The 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is over and now discussions have begun in regard to every aspect of the show – be it host Chris Rock’s approach to taking on #OscarsSoWhite as well as related general issues concerning inclusion/representation in Hollywood, or the winners in categories ranging from performances to direction, editing, sound mixing, and so forth. In keeping with tradition, a number of heavily-favored outcomes heading into the ceremony became a reality, even at the same time as there were a handful of “surprises” and/or “unexpected” wins that defied the more popular predictions made ahead of (Oscar) time.

You can now read through the complete list of 2016 Oscar winners HERE. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be running down five examples of winners and non-winners alike at the 88th Annual Academy Awards that were a little (or a lot) surprising, as well as the reasoning behind their selection. Here are those 5 Surprises and Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards.

Spotlight Wins the Best Picture Oscar

spotlight best picture oscar winner 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


The Revenant was considered by many to be the front-runner to win the Best Picture Oscar heading into the 88th annual Academy Awards, but at the same time the Best Picture race this year was always something of an open race – with other contenders such as The Big Short, The Martian, Spotlight, and Mad Max: Fury Road having also won key awards in other events that were part of the buildup to Oscar night. Furthermore, as the 2016 Oscars ceremony moved along, Fury Road began to clean up in the technical awards categories and The Revenant‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu secured the Best Director Oscar (his second in as many years) – suggesting that Spotlight and The Big Short‘s early wins for Original and Adapted Screenplay, respectively, would be those two movies’ “consolation” Oscars, while the competition would take home the remaining major honors of the show. However, that ended up not being the case after all, when Morgan Freeman announced that Spotlight had been crowned Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Truth be told, some would argue that Spotlight‘s Best Picture win wasn’t much of a surprise; after all, co-writer/director Tom McCarthy’s docudrama was never considered to be fully out of the Best Picture Oscar race to begin with, and the fact that it received all-but universal critical acclaim for its exploration of relevant and noteworthy real-life subject matter (see: the Boston Globe‘s expose on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal/cover-up) made the film as “safe” a pick for the Best Picture honor at the Academy Awards as any other film in the running. Nevertheless, Spotlight‘s win has secured its place as the All the President’s Men Oscar-winner for a new generation, even as it became the first Best Picture winner with less than three Oscars since The Greatest Show on Earth back in 1952.

Then again, Spotlight also marks the second occasion on which Michael Keaton has starred in the Best Picture Oscar-winning film in as many years (following Birdman‘s win). Who knows; Keaton may be back on the Oscars stage next year too, seeing as his next project is The Founder, a movie about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

Ex Machina Wins for Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina characters 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


Many felt that Alicia Vikander should have been nominated for her performance as the artificial intelligence being Ava in the sci-fi film Ex Machina (more on that later), but fans of the movie were nonetheless glad to see writer/director Alex Garland recognized with a nomination for his screenplay on the project. Perhaps for these reasons, Ex Machina‘s nomination for the Best Visual Effects Oscar was something of an afterthought, especially since it was up against such films as Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – both of which were widely lauded how how they blend practical sets/elements with digital effects and CGI – as well as Fury Road‘s fellow Best Picture nominees The Martian and The Revenant, the latter pair of which were also praised for how they combine real-world locations with computer-generated elements (perhaps save for our Hannah Shaw-Williams, who wasn’t so much a fan of The Revenant‘s CGI bear). Indeed, Ex Machina was the odd one out, with a $15 million production budget that was a fraction of what its competitors were made for.

It’s possible that Ex Machina being the indie offering amidst a sea of big-budget tentpoles helped it win in the visual effects category, as a statement from the Academy in recognition of the ingenuity that was required to create the film’s A.I. characters and futuristic technology at a (relatively) lower cost. That’s not to take anything away from Ex Machina‘s victory, either; as illustrated by this featurette examining the effects behind Vikander’s “Ava”, Garland and his collaborators were just as precise in their approach to blending practical and digital elements in Ex Machina as the other effects contenders were. Score one for the “little guy”, in this case.

Alicia Vikander Wins Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl

alicia vikander danish girl oscars 2016 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


It’s been quite a year for Alicia Vikander, to say the least. Rewind the clock back a year to February 2015 and Vikander could be seen on the big screen playing the (throwaway) love interest in the critical/commercial dud that was Seventh Son, after having previously played supporting roles in such films as Anna Karenina (2012) and The Fifth Estate; jump back to the present and Vikander has since delivered critically acclaimed performances in Ex Machina (as mentioned before) and The Danish Girl, while having further shown off her acting prowess in a playful turn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and secured a key role in the anticipated summer 2016 release, Jason Bourne. For related reasons (and the benefit of hindsight on our side now), it’s a bit odd that Vikander was not generally viewed as being the front-runner to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards show, what with Kate Winslet picking up awards left and right for her work in Steve Jobs in the lead-up to Oscar night, instead.

