The good, the bad, and the down-right ugly of the 89th Academy Awards

Good lord. Where to even begin? In the 20-odd years I’ve been watching (and obsessing over) the Academy Awards, I can truly say we have never witnessed a moment quite like what we saw tonight. The shock of what transpired has still not worn off, and it probably won’t for some time. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s look at the other Oscars moments that unfortunately no one will really be talking about for the next few days.


Moonlight winning Best Picture, minus the stuff-up. I know I backed the wrong Best Picture horse for the third year in-a-row (should I just give up?). I know I wrote an entire piece decreeing why La La Land still deserved to take it out. I know my heart is broken for every brilliant artist involved in the making of that beautiful film I adore so greatly. But I am still genuinely thrilled to see a powerful and relevant film like Moonlight win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a masterpiece. It’s confronting and uncomfortable. It’s hopeful and inspiring. It’s impeccably acted, directed, and scripted. It’s everything you could want in a Best Picture winner. Its subject matters (especially the sexuality themes) are the kind that never win this award, but the shameful record of a “gay film” never winning Hollywood’s top prize is finally no more. So its win is a true triumph, in so many ways, and hopefully a signal of the Academy’s changing tastes. If anything was going to beat my beloved La La Land, I’m happy it was Moonlight.

Viola Davis has an Oscar, at last. One of the greatest actors of our time finally gets to be called an Academy Award winner. Her loss for The Help still stings, even if it was to Queen Meryl. Hell, even her loss for Doubt was a bit of a travesty. But all that fades away, at the sight of Davis with an Oscar in her hands. She gave the speech of the night, as expected, and if you’ve seen Fences, you know she was potentially the most deserving winner of the whole damn show. Now we just need to get her a Lead Actress one too…and somehow a Grammy so she can become an EGOT winner.

Mahershala Ali becomes the first Muslim to win an Oscar for acting. Pretty shocking stat, right? But it’s true. While this clearly has nothing to do with why he actually won (he deserved to win, on performance alone), it’s another inspiring signal of the changing attitude of Academy voters. Not only a black actor winning this category (for only the fifth time), but a black Muslim, no less.

#OscarsSoWhite is no more, for now. The racism backlash last year was bad, but deserved. It was an embarrassment like nothing the Academy had faced before. But for now, it can be put to bed, with this year’s awards going into the history books with the most wins for black artists ever. A remarkable turnaround that many will degrade as just a guilty stunt, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every black winner was deserving, and their skin colour had nothing to do with it. There’s still a long way to go. There’s still progress to be made, across acknowledging all minorities. We will still be watching and hoping this change is permanent. But for this moment, it’s a wonderful victory for diversity.

Disney takes both Animated categories. More of a personal one, since I love my Disney. Y’all know that. Seeing Zootopia take home Animated Feature and Piper take out Animated Short made me endlessly happy. Too often, the House of Mouse and Pixar are punished for being so big and powerful, but it’s nice to see when they really do make the best contender of the year, it rightfully gets rewarded.

Jimmy Kimmel, for the most part. Kimmel started with a wonderfully sharp and amusing monologue, particularly that Meryl Streep moment and a few snarky Trump jabs. He was lively and entertaining throughout, all without the usually obligatory song-and-dance number. His interaction with the crowd was solid. He was present but never overbearing (bar one inanely long moment). All-in-all, everything you could really ask of an Oscar host. The Academy should certainly extend the invitation again.

Sunny Pawar. Adorable is an understatement, especially that Lion King moment. That kid just makes me melt.

Kate McKinnon. Hey, Academy – there’s your host for next year. Make it happen. Please.

The Hidden Figures moment. Bringing out the three amazing stars of the film was one thing…but then you go and bring out the real Katherine Johnson on-stage as well. Oh, stop it! A truly beautiful moment.

The In Memoriam segment. As utterly heartbreaking as this year’s tribute was to watch, it was handled so beautifully, especially with Sara Bareilles’ stellar performance of “Both Sides Now”. The tears were intense but necessary.


