In what was the most bizarre ending in Oscar history (or possibly the most bizarre Oscar moment, period), and right up there with any live event ever, Moonlight was named Best Picture of 2016 at the 89th Annual Academy Awards after La La Land had already been announced as the winner.
Compounding the shock was that, with a record-tying 14 nominations and a recipient of every necessary industry precursor (look at the opening line to my Golden Globes reaction), La La Land was supposed to be the winner, especially as it had already hauled in 6 Oscars throughout the night. This was a sure thing. A 100% lock. Easy. Look, Moonlight‘s victory would’ve been a shock regardless, even if the announcement had been done right, but this epic flub took it into a whole other realm of the surreal.
I still can’t believe that this happened.
But are presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to blame? No. Or, at worst, only for not having the wherewithal of how to deal with an entirely unexpected and confusing situation not of their making.
When you look at a replay of the moment, Beatty’s reaction supports his story that he was given an envelope with Emma Stone‘s Best Actress victory card on the inside. He pulls out the card, gives it a look, then looks back in the envelope to see if there’s another card. There isn’t. He looks confused, he stutters. Then he looks offstage, seeking help. Nothing. He hands Dunaway the card and she, not realizing anything’s amiss, immediately reads the name of the movie she sees on the card, not processing that it’s not the Best Picture card.
A few hours after the telecast, the accountants of PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pwc) officially took the bullet, absolving Beatty and Dunaway of any culpability. Here’s what happened, according to The Hollywood Reporter:
Despite the fact that Emma Stone was still holding on to her Best Actress envelope and card at the time of the globalized snafu, Pwc awards show protocol requires duplicates of all envelopes in two separate briefcases, one on each side of the stage. Somehow, the duplicate Best Actress envelope on the other side of the stage was given to Beatty. The Pwc firm has committed to getting to the bottom of how this could’ve happened.
At the very least, even with the cruel mix-up, the Oscar showrunners made it right before the show actually wrapped, allowing filmmaker Barry Jenkins and his producers to have their moment, tarnished as it was (especially given how it came right after the La La Land producers had their moment only to then have it – and their Best Picture Oscars – yanked away from them in what had to be an absolute gut punch, one they still managed to handle with style and class).
Adding to the whole unprecedented moment, which completed the biggest upset in Oscar history, it marked the first Best Picture win for indie distributor A24, a small art house shingle that successfully steered an ultra-low budget movie of $1.5 million dollars with no-name stars to the industry’s most coveted prize. Not even Harvey Weinstein has done that.
So, controversial moment aside, how does this Moonlight win even happen? How does it beat the movie with 14 nominations, a record 7 Golden Globes, numerous Critics Group citations, and wins at the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and the BAFTAs (Britain’s Oscar equivalent)? No film before La La Land has won so much only to lose Best Picture, until now.
It likely came down to two things:
1. The most obvious: enough Academy voters wanted to make a social / cultural / political statement, particularly in the Trump era, and they felt that Moonlight – about a gay African-American boy from the Miami slums who, as he grows to manhood, struggles to reconcile his identity and place in the world – was the perfect movie to make a statement with. (It also had the virtue of impeccable cinematic merits, something Hidden Figures and Fences did not.) Significantly, after two years of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Moonlight became the first all-black-cast film to ever win Best Picture.
2. In hindsight: La La Land‘s record-tying 14 nominations probably ended up hurting it more than helping it. Enough voters likely looked at that record haul – equal to Titanic and All About Eve – and thought, “Well, it’s not that good.” They clearly loved and admired the film, giving it 6 awards including Best Actress and Director, but didn’t feel its place in history should be set as equal to those two others. Ironically, La La Land may have actually completed its run if it had 13 nominations or less.
The La La backlash that had become a part of the awards season conversation certainly hinted at this brewing sentiment, but the negativity wasn’t taken that seriously since backlashes seem built into the arc of these races. But this time, it really did have an impact.
Nevertheless, La La Land took home the most Oscars of the night, winning in the major categories it was expected to except for one (the biggest one) and took 6 total. Moonlight was second with 3, adding Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay to its Best Picture shocker. Manchester by the Sea, the other big contender of the 2016 Awards Season, ended up with 2: Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan and Best Actor Casey Affleck, who overcame a late-season threat from SAG Best Actor winner Denzel Washington.
Best Picture nominee Hacksaw Ridge also took 2 awards for Best Editing and Sound Mixing, while fellow Best Pic noms Arrival and Fences took 1 a piece, the former for Best Sound Editing and the latter for Viola Davis as Best Supporting Actress in what was her first (but likely not last) Academy Award victory.
While La La Land becomes the most nominated film ever to not win Best Picture, it’s not the biggest winner to fall short. Cabaret won 8 Oscars (including Best Director and Best Actress, like La La Land) in 1972 but lost Best Picture to The Godfather which only won 3 (like Moonlight). And in 1977, Star Wars won 7 Academy Awards but lost Best Picture to Annie Hall, which won 4. La La Land‘s 6 Academy Awards ties Best Picture loser Mad Max: Fury Road which also won six just last year but lost the top prize to Spotlight, which only took home a total of 2.
As for the show itself, producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd put on a classy show in every regard (I particularly liked the historical clip reels of past Acting winners prior to those four categories) with a variety of silver and blue Art Deco sets that always looked stunning and glamorous. The show’s only anomaly was a weird (and sometimes clunky) use of orchestrated muzak covers of 80s pop hits for segues, and an elaborate “surprise” tour group gag that had its moments but wasted too much time.
For host Jimmy Kimmel, a personality I’ve largely found to be rather bland, he actually acquitted himself rather well. His material had some good clever quips, even as he dipped into the “nobody’s seen your movie” well too many times (and can we also stop with the “food at awards shows” bits already?). He also continued his ongoing public “feud” with Matt Damon to provide some of the night’s best laughs, but perhaps his greatest strength was how absolutely casual he was, even more so than Ellen. It was so refreshing compared to many hosts who often seem desperate to “kill”, even when playing it dry or winking. Kimmel did not feel or carry the weight, burden, and responsibility of his role as Oscar host at all, and that chill temperament is exactly what the job needs.
Finally, as far as my predictions were concerned, it wasn’t a banner year. I’ll take the mulligan on Best Picture, along with everyone else, and I did very well in the rest of the major awards except for Best Actor (which was a tight race anyway), but overall? I got 14 out of 24 right. Not bad (and I’ve done worse) but, as is so often the case, the short films jacked me up (went 0-for-3 there) as did the two sound categories.
Below is a complete list of the winners. To see all the nominees, click here.
THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
BEST PICTURE – Moonlight
BEST DIRECTOR –Damien Chazelle – La La Land
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis, Fences
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Manchester by the Sea, by Kenneth Lonergan
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Moonlight, by Barry Jenkins
BEST ANIMATED FILM – Zootopia
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – The Salesman (Iran)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
– O.J.: Made in America
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – “City of Stars” – Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)
BEST FILM EDITING – Hacksaw Ridge
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – La La Land
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – La La Land
BEST COSTUME DESIGN – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING – Suicide Squad
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – Sing
BEST ANIMATED SHORT – Piper
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
– The White Helmets
BEST SOUND MIXING – Hacksaw Ridge
BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING – Arrival
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – The Jungle Book