The Oscars had their definitive viral moment of the twenty-first century - at least one that was not Ellen tweeting a selfie - at the same time as their "woke" moment, and it's going to take a while to unpack what this will mean for the future of the Academy Awards. That does not mean, of course, that it's not worthwhile to attempt to sort through what happened at last night's Oscars: the ceremony itself; the political nature of the awards; the emergence of a meritocracy within the Academy; my personal prediction results; and, of course, that crazy ending to it all, which is where I will start.
Let's start with the foremost story on everyone's minds: the so-called "#envelopegate" in which La La Land was incorrectly announced as Best Picture before one of the movie's producers made the correction and Moonlight was correctly awarded with the final award of the night. Most of the story of how this could have happened is already available online, but I will recap it here for posterity.
There are two accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (who were strangely not publicly recognized during the telecast for the first time I can remember) who each have an identical set of 24 envelopes. They each stand on one side of the stage and give their envelopes to the presenters. Warren Beatty was given the wrong envelope, which was one of the two for Actress in a Leading Role, which had previously been given to Emma Stone for La La Land. Beatty was confused and handed it to Dunaway, who saw "La La Land" and made the proud pronouncement. From there, a stagehand brought the real envelope to Beatty in the midst of the acceptance speech, and then a producer of La La Land made the correction and graciously made the transition into inviting the Moonlight crew to the stage to accept their awards.
It was a truly shocking moment in a spectacle that only very occasionally provides such happenstances, and it instantly ranks among the most memorable events in the almost nine decades of Academy Award history. That said, it was probably only the seventh most shocking major event (other than eruptions of violence) to happen in the past twelve months in the general public sphere: Trump's election; Brexit; Trump's first week as President; the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title; the Patriots' Super Bowl comeback; and Villanova winning the NCAA March Madness ahead of it, with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series slightly behind. (With this track record, who says the Toronto Maple Leafs cannot win the Stanley Cup?)
Despite how shocking the moment was, it was a completely reasonable mistake to make on all parts. The fact that it has rarely happened - apparently, the same situation occurred with Sammy Davis Jr. presenting for Best Music Score (Adapted or Treatment) in 1964 - does not mean that it does not happen, though the lack of preparation I think demonstrates just how truly unexpected this moment really was.
There are already so many hot takes, with more to come, I'm sure: conspiracy theories, of course - the Oscars wanted ratings, for example, or they didn't want Moonlight to win; an innumerable number of jokes casting back to the results of the election; a narrative about the subjugation of minorities; and the predictable liberal-shaming from the vitriolic elements of the right. It has not even been a day, and I am already exhausted thinking about all of the thinkpieces that are yet to be written about what this moment means about America.
It is also unfortunate that all of the hubbub over the mistake is obscuring the fact that Moonlight scored a historic win on several fronts, and that the mistakes of the moment will overshadow the meaning of its win for the time being. (More on that later, but as one commentator noted, let's just be glad that it wasn't the other way around - can you imagine the jubilation at Moonlight's win followed by a correction to La La Land?) It is also overwhelming the discussion of the rest of the telecast, so let's buck that trend and take a few minutes to think about the three hours and forty-five minutes that preceded the final four minutes of chaos.
This was one of the most memeable and GIF-worthy Oscars in memory, even before that final screw-up. There were a lot of great moments throughout the telecast, from Mahershala Ali's classy opening speech until Barry Jenkins' impassioned plea to conclude the show. As usual, many of the evening's most meaningful moments happened in the speeches and impromptu moments, rather than in the prepared jokes.
Jimmy Kimmel may have hosted the most memorable Oscars in history - or at least since the early 1970s - but he was a subpar host, at best. His bits with Matt Damon were inspired, and Mean Tweets was a welcome segment, but most of his monologue and prepared jokes about Hollywood seemed a little toothless. He had better success in his jokes about the political situation and President Trump, but even most of those were predictable. He was better than Seth MacFarlane, but not by much.
There was also the problem of the prepared bits with the tour bus, which went on several minutes too long even though it featured Denzel's instantly classic impromptu marriage commissioner moment, and the food dropping from the ceiling, which was already tired when Chris Rock did it last year. He also had a few cringe-worthy moments that demonstrated some implicit racism, including making fun of an Asian woman's name and the "hoisting the child actor from Lion with The Lion King music in the background" bit, so I suppose he should consider himself lucky that most of the talk today will not be about his awkward slightly uncomfortable subtly racist performance.
There were a few head-scratching moments throughout the show, though I would argue that there were fewer than in the past. The strange segments in which an actor introduced one of their favourite movies seemed mostly to serve as set-up for Kimmel roasting Matt Damon for We Bought A Zoo, and the segment of foreigners talking about films was mostly memorable for the scene of Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski immediately preceding scenes from Citizen Kane, therein equating the two in the entire cinematic canon.
