Ensemble drama Spotlight, an ode to traditional, dogged investigative journalism, took the top prize at the 88th annual Academy Awards, during a ceremony that addressed Hollywood's lack of inclusion and the #OscarsSoWhite scandal head on.

The major awards were spread out to several front-runners. 

Tom McCarthy's Spotlight, about the Boston Globe's exposé of rampant sexual abuse in the city's Catholic Church, picked up the coveted final award — best picture — after having been the night's first winner, for best original screenplay.

Academy AWARDS-Spotlight screenplay winners Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer

Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, left, and co-writer Josh Singer celebrate backstage after winning best original screenplay, the first trophy handed out at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood on Sunday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Alejandro G. Inarritu earned a second straight Oscar for best director for the epic survivalist thriller The Revenant, following on the heels of his win last year for Birdman

"What a great opportunity for our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and to make sure for once and forever that the colour of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair," the Mexican filmmaker said onstage, one of several who addressed diversity in the industry throughout the night.

Oscars 2016 Red carpet highlights1:42

The Revenant, which features a host of Canadian actors and creative crew and was partially shot in British Columbia and Alberta, also earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first-ever Oscar for his lead performance as 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass. 

DiCaprio used his acceptance speech to make a lengthy statement about climate change.

'Let us not take our planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.' - Leonardo DiCaprio

"2015 was the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to go to the southern tip of the planet just to find snow … Climate change is real," he declared.

"It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species … Let us not take our planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted."

The brutal epic, which started the night with a leading 12 nominations, also won for its cinematography – a third consecutive Academy Award for Emmanuel Lubezki.

Meanwhile, the best actress honour went to Brie Larson for the captivity drama Room, an Irish-Canadian production based on the bestselling novel by London, Ont. novelist Emma Donoghue.

In her speech, American star Larson paid tribute to fans who watched the quiet, powerful film, as well as a host of Canadians, from screenwriter Donoghue to her young co-star Jacob Tremblay to the organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie began its award season journey by winning the People's Choice Award in September.

Mad Max: Fury Road won six awards, more than any other film on the night. George Miller's blistering, post-apocalyptic blockbuster was honoured for costume design, production design, makeup and hairstyling, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.

"Mad Max was the best reviewed film of 2015. Audiences loved it and to be honoured tonight is more than we could ever have hoped for," film editor Margaret Sixel, who is married to director Miller, told the audience.

A host of trophies went to expected winners — from the instant standing ovation for the 87-year-old shoo-in and legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone (best score for The Hateful Eight) to category front-runners, as was the case with Pixar's Inside Out (animated feature), Amy Winehouse portrait Amy (documentary feature) and harrowing concentration camp drama Son of Saul (foreign language film). 

However, gasps were heard from members of the audience when Bridge of Spies actor Mark Rylance, a giant of the British stage but lesser known in North America, was crowned winner of best supporting actor. He knocked out Sylvester Stallone, who had been expected to take the prize for reprising his indelible role as Rocky Balboa in Creed nearly 40 years after he first created the character.  

Tackling controversy head on

Host Chris Rock lived up to expectations by tackling the #OscarsSoWhite controversy immediately and keeping it central and in sharp focus throughout the telecast. ​

Following a wide-ranging introductory movie montage that spanned from Star Wars to Spotlight, the acerbic comedian's first comments — "I counted at least 15 black people in that montage!" — quickly drew laughter from the star-studded audience.

With a breezy, fast-paced set, Rock proceeded to deflate the notion of a film awards show boycott.

Academy AWARDS-Chris Rock Oscars host

Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

"Why are we protesting? Why this Oscars?" he asked, noting that over the course of 88 editions, there have often been years that had all-white acting nominees with no Academy Awards protest.

"[In other years], we had real things to protest at the time … we were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won best cinematographer," he declared, in one of his more biting punchlines.

That said, Rock's opening also managed to weave in police violence against African Americans, poke gentle fun at some of the prominent figures boycotting Sunday's Oscars and honestly addressed the fact that systemic racism does exist in Hollywood.

'Is Hollywood racist? You're damn right it's racist.' - Chris Rock

"Is Hollywood racist? You're damn right it's racist," he said, giving the issue some perspective by adding: "Hollywood is sorority racist. It's like: 'We like you Rhonda, but you're not a Kappa.'"

He concluded: "It's not about boycott anything. It's about 'we want opportunity.'"

Rock returned to the topic throughout the telecast, both live — "We're black," was one declaration post-commercial break — and in pre-recorded skits, such as Angela Bassett presenting a film academy Black History Month-related tribute to Jack Black, the white comic actor. Rock also revived his reality check segment from his 2005 hosting stint, polling moviegoers from the largely black neighbourhood of Compton, Calif., about their favourite films this past year. 

There was also an awkward bit when he jokingly introduced the film academy's new head of minority outreach efforts — Stacey Dash, the outspoken black actress and Fox News commentator who has criticized the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and said that Black History Month should be abolished.

"I cannot wait to help my people out. Happy Black History Month!" she declared, later publishing a blog post explaining she appeared simply to show everyone she had a sense of humour.

On a somewhat different note, British crooner Sam Smith — winner of best original song (along with Jimmy Napes) for the Writing's On the Wall from the 007 instalment Spectre — made a bid for equality for the LGBT community. 

"I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope that we can all stand together as equals one day," he said.

Canada's Obaid-Chinoy wins

Tune in Monday, when the CBC's Eli Glasner will offer his take on this year's Oscars in a live chat (beginning at 12 p.m. ET) with the CBC News Trending team

Canada earned an Oscar when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy triumphed for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, her documentary short about the horrific practice of honour killings.

"This is what happens when determined women get together," declared the Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker, who is based part of the time in Toronto, as she took the stage. 

Obaid-Chinoy also saluted all the men "who push women to go to school and work and who want a more just society for women…This week the Pakistan prime minister said he will change the law on honour killing. That is the power of film."

She previously won an Oscar for her doc Saving Face, about women who survive acid attacks. 


Winners of the 88th Academy Awards

Best picture: Spotlight

Actress in a leading role: Brie Larson, Room

Actor in a leading role: Leonardo DiCaprioThe Revenant

Supporting actress: Alicia VikanderThe Danish Girl

Actor in a supporting role: Mark RylanceBridge of Spies

Directing: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Original screenplay: Spotlight

Adapted screenplay: The Big Short

Costume design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Production design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Makeup and hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinematography: The Revenant

Film editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual effects: Ex Machina

Animated short film: Bear Story

Animated feature film: Inside Out

Documentary short subject: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Documentary feature: Amy

Live action short film: Stutterer

Foreign language film: Son of Saul

Original song: Writing's On the Wall

Original score: The Hateful Eight


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With files from The Associated Press