Going into this year’s Oscars there were a couple of persistent questions: Would the Academy be able to correct the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and how political was the evening the going to get? The answers were it could, and very, and perhaps the best example was what happened in the last few minutes of the show when the Best Picture winner was announced to be La La Land, only for it to be revealed near the end of the acceptance speech that it was Moonlight that had actually won. In the end, the touching personal drama beat out Hollywood’s big wet kiss to itself, one of several pointed and not-so-pointed allusions to the present need to embrace diversity during the evening.
One shouldn’t feel too bad for La La Land though, it still scored six Oscars out of its 14 nominations including Best Actress for Emma Stone, Best Director Damien Chazelle and trophies for Best Score, Best Song, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Moonlight did half as well overall with Best Supporting Actor honours going to Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, but perhaps the message will persist more. Indeed, the Best Picture of the Year, despite a misread from Warren Beatty, turned out to be the visceral slice of life of a black boy that grows up poor and fatherless with a crack addicted mother in Miami. La La Land may be about following your hopes and dreams, but Moonlight is about what you do when you have none.
If that seems somewhat dour, that was about the tone of the affair at the Dolby Theatre that was epic in its length, and packed with all the usual trappings of these overlong soirees. At this Oscars, it wasn’t a matter of who’s going to get political, it was a matter of who’s not going to get political? Host Jimmy Kimmel was the only one to use the initials “D.T.” out loud, but the more subtle messages from presenters and winners was still universally understood. While presenting the Oscars for short and feature length animation, Gael Garcia Bernal said, “As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.” He then gave the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Zootopia, one of the directors continued the theme. “We are so grateful to the audiences all over the world that embraced this film with this story of tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other,” said Rich Moore.
The actions of President Donald Trump were dealt with more directly by the Oscar winners that weren’t there. “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” said Asghar Farhadi in a statement read after his film, The Salesman, won Best Foreign Language Film. Frahadi, who’s Iranian, boycotted the Oscars when the travel ban executive order signed by Trump included his country along with six other majority Muslim countries.
“Our organization is guide by a verse from the Quran ‘to save one life is to save all of humanity’. We have saved more than 82 thousand civilian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and around the world,” read a statement from Raed Saleh, the leader of the Nobel Prize-nominated Syrian rescue group that’s the subject of Best Short Documentary, The White Helmets. Khaled Khateeb, the 21-year-old cinematographer who filmed Helmets, was denied entry into the U.S. while trying to attend the Oscars.
But Kimmel fired directly at Trump early and often, once he got a bit of mockery at Mel Gibson‘s expense out of the way first. “People have been telling me it’s time to to bring everyone together. Let’s just get something straight off the top: I can’t do that. There’s only one Braveheart in this room, and he’s not going to unite us either,” Kimmel said before talking pointedly about the two elephants in the room. “Maybe this is not a popular thing to say, but I want to say thank you to Donald Trump. I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? It’s gone. Thanks to him!”
To Kimmel’s credit, he kept the bloated show running rather smoothly right up until the Best Picture snafu. Kimmel was a constant presence throughout the show and didn’t disappear at the halfway point as time ticked on as the presentations and rewards piled up. Maybe the fact that the Oscars at times felt like a formal version of Kimmel’s talks show had something to do with that. There was an Oscars version of “Mean Tweets”, an excruciatingly long gag where Kimmel brought a Hollywood tour through the auditorium, and more of Kimmel’s ongoing antagonism with Matt Damon. The Damon bit was fine, but the stupid “Movie I Love the Most” segments turned out to be one long set-up to mock Damon’s We Bought a Zoo, a movie Matt Damon himself has probably forgot he made.
Music was a sticking point too. Often presenters walked out to mysterious mismatching musical pieces like Alicia Vikander‘s arrival to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” or Vince Vaughan‘s entrée to “Stayin’ Alive” and John Cho and Leslie Mann being ushered on stage to the theme from The Pink Panther. On top of that, the various performances of the nominated songs did not seem all that memorably staged despite the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sting, and John Legend, only Justin Timberlake‘s show opener had any kind of vim, maybe because he had the benefit of performing early in the evening when the audience was still fresh. In fairness though, Sara Bareilles performance of “Both Sides Now” during the “In Memorium” segment was a legitimate showstopper, right up through seeing Carrie Fisher bid adieu with a “May the Force be with you.”
And in the end, if 2017 Oscars will be remembered for nothing else, it will be for these five words: “Academy Award-winner Suicide Squad.” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Allen Nelson won for Best Make-Up and Hairstyling. Amanda Waller herself, Viola Davis, won Best Supporting Actress for Fences while Batman’s brother Casey Affleck won Best Actor for Manchester By the Sea. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them worked its magic on Best Costume Design, The Jungle Book took Best Visual Effects, and Pixar collected another Oscar for Piper, the short animated film that preceded Finding Dory.
So that’s the end of another awards season. Like a candy and cookie airdrop the sweetness is gone before you know it, and that’s especially true if your the producer and studio for La La Land. In perhaps the most Trump-like move of the night, Beatty shook our faith in the system because sometimes a 70-something year old man might read something wrong and the whole thing falls apart, and if that’s not a great metaphor for the current political climate, I don’t know what is. Until next year… Maybe?
Complete List of Winners:
Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
La La Land
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Manchester by the Sea
LA LA LAND
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
LA LA LAND
THE JUNGLE BOOK
Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
LA LA LAND
Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
CITY OF STARS
from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
LA LA LAND
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
THE WHITE HELMETS
Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara