It was the flub heard ’round the world: After looking confused over the envelope in his hand, Warren Beatty looked to his Bonnie and Clyde costar Faye Dunaway, and they announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner. And several minutes and one very monumental screw-up later, Oscar history had been made. (Huge congratulations to the Moonlight folks; our sincerest apologies to Damien Chazelle and company.) Years from now, this will be what we talk about when we talk about the 2017 Academy Awards, but there was plenty to love, hate and scratch our heads in confusion besides that colossal screw-up. Here was the good, the bad and seriously WTF of last night’s broadcast.
This year’s host opened strong, firing political shots immediately by noting that the ceremony would be broadcast in more than 200 countries “that now hate us.” A jab at Mel Gibson soon followed: “There’s only one Braveheart in this room, and he’s not going to unite us either,” referencing the star’s less-than-stellar history. Kimmel also encouraged the audience to give “overrated” Meryl Streep a standing ovation – a more deliberate “fuck you” to the Commander in Chief, though still not enough to provoke an immediate Twitterstorm. He also gently ribbed La La Land and extolled Hidden Figures, saying that in 2016, “black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz.” It wasn’t perfect (a few too many jokes about “not watching” some of the smaller movies) but Kimmel managed to be adequately spiky, and the humor was easier to embrace coming from someone who would never, ever gamely ruffle Trump’s hair.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, Justin Timberlake’s peppy earworm of a single from Trolls. There’s also nothing wrong with the Oscar powers that be wanting to get some of the Best Original Song performances out of the way early in the night. But using it to kick off the show in lieu of the usual sketch or montage? The move came off as random at best and tone-deaf at worst. We all get a kick out of a little J.T. song ‘n’ dance, but it doesn’t exactly set the stage for the night to come. That said, the charismatic Timberlake would have made a way fine cohost for Kimmel. Maybe he can just stick around after the music ends next time?
We’ll get to the gaffe in a sec – but the fact that it was preceded by a historically awkward gaffe shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Moonlight‘s win is hugely deserving of celebration. Even if it did not come in the wake of last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Best Picture statuette going to Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s black, queer Bildungsroman represents a sea change for an Academy that has often seemed to be out of touch with innovation and diversity in filmmaking. There were a lot of solid contenders from 2016, but no movie in years has approached the subtle, powerful artistry, nor the searing sociopolitical relevance, of this major work of art. Now, about that envelope mix-up … .
This moment will outlive us all. In a year when the debate leading up to the Oscars reached a fever pitch and people fumed over La La Land‘s predicted win over Moonlight, we somehow got to see it play out both ways. It seemed like Beatty was trying to be everyone’s best prankster uncle, drawing out the evening’s crowning announcement, before he and Dunaway announced writer-director Damien Chazelle’s long-gestating movie-musical as the winner. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. The wrong envelope was handed out. Moonlight actually won Best Picture. It was an epic, never-before level fumble, and a shocking, catastrophic mix-up – albeit one with an ultimately happy ending. If only we could say the same about that incident in November.
The fake feud between the host and the star of The Martian may be an age-old gag at this point, and as Damon’s red carpet interviews suggested, he knew he was going to be in for some ribbing throughout the ceremony. What was surprising, however, was how fertile this low-hanging fruit would turn out to be, joke-wise. Kimmel kept drawing attention to his “no-talent” nemesis, telling those visiting tourists to “ignore the jerk” sitting behind Casey Affleck; talking about how Damon’s decision to make a “Chinese ponytail movie” instead of Manchester by the Sea (“And The Great Wall went on to lose $80 million.”); hijacking a recurring segment of stars waxing about older movies they loved to rip on We Bought a Zoo; and best of all, making the orchestra play Damon off the stage while he was presenting an award.
It was novel enough when Ellen DeGeneres brought in pizzas for 2014’s ceremony. Then Kimmel had his mom make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the 2016 Emmy audience; after something of an uproar from the nut-allergy contingent you’d think he would have scrapped the stunt. Sadly, no. Last night the stars were fed not once but twice, courtesy of candy, cookies and donuts dropped from the ceiling and parachuting into A-listers’ laps. Props to the novel delivery method, but do it during commercial breaks next time. How many people in that room are going to permit themselves to eat all that sugar?
