So That Was Unexpected: Oscar Reactions 2017

E: Um, okay.

Sorry to take so long in my response, but it’s been crazy at work and at home.  Family birthdays, school orientations, religious holidays, huge work events.  You’d laugh if I told you the thing I’ve done this week.  (All wholesome, but a little nutty.)

In general, that Oscar cast was funny and enjoyable.  Jimmy Kimmel was largely terrific.  His monologue was hilarious (Meryl Streep! discrimination!)  I could have done without the mean tweets, and the tour bus gag went on a little long, but it was hilarious.  The music and the opening sizzled.  Most of the categories went the way I thought they would.  I loved the montages of previous winners before all the acting awards, and was heartened/amused to see how fiercely the editors emphasized Oscar winners of color.  I think each montage started that way.  There were a few exciting wins, a few good speeches (emotional, political but not off-puttingly political), some great clothes, great music, a charming host, Hunger Games-like parashutes.  And then there was the weird, wild finish.

No, it was weird enough to keep me up for another few hours Sunday night, baking (because what else do you do when the world goes crazy?).  After a little time to dissect it all, I’d like to run down my thoughts – what I got wrong, what I got right, and why.   Why is the most interesting question of all.

Because seriously. If you made this stuff up, no one would believe you.  But with the rest of the world going crazy, why should the Oscars be any different?

Best Supporting Actor

I said: Mahershala Ali

Oscar chose: Mahershala Ali.

This could have been a big loss for me — as I said, it was the most unsettled category as far as precursor awards go, with Ali only picking up the SAG, which doesn’t have a great track record in the supporting races — so I’m happy to have made the right call.  And I’m happy for Ali, who seems like a nice guy who hopefully will get even more opportunities for work in the future.  He spoke with class and strength.  Well done, sir, and congratulations on your new baby daughter, too! Great tux, too; I’m generally not a fan of the black shirt (I like contrast versus monochromatics), but it was impeccably fitted.  (I was intrigued by presenter Alicia Vikander’s tiered black lace gown with a decidedly vintage feel.)  Bonus trivia: he is the first Muslim to win an acting award.

Best Actor

I said: Casey Affleck

Oscar chose: Casey Affleck

I won’t say that I’m exactly gratified to be right here (you know how conflicted I was about this as a statement, and you know that my reasons for making this pick were rather cynical) but it does feel good to have correctly read the signs.  As I noted, the speech isn’t anything to write about, though it wasn’t as mumbly as some of them have been.  I’m so over his mountain man look (though I loved Matt Damon playing with his ponytail).  It’s like Casey decided he wasn’t classically handsome like his big brother, so he should try to look as awful as possible.  I was furious that they picked a speech that spoils the movie, though.

So, um, do we now consider Amazon an Oscar winning studio?  I guess we must?

Best Supporting Actress

I Said: Viola Davis

Oscar Chose: Viola Davis

As we used to say in high school, no duh.  Recognizing this juggernaut took no virtue or insight on my part, even in a particularly fantastic category. And wasn’t she magnificent?  The glorious red draped dress, the speech, the dignity.  The best stories are found in the graveyard!  I love it.  Now, was she overstating it when she said filmmaking is the only industry that honors real people’s lives?  Um, yes.  She probably meant the arts in general (which is still wrong, and still overstating how much the arts are interested in regular folk) but whatever.  She was still amazing.  There’s just something about that low, throbbing voice that enthralls you.

Fun facts: though Denzel Washington still has the highest number of awards and nominations, Viola Davis has just become the first black actor/actress to make it three quarters of the way to the EGOT.  Viola, I hope that your agent is working hard on getting you a Grammy!  There’s gotta be a way, right?  Spoken word album?  They give out Grammy’s for everything.  Broadway star Cynthia Eviro is (like Washington) half way there; she’s got the Grammy and the Tony, and now that she’s been cast as Harriet Tubman in an upcoming bio pic that has Oscar bait written all over it.  A big yes to more movies about African American heroines, and in general more brilliant roles for brilliant women.   I mentioned in the prediction post that Octavia Spencer was the first black actress to be nominated again after a win; I have no doubt that Davis will continue to make an impression on the Academy.  I’m confident we’re only going to see more of her, in bigger and even more exciting roles.

