We’ve covered last night’s stunner of an Oscars ceremony from a whole bunch of angles — from the Best & Worst of the ceremony and all the acceptance speeches to the reasons why “Moonlight” picked up the top prize — but we haven’t really gone in depth into the major thing everyone’s talking about it today: the unprecedented balls-up that saw “La La Land” announced as Best Picture, its producers give their speeches, only to announce from the stage that actually, “Moonlight” had won.
It was the most dramatic Oscar moment in living memory, like the Kanye/Taylor Swift moment if both the roles of Taylor Lautner and Kanye West were played by Warren Beatty. It was, there can be no doubt, an absolutely colossal mistake, one that should bring a deep amount of shame to those who were responsible. But it also kind of showed the Oscars at their best, too.
At least one Playlist staffer is physically unable to rewatch the video of the Best Picture awarding, because of the deep, deep sympathy-embarrassment it brings (it’s somehow worse on the replay, when you know the outcome, like Bart Simpson showing Lisa Ralph Wiggum’s heart breaking in freeze frame). Seemingly, it’s a perfect storm of mistakes: duplicate cards held backstage, one of which somehow got in the hand of Warren Beatty, who was presenting the award, who sees the potential error but presses on anyway (perhaps assuming, like the rest of us, that “La La Land” was probably going to win).
And, as the narrative since might suggest, with the controversy dominating headlines, it’s a mistake that risks casting a shadow over the entire evening. It’s heartbreaking for the producers of “La La Land,” who won the top prize only to have it snatched away, and who could easily feel that they’ve been humiliated and mortified in front of hundreds of millions of people around the world. It’s a total shame for the makers of “Moonlight,” who had to literally and physically take the trophies off fellow filmmakers, and give a rushed, slightly confused acceptance speech in what should have been a relaxed moment of triumph.
And it’s unfair to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who got, quite literally, dealt a bum hand. It’s probably unfair to whoever it was at PriceWaterhouseCoopers who ballsed it all up, who made a simple bit of human error that suddenly became the biggest news story of the day. It’s destined to sit alongside Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White and Seth MacFarlane singing “We Saw Your Boobs” in any future list of the most shameful Oscar moments.
It’s all of those things. And yet it was an oddly thrilling, and oddly moving moment, and one that anyone watching is unlikely to forget any time soon.
warren your enthusiasm pic.twitter.com/r0HqRWHuy1
— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) February 27, 2017
First and foremost, it’s kind of an astonishing piece of live TV, one that, given that almost everyone involved is involved in making drama, you’d hope that they might come to appreciate when the dust has settled. Within about seven minutes, it contains a dazzling breadth of emotion and human experience. Dunaway’s impatience and frustration with Beatty when he seems to be clowning around. Beatty’s panicked look to the wings when he realizes something is up, his attempt to pawn the announcement off on Dunaway (because Beatty is many things, but he has rarely been a gentleman), and his initial relief when he thinks he might have gotten away with it.
The genuine pleasure from the “La La Land” producers, and the sweet speeches that they give when things are ok. The slight sense of confusion and concern that spreads across the group as it becomes clear that something’s up. Producer Fred Berger initially trying to refuse to speak (“No,” he says as colleague Marc Platt beckons him up), before giving the audience the first sign that something was up: “We lost, by the way.”
— TIFF (@TIFF_NET) February 27, 2017
Jordan Horowitz, gracious and keen to correct the error even as a sense of hot anger and embarrassment at whoever made this mistake radiates off him (and that stellar camera zoom on the clutched card revealing that “Moonlight” won for real). Emma Stone’s shocked “oh my god” in the background as she’s told what happened. Beatty’s absolute awkwardness even as he tries to correct the error. Jimmy Kimmel the stalwart pro as he tries to cut the atmosphere with jokes. And the stunned joy of Team “Moonlight” as they celebrate.
There’s even more drama when you watch the video footage of the “Moonlight” team coming up on stage, or the already iconic image of the A-listers in the audience reacting to the news. It’s almost shocking, in part because it all feels so terribly, terribly human, in sharp contrast to the way that awards ceremonies usually go. They’re often slick and, thanks to the prognostication cottage industry and precursor awards, rarely truly surprising. But this is fascinating because we’re seeing people react in real time to something that no one expected, their guards dropped and cool definitively lost.
watching the cast of moonlight react to their best picture win announcement is so heartwarming pic.twitter.com/xTU8Ay9csq
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) February 27, 2017
— Ali Arikan (@aliarikan) February 27, 2017
That’s what makes it compelling. But what is great is the humanity shown by the main players involved. For his understandable shock and anger, Horowitz’s first thought is to make sure that “Moonlight” gets its due. And both Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski make a point of praising the “La La Land” crew and their generosity (and have continued the mutual love on Twitter today), while not letting the historic nature of their win get away.
Humbled. And once again: congrats to Moonlight. A truly beautiful picture made by some even more beautiful people. https://t.co/sOP1K0EiwW
— Jordan Horowitz (@jehorowitz) February 27, 2017
Awards season sometimes feel toxic because of the sense of competition invested in it, usually by those who have no involvement of any kind with any of the movies. It’s particularly true of the tiny bubble of Film Twitter (and the tinier bubble of Awards Twitter), where the frontrunner, or any movie not your own chosen one, becomes the devil. It gets even worse after a movie wins, where the size of the backlash is usually unrelated to the quality of the movie. Who knew that “The Artist,” a sweet, slight, well-made film that charmed the pants off everyone when it premiered at Cannes, would become THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE? Who knew that “Argo,” a flawed but often gripping and characterful thriller initially greeted with glowing review, was also THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE?
Somehow, despite the fuck up and embarrassment, we ended up with the best of both worlds last night. “La La Land” won’t be remembered as the film that beat “Moonlight,” and those who poured bile on it were surely reminded, in watching the shock of its assembled team when it lost, that it was made by human beings and not fascists who hate jazz, or whatever. “Moonlight” got to upset the odds, and become the smallest, most unlikely, gayest, blackest, best Best Picture winner in years. And those of us who like both films (because loving cinema is about more than picking a football team, and it doesn’t fucking matter who wins the Oscar anyway) got to see both movies win. So like we said, a terrible Oscar moment, but also kind of a great one.