I was pleased to see the removal of several of the "this is why movies are great" montages, along with the extended presentation of the Best Picture nominees and the weird song and dance number at the beginning being replaced by Justin Timberlake's entry to Original Song nominee was inspired and fun (especially thanks to Taraji P. Henson, who was having the time of her life). There was still some of the usual bloat throughout the ceremony, but it felt like a step in the right direction by clearing out some of the extra junk. That said, I think the telecast was still way too long, and there is still a lot of fat to be trimmed in the future.
One of the best parts of this year's Oscars was just how political it ended up being. After the general timbre of awards shows over the past two months, we were expecting a political undertone (and perhaps overtone) to the proceedings, and we were not disappointed, as this was a very pointedly political Oscars, including a few barbs from Kimmel. There are often a couple of moments in which an issue is raised in a speech - Leonardo DiCaprio's evocation of climate change last year comes immediately to mind - but this year's winners presented a steady stream of indirect and direct criticism of Trump and his policies that delivered a clear message to the powers that be.
Furthermore, it could - and likely will - be argued that three awards - Best Picture, Best Foreign Film, and Best Documentary Short - were directly affected by the current political climate and the actions of the White House over the past month. Selecting Moonlight - a movie about poverty, race, and sexual identity - as Best Picture serves as a way to send a message about values not only to the White House, but also to the world.
One could - and I'm sure many will in thinkpieces over the next few days - make the case that La La Land would have won if Hillary Clinton was president, and that Moonlight's victory has overt political posturing to it; I suspect that some of that is true, but I would also be willing to venture that Moonlight was simply the film that more people most loved this year. It did not hurt Moonlight's chances that its selection made that political statement, and it did hurt La La Land that it really did not make such a statement.
La La Bland
I suppose we should not have been surprised that La La Land did not sweep its way to the record. The indications of a bland reaction to the film were there early in the evening, as La La Land lost several technical awards to various movies. It's not as though La La Land necessarily deserved those wins, but the fact that the movie did not win the extras was a sign that it was not necessarily as highly regarded as its previous dominance had us thinking it would be.
It still performed incredibly well with six Oscars, and it could well be argued that it won the awards it "should" have won (concerns about Stone's performance aside) and that it did not win the other categories in which it would have won given an overwhelming sentiment that it should win more Oscars. I was mildly surprised at its loss for Costume Design, but there was nothing that La La Land did not win that I felt it "should have won.
I watched La La Land a couple of weeks ago, and I came away feeling as though it was a "fine" movie. It had some great points - Stone's performance, Chazelle's direction, the cinematography and production design, and the music - all of which were awarded commensurately, but I do not think it was a classic film or one that will be particularly memorable in the annals of film history. I enjoyed it and it made me think, but I think that it was ultimately rather forgettable save for a couple of indelible moments.
I actually found myself rather ambivalent to the film, even though I would still consider it to be one of the better films of the past year. It may have been in part due to my general lack of interest in the genre of musicals, although I have been far more enamored with other musicals in recent memory; Moulin Rouge, Once and The Muppets come immediately to mind. I am perfectly fine with its ultimate reception, but I would have been fine had it won; after all, it's not The Artist.
Is the Academy now a meritocracy?
For once, it could be argued that the Oscars actually got it right - the movie that "deserved" to win actually won. That distinction is, of course, somewhat arbitrary, but it seems as though there is a general consensus from most of the people who care about these kinds of things that it is a good thing that Moonlight triumphed in the end. It is the kind of film that has elicited a passionate response, and that is what propelled it to its unexpected victory.
I, along with most prognosticators, was resigned to the fact that Moonlight would join the ranks of Raging Bull, Citizen Kane, Brokeback Mountain, and The Social Network, among many others, that will be considered all-time classics that lost to a less deserving Best Picture. Instead, Moonlight's win and this entire year's results may immediately herald a new era of the Oscars in which Best Picture might actually mean something and in which anyone - micro-budget films, TV networks, and streaming services - can gain enough momentum to win; after all, Amazon, Netflix, and ESPN all now have Oscars to their credit, so anything is possible.
The era seems like it actually began last year, when Spotlight pulled the upset win over The Revenant to win Best Picture with only two awards. At the time, I (along with many others) assumed that might have been an aberration to the Oscars' often groan-worthy commendations, but Moonlight's win, along with Casey Affleck's in Best Actor, could be an indication that the attempt to reinvigorate the Academy over the past year in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite has actually worked and that things are going to be different from now on. Of course, there is every possibility that at this point next year that we are back to the same old same old and that the Oscars have learned nothing, so there's always that to look forward to.
In the past few years, a few movies have won five or more Oscars based largely on technical merit: The Hurt Locker in 2010 (6); The Artist and Hugo in 2012 (5); Gravity in 2014 (7); Mad Max: Fury Road in 2016 (6); and La La Land with six this year. But among the main categories - Picture, Directing, the two Writing, the four Acting, and Animated Picture - only one film has won more than three since the expansion of the Best Picture category for the 2010 awards: The King's Speech in 2011, which is a good enough film, even if it clearly did not deserve two of those awards - Directing and Picture - in the competition against The Social Network.