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi refused to attend the ceremony to accept his award for The Salesman in protest of Trump’s executive order banning U.S. entry to citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. In his place, he sent Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian to go to space, to accept the award for Best Foreign Language Film. She read a brief statement from Farhadi: “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.” His absence was powerful – a necessary excoriation of discrimination and fear. If more groups who have been denigrated by Trump refused to show up, that room would have been a lot emptier.
Though it didn’t take home any statuettes, top-grossing Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures gave the ceremony one of its most memorable moments. When costars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe came onstage to deliver the nominees for Documentary Feature, they took a moment to bring out the woman who inspired the film: Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who stood up to racism and sexism, and helped push space exploration forward. Now 98-years-old and in a wheelchair, Johnson received what has to be one of the most well-deserved standing ovation in Oscars history.
The Academy Awards have frequently been accused of being too insular – and maybe bringing a bunch of random tourists front and center is perhaps not the best solution to that problem. In classic late-night talk-show host style, Kimmel orchestrated a stunt in which he brought the passengers of a tour bus into the Dolby Theater. What followed were a painfully awkward few minutes in which the group waded through the front row shaking the hands of celebs while the Master of Ceremonies made fun of their names and generally treated the whole affair like a zoo exhibit — whether the tourists or the A-listers were the ones on display remains unclear. Still, we are very happy for Vicki and her fiancé Gary, who were “married” by a very game Denzel Washington.
History was made twofold last night: Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award, and Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to achieve the coveted triple crown of acting (an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony). The two were both clear standouts in their categories – Ali for his turn as a complex father figure in Moonlight and Davis for her powerhouse performance opposite Denzel Washington in Fences (a role for which she also won a Tony in 2010). And they delivered two of the night’s most memorable speeches: Ali gave a sweet shout-out to “serving the character” and his newborn daughter; and Davis’ incredible, showstopping ode to the power of storytelling. “I became an artist,” she said. “And thank God I did, because we are the only profession to celebrate what it means to live a life.”
When will Oscar hosts learn? Was David Letterman’s Uma/Oprah gaffe not instructive enough? What about those string of syllables John Travolta uttered that were supposed to be Idina Menzel? “Patrick – now that’s a name,” Kimmel joked during the tour-bus skit, and then over the course of the night took several opportunities to turn Mahershala Ali’s name into a subject of fascination. Not everybody is a Kevin, Steven or some variation of John; there can’t be true celebrations of diversity at these events (or in general) if anybody who has an uncommon name can be made into a punchline. That this point has been made many times before is precisely why it comes across as even more disrespectful now. Just because no harm is intended doesn’t mean no harm is done.
Whether or not you thought the La La Land star’s performance was the best from an actress last year or not, you have to give it up to Emma Stone: She delivered a charming-as-hell winning speech. It was a study in class, from paying tribute to the other nominees (“I look up to you, and I admire you more than I can put into words”) to acknowledging her own relative lack of experience (“I still have a lot of growing and learning and work to do, and this guy is a really beautiful symbol to continue on that journey”). And if that didn’t seal the deal, Stone’s promise to her friends that she would “hug the hell out of you when the feeling reenters my body” was pretty sweet.
In an unusually equitable turn of events, most of the movies that were seriously circling this year’s Best Picture trophy were recognized (with the glaring exception of Hidden Figures) in one way or another. But while some of those wins will be subject to debate, it’s nearly impossible to quibble with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s win for Best Original Screenplay. The playwright’s ability to write for actors is peerless, as is his talent for emotionally devastating you; he imagines moments on the page that feel entirely unscripted on the screen. Manchester could be almost suffocating in its grief, but even at a run time that closes in on three hours, you’re left craving more from all of these familiar, fully human characters. Kudos, Kenneth.
