March 2, 2017
On February 26, 2017, a star-studded crowd of actors, producers, directors, and behind-the-scenes personnel, as well as family members and well-wishers, gathered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to celebrate the biggest night of the year in film: the 89th annual Academy Awards, commonly referred to as the Oscars.
The awards kicked off at 8:30 pm EST, following a red carpet event that broadcasted live beginning at 6:00 pm EST. The master of ceremonies for the evening was late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. The opening scene consisted of Justin Timberlake singing a stirring rendition of his hit song “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Then Kimmel took the stage, and the hilarity began. Kimmel delivered a patriotic monologue in the shadow of recent events loaded with jokes, including an anecdote directed at the “highly overrated” Meryl Streep, who was nominated for the record 20th time.
And now onto the awards!
The Envelope, Please…
The first award of the evening went to Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, an expected win. What was not expected was the next win announced: Suicide Squad for Makeup and Hairstyling. The awards continued, peppered with performances and acceptance speeches, including a tearjerker one by Viola Davis, who won Best Supporting Actress for her head-turning performance in Fences.
Moana star, Auli’i Cravalho, performed the Oscar-nominated song from that film, “How Far I’ll Go”, and, assisted by nominated songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, lit up the stage. Speaking of Miranda, another highlight of the evening for me was the improvised performance of “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton by Seth Rogen and a very reluctant Michael J. Fox when the two presented the award for Best Film Editing, which was much to the delight of Miranda.
The awards continued throughout the evening, including nods for the expected winner, La La Land. This film, the story of an unlikely romance in the Golden Age of Hollywood, received a record 14 nominations, tying with Titanic and All About Eve. It ended up winning six awards, mostly losing to the unlikely winner, Moonlight. And still, La La Land took home some of the most prestigious awards, including a win for Emma Stone in the Best Actress category (beating out Meryl Streep for her period piece Florence Foster Jenkins), Best Director, Best Song (ending EGOT hopes for Moana’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, which means he will not be included in a handful of performers in history to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), Best Scoring, Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography.
The Best Actor statuette that evening went to an unlikely favorite, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. And foreign and animated films were not left out, with fan favorite Zootopia taking home Best Animated Film and Iran’s film The Salesman won the Best Foreign Film award. The director, Asghar Farhadi, was not on hand to accept the award; he decided to boycott the Oscars after a Syrian cinematographer was barred from traveling into the U.S. due to President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
A Stunning End
But the biggest award of the night was still to come. At the end of the long evening, they finally got around to announcing the coveted Best Picture award. There were ten nominees, including Arrival, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea (with Amazon making history as the first streaming service to be nominated for an Oscar), and Moonlight. When classic film stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took the stage, they were about to make history. They were about to become the executors of the worst goof-up in Oscar history. When Beatty opened the envelope, he hesitated for several moments, then showed it to Dunaway, who blurted out La La Land. The producers took the stage and began making their acceptance speeches.
But two and a half speeches later, Beatty cut in. It seems he had made a mistake. The true winner was announced by the producer of La La Land, Jordan Horowitz: Moonlight actually won Best Picture. As the La La Land cast and crew filed off, and the slightly confused Moonlight cast and crew took the stage, Beatty again took the mike to explain himself. It would appear he was handed the wrong envelope, the Best Actress envelope with Emma Stone’s name instead of the Best Picture one. When Beatty handed the envelope to Dunaway, she read off the movie that was on the card. The producers of both movies—everyone on stage, really—handled the situation with grace, but the Moonlight win was one with muted exuberance, as the initial moment of excitement had been taken from them. The swift and graceful handling of this situation by the producers and people on stage, as well as well-timed comic relief by Kimmel, proved the old saying, “The show must go on.”
Personally, I do not think the mistake was Beatty’s fault, as he was simply handed the wrong envelope, and the real fault lies with the person who gave out the envelopes in the first place. However, despite this flub, the Academy Awards shone as usual this year, with memorable performances, laugh-out-loud moments, and deserving wins. It was truly, as the late Gene Wilder said, “a world of pure imagination” Sunday night in Los Angeles for dozens of aspiring actors who came into the awards season unknown, just hoping to make it.