Best Actress

I Said: Emma Stone

Oscar Chose: Emma Stone

The Help‘s ladies, together again!  You know, I forgot that Jessica Chastain also had buzz for her role in Miss Sloane this year; it really was a Help reunion during awards season.  I loved the look on Stone’s face as she waited for Leonardo DiCaprio to read the card that would seal her fate; you can’t help knowing you’re the favorite, but most people manage to school their faces so it seems like they don’t care or aren’t really paying attention.  Not second time nominee Emma, who was charmingly rapt, breathless.  She’s always adorable when she speaks.  I loved her dress for itself, but felt like it was a bit too light for her skintone; I bet it looked different in person. I feel a little mean even saying that, though, especially because I’m sure her night was tainted by the whole awful mix up at the end.   Her face was similarly expressive then, too.

Best Adapted Screenplay

I Said: Moonlight

Oscar Picked: Moonlight

As we also used to say in high school, no doy.  I’m happy for this win, and I loved the speeches, especially the bit about supporting public education.  That said, it was fascinating to see Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney standing together.  Whether Barry is exceptionally short or Tarell is exceptionally tall, there looked like nearly a foot between the two nattily dressed men.  As I believe I noted, they become only the third and fourth African Americans to win this category.  Well done, gents!

Best Original Screenplay

I Said: La La Land

Oscar Picked: Manchester by the Sea

The first of my two mistakes.  I was happy with this outcome, though; like I’ve said, La La Land was wonderful, but the screenplay for MbtS just dug really deep.  Also, in most cases I’m a fan of spreading around the love.  2016 featured some amazing movies and it was great to see another one of them get a little attention.

Best Song:

I Suggested: “City of Stars”

Oscar Chose: “City of Stars”

I love this song, although I don’t really think even John Legend’s wonderful voice did it (or “Audition”) justice.  But this was such a great slate; I’m just happy for all these songs and performers.  I mean, how amazing was Auli’i Cravalho?  She’s seriously a Disney princess in the flesh, dimpled and beautiful and talented and so poised even getting hit in the face with one of those flags can’t break her composure.   And how cute was Justin Timberlake, dancing through the theater and then jamming with wife Jessica Biel in the aisle?  Loved it.  Super-E fun fact: All Star Robert from So You Think You Can Dance was one of the dancers on the telecast during the medley.  (I have to hunt for those dancers on award shows.  It’s a law.  And with long time contributor SYT Mandy Moore as the much thanked and beloved choreographer for La La Land, you knew there’d have to be some SYT alums in there somewhere.)

Best Animated Feature

I Predicted: Zootopia

Oscar Chose: Zootopia

Best Director

I Said: Damien Chazelle

Oscar Chose: Damien Chazelle

It used to be a matter of course that Best Direction and Best Picture went to the same film, but that has not actually happened since the 2011 award went to Michael Hazanavicius and The Artist.  That’s kind of a fascinating stat, no?  Honestly, I prefer when the two match up, but it looks like I’m currently in the minority.

Speaking of minorities, though, there has never been a black directing winner.  (There’s only ever been a single woman to win, and not one woman has been nominated since Katheryn Bigelow’s historic win happened in 2009.) What’s interesting about that is that Moonlight is the second of two movies about African Americans to win Best Picture in the last 4 years.  Both movies have black directors who were passed over.  Is that a coincidence?  I’m so not saying that youngest ever winner Chazelle was awarded wrongly (refer back to me glowing about his high wire act with the film’s tone and style), or that Alfonso Cuaron didn’t do an amazing job merging technology and live action work in Gravity.  It’s just interesting, isn’t it, that two movies with women at their hearts were highlighted for the work of their male directors and not the films themselves, while two black men (Barry Jenkins and Steve McQueen) were passed over despite apparently producing superior films.  How many times can this happen before it starts to make people uncomfortable?