Denzel Washington’s loss. It was never a sure-thing, but it’s a damn travesty, regardless. Besides perhaps Viola Davis, Washington gave the best performance of the year, and it should have been rewarded. Okay, he’s won two times before, but why should that even matter? The man showed us once again why he’s one of the greats. Awarding him his third Oscar would have only cemented that. I loved Casey Affleck’s performance, and he was still completely deserving, even if the man still can’t give an acceptance speech to save his life. But there’s just that little something extra about that Washington performance that should have meant Oscar gold.

Lion, Hell or High Water, and Hidden Figures go home empty-handed. Another personal one, given how much I adore both these films. Something feels off about such brilliant pieces of cinema taking away absolutely nothing. It happens every year, and it wasn’t a surprise, but it still hurts. At least Arrival avoided this, even if it only took home a tech award.

The music fade-outs. Okay, so this is me getting  a little picky, but the choice of songs to play certain presenters and winners on or off the stage were utterly bizarre and really off-putting. Some examples – Ben Affleck and Matt Damon walked on-stage to “Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls, Mahershala Ali was played off-stage by a song from the musical Hairspray, and Alicia Vikander was played on-stage to “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from Toy Story. Someone explain to me why. Please. I understand this is a movie awards show, and they like to use well-known songs from the movies in their ceremony score. And sure, not everyone has a recognisable theme from one of their movies they could use. But could we not have found some more appropriately placed tunes for these actors?

The tour bus stunt. As soon as Kimmel announced his intentions to bring tourists inside the auditorium, it had disaster written all over it. Now from what I can see on Twitter, there was a mixed reaction, with many actually thinking this was gold. I did not. It was exhaustively dull, and a complete waste of time. Quite frankly, it was also rather rude to these poor people. Why? Well, imagine being in your tourist clothes (because who gets dressed up to go on a bus?), hardly looking your best, and suddenly you’re on a television broadcast, seen by a billion people. Talk about mortifying. The ridiculousness of devoting over 10 minutes total to this tripe, but cutting acceptance speeches to 30 seconds, essentially robbing winners of making the most of their moment, truly confounds me. I’m all for skits and cute segments in awards show, but not at the detriment of the main reason we’re watching.


The Best Picture announcement disaster. What is there to say about potentially the most monumental screw-up in live television history? The most horrendous clusterfuck disaster I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing play-out live, and I’ve seen the Spider-Man Broadway musical. There are so many questions as to how in god’s name this even happened at the most prestigious awards ceremony on the planet.

Mostly, I cannot fathom how someone didn’t notice Warren Beatty had the wrong envelope in his hands the entire time, especially during the extended segment detailing the nominees. One can clearly see the words LEADING ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE on the envelope. If the camera can see it, someone backstage should have too. While I will not place the blame on Beatty or Faye Dunaway for this catastrophe, Beatty could certainly have handled this better. He clearly knew he had the wrong envelope, as soon as he saw the card inside. Yet, instead of announcing this mistake, and calling for the correct envelope, he stalls. Fumbles around. Then finally flings it Dunaway’s direction, and the rest if history. Nicely handled. Throw her under the bus, so you don’t look so useless.

Now, I’m fully aware there isn’t really a protocol for this kind of mistake (although I’m sure there will be now), but as soon as “La La Land” was announced by Dunaway, surely someone should have been on-stage in moments to desperately stop the entire onslaught of Chazelle and co. from bounding up the stairs to start their acceptances. We got through two full speeches before this was stopped. Not one. Two. Two people held their Oscars and gave their victory words, before it was all embarrassingly taken away. That is disgraceful. And then it was left up to one of the film’s poor producers to make the announcement. The Academy is just mighty lucky he handled it as well as he did.