The trend has been to spread the awards around among the nominees, and there has been an increasing tendency to award films that seem to deserve their victories. Those kinds of victories seemed to be far more rare in the past than they are now, and aside from a couple of exceptions - Actor and Actress for the most part, even in spite of Affleck's win last night - it seems like the trend is to actually award the best in each category rather than loading up on one or two movies in many categories.
If this trend actually is a thing that continues, it could mean that the Academy might actually start to shed some of the assumptions about the nature of how they give awards and that the field might actually continue to expand. There still seem to be some clear expectations and boundaries, especially in terms of some of the types of films that get nominated, but the fact that a tiny independent film like Moonlight can win might demonstrate that the Oscars have changed. Then again, people made the same comment in 2010 when The Hurt Locker triumphed, and the next two years featured victories by The King's Speech and The Artist, respectively, so change is far from inevitable.
Personal Prediction Results
And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, my personal results: 15/24 overall, including 13/21 on non-short films and 7/9 on the main awards. (I indicated last year that I would add Best Editing to my main picks, and although I kept it in initially this year, I think it's easier not to count it both for the parallelism of having predicted nine categories each year, as well as the fact that it is a technical category rather than a main category; I did miss it this year, by the way.)
Most of my technical misses were based on my assumption that voters would be agog for La La Land and would vote it in a number of the technical categories, rather than dividing their votes among different films; four of the five (of seven total) that I missed fit into that trend, with the other being a miss on Makeup and Hairstyling, which was won by Suicide Squad. I also missed Best Foreign Film, as I underestimated the political zeitgeist and motivation for a message in selecting The Salesman.
I missed two of the main nine awards I have predicted since 2005, which puts me on par with most previous years. I came close to a sweep again, missing only two of the final three awards, even though they were big ones: I had picked Denzel Washington over Casey Affleck for Best Actor - still a defensible pick, in my mind, and, according to Denzel's reaction at losing, also in his - and La La Land over Moonlight.
That particular miss marks my second three-year streak of mispredicting Best Picture winners in only thirteen years of predicting the awards. Picture is my worst category by far, but in my defense, at least three of those misses were entirely defensible (Moonlight, Spotlight in 2016, and Crash in 2006). At least one miss - Birdman in 2015 - was mostly due to not having paid much attention to the season that year (I had a few other things going on at the time), and the other three misses - Million Dollar Baby in 2005, The Departed in 2007, or The King's Speech in 2010 - were mainly due to either overestimating (in the first two cases) or underestimating (in the final case) the Oscars' love of bloat.
Despite those misses this year, in thirteen years of predicting the awards, I have picked roughly three-quarters of winners in major categories correctly; my performance this year kept that rate on track. Here are my overall results for the years I have predicted the winners publicly.
Results by year:
2017: 7/9 - missed Picture and Actor
2016: 8/9 - missed Picture
2015: 4/9 - missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature
2014: 8/9 - missed Original Screenplay
2013: 6/9 - missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2012: 8/9 - missed Actress
2011: 7/9 - missed Director and Original Screenplay
2010: 6/9 - missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay
2009: 8/9 - missed Actor
2008: 6/9 - missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay
2007: 5/9 - missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2006: 7/9 - missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2005: 7/9 - missed Picture and Original Screenplay
Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/13 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017)
Best Director: 10/13 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 10/13 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 11/13 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 11/13 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 11/13 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Animated Feature: 10/13 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)
Best Original Screenplay: 8/13 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 10/13 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Total: 87/117 for 73.4% accuracy
Well, it was an unexpectedly eventful conclusion to what otherwise seemed like a predictable campaign - the second time in four months that that particular statement was true. Almost no one except the Oscar contrarians saw Moonlight's win coming - although one prognosticator used his method to correctly predict five of the main six awards - but it certainly makes any future guesses much more suspect. If we as a society have learned anything over the past year, it's that anything is possible, and that we can't trust the data or our self-imposed interpretations thereof.
I think that there is a possibility that Moonlight will emerge as perhaps the only movie with any staying power in regard to the cinematic canon. The fact that it is one of the first movies to deal with LGBT issues to actually win Best Picture seems like it would be enough to keep it in the conversation, but it could well be argued that the composition of the film itself will also keep it on that level. I have not yet watched the film, but I am definitely going to make more of an effort to see it sooner rather than later.
There are a few other movies that I am still looking forward to watching, with Best Documentary O.J.: Made in America and Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water at the top of that list along with Moonlight. There are others - Hidden Figures, Lion, and probably Fences and Manchester by the Sea - that I imagine I will see at some point when they hit Netflix.
I would say that the crazy conclusion to this year's race will mean that we remember the entire season more fondly than it deserves to be remembered, as it was mostly a fairly staid and predictable affair until that final final envelope was revealed. It instantly became one of the top ten Twitter moments of all-time, and it may end up redefining the future of the Oscars.
This may end up being a watershed year in Academy Award history, or it might end up being an exception to the rule; only time will tell. Either way, I'm sure there is still a lot of fallout to come over the next few days, so it's going to be interesting to see what happens both in the near future and how this year's race affects the future of the Oscars. Now to get Justin Timberlake to host next year...