Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscars 2016: A Tale of Two Winners, and a Night of Inspirational Disaster

In a shocking twist, La La Land was not the big winner at this year’s Oscars. But Moonlight, which actually (though not initially) won Best Picture, wasn’t the big winner either. Nor was Emma Stone, nor Casey Affleck, nor Best Animated Feature winner Zootopia, nor The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi (though his in absentia speech was pretty cool).

No, the big winner at the 89th Annual Academy Awards was Jordan Horowitz.

You probably don’t know Horowitz by name, but you almost assuredly now know him by sight. He’s one of the producers of La La Land, the one who—after realizing the historic, incomprehensible gaffe that concluded last night’s ceremony, when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty erroneously announced La La Land as the recipient of Best Picture—handled the debacle with extraordinary grace. He could have ranted, cried, complained, or stormed off; if he had, it’s unlikely anyone would have blamed him. Instead, he kept his composure and, in a display of enviable courtesy, announced, “I’m gonna be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.”

That is the memory I will choose to take away from this year’s Oscars. Yes, it was crazy, inexplicable, and deeply unfortunate—even if you weren’t a fan of La La Land (and plenty of you weren’t), it was downright cruel to tease it with the gift of Best Picture only to suddenly wrench the trophy out of its grasp. But Horowitz made the best of a very bad situation. The official theme of last night’s ceremony was “inspiration”—that’s a tacky title, but as the telecast wrapped up its absurd conclusion, it was impossible to watch Horowitz and not be inspired by his humility and class.

Before running through the actual awards, a quick review of the overall telecast: It was fine. Jimmy Kimmell is hardly my favorite comedian, and many of his bits—the mean tweets, the candy dropping from the ceiling, the overlong segment with real tourists parading through the Dolby Theatre—fell flat. But his dry opening monologue cleverly downplayed the evening’s grandeur, and his inevitable political commentary was reasonably amusing, going for the funny bone rather than the jugular. (His extended feud with Matt Damon was excellent, culminating with his hilarious faux-appreciation of We Bought a Zoo.) The overall tone of Kimmell’s performance was one of understatement; he seemed to recognize that, yes, the Oscars are silly and stupid and self-aggrandizing and there are more important things going on in the world right now, but what the hell, we’re here, so let’s all enjoy ourselves. He even handled the envelope snafu with poise and wit, first name-checking Steve Harvey and then attempting to place the blame on himself. It wasn’t perfect, but it could have been a lot worse.

On to a brief recap of the show, with the awards listed in order of their presentation.

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali—Moonlight (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Jeff Bridges—Hell or High Water
Actual winner: Mahershala Ali—Moonlight

So far, so good. For the record, I wasn’t a huge fan of the presentation for the acting awards, which replayed past announcements and speeches from prior years—that only reinforced the perception that the Academy is an insular institution. Also, the chosen clip for Jeff Bridges was literally the last scene from Hell or High Water. Not cool, dudes.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Predicted winner: Star Trek Beyond (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Star Trek Beyond
Actual winner: Suicide Squad

As Film Twitter quickly pointed out, that’s “Oscar-winning Suicide Squad.” Yikes. But in his speech, Alessandro Bertolazzi did point out that he’s an immigrant, the first of many pointed digs at our sitting President.

Best Costume Design
Predicted winner: La La Land (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: La La Land
Actual winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The writing was on the wall from the beginning! And since you’ll be seeing quite a bit of red in this post, I’ll take this moment to acknowledge that my predictions were spectacularly bad; I hit on just 13 of 21 categories (62%), my worst performance that I can remember. I’m completely fine with this—a predictable Oscars is a boring Oscars. Just keep it in mind the next time you ask me for advice in your office pool.

Best Documentary Feature
Predicted winner: O.J.: Made in America (confidence: 4/5)
Actual winner: O.J.: Made in America

This was preceded by the stars of Hidden Figures bringing one of its real-life subjects, Katherine Johnson, on stage, a well-intentioned move that probably played better on the page. Also, O.J. director Ezra Edelman dedicated his award to Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, which reminded me that Ryan Murphy did the same thing to close out his FX dramatization The People v. O.J. Simpson, which was way better than the documentary. Anyway.

After this, Dwayne Johnson popped up to introduce “How Far I’ll Go,” the nominated song from Moana. In the process, he sang a few bars from “You’re Welcome”, reminding everyone that it should have been nominated instead. But while I’m still bitter about that, I can’t begrudge the live performance of “How Far I’ll Go”, which first featured a slick intro from Lin-Manuel Miranda, then a terrific rendition from Moana star Auli’i Cravalho that had the entire audience Googling, “Holy shit, is the chick from Moana really just 16 years old?”

Best Sound Editing
Predicted winner: La La Land (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Arrival
Actual winner: Arrival

I told you that I would get this category wrong.

Best Sound Mixing
Predicted winner: La La Land (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Actual winner: Hacksaw Ridge

At this point, La La Land had gone 0-for-3. Its fortunes would turn later in the night. More than once.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Viola Davis—Fences (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Naomie Harris—Moonlight
Actual winner: Viola Davis—Fences

Mark Rylance’s intro to this award, about “supporting vs. opposing”, was subtle and thought-provoking. Of course, it’s doubtful anyone even remembers it, because Davis delivered the night’s most powerful and memorable speech, knocking the room flat with her line about artists exhuming bodies from the graveyard. Goosebumps.

