2017 Oscars: 20 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments - Rolling Stone
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2017 Oscars: 20 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments

From gamechanging wins to even more historic screw-ups, the good, the bad and the WTFugly of that unbelievable Academy Awards ceremony

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.

Best: The ‘Hidden Figures’ Stars Pay Tribute to Katherine Johnson

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Best: The ‘Hidden Figures’ Stars Pay Tribute to Katherine Johnson

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.

Worst: That Tourist Bus Bit

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Worst: That Tourist Bus Bit

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.

Best: Supporting Actor Wins for Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali

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Best: Supporting Actor Wins for Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali

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.”

Mahershala Ali

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Worst: Making Fun of Mahershala Ali’s Name

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.

Best: Emma Stone's Acceptance Speech

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Best: Emma Stone’s Acceptance Speech

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.

Best: Kenneth Lonergan wins Best Original Screenplay for 'Manchester By the Sea'

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Best: Kenneth Lonergan’s Best Original Screenplay Win for ‘Manchester By the Sea’

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.

Sunny Pawar

Courtesy of ABC

Worst: Sunny Pawar Used to Recreate That ‘Lion King’ Scene

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.

Best: Dissent persisted throughout the night

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Best: Dissent Was Expressed …

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.

Worst: Pulling Punches on Politics

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Worst: … Though Explicitly Political Punches Were Pulled

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.

Best: The montages of previous acting winners

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Best: The Montages of Previous Acting Winners

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.

Worst: Outsourcing the 'La La Land' Performances

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Worst: Outsourcing the ‘La La Land’ Performances

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.

Best: The Presenters Who Would Make Great Hosts

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Best: The Presenters Who Would Make Great Hosts

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!

Worst: ‘Suicide Squad’ Is an Oscar-Winning Movie

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Worst: ‘Suicide Squad’ Is an Oscar-Winning Movie

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.

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