Monday, February 27, 2017

#OscarsSoBlight


And you thought the Oscars were awful last year.

When the Academy failed to nominate a single actor or actress of color in 2016, the Twittersphere rightfully dumped on the venerable institution with the withering hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. 

So...what should the fiasco that ended the Oscar ceremony this year warrant being dubbed? #OscarsSoBlight? 

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word blight as “that which spoils or damages something.” Well, the screw-up at the end of the Oscars last night, with the wrong Best Picture winner being called out, was exactly that. It was damaging. It spoiled an otherwise sharp and positive show. It was a blight on the awards and the movie season. All it takes is such a blight to seriously damage the Academy Awards' reputation, and I fear that this debacle will taint it for many, many years. Who knows if they can ever really live it down.  

In all my years of watching the Oscars, I’ve never seen something so unfortunate as that screw-up at the end of the show. Perhaps it was riveting television, but the fiasco damaged the brand of Oscar needlessly. And it overshadowed what should have been a straight and unfettered announcement of the huge victory for MOONLIGHT, a wondrous film that cost only $1.5 million to make and was wholly deserving of the accolade. The fact that it was such a daring character study too, about a gay, black teen in a year that sorely needed positive stories about acceptance and diversity, should have been the main takeaway from this year's Oscars. But ultimately, the telecast screw-up mauled the win.

Why didn't presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway ask for the correct envelope when they realized they had a duplicate Best Actress ballot? Why did they go ahead and read the name of the movie under Emma Stone's name knowing it was wrong? Why did it take the show's producers and the accounting firm so long to react to the mix-up? Instead, one of the producers from LA LA LAND had to be the one who announced it to the world. The mind boggles at the array of sloth and stupidity in evidence last night in those final moments. 

We will likely find out more about all the details, but suffice it to say that accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers will pay dearly for not doing their job properly. They had one task to do last night, one task, and that was to hand the right envelope to the right presenters at the right time. And they failed in that last moment so spectacularly it ruined the show.

Whether you wanted LA LA LAND to win or not doesn't matter. I picked it as the year's best film, but I loved MOONLIGHT too. I'd have been happy with either film winning, let alone other contenders like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA or ARRIVAL, but that's beside the point. No film, none of the nominees, should have had their name called out, only to have their victory snatched away like that. And no legitimate winner, like MOONLIGHT, should have to have their celebration tainted so egregiously because the Academy couldn't assure their proper announcement in the first place. 

To me, the only funny thing about it all was the fact that up until that moment it was such a clever and entertaining Oscar telecast. Kimmel hosted with an easygoing rapport and had some truly killer zingers. His schtick with the tourists slayed and may have been one of the very best bits ever pulled off at an Oscars. And boy, were the speeches great. So many winners were articulate, passionate and pointed. Viola Davis' speech was truly one for the ages.

No winner seemed rushed during their speech, and the orchestra played off no one. Heck, they only interrupted one or two that went long. And the wealth was spread around too with a number of films getting awards, including ARRIVAL for Sound Editing, HACKSAW RIDGE for Sound Mixing and Film Editing, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA wins for Kenneth Lonergan's Best Original Screenplay and Casey Affleck's Best Actor. Even the In Memoriam segment was exquisite even though they forgot a few key names including Robert Vaughn, Garry Shandling, Doris Roberts and Dan Ireland. 

Importantly, the Academy overcame its whitewashing scandal from last year. Six actors of color were nominated back in January, and two of them won last night - Viola Davis for FENCES and Mahershala Ali for MOONLIGHT in the supporting categories.  Everything had gone so, so well...right up until the end. 

One can argue about whether Hollywood septuagenarians should be presenting such big awards, or why those behind-the-scenes didn’t act fast enough, but what one cannot argue is the fact that this egregious blunder humiliated and embarrassed those from LA LA LAND onstage for all the world to see. And the blunder stained the victory of those associated with MOONLIGHT in a terrible way. I hate that this happened. And I fear that these two terrific films will now be forever associated with an Oscar punchline for the remainder of their days. How shameful that would be.

One person who’s probably not feeling so bad about all this? John Travolta. His mispronouncing Idina Menzel’s name two years ago now seems almost quaint.   

And in case you're wondering, here is the complete list of winners, unless some of those envelopes were wrong too.

Best Picture: MOONLIGHT
Best Director: Damien Chazelle LA LA LAND
Best Actor: Casey Affleck MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Best Actress: Emma Stone LA LA LAND
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali MOONLIGHT
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis FENCES
Best Original Screenplay: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Best Adapted Screenplay: MOONLIGHT
Best Cinematography: LA LA LAND
Best Editing: HACKSAW RIDGE
Best Sound Editing: ARRIVAL
Best Sound Mixing: HACKSAW RIDGE
Best Original Score: LA LA LAND
Best Original Song: “City of Stars” (LA LA LAND)
Best Production Design: LA LA LAND
Best Costume Design: FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: SUICIDE SQUAD
Best Animated Movie: ZOOTOPIA
Best Animated Short: PIPER
Best Live Action Short: SING
Best Documentary Short: THE WHITE HELMETS
Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
Best Visual Effects: THE JUNGLE BOOK
Best Foreign Language Film: THE SALESMAN (Iran)


Finally, I suggested in last week's post that this was an easy year to predict the Oscars. Not true, as it turns out. A lot of critics and pundits got a whole lot wrong, including yours truly. I only pegged 14 out of 24 correctly. Pathetic, I know. But not as pathetic as what happened with the Best Picture announcement.

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