27 Feb 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 DOWN-RIGHT UGLY
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…