Look, mistakes happen. We all know that. And it’s not the end of the world. Nobody died. The mistake was corrected, eventually. And yes, I’m mostly just bitter my horse in the race was treated so pathetically (and the fact my joyous celebration was so short-lived). It’s just a huge embarrassment for a ceremony that snobbishly considers itself the preeminent event of the year. At least John Travolta is off the hook now. This makes the whole “Adele Dazeem” thing look tame by comparison.

So, at the end of the day, it was another rollercoaster of an Academy Awards ceremony. My favourite didn’t win Best Picture, yet again, but I’ll move on. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last. We must always remember, win or lose, great films will always be great films. This is just a game, and one film was more adept at playing to that game’s rules and criteria. Ultimately, losing a beauty pageant like the Oscars should never be a sign of a film’s lack of beauty. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, if you think a film is beautiful, it’s beautiful. When you stop caring about the ultimate result of the Academy Awards, you can enjoy this race a hell of a lot more.

Until next year…


Final predictions for the 89th Academy Awards

Well, the time has come. Oscar night is upon us. Many will call this one of the more boring Oscar seasons in recent history, and they have a point. When you have one frontrunner for Best Picture (and the majority of the other categories) all season, it’s hardly exciting to watch and discuss. Maybe it’s simply because the last few years have been such a rollercoaster, particularly the madness of last year’s Spotlight/The Revenant/The Big Short showdown. But, as you’ll see from my predictions below, it’s hardly all locked up.

As we head into the ceremony, there seems to be two possible outcomes; La La Land is going to sweep almost everything its nominated for (and suffer even more backlash than it’s been getting) or the backlash has worked and it walks away with maybe three or four, but not Picture. As nerve-wracking as that makes a La La lover like myself, at least it keeps things interesting.

As I always say, these predictions are just basically reading tea leaves, so take them with a grain of salt. Alas, one must try, so here are my final predictions for the 89th Academy Awards.

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Will win: La La Land
Should win: La La Land
Possible shocker: Moonlight

Nine films in the running, but it’s really a two-horse race here, kids. Even with the backlash and mud-slinging, La La Land still looks completely unbeatable. 14 nominations. Wins at the Globes, BAFTAs, PGA and DGA. Likely winner of at least 7 or 8 other categories. If it fails to win here, it will not make any sense, and more than ever, precursor awards will mean absolutely nothing. The only factor potentially standing in its way is the preferential ballot. While I still find it staggering this film has become so divisive, it’s impossible to ignore the fact it has its extreme lovers and its extreme haters. This was the problem facing The Revenant last year, and look how that turned out. If it really does polarise voters, and fails to capture #2 and #3 votes of those not giving it #1, expect Moonlight to snatch it away.

Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Will win: Damien Chazelle
Should win: Damien Chazelle
Possible shocker: Barry Jenkins

Hate La La Land all you like, but you cannot deny it is impeccably directed. For someone as young and inexperienced as Chazelle to deliver this kind of cinema is truly remarkable. The number of elements and techniques he seamlessly brings together is unlike anything else in the running this year. To ignore this would be a travesty. That being said, a split could be on the cards. Jenkins, in only his debut feature film, is also astonishingly good, and any other year, the Oscar would rightfully be his. Plus his victory would be history-making, being the first ever black director to win this category. Not quite a lock for Chazelle, but fairly certain.

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Will win: Denzel Washington
Should win: Denzel Washington
Possible shocker: Andrew Garfield

Of all the major categories, this one is the one we’ll all be waiting for. The truest 50/50 category of the night. Affleck was looking unstoppable for months. He was winning everything, and it started looking like the Oscar was his. That all changed when Washington “surprised” everyone (well, not me) with his SAG win. If there’s any precursor award an actor needs to snare to cement their Oscar chances, it’s SAG. Actors make up the largest group of Oscar voters. Win them over, and you should repeat your victory with the Academy. The last 13 Lead Actor winners at SAG have gone on to win the Oscar. The only anomaly was Johnny Depp winning for Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003, and he was never going to win an Oscar for that. That stat is simply too hard to ignore. Washington in a squeaker.

Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Will win: Emma Stone
Should win: Natalie Portman
Possible shocker: Isabelle Huppert

For all its technical achievements, the heart and soul of La La Land is really Stone’s performance. While it has its visual spectacles, its success rests entirely on her shoulders. She nailed it, and deserves to take this home, even just for that audition scene alone (pick either, really). Yes, if you twist my arm, I ultimately think Portman “should” win. Her role in Jackie required more from her, and once again, she delivered. Had she not won for Black Swan, this wouldn’t even be a race. But she’s not even attending, for obvious reasons, so clearly she holds no hope either. In saying that, never discount the French dark horse. Just look at Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard. If voters have tired of ticking the box for Stone, expect to see Huppert snatch it away. At least we can count on her for a glorious acceptance speech.

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Will win: Mahershala Ali
Should win: Dev Patel
Possible shocker: Dev Patel

Much like Affleck, Ali was looking unstoppable for a long time, but he’s taken a few hits recently that cast a shadow of doubt. He failed to take the Globe (but you know I think very little of the HFPA), missed out at BAFTA, and wasn’t even nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards, despite Moonlight sweeping everything else. Suddenly, the memories of last year’s surprise Mark Rylance win come flooding back. Rylance won no precursor awards until BAFTA, so that bodes well for this year’s BAFTA winner, Dev Patel. When you consider Lion is unlikely to win anywhere else, this could be their chance to make sure such a beloved film doesn’t go home empty-handed. And he has Harvey Weinstein in his corner. He did it for Gwyneth. It could happen again. I’m not game enough to formally pick it, but it won’t be a huge surprise if it happens.

Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Will win: Viola Davis
Should win: Viola Davis
Possible shocker: Not even possible

There’s nothing to see here. Davis wins, at last. Game over.

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Will win: Manchester by the Sea
Should win: Manchester by the Sea
Possible shocker: La La Land or Hell or High Water

Kenneth Lonargan’s screenplay for Manchester by the Sea is perhaps the best of the year, in either screenplay category. It would be unfathomable for it to lose here. In saying that, if the La La Land sweep is really on, it could take this with it. Expect the backlash to be utterly brutal, if that happens. If there’s a split between the two, don’t be surprised to see Hell or High Water steal it away, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Hidden Figures

Will win: Moonlight
Should win: Moonlight
Possible shocker: Lion, Hidden Figures or Arrival

It shouldn’t even really be in the adapted category (don’t get me started) but Moonlight seems the obvious choice here. Its screenplay is powerfully moving and brilliantly written. And if Jenkins can’t take out Director, at least he can take this home. But if they really want to spread the love, and not have Best Picture nominees go home empty-handed, this would be the best shot for ArrivalLion and Hidden Figures. They’re all highly unlikely to win elsewhere, so never say never.

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Will win: “City of Stars”
Should win: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
Possible shocker: “How Far I’ll Go”

I’m still scratching my head at “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” being the chosen La La Land songs to push for nomination. Frankly, there are at least two or three better songs in the film, especially “Another Day of Sun” which is permanently stuck in my head. It seems “City of Stars” is the chosen one, but I can’t shake the tantalising prospect of Lin-Manuel Miranda becoming the youngest ever EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner, if “How Far I’ll Go” takes it out. It could happen.

I’m not going to bother going into great detail with the other awards, so I’ll just run through the rest of my predictions without notes.



La La Land


O.J.: Made in America

The White Helmets

La La Land

The Salesman

Sing (Mindenki)

Star Trek Beyond

La La Land

La La Land

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

The Jungle Book

As you can see, I’m not quite predicting a record-breaking sweep for La La Land, instead going for a still-impressive 9 wins overall. If Moonlight does pull off the major upset, we will see another Cabaret situation, where a big, flashy musical wins 8 Oscars, including Actress and Director, but not Best Picture. History does often repeat at the Academy Awards…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

To help you out, here’s a handy viewing guide that should help you determine how likely that upset Moonlight victory is looking, as the night progresses.

