The Winner is ‘La La Land’ . . . oh wait!

| February 27, 2017

La La Land, Damien Chezelle’s sweet romantic confectionary musical about struggling artists set amid the ocean side glow of The City of Angels won the top award of the evening Sunday night taking home only half of its fourteen nominations.  The top prizes included Best Picture, Best Director for Damien Chazelle and Best Actress for Emma Stone.

A historic gaffe at the podium at Sunday night’s 89th Annual Academy Awards left everyone stunned.  Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were tasked with giving out the final award of the evening.  Beatty, looking baffled and confused at the evening’s final envelope handed it to his former co-star.  Dunaway announced that the winner was La La Land.  As the winners were thanking their wives and their agents, a commotion ensued behind them before it was announced that there was a mistake.  The legit winner was Barry Jenkins Moonlight.

After the commotion died down, Beatty returned to the microphone to announce that he had been handed the Best Actress envelope and Dunaway read La La Land.  Beatty explained “I opened the envelope and it said “Emma Stone – La La Land.  That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you [the audience].  I wasn’t trying to be funny.”  Host Jimmy Kimmel seized the opportunity with: “I blame Steve Harvey.”

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was honest: “Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true,” Jenkins said. “But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, cause this is true. Oh my goodness.”

Although La La Land won the most awards of the evening with six, the top honor (eventually) went to Jenkins’ achingly sad portrait of 20 years in the life of a black youth growing up in Miami and how the culture, his environment and the people in his immediate hemisphere form the man he will become.

The major win for Moonlight topped an Oscar season in which the Academy valiantly tried to make up for another gaffe: last year’s scandal over the whitewashing of Oscar’s major categories.  This year, the Academy might have been accused of panicking but the diversity of the nominees didn’t feel forced.  Nor did the winners.

Mahersala Ali walked away with the Best Supporting Actor prize for his role as Juan, a drug dealer who becomes father figured to a confused and abused young boy in Moonlight.  In the spirit of his role, Ali thanks his teachers.  “One thing that they consistently told me, ‘It’s not about you.  You’re in service to these stories, these characters” but he ended his speech with the tearful annoucment that he and his wife gave birth to a daughter on Thursday.

If Ali was tearful, he had nothing on Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis who, upon winning for Fences, encouraged the creative community to look at the graveyards to find subjects with great potential.  “Exhume those bodies, exhume those stories.  The People who dream big and never saw those dreams to fruition.”  The award was expected especially after losing twice for Doubt and The Help.

Emma Stone was the expected winner for Best Actress, playing a struggling actress in La La Land.  She called her win “A confluence of luck and opportunity.”

Over on the Best Actor side, Casey Affleck was a minor surprise, winning a Best Actor Oscar for Manchester by the Sea that pundits had predicted would go to Denzel Washington for Fences.  The bearded and scruffy-looking actor appeared somewhat nervous on the stage, confessing “Man, I wish I had something bigger and more meaningful to say.  I’m just proud to be part of this community.”  His win defies a recent rehash of a six-year old sexual harassment allegation which many critics felt would hurt his chances to win the Oscar.  The actor made no mention of the scandal during his speech.

Overall The 89th Annual Academy Awards were a fun and laid-back affair opening with a showstopper by Justin Timberlake who led a dance troup up to the stage to open the show, followed by host Jimmy Kimmel who kept the show probably more entertaining than any host since Billy Crystal.  Several times, he tried to one-up Ellen’s pizza stunt from three years ago by dropping bags of candy from the ceiling of The Dolby Theater.  Kimmel’s running gag for the night was his comic feud with nominee Matt Damon.  During the Original Screenplay award, the band started to drown out Presenter Damon before the camera revealed that Kimmel had taken over as conductor.

But the most fun Kimmel brought to the stage was when he redirected a tour bus in which the tourists – unbeknownst to them – were being led right into the main auditorium of The Dolby Theater where they mixed and mingled with gracious A-List celebrities on the front row.  Upon finding out that one couple was engaged, Kimmel enlisted nominee Denzel Washington to “marry” them on the spot.

Politics remained a mainstay of the show.  Host Kimmel made Trump a secondary running gag, the best of which was an attempt to text The 45th President of the United States by typing @therealdonaldtrump – U up?  Kimmel took swipes at The President, including: “I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone, thanks to him.”

Some tried to turn the show political but few succeeded.  The only major turnover was in the Best Foreign Language Film category when Iranian director Asghar Farhadi opted not to attend in protest over President Trump’s travel ban made it unclear whether he would even be allowed into the country to attend.

Outside of that, nothing overtly over-the-top was all that memorable about The 89th Annual Academy Awards.  The jokes were on cue.  The winners were gracious.  There were surprise winners.  There were unexpected winners . . . but then . . . it happened.  That gaffe onstage.  I’ve been watching the Oscars for 26 years, going all the way back to Dances With Wolves and I’ve never seen anything like this in any category ever.

It’s hard to complain.  I was never one who fawned over La La Land anyway.  I was virtually alone in my opinion that it was a sweet, nice, fun musical that didn’t shake my world.  It was not alone in my opinion that Moonlight was one of the best and most important films of the year.  It is very likely the best choice that the academy has made in at least a decade.  At last, the voters are thinking and using their vote to promote and honor a films that is challenging, current and thought-provoking.


About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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