Monday, February 27, 2017

Disaster at the Oscars: 'Moonlight' wins Best Picture after massive fiasco

I slept for four hours last night and I'm still attempting to process what the hell just happened. It has been mere hours since the Best Picture Oscar was handed out, and I think it's safe to say that the debacle towards the end of the show overshadowed everything else. For most of the evening, the Oscars were pretty solid. Sure, the show ran long, but things were good for the most part. The La La Land sweep was nixed early, as fellow Lionsgate film Hacksaw Ridge surprised in Film Editing and Sound Mixing. Eventually, the show caught its groove, and the predictability set in. Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight took home the screenplay awards, Damien Chazelle won Best Director, and Emma Stone and Casey Affleck won the acting trophies for the evening. With just minutes left in the broadcast, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the stars of Bonnie and Clyde, took the stage to hand out the award for Best Picture of the year. 

Beatty opened the envelope, and members of the audience prepared for a final victory for La La Land. As the suspense built, Beatty seemed confused. He looked for another slip in the envelope, and looked at Dunaway and the audience repeatedly. I chalked it up as a bizarre attempt at humor, thinking that Beatty was trying to channel Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, and other Best Picture presenters who toyed with audience expectations. Finally, he showed the paper to Dunaway, who announced La La Land as the winner of Best Picture. Applause rang through the Dolby Theatre, as the awards season came to its inevitable conclusion. The entire team behind La La Land took the stage, while producers Jordon Horowitz, Fred Berger, and Marc Platt began to give their speeches. There was unusual amount of commotion on the stage, but once again, I believed that it was just a normal bit of Oscar chaos.

But halfway through the speeches, things got weird. People with headsets rushed on the stage, before one of La La Land's producers remarked "We lost, by the way." That's when Horowitz took the mic again to inform the audience that, in fact, Moonlight had actually won the Best Picture trophy. Stunned audiences at home and in the theater had no idea what to make of it, and Horowitz had to repeatedly emphasize that this wasn't a joke, and that Barry Jenkins' landmark drama had actually won. Beatty took the stage to explain that he had been given the Best Actress card, which read "Emma Stone, La La Land." Shocked and confused by the moment, he showed the card to Dunaway, who announced the winner anyways. As host Jimmy Kimmel attempted to calm everyone down, team Moonlight took the stage to give their acceptance speeches.

"What the hell just happened?" was clearly the first thought on everyone's mind, and it was only later in the evening that we received some clarity. Emma Stone was clearly confused, as she remarked to the press that she had her winning card throughout the entire process. It turns out that Beatty had been given a backup card, kept in the second briefcase. Which brings us to PricewaterhouseCooper, the accounting firm behind the Oscars for most of the show's existence. Last night, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz were the accountants representing the firm- and yes, one of them screwed up big time. PwC deserves to lose their contract with the Oscars, and while the mix-up was a colossal misfire on a number of levels, it all flows back to the men and women with the envelopes.

However, the fiasco goes beyond that. It's one thing to make a mistake- it's another thing entirely to let that mistake go on for a lengthy amount of time. As soon as Dunaway and Beatty mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner, PwC accountants and Oscar producers should have rushed the stage to prevent any speeches. Instead, the producers behind La La Land got their way through multiple speeches before Horowitz was forced to correct the error. The confusion went on far longer than it should have, and the embarrassing circus on display created a terrible situation. Horowitz handled the trainwreck with grace and poise, and La La Land was about as cordial in defeat as humanly possible (though the frustration on the part of Chazelle and Stone was fairly obvious).

What might have been the biggest disaster in the history of live television completely ruined what would have been a great evening for both La La Land and Moonlight. Chazelle's musical won a stunning six Oscars, including two of the biggest prizes of the night, while Jenkins' small indie pulled off a miracle upset for the ages. And while there will only be one winner at the end of every awards show, if any year deserved two Best Picture winners, this was it. However, by putting both masterpieces in the middle of such a cluster of chaos, nobody really got to celebrate what should have been a great evening. Team La La was gutted live on stage, depriving any happiness from the rest of the evening, and Team Moonlight didn't get to celebrate their incredible win in proper fashion.

Both were deserving Best Picture winners, and both were done a disservice by this ridiculous screw-up. La La Land and Moonlight will both be forever linked to this Oscar embarrassment, which is truly unfair to these incredible films, some of the best in recent memory. Simply put, this is the danger of the awards season- great movies become linked to moments that are completely out of their control. Moonlight will go down as a historical victory regardless of the PwC/Beatty disaster, but actually, film fans may look at La La Land in a more favorable light in the aftermath of this horrible moment. After being stuck as the target for the entire season, Chazelle's film is now the victim, the movie that was handed the Oscar before it was snatched away at the 11th hour. Both of these movies deserve all the praise that has been given to them over the past several months, and it is truly unfortunate that they were put through this mess. I'm sure I'll have more on this later, but for now, I think I've said my piece.

To recap, here are the winners from last night's Academy Awards.

Best Picture- MOONLIGHT

Best Director- Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor- Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress- Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor- Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress- Viola Davis, Fences

Best Original Screenplay- Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay- Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Best Animated Feature- ZOOTOPIA

Best Documentary Feature- O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA

Best Foreign Language Film- THE SALESMAN

Best Cinematography- Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Best Production Design- LA LA LAND

Best Costume Design- Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Makeup and Hairstyling- SUICIDE SQUAD

Best Original Score- Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Best Original Song- "City of Stars" from La La Land

Best Film Editing- HACKSAW RIDGE

Best Visual Effects- THE JUNGLE BOOK

Best Sound Editing- ARRIVAL

Best Sound Mixing- HACKSAW RIDGE

Best Documentary Short Subject- THE WHITE HELMETS

Best Live-Action Short Film- SING

Best Animated Short Film- PIPER

Images courtesy of A24

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