First thing’s first – what everyone’s talking about this morning following the Oscars: How did Dave do on his predictions. The answer, not well – I went 14/21 (I didn’t predict the shorts) – missing Moonlight’s shock win for Best Picture, Fantastic Beasts’ surprising costume win, the two surprise Hacksaw Ridge wins (Sound Mixing and Editing), and Suicide Squad’s whatever-we-need-to-give-something-this-award Makeup win – as well as missing when I strayed from convention, thinking 13th would win Documentary (I am extremely happy to be wrong there, as OJ was my favorite film of the year) and that Lin-Manuel Miranda would complete his EGOT from Moana – but instead they gave song to La La Land. Everyone else got those two – but still, this was an unpredictable night, and so if you got better than 16/21 of the main categories, I’m calling you lucky.
Okay, seriously, the one thing everyone is really talking about this morning is arguably the most shocking moment in Oscar history – when they called out the wrong winner for Best Picture, and didn’t correct it for several minutes, letting the La La Land people speak for a while, before the truth came out that Moonlight had actually won. This would have been a huge embarrassment has it been for Sound Editing or something, but for Best Picture, it has to rank as the biggest fuck-up in Oscar telecast history – something compounded by the fact that it was really several smaller fuck-ups that led to the biggest one. I’ve heard for years that there is a procedure in place if someone reads the wrong winner – that’s when the accountants (who are a) my people and b) oddly NOT brought on stage last night) are supposed to walk immediately out and correct the mistake – they being the only ones who know before the envelope is open who the winner is. Why that didn’t happen (my guess is pure, unadulterated shock) was the biggest screw-up – because had they walked onstage immediately, they could have saved the La La Land producers the embarrassment of giving speeches for an award they didn’t win. I do have to give major props to the way the Producing teams behind La La Land and Moonlight handled the confusion – it could not have been easy for either of them – and yet they handled things with grace. IT was easily the most memorable moment of the night.
Kimmel was a safe choice to host – anyone who hosts a network, late night talk show is used to making jokes and being chummy with celebrities, which is probably why he got the gig that no one else seemed to want (it was ridiculously late in the process that they named Producers and a Host for the show). For the most part, I think Kimmel did fine – I know some people are tired of his “feud” with Matt Damon, but sue me, I still think it’s funny, and for the most part I thought he was funny and kept things moving. I will say I didn’t think it was wise (or funny) to make fun of a lot of non-white people’s “weird” names, or use Sunny Pawar from Lion as a prop in a Lion King gag, and the bringing the busload of tourists in was so incredibly awkward it must have been thought up by a real life Michael Scott – so on the whole, perhaps Kimmel’s grade isn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible either, so give him that. I do enjoy celebrities reading mean tweets on his show – although only the one Miles Teller read really made me laugh out loud last night.
The Rest of the Telecast
The musical performances were mostly good – Justin Timberlake got things off to a rocking start – I know many HATE that song, and fair enough, but as the father of a five year old girl who sings it all the time, I still find it adorable. Shoehorning Lin Manuel Miranda into the Moana song was awkward, but that guy is a pro and made it fun, and Auli’i Cravalho nailed How Far I’ll Go – not even missing a beat when she got smacked in the head by a flag (again, I’ve heard this soundtrack a TON with two girls, and I think it was really, REALLY underrated – as was the movie). Sting nearly put everyone to sleep –like the song itself, the performance was respectful to a real life hero and the subject matter of the film it’s from – but it’s also dull. And then John Legend came out and killed a medley of the two La La Land songs. I didn’t much like Legend in La La Land – I thought his role was somewhat insulting, and his song was awful – but that performance was a knockout.
The rest of the show was as always, occasionally amusing, occasionally very awkward. I enjoyed Kate McKinnon (I know as a regular on SNL, she won’t be able to host until that’s done, but she would kill it if she did), and Michael J. Fox and Seth Rogen’s banter (again, Rogen could host – leave Franco at home) and a few others, etc. All in all, I know people mock the Oscars for being overlong and overly self-congratulating for Hollywood – fair enough – but I still enjoy it every year.
