Yes, the entire world knows “Moonlight” was the huge upset shocker of last night’s 89th Annual Academy Awards ceremony. Though there’s obviously a huge argument to be made that the biggest surprise of the night was the painful mix up itself. Still, as we continue our comprehensive post-mortem on the Oscars, we analyze the winners and losers, what films were snubbed and what surprises the evening had in store. And while there arguably may have been less surprises last night, bar the big fiasco, if you look at each category, there were lots of little unexpected winners and losers along the way.
In a pretty sour quote, Sony Pictures Classics head Tom Bernard made clear that he thought that any Foreign Language Film win for “The Salesman” was “fake news.” But while he expressed it in a pretty shitty way (Asghar Farhadi is one of the greatest filmmakers we have, and a win for him is a win for everyone, especially in these times), one can perhaps understand why Bernard might have been aggrieved, given that on the day that nominations were announced, his company’s film “Toni Erdmann” was widely seen as the frontrunner. Maren Ade’s epic comedy debuted at Cannes to near-rapturous responses (much more so than the rather muted response to Farhadi’s film when it debuted late in the festival), and has been a critical favorite ever since. You would think that the film, an accessible, often uproarious comedy, would have been a much easier sell to the Academy, but whether it was its extensive length, the usual undervaluing of comedy, or that it felt less of a vital political vote (it would, at least, have provided a rare female winner), ‘Erdmann’ lost out. Maybe people are waiting for the remake? Either way, it would have provided a box office boost to a movie that, surprisingly, has been outgrossed by “The Salesman,” perhaps explaining Bernard’s sour grapes.
On the one hand, “Arrival” got one more Oscar than we were expecting — its shock victory in Sound Editing meant that it got off the scoreboard. On the other, it’s still a little surprising in some ways that “Arrival” didn’t do better. In recent history, some kind of blockbuster-y, effects-driven film has always done well at least below the line, with “The Dark Knight,” “Avatar,” “Hugo,” “Life Of Pi,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Gravity” all picking up multiple awards, to name but a few. On paper, “Arrival” would have seemed to have filled that slot, and along with “Moonlight,” had the second most nominations this year, which is usually a good sign. But ultimately, the film doesn’t have all that much spectacle to it in some respects — it’s a more thoughtful kind of sci-fi, and while a win for cinematography, production design or editing would have been thoroughly deserved, it ultimately struggled against “La La Land.”
“Hidden Figures,” “Lion” and “Hell Or High Water”
A Best Picture nomination isn’t always a great sign that you’ll pick up other awards, but it’s normally a fairly strong indication that you will — four years ago, for instance, eight of the nine Best Picture nominees won at least one Oscar, in 2014 all eight won something, and last year only “Brooklyn” and “The Martian” went home empty handed. So it had to be a little bit of a bummer this year that three of the Best Picture nominees picked up zero nods. “Hell Or High Water” was probably the longest shot — short of a surprise win for Jeff Bridges or the screenplay, it, more than the others, felt like the movie where the nominations ended up being the win. The same was to some degree true for “Hidden Figures,” though some had touted it as a potential spoiler in Best Picture race after its huge surprise box office success. And The Weinstein Company have to be bummed that, after 6 nods, “Lion” came away with nothing, although Dev Patel was seen as a potential after winning with BAFTA, as were score and cinematography — even now, it’s a relatively rare year where Harvey doesn’t add at least one to his trophy cabinet.
The rather less-than-gracious look on Denzel Washington’s face when Casey Affleck shouted him out in his speech said it all — even though Affleck was decidedly the favorite, Washington had been gaining ground in recent weeks, and many had predicted him to upset the “Manchester By The Sea” actor, particularly given the sexual harassment allegations that emerged against the latter over the season. “Fences” was a passion project for the director/star, reprising a role that won him a Tony, and he could have become only the fourth man to have three acting Oscars (Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan being the others) if he’d triumphed. Sadly, however, it didn’t come to pass this time, though he should have another shot soon with Dan Gilroy’s “Inner City.”