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Arts & Culture

The 89th Annual Oscars End With More Drama Than A Hollywood Movie

Barry Jenkins, writer-director for "Moonlight," onstage after hearing that "La La Land" did not win the Oscar for Best Picture, but rather "Moonlight" had.
Barry Jenkins, writer-director for "Moonlight," onstage after hearing that "La La Land" did not win the Oscar for Best Picture, but rather "Moonlight" had.

'Moonlight' is surprise Best Picture winner

The 89th Academy Awards concluded last night with a dramatic mix-up that initially awarded the Best Picture Oscar to "La La Land" and moments later took it back to give it to "Moonlight."

The snafu at the Oscars has now been dubbed "envelope-gate," and while it may go down as Oscar's most embarrassing moment, it certainly kept the show from being boring.

People have complained that the Oscar show is long and dull. It was still long but certainly not dull this year. When the final award of the night for Best Picture came around, Warren Beatty opened the envelope, paused, looked confused, handed the envelope to co-presenter Faye Dunaway who read the title "La La Land" as Best Picture. But moments later "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz (kudos to him for his efficient and gracious handling of the award turnover) said this to a stunned crowd: "There’s a mistake, 'Moonlight' you guys won Best Picture, it's not a joke."

Sorting through what happened, it appears Beatty was handed the wrong envelope, it was for Best Actress, and Dunaway just read the only film title she saw on the card. The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse Coopers has two envelopes for each category and apparently, the wrong one went out for Best Picture. This is the first time an award has ever been announced, given out and then taken away, all on live TV.

Envelope-gate: "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the card with the correct winner, "Moonlight," as presenter Warren Beatty looks on.
Envelope-gate: "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the card with the correct winner, "Moonlight," as presenter Warren Beatty looks on.

Here is a blow-by-blow account of the Best Picture fiasco and here is the full video.

This is the official statement that the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse Coopers issued:

We sincerely apologize to "Moonlight," "La La Land," Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.

It was an awkward moment for the Oscar show, but it would have been far worse if "Moonlight" had been handed the award, and someone came out to say that was a mistake, please hand it over to "La La Land."

Aside from the confusion of the mix-up, the win was also a surprise because most Oscar handicappers had rated "La La Land," a film about Hollywood, as the favorite of Academy voters since they do love stories about themselves. "Moonlight" was also a small, independent film about a young black boy's coming to terms with his sexual identity. Again, not things Academy voters usually choose.

Ultimately, though, after the dust settled, the good news is that the better film won out. While "La La Land" took artistic risks and displayed some bold style and creativity, it also had a lot of flaws and was not deserving to go down in history as one of only three films to nab a record of 14 nominations ("Titanic" and "All About Eve" are the other two).

Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor Award for his work in "Moonlight."
Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor Award for his work in "Moonlight."

"Moonlight" also took risks and displayed a rapturous style, but in my opinion, it was a far more successful film and took far more risks in terms of narrative and themes. Plus, it served up a more diverse perspective. Whereas "La La Land" gave us two young, beautiful white leads wrapped up in their own pursuit of artistic success and fame, "Moonlight" invited us to see the world through a young, black, gay lens, a far more rare point of view in cinema.

The awards show also had a couple other issues.

Shortly before the awards one of the nominees for sound mixing for "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Banghazi," Greg P. Russell, had his nomination rescinded for "violation of Academy campaign regulations."

In addition, Variety reported that in the in memoriam montage Janet Patterson, an Oscar-nominated Australian costume designer was included in the tribute to people who had passed away, and she did indeed die, but the photo included in the video was of the still living Australian film producer Jan Chapman. D'oh!

But onto bigger issues.

The Academy has been taking flak recently for its lack of diversity, and it made efforts to address this with a campaign to recruit more diverse members. The result was the most diverse pool of acting nominees ever, and African Americans took the best supporting awards home as well as key awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, both to "Moonlight."

Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for "Moonlight" and Viola Davis received the Best Supporting Actress award for "Fences."

They both gave great acceptance speeches, genuine and heartfelt. Ali talked about being in service of the characters he played.

In her speech, Davis’ said: “You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time — what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

Viola Davis after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Fences."
Viola Davis after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Fences."

She went on to praise playwright August Wilson for exhuming and exalting "ordinary people."

Host Jimmy Kimmel joked that she should win an Emmy for the performance she just gave on stage.

But the downside of her win is that she should have been in the Best Actress category, not the Supporting one. But the studio calculated that she had a better shot at winning in the Best Supporting category than the Best Actress, and that just suggests that Hollywood still has some forward movement to make.

Jimmy Kimmel took on the thankless task of hosting the Oscars this year.
Jimmy Kimmel took on the thankless task of hosting the Oscars this year.

Kimmel joked that this was his first, and based on how the Academy goes through hosts, probably his last appearance as Oscar host. He did a solid job, succeeding best at just keeping the show moving forward. There was a lot of show padding this year, Kimmel brought in a bus of tourists, he tweeted to Trump during the show, and there was an Oscar edition of his mean tweets segment. That added definite fun and pace to the show. But it is too bad that there can be room for this but not to allow honorary winners like Jackie Chan or film scientists to have a moment on stage to collect their awards.

Politics were sprinkled throughout the show. Some celebrities wore blue ACLU ribbons or buttons as a silent show of support for the organization that is promising to hold President Trump accountable and take him to court if he violates the Constitution.

The most overtly political moment came when "The Salesman" won Best Foreign Language film.

Engineer Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space, and Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director for solar system exploration, accepted the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's behalf.

Here is the statement from Farhadi that Ansari read:

It’s a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the academy, my crew in Iran, my producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Cohen Media, Amazon and my fellow nominees in the foreign-film category.

I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.

Dividing the world into the "us" and "our enemies" categories creates fears. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression.

Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever. Thank you.
As usual with the Oscars it was a mixed bag. "Moonlight's" wins were satisfying, Viola Davis was deserving, "La La Land" picked up some appropriate technical awards but Isabelle Huppert's performance in "Elle" was criminally overlooked, "Hell or High Water" was shut out, and films such as "Hacksaw Ridge" took home some technical awards that were deserving but for a film that was utterly pedestrian in all other ways.

This year's Oscars fueled my love-hate relationship with the Academy. There was good and bad, but perhaps this year, the good slightly outweighed the bad.

Emma Stone accepts her award for Best Actress for "La La Land."
Emma Stone accepts her award for Best Actress for "La La Land."

List of winners

Best film: "Moonlight"

Best actress: Emma Stone, "La La Land"

Best actor: Casey Affleck, "Manchester By The Sea"

Best director: Damien Chazelle, "La La Land" (at 32 he is the youngest to win the award)

Best supporting actress: Viola Davis, "Fences"

Best supporting actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"

Best original screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By The Sea"

Best adapted screenplay: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, "Moonlight"

Best cinematography: Linus Sandgren, "La La Land"

Best original score: Justin Hurwitz, "La La Land"

Best original song: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, "La La Land"

Best sound editing: Sylvain Bellemare, "Arrival"

Best foreign language film: Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman" (Iran)

Best film editing: John Gilbert, "Hacksaw Ridge"

Best visual effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon, "The Jungle Book"

Best production design: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds Wasco, "La La Land"

Best sound mixing: Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace, "Hacksaw Ridge"

Best documentary feature: Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow, "O.J.: Made in America"

Best animated film: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer, "Zootopia"

Best animated short film: Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer, "Piper"

Best documentary short subject: Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, "The White Helmets"

Best live action short film: Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy, "Sing"

Best make-up: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, "Suicide Squad"

Best costume design: Colleen Atwood, "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them"