Best Picture

I Said: La La Land

Oscar Went With: Moonlight

I mean, wow.  What can you say?

Twice in the time I’ve been seriously watching the Oscars the heavy favorite has been shockingly upset.  I’m not talking about years like last year, when Spotlight happened to triumph over The Revenant after a season of bouncing back and forth between different options, or even the year before, when Boyhood and Birdman traded momentum and awards right down to the last minute.  No, this year La La Land had won everything, everywhere.  It even won six Oscars over all to Moonlight‘s three. There wasn’t supposed to be a question, and yet like the Patriots in the Superbowl and Donald Trump in the presidential election, what we thought was so wasn’t. The first such loss was Shakespeare in Love overturning Saving Private Ryan back in 1999, and the next was Crash smashing controversial frontrunner Brokeback Mountain in 2005; roughly once a decade, Oscar totally reverses what it has set us up to think it’s doing.  Both instances give us some insights into this year’s situation.

First, there’s the topic.  When I broke down this category in my prediction/preview post, I questioned why La La Land was the story that the Academy wanted to tell this year.  Especially given the election, I was surprised that they weren’t being bolder.  And what could be bolder than celebrating a young man trying to find his way in the world, a young man who happens to be poor and black and gay, a young man whose only viable role model is a drug dealer?   Identity, acceptance, love, repression, hatred, intimacy: there are big and beautiful themes in Moonlight, and Oscar embraced them.  It’s fascinating to me to looks at Brokeback Mountain‘s loss, and see the change in twelve years.

Second, there’s the inevitable backlash an overwhelming favorite.  It’s certainly true that Hollywood loves a winner, but they can love an underdog just as much.  Voters get bored seeing the same movie win at award show after award show.  They forget why they loved the movie so much in the first place.  I can imagine lots of people voting for Moonlight not thinking it could win — perhaps even because it couldn’t — until critical mass was achieved.

And, okay.  Obviously the way it went down was weird and ugly and upsetting and spoiled the cool mood of the evening.

I know it’s generally accepted that the fault here lies with the Price Waterhouse Cooper accountants, and their share of the blame was not inconsiderable. I’m inclined to believe it was a combination of poor planning, a momentary lapse in execution, and presenters unfortunately unable to think on their feet.  I’m particularly fascinated by this argument:  clarity and precision are important, and better typography could have gotten us to a better result.  With a more clear card, Beatty and Dunaway wouldn’t have had any doubt that they were handed the wrong envelope.  They could have made a joke about it and the show would have just moved on.  Someone would have run onstage with the correct envelope, it would have been embarrassing, but it wouldn’t have been The End of all Things.  As it is, both sides got screwed over.  The very gracious producers of La La Land wouldn’t have had their hearts broken on the actual stage, and the underdogs from Moonlight would have been able to enjoy their win without reservation or awkwardness or confusion.

What’s interesting, though, is that the story has been the misreading of the card, the Academy’s response, and all sorts of fault finding and naval gazing.  It’s the firm’s fault! It’s the accountant, for being distracted by Emma Stone!  It’s Fay Dunaway’s, for just reading the card when Warren Beatty wouldn’t!  What’s getting obscured here is the absolutely revolutionary nature of Moonlight as a winner.   Perhaps as people start finally seeing Moonlight (at $22 million one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners in some time) there’s be more discussion about the movie’s themes, and the difficult experiences it explores.  After Kimmel’s “happy ending” monologue joke fell flat,  I didn’t think even the people in the room had seen it.

Odd note: two out of three producers for Moonlight won 3 years ago with Twelve Years a Slave.  One of them, DeDe Gardner, has had five Best Picture nominees in the last six years; Jeremy Kleiner hase four nods in the same time period, while Adele Romanski won on her first nomination.   It’s yet another of the ironies of this year that those three producers are white; La La Land, on the other hand, had a black producer (John Legend).   On the other hand, this may be the first time that the plurality of nominated producers were women, another first that would have been more obvious if the team had won in the usual way.