Best Foreign Language Film
Predicted winner: The Salesman (Iran) (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: The Salesman (Iran)

Speaking of good speeches. It’s a shame Farhadi wasn’t there to deliver it in person, but then, that was kind of the point.

After this, Sting put the audience to sleep singing an Oscar-nominated tune whose name I can’t even remember.

Best Animated Feature
Predicted winner: Zootopia (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Kubo and the Two Strings
Actual winner: Zootopia

In introducing this award, Gael García Bernal first distinguished animated movies from those featuring “flesh-and-blood actors”, then somehow managed to pivot to talking about flesh-and-blood actors, in the context of condemning Trump’s proposed border wall. It wasn’t the most elegant segue, but he made his point. Also, while I would have voted for Kubo, Zootopia has garnered quite a few negative think-pieces over the past few months, so this is a reminder that it’s a damn good movie.

Best Production Design
Predicted winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Passengers
Actual winner: La La Land

This award was presented by Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan from Fifty Shades of Grey—their chemistry was, er, less than electric. (Seriously, can we get Dakota Johnson away from Fifty Shades? She’s a good actress!) Also, if you’re keeping count, I picked Fantastic Beasts to win Best Production Design and La La Land to win Best Costume Design, and the exact opposite happened. It was that kind of night.

This was followed by that unfortunate bit with the tourists walking through the auditorium, which reached its nadir when Kimmell mocked an Asian woman’s name. After that, we were treated to a segment of foreigners talking about how much they all loved movies; it was nicely conceived, except for the part where they were all required to name their favorite American film, which didn’t exactly promote the most global perspective.

Best Visual Effects
Predicted winner: The Jungle Book (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Doctor Strange
Actual winner: The Jungle Book


Best Film Editing
Predicted winner: La La Land—Tom Cross (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Arrival—Joe Walker
Actual winner: Hacksaw Ridge—John Gilbert

The sound categories were always going to be a toss-up, but this was the first moment where La La Land seemed to be in legitimate danger.

This was followed by (a) some strained banter between Kimmell and the adorable kid from Lion, (b) Salma Hayek and David Oyelowo presenting the two remaining shorts, and (c) Kimmell tweeting at Trump. None of this was remotely interesting. Far better was Leslie Mann and John Cho’s presentation of the separate Scientific & Technical Awards, which Mann dubbed a ceremony “so special and prestigious that none of you were invited”.

Best Cinematography
Predicted winner: La La Land—Linus Sandgren (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: La La Land—Linus Sandgren
Actual winner: La La Land—Linus Sandgren


Following the limp “actors read mean tweets” bit, John Legend performed both of the nominated songs from La La Land, which was probably for the best, given the crap that Stone and Gosling have had to deal with regarding their musical talents.

Best Original Score
Predicted winner: La La Land—Justin Hurwitz (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: La La Land—Justin Hurwitz
Actual winner: La La Land—Justin Hurwitz


Best Original Song
Predicted winner: La La Land—“City of Stars” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul) (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: La La Land—“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Actual winner: La La Land—“City of Stars” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)

Right movie, wrong song, C’est la vie. Nice shout-out to public schools and the NEA in the speech, though.

This was followed by the “In Memoriam” montage, which is always tough, but gained extra resonance this year with the sudden death of Bill Paxton.

Best Original Screenplay
Predicted winner: Manchester by the Sea—Kenneth Lonergan (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: The Lobster—Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Actual winner: Manchester by the Sea—Kenneth Lonergan

Another loss for La La Land.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Predicted winner: Moonlight—Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Arrival—Eric Heisserer
Actual winner: Moonlight—Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney

This award was presented by Amy Adams, who could have worn a lettered T-shirt that said, “Where the hell was my nomination for Arrival, motherfuckers?” and it still wouldn’t have been as jaw-dropping as her dress. Terrific speech from Jenkins and McCraney, who managed to zoom through a list of thank-yous and still deliver a strong message.

Best Director
Predicted winner: Damien Chazelle—La La Land (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Damien Chazelle—La La Land
Actual winner: Damien Chazelle—La La Land

I would hope so.

Best Actor
Predicted winner: Denzel Washington—Fences (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Casey Affleck—Manchester by the Sea
Actual winner: Casey Affleck—Manchester by the Sea

Shows what I know. Great seeing Affleck get recognized for his excellent work in Manchester by the Sea, though.

Best Actress
Predicted winner: Emma Stone—La La Land (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Emma Stone—La La Land
Actual winner: Emma Stone—La La Land

Before this award, I’d decided that if Isabelle Huppert won, La La Land’s Best Picture footing might not be so sure. With Stone taking the statuette, my fears were put to rest. Until they weren’t.

Best Picture
Predicted winner: La La Land (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: La La Land
Actual winner: La La wait never mind Moonlight

At the end of the great dinner table scene from Inside Out, the father congratulates himself on averting a disaster, while the mother sighs inwardly, “Well that was a disaster.” And that’s basically how I feel about the fiasco that concluded this year’s Oscars. Yes, it was a disaster—a terrible confluence of unfortunate events that yanked the rug out from (in this critic’s opinion) the year’s best movie. But it also wasn’t a disaster, and not just because Moonlight is a perfectly worthy Best Picture winner in its own right. As I described earlier, Horowitz’s immediate and sincere concession was weirdly inspirational, a generous demonstration of human dignity and decency. There are worse things to see in the world, even if, for La La Land, it’s hard to imagine a worse ending. In essence, the pre-show speculation proved true: It was a historic night for La La Land. Just not the kind of history it wanted.

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