What to look for if the La La Land sweep is on
If it takes any of these, it’s likely going to be an all-out bonanza sweep – Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, Costume Design

What to look for if the La La Land backlash has worked
If it loses any of these – Original Score and/or Song, Production Design, Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Director

A large number of categories are still up in the air, so we can’t complain about that. Nothing worse than a boring, predictable Academy Awards. One must always remember this is just a silly ceremony of pomp and circumstance. If what you love doesn’t take home an Oscar, it cannot change what that film or performance means to you. If La La Land fails, I’ll keep repeating that to myself, as I rock back and forth in a corner somewhere. Bring on the ceremony…I think…

The ‘La La Land’ backlash – a comment on the absurdity of being the frontrunner

Make no mistake about it. Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is ultimately a game of skill. Yes, the picture still has to be “good”, but that’s only half the battle. At some point, you have to become the frontrunner. The likely winner. The unstoppable force. The one piece of cinema Academy voters want to vote for. The winning team everyone is desperate to back. It’s when to become the frontrunner that’s the tricky part.

Naturally being the frontrunner for the biggest Oscar prize is something highly sought after by every film studio in Hollywood, and the myriad of people employed to run the film’s Oscar campaign. Millions are spent every year just to potentially sway voters your way. But strangely enough, it’s also a highly feared label. A double-edged sword that can either be a film’s golden ticket to success or its kiss of death to failure.

Become the frontrunner too early, and you’ll likely be torn down at some point (see LincolnThe Social Network, Boyhood). Sneakily fly under the radar, and you can steal the whole race at the last minute (see ArgoThe King’s SpeechMillion Dollar Baby). But try and become the frontrunner too late and you run the risk of missing your chance entirely (see Inglourious BasterdsThe Wolf of Wall Street, Silence). It’s a delicate game, often completely out of the hands of even the most expert of Oscar strategists.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Many eventual Best Picture winners were the frontrunners from the very start, never to be challenged by backlash or mud-slinging (see The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men). These rare examples ran the gauntlet and somehow arrived at the other side unscathed and unchallenged for the title of Best Picture.

For a while there, it was looking like La La Land would join this rare group of backlash-free frontrunners. The signs were certainly there; universally beloved from its first screening at the Venice Film Festival, rave reviews across the board, box-office results ($350M worldwide) no one saw coming. A “must-see” cinematic triumph, destined to become the first musical in 15 years to win Best Picture. That is, of course, until it dared equal the record for the most Academy Award nominations (14, in total) in history. Then the backlash began…

Now let me be up front before I really get into this – it’s no secret I love La La Land. I’ve been yapping about it since the moment I left the screening. It was my #1 film of 2016. It’s a piece of cinema that truly captivated me. As a fan of musicals, it was always going to be my kind of film. And therein lies the problem; musicals, in their truest cinematic form, are not everyone’s cup of tea. So when the critical raving became louder and louder, and the hype grew to ridiculous levels, it was a foregone conclusion people would want to bring it down, especially, if after seeing it, their reaction was “this is what everyone is raving about?”.

In saying that, I’m no fool. I can separate my love of an Oscar contender from its actual chances or “worthiness” of winning. Simply stating I think it should (and will) win Best Picture is no suggestion it’s some sort of masterpiece to end all masterpieces. Like all films, it has its flaws. But headlines like “Mediocre ‘musical’ La La Land does not deserve to win“, “‘La La Land:’ The Most Over-Hyped Oscar Favorite Ever?” and “La La Land is a terrible film, but it will win Best Picture at the Oscars anyway” seem more like pathetic click-bait attention-seeking articles than actual intelligent and deserving criticism, particularly when most of that criticism is entirely absurd.

So just what kind of backlash is this year’s unfortunate frontrunner facing? Well, if you listen to these articles, La La Land is racist (only one black character), homophobic (no gay characters), sexist (she follows him), boring, plagiarist, amateur, and unimportant. As a white male, it’s not my place to comment on the validity of racism or sexism cries, but I will say this – as far as I was concerned, the film’s most visionary character was played by John Legend (he also happens to perform one of the film’s best songs too). And while Emma Stone’s Mia may be led by Ryan Gosling’s Seb initially, this is clearly only temporary, given where her character ends up in the film’s conclusion. As a gay white male, it is completely my place to comment on the validity of homophobic cries. Sure, the film is set in L.A., a city filled with gay people, and doesn’t happen to have a gay character in its plot. But calling that a sign of homophobia? Pah-lease. When did it become a rule that every film nominated for Best Picture had to feature a homosexual character? Of the eight other nominees, only one (Moonlight, obviously) features any gay characters. And five of those nominees also suffer from a lack of major black characters too. Why aren’t they being labelled homophobic and racist? And that’s the key here, folks. Those films don’t have the frontrunner target on their back.

Just imagine a different set of circumstances, and tell me this backlash would still be occurring. If it wasn’t winning everything leading up to Oscar night. If it only received five or six nominations. If it only won a few Golden Globes, instead of everything it was up for. If it wasn’t the frontrunner for the entire Oscar race. Remove that target, and it’s genuinely difficult to imagine this film would be subjected to cries of racism, homophobia, and sexism.

We see this every single year. The film deservedly finding itself the frontrunner is subjected to all sorts of mud-slinging, usually led by those with a vested interest in something else winning. The Oscar game is full of dirty tricks, and more often than not, people are guided to sling that mud by a crafty smear campaign, created by a PR manager, desperate to swing things their film’s way. The chorus to destroy a film’s chancing at winning Best Picture has to start somewhere, and more often than not, it’s another studio leading the way.

It’s this aspect of Oscar season I despise the most. It’s the point where people start turning on a piece of cinema they would normally love, if it weren’t besting their chosen horse in the race. I’m guilty of this myself. After seeing Birdman a few years ago, I decreed it a masterpiece, worthy of Oscar glory. But when it suddenly started to take the lead over the frontrunner I deemed “more worthy”, Boyhood, the feelings of hatred for something I once adored were palpable. This is the idiocy of awards season. One cannot seem to love more than one contender. We all have to pick our sides. But in doing so, it does not mean mud has to be slung. Back your side. Champion it, with all your might. Just don’t get so dirty about it.

This is why the backlash to La La Land is so dumbfounding. You don’t have to love it. No one is saying you do. But it’s been nominated for 14 Academy Awards. That has to make you stop to acknowledge the incredible achievement this film represents, particularly across a multitude of cinematic artforms and skills. Simply because it is acknowledged so greatly does not decree it to be the most important or socially relevant film of the year. I may love the film, but I can accept it’s neither of these things.

And that’s the one piece of backlash I cannot understand; the notion the film is simply not “important” enough by comparison to, say, Moonlight or Hidden Figures, to win. But who said it was? When did being important or socially relevant become the criteria for winning Best Picture? Yes, we have enjoyed some incredibly powerful and topical films winning the top prize over the years. But above all things, those films actually won for simply being brilliant pieces of cinema, which La La Land also happens to be.

ArgoThe ArtistThe King’s SpeechBirdman. Would you call any of these socially relevant or important? And yet, they still won. Why is that not okay for La La Land then? Why is it so criminal a dazzling, optimistic musical about love and art might win Best Picture this year? In these dark times, why can’t a film which encourages striving for your passions and never giving up on your dreams be given the title of Best Picture? Is that really so bad?

No matter what happens at the end of Oscar night, Moonlight is still masterful, Hidden Figures is still inspiring, Lion is still incredible, and Fences is still powerful. Losing to La La Land will not change that.