As the film awards season unfolded over the past few months, a few trends became clear. Juries were swooning over the transcendental qualities of The Revenant and the superlative technical aspects of Mad Max; Fury Road. Spotlight was being hailed for the manner in which a potentially yawn-inducing story was written and presented.

A neat divide in perception emerged between Alejandro G Inarritu’s The Revenant and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road: the former was about the art of cinema, and the latter about its craft. Meanwhile, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight represented what cinema needed to be about – the good fight, the noble cause and the responsibility to society.

Can these inter-linked facets of filmmaking be separated from one another? Of course not. Even the tallest tentpole production is political in its own way. A great script can die in the hands of a dull director, while an imaginative filmmaker can transform a hackneyed subject into screen magic.

Two of the three main winners represent this interplay unique to the seventh art. The Revenant (three Oscars) and Mad Max: Fury Road (six gongs) are productions in which all the elements of cinema, from the way the story has been conceptualised and written to the manner in which it has been designed, shot and edited, are working closely with each other. Inarritu and Miller have created that rare beast to emerge out of Hollywood, especially during Oscar season – a sensory but also cerebral experience that reminds us of why we go to cinemas in the first place.

Although the controlled lunacy that is Mad Max: Fury Road won the movie the highest numbers of Oscars at the 88th edition, Australian director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic adventure, set in a world ravaged possibly by nuclear warfare, severe climate change and economic disasters, was treated as an achievement in craft rather than a work of art. Fast-paced, witty, immersive and deeply political despite appearing to be little more than one really long chase across a bone-dry desert, Mad Max: Fury Road won much-deserved gongs for its ability to transport viewers into a fictitious world. The evocative production design and costumes, which improve on Miller’s previous biker-chic and punk-inflected Mad Max films, won trophies, as did the superb editing. The Revenant’s sound design was better, especially the sound mixing, which reproduced every heartbeat and grunt to stunning effect, but the Academy voters decided to tip the trophy count in Miller’s favour.

Behind the scenes of George Miller’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.

Inarritu’s labour of love suffered the fate of several films that gather a lot of steam before the Oscars only to run out of it on awards night. The Revenant became the classroom favourite that seemed to be having it too easy, and the Academy’s 6000-plus voters made sure that the production’s sense of entitlement was checked in favour of the mischief-monger from Australia in the corner. It’s ironic that this treatment was meted out to what is essentially an arthouse movie in the garb of a survival thriller. The Revenant richly deserved its three Oscars for cinematography (for Emmanuel Lubezki), actor in a leading role (Leonardo DiCaprio) and directing (Inarritu), but it missed out on Best Picture to a production that has half its achievements.

This is not to take away from Tom McCarthy. Spotlight is the fifth feature from a director who has gained a following for his gentle and unobtrusive storytelling style and his keen sense of observation. Ever since his debut, The Station Agent (2003), McCarthy has established a methodology that makes him an apt director for a seemingly cinema-unworthy subject. Leached of the righteous bluster and excitement of the average newsroom drama, Spotlight unpacks the process of newspaper reportage. Did it deserve Best Picture? The movie proves that there can be new ways to approach shopworn material, but in terms of the overall impact, Spotlight is weaker and less adventurous than The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road.

All three winners do have something in common. Each of them is, in its own way, “issue-based”, and examines the past, the present, and the foreseeable future. The 88th Oscars will probably go down in history as the most divisive and politicised event of its kind. Chris Rock’s provocative banter about white privilege and institutionalised racial discrimination boldly confronted as well as expanded the issue of bias in the nominations process. Every third acceptance speech sounded like a political campaign for a better world, and at the end, all the good guys won, even if some of them didn’t get as much as they had bargained for.

The making of Tom McCarthy’s ‘Spotlight.’