The 8 Moments That Stood Out From Oscars 2016

Chris Wallenberg
Lady Gaga, Oscars
Mark Ralston/GettyImages

OSCARS_88 logoThe #OscarsSoWhite uproar loomed like the Woolly Mammoth in the room leading up to last night's 88th annual Academy Awards and threatened to overshadow much of the proceedings. But host Chris Rock didn't shy away from anything at all, joking repeatedly about the lack of diversity and hitting the industry hard about its systemic racism. Despite some uncomfortable and awkward moments, it wound up being one of the most memorable Oscars in recent memory.

The Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara disapproved of the show "whipsawing from the shocking to the familiar and back again, often in the space of a few moments," but cheered that it was the "first Oscars in memory that nakedly and unapologetically attempted to do something other than hand out a bunch of gold statues." Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert said Rock's opening monologue "let everyone off the hook and put everyone on the hook at the same time." Whatever you thought of the show—we can all agree it was again way too long—it won't be forgotten for years to come. If you missed it or just want to relive highlights, we've rounded up some of the show's standout moments.

RELATED: Cheers & Jeers: Oscars 2016 Edition

Chris Rock’s head-on opening monologue about #OscarsSoWhite

Chris Rock faced the controversy head-on, dedicating most of his opening monologue to firing off zingers. “I’m here at the Academy Award—otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job!” he cracked, with a big grin. And he spared no one—not even Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee, who all boycotted the ceremony. Rock’s response to people telling him to quit in the weeks leading up to the ceremony: “How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something.” He had a take-no-prisoners approach that didn’t leave much off the table. In the 1950s and ’60s, Rock said there were many years with no black nominees, but no black people were protesting the all-white awards. “Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time,” he joked. “You know, when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.” The critiques created a charged atmosphere, but because they were delivered by the charismatic and unflinching Rock, the celebs took his criticism in stride.

Alejandro G. Iñarritu's Oscar win for Best Director, two years in a row

The Oscars might have been lacking in diversity this year, but one minority, Mexican-American director Alejandro G. Iñarritu, did pick up one of the major awards: Best Director, thanks to his grueling, multi-continent production on The Revenant. It was also a rare back-to-back honor, since Iñarritu pocketed the same prize last year for Birdman. Only two other directors, John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, had achieved the repeat-feat before. “I am very lucky to be here tonight. Unfortunately, many others haven’t had the same luck,” Iñarritu said. “There is a line in the film where Hugh Glass says to his mixed-race [part Native American] son, ‘They don’t listen to you. They just see the color of your skin.' So what a great opportunity for our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and make sure that once and forever the color of [a person’s] skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”

Chris Rock's man-on-the-street interviews in Compton

As the night wore on, Rock and the show’s producers weren’t afraid to double-down on jokes about #OscarsSoWhite. In a throwback to his previous stint hosting the Oscars in 2005, Rock interviewed random moviegoers at a multiplex in Compton who hadn't heard of most of the films. “Where are you getting these movies from?” said one woman, laughing. “You messin’ with me, right? I come to the movies all the time.” Rock protested that Bridge of Spies and Trumbo were real Oscar-nominated films, to which she cracked, “Like in London and stuff?” Another woman jokingly tried to walk off with the Oscar, with a deadpan, “Oh, I thought I could keep it.” It was an inspired moment of levity and cut the Oscar hype and the industry itself down to size.

Leo's Best Actor long-overdue win and his impassioned speech

Leonardo DiCaprio finally pocketed a long overdue Oscar after six previous nominations, for his performance as frontiersman Hugh Glass, who endured hypothermia, falling off a cliff and a bear mauling to seek vengeance on the man who murdered his son. The audience erupted into an extended standing ovation, with hoots, hollers, and whistles.

When DiCaprio strode onto the stage, it was almost a given that he would say something meaningful, and the longtime environmental activist delivered. “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history,” DiCaprio said. “Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species…We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children, and for those people out whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.”

Spotlight's Best Picture triumph

Mad Max: Fury Road may have dominated most of the technical honors in the early part of the show, but Spotlight pocketed two of the evening’s biggest awards: Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Spotlight was also the first movie to win Best Picture despite having only one other Oscar, since The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952. The most wide-open Best Picture race in years came down to a three-way finish between leading contenders Spotlight, The Big Short, and The Revenant. But the small and powerful Spotlight, a riveting chronicle of the Boston Globe's exposé of sexual abuse by Catholic Church clergy, made the comeback over its two flashier rivals.

In the end, the Academy awarded a film with a high-minded message about the importance of questioning and examining powerful institutions. Accepting the award, producer Michael Sugar said, “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.” The film was also a victory for a beleaguered journalism industry. “We would not be here today without the heroic efforts of our reporters,” said producer Blye Pagon Faust. “Not only did they affect global change, but they absolutely show us the necessity of investigative journalism.”

Louis C.K.'s hilarious (and heartfelt) bit for Documentary Short

Comedian Louis C.K. introduced the nominees for Documentary Short, and made a case for why he should host the Oscars next year. He turned what was normally a sober slog into a hilarious riff on the directors and producers who toil in the shadows of Hollywood’s elite and who aren’t in it for the money. “This is the one Academy Award that has an opportunity to change a life. I mean, I’m happy for all of you. But you came here winners, and you’re leaving millionaires. It’s not going to make that big a difference,” said C.K. “[But] these people, all they got is this Oscar. This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic. This Oscar is going to be the nicest thing they ever own in their life. It’s going to give them anxiety to keep it in their crappy apartment,” he said, with a laugh. 

C.K.’s bit contrasted beautifully with the moving speech by winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, a Pakistani film about the abhorrent practice of female “honor killings." In dedicating her award, she said, “To the men who champion women. To all the brave men out there, like my father and my husband, who push women to go to school and work and want a more just society for women. This week, the Pakistani prime minister has said that he would change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.”

Lady Gaga's moving rendition of "'Til It Happens to You"

The Academy tackled another hot-button topic: sexual assault. Vice President Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga before she performed Diane Warren’s Oscar-nominated Best Original Song, “'Til It Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which examines sexual assault on college campuses. “Tonight, I’m asking you to join millions of Americans to take the pledge—a pledge that says, ‘I will intervene in situations when consent has not or cannot be given.’ We must and we can change the culture, so that no abused woman or man, like the survivors you will see tonight, ever feels they have to ask themselves, 'What did I do?' They did nothing wrong!” said Biden, who’s helped lead a charge against campus sexual assault.

Seated at a grand piano, Lady Gaga (who also performed The Sound of Music tribute last year) delivered a heartwrenching performance backed by a string orchestra. As the song hit its crescendo, a group of young female and male sexual assault survivors walked to the front of the stage, then linked their hands together. As Gaga whispered the final lines of the song, the camera panned in on the group’s arms, on which words like “Survivor,” “It Happened to Me,” and “Not Alone" were written. Many had tears in their eyes. Cameras cut to Warren, who put a hand on her heart and was visibly emotional.

Parodies of Oscar-nominated movies with black actors

Addressing the plight of black actors in Hollywood again, the Oscars showed a video montage that parodied scenes of nominated movies, with black actors inserted into scenes from The Martian, The Danish Girl, Joy and The Revenant. For Joy, Whoopi Goldberg shuffled across the stage behind Jennifer Lawrence’s character, mopping up the floor and saying, “Maybe one day they’ll make a movie about a skinny white lady who invented a mop. Whereas a black girl would have to invent a cure to cancer before they even give her a TV movie.” For The Danish Girl, Tracy Morgan donned a dress to impersonate Eddie Redmayne’s Lili Elbe. As he stuffed his face with a pastry, he shouted “Look at me, I’m a Danish Girl. These danishes is good, girl!”

The Revenant clip spoofed the bear attack scene, with the grizzly replaced by Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones violently tossing DiCaprio around, then wisecracking, “My agent called you twice. Then I called you 16 times. You shoulda called me back!” In The Martian "remake," Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels debated whether to rescue Chris Rock’s stranded astronaut from Mars. “It’ll cost $2500!” protested Daniels’ NASA chief. “Ooh, that’s a lot,” responded Wiig, but conceded that it might be a PR problem to leave him behind. “I’ll tell you what’s a PR problem,” says Daniels. “Spending $2,500 white dollars to save one black astronaut. We’ll all be out of jobs.”