Thoughts on the Winners
My initial thought on Moonlight’s win for Best Picture is that it’s the best film to win since No Country for Old Men in 2007 – although I think a case could be made for both The Hurt Locker in 2009 and 12 Years a Slave in 2013 – they, like Moonlight – are the only films since then that made my top 10 list - for the record, I’m still very conflicted on my 2016 list – my top 9 films are definite should be there, and my 1 and 2 are locked in place, but after that it could be nearly any order from 3-9 and I’d be fine with it – and I have about 5 films I would have been happy to have in my number 10 slot. It will likely – as always – take me a year or so to truly know where I think the films of 2016 should rank against each other, and where Moonlight should rank in the listing of all-time Best Picture winners. But I will say this: - about 10 years ago (when there were only 80 Best Picture winners, I said that the Academy had basically selected 20 masterpieces for Best Picture, 20 embarrassments as best picture, and 40 that rank somewhere in between. Moonlight belongs in that first category, no doubt about it. I am also extremely happy that the Academy resisted the urge to once again give the Best Picture Oscar to film about itself – something they’ve done with The Artist, Argo and Birdman in the past few years – and your thoughts on the merits of those films aside, it’s nice to see a film about something else win. It’s also nice to see a film with an all-black cast win, written by two black men and directed by one black man – and the first film with a strong LGBT subject matter winning. Perhaps the Academy has changed in the decade since Brokeback Mountain. Still, it would have been nice to see Barry Jenkins win Best Director.
On that Best Director win for Damien Chazelle – who becomes the youngest Best Director winner in history- no it would not have been my choice, but yes, it is a worthy winner (as would have La La Land been for Best Picture). I’m not quite sure how it happened, but at some point along the way, Chazelle executing a wonderful movie musical – in an era where it is pretty much dead – that is completely original and written for the screen got dubbed a safe and easy choice. It wasn’t – there hasn’t been an original musical nominated for Best Picture in my life time until La La Land did so (the last one was Bob Fosse’s masterpiece All That Jazz in 1979) – and hasn’t been one that WON the Best Picture Oscar since Gigi in 1958. Chazelle’s film was both daring and a loving homage to what came before. Yes, there are problems with the film – but he still does deserve a ton of credit – and I cannot wait to see what someone willing to take these chances does next.
An interesting note, this is now 4 of the last five years that Picture and Director have not lined up – something that throughout that used to happened about once a decade (it happened in 1967 than 1972 than 1981than 1989 than 1998- and then started happening more and more often (2000, 2002, 2005 than a few years off, than 2012, 2013, 2015 and now 2016). It does suck that in two of those last four splits, they were films directed by black filmmakers that did not win Best Director (a black director has still never won) – but I think that has more to do with how the votes are cast than anything else. Since they expanded to more than five nominees for Best Picture in 2009, you now rank the Best Picture nominees from 1-10 (or in this case 1-9), with the lowest vote getter being knocked off and those votes re-distributed amongst the rest, until one film gets 50% of the vote. Every other category, you simply vote for your favorite, and then one with the most votes wins. This approach values consensus over passion in the Best Picture race – and may well be responsible for films like 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight and Moonlight beating out Gravity, The Revenant and La La Land – even if those later films won more overall Oscars, which used to be the sign of a Best Picture winner (Argo is a different beast, since the directors didn’t nominated Affleck, who would have won Director had he been nominated). Perhaps I’m wrong, and we have no way of knowing, but I think it’s reasonable to think that perhaps The Revenant and La La Land would have won Best Picture had there only been 5 nominees, and you vote for your favorite – both won Director and a Lead Acting award, both won the most “tech” awards as well. You could argue the other way as well though – as neither won a writing award – a bigger problem for The Revenant, since it wasn’t even nominated, and musicals – even when they do win Picture, don’t often win a writing award – but the case could easily be made that after the first ballot The Revenant and La La Land were ahead – but lost as more films dropped out of the running, and their votes re-distributed. We certainly heard far more negative sentiment against those films than we did the eventual winners Spotlight and Moonlight (again, I’m not convinced this was the same case for 12 Years a Slave vs. Gravity – as Gravity would have been a VERY strange Best Picture winner on multiple levels).