Some might argue (and perhaps fairly) that genre prejudice played a role in the Academy’s decision to both nominate and award Vikander for her turn in the true story-based historical drama The Danish Girl, rather than her performance as an AI being in Ex Machina – a work of science-fiction that features an impressive impromptu dance number, among other memorable, though off-beat, components. Nevertheless, whether you feel that Vikander won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar solely for her turn in The Danish Girl or for her collective performances on the big screen in 2015 (Ex Machina in particular), it’s very difficult to argue that she did not deserve to be recognized by the Academy, one way or another.

Vikander isn’t going to be slacking after her Oscar victory, either; in addition to her upcoming role in Jason Bourne, she will be sharing the screen with Michael Fassbender in 2016 with The Light Between Oceans, a drama from acclaimed filmmaker Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines).

Mark Rylance Wins Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies

mark rylance bridge spies oscars 2016 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


Sylvester Stallone is one of the rare actors to have received multiple Oscar nominations for playing the same character in different films (namely, Rocky Balboa) and momentum was very much on his side to win Best Supporting Actor for his turn in the Rocky sequel/spinoff Creed, ahead of Oscar night 2016. Indeed, some might say the fact that Sly didn’t win the Oscar was the only true “upset” during the 88th Annual Academy Awards, after he had already taken home the Golden Globe for his performance, among other awards. Nevertheless, Stallone did not win an Academy Award for playing an aging Rocky, some forty years after the original Rocky took home the Best Picture Oscar; instead, the Best Supporting actor honor went to Mark Rylance, a highly-esteemed theater veteran whose performance as a Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama/thriller Bridge of Spies had earned him many an awards show nod leading up to Oscar night – though he had also gotten far less publicity than Stallone, if nothing else.

That’s not to take anything away from Rylance; far from it, his work in Bridge of Spies is (arguably) the best element of Spielberg’s film, and the fact that Rylance will reunite with the director for the Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG should now have the filmgoing masses all the more excited to see the actor and director’s forthcoming collaboration later this year, for related reasons. As for Sly: his work in Creed only further cemented the iconic status of the Rocky Balboa character and his own legacy in the movie industry too. Not to mention, Sly’s pal Arnold Schwarzenegger has already reached out with a sincere and heart-warming message of support to his friend, echoing the feelings of many a Stallone fan: to them, he’ll always be their champion.

Complete Shut-Out for The Martian

The Martian Matt Damon NASA spacesuit 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


There’s very much a precedent for movies that land multiple Oscar nominations and yet fail to secure a single win; Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and yet walked away empty-handled at the 2003 Oscars ceremony, while more recently (in 2014) David O. Russell’s American Hustle likewise landed 10 Oscar nods and didn’t snag a single win in any of the categories where it was nominated. Sometimes even the favorites heading into Oscar night come up mostly empty-handed, like when Richard Linklater’s Boyhood won multiple Golden Globes (including for Best Drama, Director and Supporting Actress) among other accolades, but could only secure one Oscar in 2015. This brings us to 2016 and Ridley Scott’s space adventure The Martian, which was nominated for seven Oscars – but ended up winning none.

While The Martian won two Golden Globes (including Best Comedy) ahead of the 2016 Oscars night, it ultimately landed between a rock and a hard place; to be exact, Mad Max: Fury Road was the film that cleaned up in the technical categories at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, while the Academy shared the love in other areas among multiples films, including The Big Short, Spotlight, and The Revenant. Scott’s film probably could have taken home at least one Academy Award had it been released in a different year, while star Matt Damon would’ve had a much better shot at winning the Best Actor Oscar had it not been for DiCaprio’s work in The Revenant. That said: seeing as it’s a critical darling and audience favorite alike that grossed over $624 million worldwide in theaters, it’s fair to say that The Martian is doing perfectly fine without the Academy’s validation.

Honorable Mentions

sam smith writings on the wall 2016 Oscars: 5 Surprises & Upsets of the 88th Academy Awards


Sam Smith Beats Lady Gaga – Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes’ Best Song Oscar win for “Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre was somewhat expected after its win at the 2016 Golden Globes ceremony, but did feel like something of a surprise following Lady Gaga’s emotionally-charged rendition of her own Oscar-Nominated tune, “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground. Not to mention, many seem to agree that Smith’s James Bond theme song is a step down from Adele’s Oscar-winning theme song for 007’s 2012 adventure, Skyfall – something that makes its Academy Awards victory somewhat curious, in that respect. Kudos to Smith and Napes for their win all the same, of course.

Alejandro González Iñárritu Wins Best Director – Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu won three Oscars for his work on Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2015, and heading into Oscar night many were betting that Iñárritu would pick up another Oscar for producing The Revenant, while the Best Director award would go to someone like Mad Max: Fury Road helmsman George Miller instead. While the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars did in fact wind up being split between two movies in 2016 (Spotlight and The Revenant), Iñárritu ended up being recognized for his direction (again), instead – making him the first to win the Best Director Oscar two years in a row since Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve in the early 1950s.

That’s it for us – how about you? What wins/losses at the 2016 Oscars ceremony surprised you? Or did the night play out pretty much as you expected? Let us know in the comment section below.