*

What else?  There’s always the other big mess up from the producers, completely preventable and upsetting.  (Chalk one up to comedian Billy Eichner for guessing that not everyone in In Memoriam was actually dead.)  Oh, guys.  This stuff is not cool.

I also made a few unofficial predictions.  I’m laughing at myself now for not predicting Score.  Why didn’t I?  It was clearly going to be La La Land, even more clearly than other categories that were supposed to be La La Land. It’s a lovely, sweeping sound, achingly romantic, and it was the only one of the nominated competitors that even made an impression on me. Most annoying turn around of the night? Best Score winner Justin Hurwitz grandly announcing he wouldn’t make a few people happy at the cost of boring the audience with a list of names – and then, when he shared the best song win a few moments later, took to the microphone ahead of the adorable duo Justin Paul and Benj Pasek and named all the people he’d disdained listing a few moments before.  Ugh. Between the betrayal of his better instincts and the less than gracious gobbling up of his colleagues time, I was not charmed.

I noted that skipping the Oscar ceremony in protest of the travel ban was likely to get Asghar Farhadi an Oscar for The Salesman, and it did.   I mentioned O.J.: Made in America as the likely winner of Documentary Feature, and it was.  And I highlighted costume as a likely place where the audience would see if La La Land had sweep potential, or where its vulnerability would be exposed.  Obviously it was far more vulnerable than I or just about anyone else thought, and this was indeed one of the 8 categories that it lost.  I incorrectly considered Jackie the top competition, however; Oscar went with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, much to the shock of perennial Oscar favorite Colleen Atwood, who picked up her fourth Oscar.  (This puts her one up on her main competition, Sandy Powell, although neither’s close to Edith Head’s legendary 8 wins.  Bonus trivia?  This is the first Oscar win for any film in the Potterverse.)  Personally, as amazing as the historical accuracy of Jackie and Allied are (and as much as I like those clothes), I really admire films where the costumes aren’t just recreations, but are specifically designed and created to build the world of the film from scratch.  To me the La La Land costumes fit that bill, as do the stunning 1920s wizard fashions of Fantastic Beasts.

What else?  The Production Design team had by far the worst speech of the night.   The documentarians had some of the best speeches and insights.  Some of my favorite dresses, aside from the aforementioned Davis: Bree Larson, Nicole Kidman, Hailee Steinfeld, Ruth Negga, and especially the stunning trio of actresses from Hidden Figures, Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.  They were glorious (and I cried when the real Katherine Johnson was wheeled out to them).  Henson was all over Old Hollywood glamor, while Spencer looked like a princess.  And yeah, I know that Monae’s Eli Saab is a little controversial, but I loved its modern Elizabethan vibe with the amazing beadwork.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

As always there were films I loved that got shut out of the race completely: Lion and Jackie and Loving and Hidden Figures all went home without wins, when a movie excoriated by critics, Suicide Squad, can still pick up a (probably well deserved) Oscar for Make Up & Hairstyling.  That’s the way of fit, but it’s still a little sad.  Movies that I loved that got at least a little love from Oscar?  Arrival (Sound Editing) and Hacksaw Ridge (Sound Mixing and Film Editing) – and in a particularly adorable way, with the editor who talked about his mom giving him his first industry job and telling him that he could thank her by working hard enough to some day thank her in his Oscar acceptance speech.  The Film Editing award threw me for a real loop; if you follow the Oscars seriously, you know that Film Editing is usually won by the movie that goes on to win Best Picture.  I was genuinely stunned.  Not only did that have me doubting La La Land‘s dominance at that point (it had already lost quite a few technical awards), it actually had me asking if Hacksaw Ridge could be a surprise winner.   It was also the first movie of the night to win two awards. Which is wasn’t, of course — Moonlight is actually a far less shocking alternative if you consider buzz and not genre or budget — but still, it’s all part of the story; though over all it received the largest number of nominations, LLL wasn’t the lock we thought.

And that might be it until next year!  Who knew the surprises of 2016 would just keep coming.  I’m almost afraid to ask what’s next.

 

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