Surprise, surprise.

After years of generally awful Oscar shows, this one was, on balance, pretty good which means if you’re grading on a curve giving extra credit for the unexpected, it was a winner.

In the hands of Chris Rock the broadcast did not, in the end, collapse under the weight of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. While the pacing of the three and a half hour show felt leaden at times (some things never change), there were a just enough emotional moments and surprise winners (Hooray for Spotlight!! What happened with Sylvester Stallone?) to keep things interesting.

It seems more than fitting that Rock was an equal opportunity social critic during the most politically-charged Oscar ceremony of all time — and he (mostly) killed it.

“I’m here at the Academy Awards, also known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” he said straight out of the gate taking aim at the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees, a topic that pretty much consumed all of the oxygen in the room last night. His remarks had people alternately laughing and cringing – but one zinger clearly landed straight at the heart of what most actors were thinking based on the audience’s reaction: “Jada (Pinkett) boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.” Don’t be looking for a Christmas card from the Smith family anytime soon, Chris.

But no one was immune as the comedian addressed the controversy head on, taking repeated shots at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This joke temporarily stunned the audience into silence when he explained why African American in the fifties and sixties didn’t protest Hollywood’s lack of diversity: “There were real things to worry about … We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won for Best Cinematography. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short” before concluding, “It’s not about boycotting anything. We just want opportunities. Black actors want the same opportunities.”

Brie Larson in Gucci & Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton
All photos courtesy of the Oscars

The red carpet also had its fair share of surprises as newcomers Alicia Vikander and Brie Larson eclipsed veteran stylistas scoring top marks for the most refreshing fashion choices of the night. Both Oscar winners smartly chose dresses that showcased their youthful beauty, Larson in a royal blue frothy creation by Gucci and Vikander channeling a Disney princess – in a good way – in a “dusty yellow” embellished strapless custom Louis Vuitton. Saoirse Ronan, just 21 years old, gave a nod to her Irish roots in an emerald green sequined number from Calvin Klein (I wondered if it was also a clever nod to the memorable emerald dress worn by Keira Knightley in Atonement, the film that brought Ronan her first Oscar nomination many years ago).

Cate Blanchett in Armani Privee

Chrissy Teigen (and her baby bump) positively glowed in her red velvet flocked floral Marchesa. This year’s Best Dressed, red carpet vet Cate Blanchett stunned in yet another work of wearable art from Armani Privee while America’s Sweetheart (Sorry, Reese) Jennifer Garner looked regal in a structured black gown by Atelier Versace. Naomi Watts glittered in a midnight Armani Privee.

Lady Gaga in Brandon Maxwell

I also loved Lady Gaga in custom Brandon Maxwell. Once again, Gaga provided one of the most talked-about moments of the night with her jaw dropping performance of ‘Till It Happens to You’ and her former stylist  (and recent Fashion Group International Rising Star winner) who dressed her for the occasion will no doubt be the beneficiary of some wonderful worldwide exposure as a result.

Rooney Mara in Givenchy and Sofia Vergara in Marchesa

Uninspired choices were in abundance among red carpet regulars. Sofia Vergara did her usual strapless prom dress this time in a much too matronly Marchesa. Rooney Mara chose another completely unflattering nude colored dress – this one from Givenchy — that hung on her bony frame. There is no doubt that Charlize Theron is absolutely gorgeous, but this year’s red Dior Haute Couture dress was practically an identical twin of last year’s black column. That’s what happens when you’re a paid advertisement for the brand.

Heidi Klum in Marchesa

This year’s Worst Dressed (dis)honor goes to Heidi Klum who looked like Betty Draper mauled by the bear in The Revenant. What were you thinking? And more importantly, what was she doing at the Oscars anyway?

 Here’s a timeline of highlights from the broadcast:

8:45 The awards are off to a good start. The first statuette of the night goes to the writers of Spotlight for Best Adapted Screenplay. Well deserved. It was the best picture of this year – and one of the best of the decade.

8:59 Tracy Morgan is The Danish Girl and  ‘the black astronaut’ in The Martian is left on Mars in the first of a few too many clip packages lampooning the Academy’s lack of diversity. Inexplicably, that was followed up by an appearance by actress turned Fox News pundit Stacey Dash who walked on to the stage and looked like a deer in the headlights as she proclaimed, “I cannot wait to help my people out!” and wish the audience, “Happy Black History Month.” Uh-oh.

9:03 Sarah Silverman bombs with a cheesy James Bond riff before introducing Sam Smith who performs the Bond theme he wrote.

9:07 Hunky Superman star Henry Cavill (I think Jennifer Garner should revenge-date him) and Kerry Washington introduce clips for The Martian and The Big Short.

9:09 JK Simmons presents the first acting award of the night. Shoo-in Alicia Vikander wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her stunning performance in The Danish Girl and grabs a spot on the best dressed list with her youthful, sunny custom “dusty yellow” dress by Louis Vuitton that reminds me a little of Belle in Beauty and the Beast but still looks fresh and chic. Well done.