Lion‘s young star is obviously and undeniably adorable, so any shtick that allowed us to see more of him last night should have been welcome. The only exception would be, oh, we don’t know – how about Kimmel holding Pawar in the air like Simba from The Lion King? It was one of the more cringeworthy moments in a night that was certainly not short on awkwardness; presumably the connection between the titles spurred the idea? Or maybe it was inspired by Lion costar Dev Patel’s lift at the Golden Globes earlier this year? Regardless, we’re talking about a white guy holding up an Indian child to the music of a movie set in Africa. It didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right.
Emma Stone and Dakota Johnson wore Planned Parenthood pins; Ruth Negga, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Busy Philipps and Barry Jenkins sported blue ribbons for the ACLU. Presenter Gael García Bernal took aim at one of the President’s more toxic projects, saying, “As a Mexican, as a Latin American … as a human being I am against any wall that wants to separate us.” Meanwhile, Kimmel kept Trump in his crosshairs throughout the night, introducing AMPAS’s Cheryl Boone Isaacs as “a president who believes in both arts and sciences.” She then piled on by saying “arts has no borders.” The White Helmet filmmakers, who won for Best Documentary Short, asked the audience to stand up for ending the war in Syria. In the long run, this might have been the most effective strategy. Instead of giving the POTUS lots of targets to attack today, attendees stood up for values and ideas that are harder to dismiss in 140 characters.
It’s an open question as to how much of a responsibility awards shows have (or don’t have) to tie the proceedings into current events. But considering how much of what the Academy Awards celebrate is in peril thanks to the present political climate – from support for the arts to freedom of expression to a spirit of globalism – many presenters and winners alike were more guarded than expected. Except for Foreign Language Film winner Asghar Farhadi’s boycott, there was no moment on par with, say, Meryl Streep’s fiery anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes last month. Considering the Oscar ceremony’s long history as a soapbox, 2017’s mood was surprisingly subdued.
We can hear the pitch for this segment: “What if we gave them even more speeches?” But the montages of winners past proved to be a nice, memory-jogging, nostalgia-triggering continuum for the acting awards. Clips of Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman looking exuberant made us both mournful and mindful of how joyous these moments are; who doesn’t want to revisit Barbara Streisand, pictured above, saying “Hello, Gorgeous!” to her statuette after winning for Funny Girl? It was the perfect way to put things into a larger context and note that the evening’s performers were part of a long legacy. Welcome to the club, these segments said.
Among La La Land‘s record number of nominations were not one but two Original Song contenders: the winning “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” In the movie, they’re performed by the film’s leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – so it rang a little false when both stars demurred from performing and ceded the mic to actual singer John Legend (who played a supporting role). The crooner’s polished covers only threw into relief the fact that neither Stone nor Gosling really has the vocal chops to carry a musical. We’re not one to look a gift Legend performance in the mouth, but considering that 16-year-old newcomer Auli’i Cravalho performed her Moana song like a champ, the La La Land-ers’ non-performance felt a bit like a cop-out.
Presenting award is an art that not all actors have mastered (lookin’ at you, Warren Beatty), but the ones who do can make or break the evening. Saturday Night Live MVP Kate McKinnon made a meal of co-presenting the Makeup and Hairstyling and Costume Design categories (“Costumes are the cost of humes”); Dwayne Johnson performed a jokey bit of his number from Moana before introducing his costar Auli’i Cravalho’s nominated song; and John Cho and Leslie Mann made a delightfully screwball double act announcing the winners of the Scientific and Technical Awards. Incidentally, any one of these people would make swell future Oscars cohosts. Cho/Mann for 2018!
You know who has never won an Academy Award? Alfred Hitchcock. Annette Bening. Peter O’Toole. Ava DuVernay. You know what has? Suicide Squad, DC’s excrementally bad, straight-to-Hot Topic supervillain flick that got a whopping 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Just think about that for a sec. Granted, the statuette was for Makeup and Hairstyling – but the movie’s greatest achievement on that front was to make Jared Leto’s Joker look like a second-string member of Insane Clown Posse. We should add that this wasn’t Suicide Squad‘s only awards nod this year; it was also nominated for two Razzies.