Anyway, moving onto the Acting awards. Two things are true regarding Casey Affleck – he delivered one of the best performance I have ever seen in Manchester by the Sea (Seriously, the performance would probably make my top 10 Best Actor Winner lists of all time), and sexual harassment is real in Hollywood, as it is everywhere else, and there is no reason to believe he’s innocent of what he was accused of. I am normally a “separate art from the artist” guy, which is why I was happy to see one of my favorite screen performances in years win an Oscar – but understand and respect those you cannot, or choose not, to do so. Still, most of the time the Oscar love BIG acting, so I was happy to see Affleck win for subtle, quiet performance. The same could be said for Mahershala Ali’s performance in Moonlight – again my favorite not just of the nominees in his category, but in the category as a whole this year (it’s been a few years since me and the Academy have been on the same page with acting winners, so I’m happy here). Ali is a great actor, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. I also love just how quiet this performance was. I kept thinking all season that he may be vulnerable – losing the Globe and BAFTA didn’t help – but in the end, they made the right choice. Now, after praising two very subtle performances, let’s praise one that wasn’t – Viola Davis in Fences. Yes, she was a lead, but category fraud isn’t something she invented, and she is stunning and brilliant in Fences. No, overall, it’s not a subtle performance – nor should it be, her fiery nature makes the movie – but there are subtle moments. While we all knew what clip they would use for her, it’s her saying to Denzel – “You are a womanless man” in a quiet voice that sticks with me. Yes, I think Michelle Williams was even better than Davis in Manchester by the Sea – and that it was a legitimate supporting performance, and now on her fourth nomination, Williams has officially entered “Will it ever be her time” territory (say hi to Amy Adams for us when you get there Michelle) – but I find it impossible to complain about Davis winning. Even my least favorite of the acting wins – Emma Stone in La La Land – is for a performance I did adore, and by an actress I think is terrific. Yes, Isabelle Huppert delivered a performance for the ages in Elle – and is arguably the greatest actor on the planet, and the Academy just now realized that they could nominate her – but let’s hope this is just the beginning for Huppert and the Academy – and not the end. Hell, she’s got the lead on Michael Haneke’s Amour follow-up, Happy End – this year – and the Academy embraced Amour, so you never know.
Other wins I was happy about – obviously Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney winning for adapted screenplay for Moonlight – what we all assumed would be their consultation prize, and Kenneth Lonergan winning for Manchester by the Sea, that was. You’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of writing winners in any year on Oscar history. O.J.: Made in America was the best film (or whatever) I saw last year, so it’s win for Documentary made be extremely happy. I do think Toni Erdmann should have won for Foreign Language film – but I think it’s wrongheaded to chock up The Salesman’s win to politics. Toni Erdmann is the type of weird film that somehow sneaks into the foreign lineup, and critics love and say it will win, and then are surprised when it loses to something more conventional. The Salesman is in many ways a much more traditional Foreign Language Film win – so while the politics certainly didn’t hurt it, I would not have been shocked to see it win even if Donald Trump never issued a travel ban.
Most of the other wins ranged from fine to okay with me. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hacksaw Ridge – but its hard to argue with its sound work – or be upset that Kevin O’Connell won his first Oscar for it after 21 nominations. The editing win from Hacksaw Ridge was a little tougher to take – voters seem blinded by most noticeable editing, and don’t seem to understand the work on structure something like Moonlight has to do, etc. I was glad to see Arrival get something –even if its just Sound Editing – and its hard to argue with The Jungle Book winning visual effects. Fantastic Beasts winning costumes seemed rather lazy to me – not because the great Collen Atwood’s work wasn’t worthy, just because it seems like the type of award they check off on autopilot. I do think time will bear me out that it is Moana, and not Zootopia, which is Disney’s truly great achievement this year (and I like Zootopia just fine). The quartet of La La Land below the line wins were all okay I guess – I really didn’t agree with Song, but the score is good (just not as unique as Jackie or memorable as Moonlight), the cinematography is quite good (although with Arrival, Silence and Moonlight nominated they had even better choices) – and production design may be my favorite of La La Land’s wins – not necessarily because it deserved it, but because contemporary films rarely win here, no matter how deserving.
So that’s it, that’s all for another year of Oscars. This year’s race was uglier than its been in a while – I really think that many of the criticisms against La La Land were rather silly, and overshadowed legitimate criticism against the film (on the same topic, I really do wish the people who spend their time ripping on one nominee – especially those people who praised the film when they first saw it, and rip it only when it appears like it may beat their favorite, would spend more time building up their actual choice, applying the same sort of close reading skills they use to pick apart La La Land, on praising Moonlight – or any other film they choose – if it’s good enough, the film will stand up to that sort of reading). Still, a great film won Best Picture this year, and worthy winners won in most other categories, and even if the Academy doesn’t like the colossal fuck-up that is already infamous – they provided something that will never be forgotten. There are worse ways to end Oscar season.