9:20 The evening’s best dressed actress – the flawless Cate Blanchett in Armani Privee – presents the Oscar to Jenny Bevan, the worst dressed Oscar winner of all time – irony alert – for Costume Design. She when she dares to go a second too long with her speech, she is played off by some seriously aggressive music.

9:21 I really hate the CNN-like ‘Thank you’ crawl. Well-intentioned, yes. Good idea, definitely not.

9:25 Jared Leto talks about the ‘Magic’ of merkins. Discuss.

9:27 That’s three Oscars in less than ten minutes for Mad Max: Fury Road.

9:28 Benicio del Toro and Jennifer Garner come to the stage to the strains of Que Sera Sera to present a clip of The Revenant. Leo is clearly not amused when the camera cuts to a guy in a bear suit. Who thinks this stuff is funny?

9:35 Chris Rock introduces nominees Rachel McAdams and “shoulda been nominee” Michael B. Jordan. Agreed but I know this incredible young actor that I first noticed on All My Children!?! will have his moment. Man, does he have great posture.

9:42 Okay, we get it, there were no black actors nominated this year, but enough of these cheesy bits.

9:46 Jennifer Garner takes a quick selfie with Common during the break. Have you read her interview in the new Vanity Fair? Ben Affleck, you are an idiot.

9:58 Is this the Emmys or the Oscars? Olivia Munn and Jason Segel have made some good movies, but they’re not movie stars. This telecast feels extremely light on A-listers.

10:05 Chris Rock pulls an Ellen DeGeneres and makes the audience open their wallets to buy Girl Scout cookies from a squadron of Scouts that go out into the audience to help his daughters back home win top honors in their troop. Given that most women in the audience probably haven’t eaten for at least a month, I’m guessing it’s an easy sell.

10:22 I love when Hollywood actresses wear heavy black framed eye glasses to look smart. Kate Winslet, I’m talking to you.

10:25 Chris Rock pulls a Jay Leno and goes to a movie theater in downtown LA to and ask black movie goers (and one token white guy) about this year’s slate of films. Pretty funny.

10:28 Will Sylvester Stallone win???

10:31 Shocker!! Mark Rylance wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies. I loved him in Wolf Hall but come on! Sylvester Stallone was robbed and we were robbed from hearing what would surely be a great acceptance speech. Every single critic had Sly as a lock. Wow. Just wow.

10:38 Louis CK Does a great riff on winning an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic.” The comedian says, “This Oscar is the nicest thing they will ever own.” Winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy thanks a host of “determined” women including Shelia Nevins and Tina Brown and touchingly concludes the Pakistan president has said he will change the country’s policy on honor killing after seeing the film.

10:49 $65,243 worth of Girl Scout cookies were sold during the broadcast.

10:51 Whoppi Goldberg introduces a clip package from the Governors Awards. I can’t believe Gena Rowlands being recognized and Debbie Reynolds receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award didn’t merit being given out at the main event. Shameful.

10:55 Louis Gossett, Jr introduces the In Memoriam package with Dave Grohl singing Blackbird. Leonard Nimoy is honored with the parting shot placement. My money was on Alan Rickman.

11:09 Joe Biden gets a standing ovation from the crowd and introduces “my friend and a courageous lady herself” Lady Gaga who performs an emotional and stunning rendition of “Till It Happens to You” surrounded by survivors of sexual assault. A powerful and unforgettable moment in Oscar history. Gave me the chills. Just an aside but who would have thought that Gaga would be responsible for the emotional high point of America’s two most watched events – the Super Bowl and the Oscars – within just months of each other?

11:37 Alejandro Inarritu wins for the second year in a row for his work on The Revenant. Smartly, the annoyingly over -zealous orchestra stops trying to play him off when the soft-spoken director refuses to be silenced and continues on to talk about the day when “the color of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”

11:44 I love Eddie Redmayne but he does remind me of a British Jiminey Cricket. As he introduces the Best Actress nominees, I just realized we have not seen Jennifer Lawrence during this entire extravaganza. JLaw where have you been hiding?

11:47 Brie Larson, who is utterly charming, gives a heartfelt and mercifully short acceptance speech, wins the Best Actress Oscar. Love her and love her Gucci dress. She is a true breath of fresh air.

11:54 Will Leo finally get his Oscar?

11:55 Yup. Everyone is on their feet. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an eloquent and impassioned speech thanking everyone who has helped him in his career (his first director Michael Caton-Jones, “Mr. Scorsese” and agent Rick Yorn). He segues beautifully to deliver an impassioned speech about climate change and “the politics of greed.” Move over, George Clooney.

11:59 YES!! Morgan Freeman gives out the Best Picture Academy Award to Spotlight. I have never been so happy to see a film win an Oscar.

12:00 With a box of Girl Scout cookies in one hand that Spotlight star Michael Keaton is digging into, Chris Rock wraps up what has been one of the most interesting Oscar shows in years.

Grade: B for the Show and the Fashion

 is’s entertainment editor. Follow her on Twitter

Diane Clehane

Diane Clehane is a leading authority on celebrity and royalty who has written for Vanity Fair, People, and many other national outlets. She is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, including Diana: The Secrets of Her Style and Imagining Diana. She appears regularly on CNN.

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