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‘Spotlight’ Wins Top Oscar Prize On Night Of Racial Critique

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Catholic Church abuse movie Spotlight was named best picture, the top award at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, after an evening peppered with pointed punchlines from host Chris Rock about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has dominated the industry.

Mexico’s Alejandro Inarritu nabbed the best directing Oscar for The Revenant, taking home the trophy for the second straight year after winning in 2015 for Birdman.

The Revenant had gone into Sunday’s ceremony with a leading 12 nominations, and was among four movies believed to have the best chances for best picture after it won Golden Globe and BAFTA trophies.

“I (am) very lucky to be here tonight but unfortunately many others haven’t had the same luck,” Inarritu said, expressing the hope that, in the future, skin color would become as irrelevant as the length of one’s hair.

Leonardo DiCaprio got a standing ovation after finally winning his first Oscar for his leading role as a fur trapper left for dead in The Revenant and spoke out on climate change in his acceptance speech.

Rising star Brie Larson, 26, took home the statuette for best actress for her role as an abducted young woman in indie movie Room” to add to her armful of trophies from other award shows.

Racial themes and barbs about the selection of an all-white acting nominee line-up for a second year ran throughout the evening as black comedian Rock opened the show that he called “the white People’s Choice awards.”

Among the surprises, Britain’s Mark Rylance beat presumed favorite and Creed actor Sylvester Stallone to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander won the supporting actress Oscar for transgender movie The Danish Girl while documentary Amy, about the late and troubled British pop star Amy Winehouse was also a winner.

Open Road Films’ (RGC.N) Spotlight, which traces the journalism probe of sex abuse in the Boston Catholic Church also won best original screenplay.

Warner Bros (TWX.N) Mad Max: Fury Road started the night with 10 nominations and the action-adventure won a slew of Oscars, including for costume, make-up, editing, and production design.

(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom, Lisa Richwine and Piya Sinha-Roy:; Editing by Mary Milliken)

Photo: Actor Michael Keaton (R) hugs director Tom McCarthy after their film “Spotlight” won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Oscars Host Chris Rock Faces Tricky Balancing Act Of Humor And Diversity

By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hosting the Oscars is seen as the ultimate honor in show business but no one has a trickier task of balancing humor, diversity politics and celebrating movies on Sunday than Chris Rock.

Rock, a black stand-up comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member, was chosen to host Sunday’s Academy Awards for a second time last October – long before the #OscarsSoWhite furor that has overshadowed the biggest annual celebration of the movie industry. He first hosted the awards in 2005.

Most award watchers agree he’s turned out to be the perfect choice.

“He’s really good at skewering show business and at skewering race relations in this country,” said Variety’s Tim Gray. “I think Chris Rock will address the diversity issue head on, which is exactly what the show and the Academy need.”

Rock, 51, has kept silent during the uproar over the 20 all-white actors nominated this year.

He declined to join the fray, even after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 6,200 members vote on the Oscars, announced it would double the number of minorities and women in its ranks in the next four years.

“It’s a good idea for him to keep a tight lip and say what he’s going to say when he has that big platform of the Oscars stage,” said Daniel Montgomery, senior editor of awards website Goldderby.com.

The Academy has drawn on talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and actor Neil Patrick Harris in the past two years for hosting duties, but this year, having Rock return to the helm gives the Academy a chance to look good in front of a TV audience of some 40 million in America and millions more worldwide.

“Making jokes at their expense is going to show they’re aware there is a problem. But he can’t go for the jugular,” said Montgomery.

Even in uncontroversial years, hosting the Oscars can be a thankless task in which a good host may be praised briefly but a bad job – like the awkward 2011 stint by Anne Hathaway and James Franco – is remembered for years.

Rock also has to keep moving a 3-1/2-hour live show aimed principally at celebrating the year in movies and entertaining Hollywood’s biggest players inside the Dolby Theatre, as well as television viewers.

“People sometimes say after they are hired that it’s the greatest job in the world, but it’s so difficult,” said Gray.

“Most of the people in the room are nervous because they are either nominated themselves or affiliated with a film or studio, so they are not the most receptive audience.”

“And you have to hook the TV viewers in the first 10 minutes to make them stay with the show,” Gray added.

As for Rock, he has to walk a fine line on Sunday between going too far or not going far enough, Montgomery said.

“If he pleases everyone, he wouldn’t be doing his job in a year like this.”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Photo: Actor Chris Rock arrives for the National Board of Review gala in the Manhattan borough of New York January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Israeli-Palestinian Hip-Hop Movie Wins Audience Prize In Berlin

By Swantje Stein

BERLIN (Reuters) – An Arabic-language hip-hop film featuring mostly Palestinian actors and directed by an Israeli won a prize as an audience favorite on Saturday at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Director Udi Aloni’s Junction 48 took the Panorama Audience Award for best fiction film. The film Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? by Tomer and Barak Heymann was voted best Panorama documentary.

Junction 48 tells the story of a Palestinian rap star and his girlfriend who live near Tel Aviv in the mixed Jewish-Palestinian city of Lod, known until recently as one of the main drug-running centers of the Middle East.

