I’d been saying all night — and a long night it was — that “Moonlight,” the acclaimed, under-the-radar coming-of-age film about a black boy who is gay, directed by Barry Jenkins, had a shot at upsetting “La La Land,” the contemporary musical with 14 Oscar nominations, for Best Picture.
As the latter part of the evening relentlessly reached its climax, “La La” started to roll with Best Score, Best Song, Best Actress (the uber-excellent and purely Hollywood actress Emma Stone) and Best Director. I had to admit that I might be wrong. And, sure enough, days-gone-by movie greats Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty of “Bonnie and Clyde” fame were fumbling with the envelope, until Beatty announced that the Best Picture award was going to “La La Land.”
Oh well. We shut off the television after midnight, just about the time “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz was starting to thank everyone.
Turned out I was right (something I didn’t discover until I picked up the Washington Post this morning, Feb. 27): “Moonlight” had, indeed, won Best Picture.
Talked about dazed and confused.
But think about all those people — the gangs from both “La La Land” and “Moonlight” — milling around on the stage must have felt. According to the New York Times, it was Horowitz who first noticed the mistake and quickly and graciously called the “Moonlight” folks onto the stage. “You guys, I’m sorry,” he was heard to say. “‘Moonlight,’ you guys won Best Picture.”
That flub — it was caused because the wrong category had been tucked into the envelope held by Beatty — was, as flubs go, pretty monumental; unprecedented as far as the Oscars go; and about as public, in a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way, as you could get.
In some ways, it undercut a lot of the spirit of the evening, which seemed deliberately to set out to refute the #oscarsowhite controversy of the last two years, in which African American artists, especially actors, felt ignored and neglected. Still, the grace of Horowitz and Jenkins — who had also won for Best Screenplay — with his acceptance words saved the day, if not the night.
Jenkins said that for a long time he could not bring himself “to tell another story. So I want to just thank everybody up here behind me. Everybody out there in that room. Because we didn’t do this. You guys chose. Thank you for the choice. I appreciate it. Much love.” Mahershala Ali had already won a Best Supporting Actor award for “Moonlight.”
In addition, Viola Davis confirmed her sure-bet status, winning Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the wife in the late August Wilson’s own adaptation of his monumental play “Fences,” about an embittered black man who holds down a job as a sanitation worker after failing to fulfill his dream as a major league baseball player. Denzel Washington did not manage to overcome early favorite Casey Affleck, who won Best Actor kudos for “Manchester by the Sea,” for which another playwright, Kenneth Lonergan, won a Best Screenplay Oscar.
Davis, who had won a Golden Globe, also confirmed her status as just about the best speech-giver around, with a tearful and powerful acceptance speech.
The much-anticipated politics of the evening didn’t really materialize, except for host Jimmy Kimmel’s attempt to kick out every representative of newspapers ending with Times. When a documentary on O. J. Simpson won the award, Kimmel, less tame and more acidic than the other Jimmy, quipped “you don’t think I’m not going to do an O. J. joke, are you kidding?” and proceeded to do one.
Kimmel managed to be playful in his own way. He dragged members of a bus tour group into the building, a moment that was, if not exactly magical, a lot of fun, as the tourists blissfully shook hands with movie stars, starstruck but game, with Denzel Washington unofficially pretending to marry an engaged couple.
But, truth to tell, the proceedings were (not unusually) too long, too self-referential and reverential in too many ways to count. It was fun, and then, after a while, it wasn’t so much fun.
Some highlights: Damien Chazelle, who still looks like the guy from “Wonder Years,” became, at 32, the youngest person to win the Best Director award, although it’s a good bet he gets carded a lot. “The Salesman,” a film from Iran directed by Asghar Farhadi, won Best Foreign Film, but Farhadi refused to come, protesting the Trump travel ban, which included Iran.
Justin Timberlake gave a rousing start to the proceedings with an opening number that was more like a big dancing march into the audience. The Twitter world went wild over Halle Berry’s hairdo — large and looming — and Kimmel kept up a fakey feud with Matt Damon through the whole proceedings.
Kimmel tried to egg President Donald Trump into tweeting; he did not, at least at this writing, being busy with the Governors’ Ball at the White House, for one thing. But the evening is young.
But wait. It’s morning.
Hollywood, trying to do the right thing, had to do the wrong thing first.