, with Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy winning for Spotlight and Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for The Big Short, getting original and adapted screenplay Oscars respectively. My main concern was that writers once again are not shown on screen, whereas faces of the directors get the actor treatment, though their personas are mostly unrecognized. Plus they got to talk about their films.

For the writing nominations a script page was shown, followed by a print-out of the dialogue just before the actors spoke the lines. I'm pretty sure most people know actors don't improvise their roles, so this was unnecessary.

It was also distracting to see a short résumé under each of the presenters. If their accomplishments aren't known, why put them on stage?

And worse, not to mention confusing, throughout the evening was a ridiculous crawl, like a ticker tape at the bottom of the screen once an award was announced with a list of innumerable names the winners wanted to thank, no doubt an attempt to get information of their gratitude on display so they didn't have to make a long speech.

It went so fast as winners spoke it soon became an irritant, which hopefully will be removed next year. Not to mention most winners did thank lots of people in the typical way, with the cut-off music starting much too strong, sometimes appearing too soon.

While Harold Wheeler was Music Director, I have to assume he took his cues from Director Glenn Weiss, whose so-so performance was negated further by this action, in particular when Best Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu winning his second Oscar in a row, this time for The Revenant, attempted to say something meaningful at the end, referencing the theme of using more people of color in films. To his credit, Iñárritu kept talking until the music finally stopped.

Perhaps Mr. Weiss learned his lesson, even though the show was running half an hour long, so that Brie Larson was not interrupted during her Best Actress comments for Room. Nor was the brilliant Best Actor Leonard DiCaprio for The Revenant, who gave a very long, but impassioned and articulate speech, first thanking the typical folks and then reminding us climate change is real, "Let us not take this planet for granted." He also made a pitch to better portray indigenous people on screen.

You've got to love a guy like that, not to mention one who brought his mother along to share the long awaited moment, stretching twenty-two years since his first of five acting nominations.

Poor Sylvester Stallone, who now joins Burt Reynolds and Lauren Bacall as "sure" supporting wins, only to lose to the terrific performance of little known Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.

The other surprise was Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes win for Writing's on the Wall as Best Song from Spectre. This, after Lady Gaga's wonderful rendition of the song she co-wrote with Diane Warren, Til It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground. Her performance was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden, who lambasted sexual violence to both men and women, a representative group of whom stood behind Lady Gaga at the end, arms emblazoned with "Survivor" and "It happened to Me," among other statements. No Oscar, but very moving.

One peeve I had was that two Best Song nominees, Manta Ray from Racing Extinction and Simple Song #3 from Youth were not performed on stage, as were the first two mentioned, along with Earned it from Fifty Shades of Grey. This is unfair, and if time were a factor, was it necessary for Chris Rock to have a bit urging the audience to buy Girl Scout cookies for his daughters? This rivaled Ellen DeGeneres' pizza delivery, and I'm not saying it wasn't amusing, but to show disrespect to other song nominees was unwarranted.

There was also a fun sequence in which Black actors were interpolated into major films such as Joy, The Martian, The Danish Girl and The Revenant.

An emotional moment, though not surprising, was 87-year-old Ennio Morricone getting his first Oscar for scoring The Hateful Eight.

Mad Max: Fury Road was the big winner, numerically at least, winning six Oscars for Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup/Hair Styling, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, but the big ones eluded the popular film.

The Revenant also won for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, reaping his third consecutive Oscar, bringing the film's total to three for the night.

The Danish Girl won supporting actress for Alicia Vikander, while Brooklyn and The Martian were the only Best Picture nominees which came up short.

Kevin Hart came on later and admonished the boycotters again, saying "Don't be so negative," so it would appear, considering many of the presenters were African American, including Michael B. Jordan of Creed, who many felt should have been nominated, that it was a fool's errand and it didn't work.

Another complaint of mine is that honorary Oscars are presented at a separate ceremony months earlier and not as in years past in front of the huge Academy audience. Honoree Spike Lee, one of the boycotters, refused to attend, and only Honoree Gena Rowlands could be seen in the audience. Debbie Reynolds, who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was unable to attend the autumn event and was also not present.

When great stars or craftsmen are honored they should be presented to the worldwide audience as Deborah Kerr, Kirk Douglas and Peter O'Toole had been. Yes, the private event gives more time to pay tribute, but who sees it except a select group in a large hotel ballroom? Let's bring these awards back.

And why not bring back film history. "The Oscar Goes to" means nothing, whereas "And the Winner is" is part of movie legend.

All in all the ceremony was not so exciting, Chris Rock did a serviceable job, but I would grade the telecast with a B-Minus at best.

Michael Russnow's website is