Actress Samar Qupty said it should be easy for Palestinians to identify with the movie, even though it depicts people living lives that are radically different from strict Muslim traditions.

Her character, for example, allows a picture of her face to be used on a poster advertising a hip-hop concert, prompting members of her family to say they plan to injure her if she performs.

“It’s still a revolutionary movie because it doesn’t talk about the way we Palestinians are usually represented in the world,” Qupty said.

“We are representing ourselves by the new generation without trying to prove anything to anyone, with our ‘goods’ and ‘bads’,” she told Reuters in an interview.

“We are trying to present what is the real new generation trying to do without making the reality looking any better or any worse.”

Director Aloni was pleased with audience reactions.

“We are all so optimistic because we also brought some young kids that we gave them tickets, you know 20 years old, that don’t know anything about us and they adore it.

“So probably the choice of having Tamer, he is so charismatic, and hip-hop that is so universal, it was a very good move.”

Singer Nafar doesn’t expect everybody in the Middle East to love the film but he is confident it will open up a debate.

“It’s going to open a stage and I think it’s very important and the movie is not here to give solutions, the movie is here to raise the right questions,” he said.

(Editing by Michael Roddy and Digby Lidstone)

Photo: General view of the ‘Berlinale Palast’ main screening facility prior to the awards ceremony of the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hansche

Portrait Of The Actor: Sean Penn’s Scenes In Real Life (Remembered)

Sean Penn sat in front of me in history class, junior year at Santa Monica High School — the school rising on a hill with a quadrangle you see in Rebel Without a Cause.

He kept turning around to talk, the blue-eyed boy with all the questions. The younger, brown-eyed girl had all the answers — at least in history class.

At 16, the existentialist devilish streak was already a mile wide. I got to know him well, coming of age.

Still, it was passing strange to see an old friend — my bittersweet first movie date — huddled in the jungle with a Mexican drug lord and ruthless killer: Joaquin Guzman Loera. “El Chapo” for short.

Sean roiled the rules and waters of the worlds I live in — politics and journalism — by his derring-do in getting a huge scoop by highly unorthodox means. His rambling style raised alarms and establishment eyebrows, but Rolling Stone magazine was the perfect place for his rough-cut writing voice.

The White House expressed disapproval in the words of chief of staff Denis McDonough: officially “appalled.”

So what? The shocking interview is best seen a radical extension of Penn’s powerful empathy for outsiders, outlaws and the dispossessed. Good for him for visiting Baghdad after George W. Bush’s dogs of war shed blood on false grounds, and for aiding the Haitians, hit by a devastating earthquake.

Penn also conducted interviews with President Raul Castro in Cuba and several conversations with his late friend, Hugo Chavez, former president of Venezuela, when few others could or would.

An immensely gifted Academy Award-winning actor, Penn is always smoldering, crossing boundaries in his work and life. Often he writes his own script.

We got a good fix on each other in class and spent many hours together, on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, in tennis team company, or at parties at my house. Ping-Pong and piano songs were part of the clean fun. Sean once showed up with two friends, Frank and Joe, in a convertible Rolls-Royce. (My father has not forgot the tracks he once left on our lawn.) It was never boring when Sean was around.

Looking back, we had good times (not fast times) at Santa Monica High, surprisingly innocent. Sean liked to make a splash — literally, as when he jumped in the pool on the way up to accept a “most improved player” award at a boys’ tennis team party. He was making up time, since surfing was his sport before he seriously picked up a racket. I remember he once watched one of my singles matches, start to finish, sitting behind a fence with sunglasses. Another time, he carried a “Peanuts” lunch pail around campus.

Back to the first day of class, when I met him. Sean dared to speak a line that produced a hung jury silence. He declared he liked “history, track and blacks” as we went round the room. The teacher, Paul Kerry, an African-American track champion, smiled broadly to cut the tension.

I noticed Sean didn’t speak the usual Malibu dialect or write poems about waves. He played a stoned surfer dude in his first movie role — that history class cut-up, Jeff Spicoli — but that was not the lad I knew.

The way he called up to invite me out departed from the norm: “What time shall I pick you up?”

“Oh, don’t you know? We’re going to the movies tonight.”

We went, but Sean was never my boyfriend. The good girl and the bad boy were well-matched as friends. He became a budding actor, going to “cattle call” auditions, and I’d gone east for college. We kept in touch. I got a letter saying he had not been in one place for more than five minutes in the last 24 hours. I wrote a one-act play about us: “Table for Two.” His ears got red as he read it, but we — or David and Rachel — were a hit. My diaries tell the tale.

After he became famous, he remained a breeze on the phone: “What are you doing right now?” He invited me over to meet his children and see some cuts of an upcoming movie. Just like the old days, he asked me questions — this time about politics.

I could have dreamt this. Stardusted Sean parted waters, crossing a restaurant by the beach. There I was dining with my beau, the author Michael Lewis. Sean walked over to give me a warm hug. That was sweet, and it made Michael jealous, way out of character.

Depend upon it: Sean’s true talent for making scenes in the moment goes on. And he was the first boy I loved, as the song goes, for that.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Actor and activist Sean Penn, delivers a speech during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe