Honestly, when I decided to attend the Amazon Studios viewing party with a number of industry friends I wasn’t sure it was going to be the happiest of settings. By my own predictions “Manchester by the Sea” would only win one award (Original Screenplay) and many thought even that had become something of a reach. It was expected to be a close call between “Fences'” Denzel Washington and ‘Manchester”s Casey Affleck for Best Actor and the only real lock – if you can call it that – was “The Salesman” winning Foreign Language Film. The crowd knew it might be a rough night, but were in good spirits overall as the festivities began.
The event, held at the recently renovated and newly christened Delilah’s in West Hollywood, was wonderfully posh and there were a few recognizable faces on hand such as Colin Hanks, Richard Kind and Christina Hendricks shuffling around. Mostly though, it was Amazon employees and publicists who had worked on their first real awards campaign for the studio over the past six months.
There were the requisite cheers for nominees such as Lucas Hedges, but more than polite applause when other winners were announced instead. The room really started to pick up after “The Salesman” won. And when Lonergan took Screenplay it got very, very loud.
That was eclipsed by Affeck’s win which probably had the happiest reaction in the entire country (outside of an Affleck family viewing party).
And no matter what your opinion of Affleck (clearly presenter Brie Larson is not a fan) you cannot ignore what a big deal this was to Amazon and their distribution partner Roadside Attractions. Amazon won two top Oscars a year after many in the industry questioned whether they could even land nominations after acquiring ‘Manchester’ at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and Netflix was snubbed after campaigning hard for “Beasts of No Nation.” The box office and critical success of ‘Manchester’ was one thing, but these wins put it in the history books.
Eventually Michelle Williams and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos arrived, but the requisite stop at the Governors Ball delayed Affleck and Lonergan. By 11 PM it was time to head to Lionsgate’s party at SoHo House where the celebrations were slightly more subdued.
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn were working the room after “Hacksaw Ridge” avoided going home empty handed with two “somewhat” surprising Oscars wins (Editing, Sound Mixing). Damien Chazelle got a lot of social media criticism for his reaction to the Best Picture mixup, but he’s never been the most gregarious guy in public in the first place. He’s usually quiet and reserved (sort of rare for a director of his talents) and that’s exactly how he was at the party even after he took home a Best Director Oscar for “La La Land.” His buddy composer Justin Hurwitz had both his statues for Best Original Song and Best Original Score on hand and was gracious enough to let some attendees take photos holding both of them. Emma Stone arrived later after a change of clothes and with an entourage worthy of a Best Actress winner.
Having spoken at length with both producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger numerous times since “La La Land” screened at Telluride — including this podcast episode — I wanted to at least congratulate them on how they handled a mistake that will go down in pop culture history. I only found Horowitz who was in good spirits and gracious about the whole thing. Both producers stuck by Chazelle and this project for years and while its success has taken their careers to another level it’s hard not to feel for them after a mistaken sucker punch broadcast to tens of millions of viewers around the world. But beyond any bizarre backlash it’s important to note that Horowitz is that good a guy and that’s sometimes hard to find in this business.
How did “Moonlight” find itself becoming the first Best Picture winner since “Braveheart” to not win DGA, SAG or PGA? I’ve already wrote about how the new membership may have pushed it over the edge and that the Academy’s taste overall has reached a historic tipping point. Was it a politically motivated vote like “The Salesman”? It’s possible, but unlikely. Frankly, as good as “La La Land” is it’s a film that starts to fade from your memory and its flaws also seem more obvious as time passes. Did the social media backlash matter? Probably not, but it certainly didn’t help. Best Picture is the only award tabulated with a preferential system. If a majority of the voters had selected “La La Land” even as their second pick (they got up to five) it likely would have won. Instead, “Moonlight” either won the first round with a majority or was that second film to reach consensus. The members really did love it or think it was the most worthy of the honor.
And, again, that’s something to celebrate.