“Moonlight” won the Academy Award for best picture of 2016, not “La La Land.”
It’ll be a while before we can drop the second part of that sentence.
What happened Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood contained the strangest plot twist among the rich, famous and addled since the recent election. For years, we all heard the same blase litany of complaint about the Oscars. So canned. So predictable.
So what happened there at the end of the ceremony, broadcast in 225 countries “that now hate us,” as emcee Jimmy Kimmel pointed out?
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On Sunday, the winner of the “worst supporting envelope” award went to the envelope that somehow ended up in the hand of the final presenter, Warren Beatty.
With his long-ago “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star Faye Dunaway at his side, Beatty had the misfortune of opening the (wrong) envelope, the contents of which were then read aloud to a billion or so viewers worldwide. Dunaway saw only one movie title on that (wrong) card, and the title was “La La Land.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, a stagehand in the wings was heard to say: “Oh my god, he got the wrong envelope.” The reporter backstage noted that for a few awful seconds, the guy paced back and forth, repeating the phrase, seeing if he could wring any new, less dire meaning out of it.
After watching Beatty stumble through what seemed like a comic attempt to draw out the suspense, Dunaway teased with a quick, “You’re awful!” And then she read out the (wrong) title. One long minute and 29 seconds later, after two acceptance speeches and a rising tide of nervous murmur on an increasingly crowded stage, “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz knew what had to be said, publicly, immediately.
“Wait,” he said. “There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”
At the end of the day, ‘Moonlight’ is a very special movie.
Michael Shannon, a Lexington native and supporting actor nominee for “Nocturnal Animals,” told me early Monday morning: “Yeah, kinda tense there. At first it seemed like Warren was being kinda playful or whatever. And the ‘La La Land’ group handled it well. But it was a very strange situation. I’d just worked with Trevante Rhodes from ‘Moonlight’ (on the upcoming movie ‘Horse Soldiers’) and I could tell he was pretty upset when he got on stage.”
Then again, Shannon says, “at the end of the day, ‘Moonlight’ is a very special movie.”
At the beginning of the ceremony, Shannon lost the best supporting actor prize to Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight.” It was Shannon’s second shot at Oscar, having been nominated in 2009 for “Revolutionary Road.”
Horowitz may have been a little brusque with Beatty, but he moved quickly and told the truth. The “La La Land” producers and creative artists looked understandably dazed by what must’ve felt like an impromptu remake of “Whiplash,” Chazelle’s previous feature.
Yet many in the theater Sunday plainly were gratified that “Moonlight” had won after all. A really good, often exhilarating movie, which deservedly handed director Chazelle the directing prize and Emma Stone the leading actress award, ultimately lost out to a genuinely great story of a young, gay, thwarted-but-ultimately-liberated African-American boy, growing up in 1980s Miami. “Moonlight,” in writer-director Barry Jenkins’ hands, is told in a way that leaves noble intentions and faux documentary realism by the wayside. It’s as supple cinematically as it is carefully calibrated emotionally.
It’s also a financial success. “Moonlight” cost $1.3 million to $1.5 million to produce, and it has made 15 times that in its theatrical release. That’s a fine turn on a very wise investment.
On stage, thinking he’d just won the best picture Oscar, “La La Land” producer Horowitz spoke of the industry’s collective responsibility to present “bold and diverse work – work that inspires us toward joy, towards hope, and towards empathy.” A reverse-Cinderella minute later, “La La Land” handed over its statuettes to the “Moonlight” crew. But Horowitz’s words still held.