BLOG: Dancing in the Moonlight: Thoughts on the 89th Academy Awards

moonlight-oscar-card

A last-second correction is made at the Oscars.


by Ken Bakely

Between this and the Super Bowl, 2017 is a confusing year for people who turn off their TVs early.

The circumstances surrounding Moonlight winning Best Picture overpower the surprise that comes from the very notion of the film taking the trophy: this was, in any case, a tremendous upset. Every prognosticator, myself included, had predicted a victory for La La Land. Yet as the night went on, with the movie losing several categories seemingly tailor-made for it (sound awards and editing, etc.), a weakness emerged. But nobody could have foreseen how it all ended.

While some have argued that the moment was a constructed publicity stunt, this seems unlikely to me. The Oscars pride themselves on being the most snobbish event in American television, and would not risk their reputation by emulating sheer incompetence. Academy bigwigs likely hate the fact that they’ve spent the morning seeing the moment compared to Steve Harvey hosting Miss Universe, or Kanye at the MTV Awards. Yet as the show’s ratings drop farther every year, it’s clear they need to do something soon.

As I don’t know what actually happened, I can’t blame presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for this slip-up, nor anyone else in particular. However, I do find it strange that stagehands would allow the La La Land production team to speak for what felt like several minutes before swarming onstage to make the correction. This article seems to suggest that the process is supposed to be immediate. In any case, kudos to producer Jordan Horowitz for taking control of a chaotic situation, quickly taking the microphone to explain the error (only seconds after he was informed that he lost the award he thought he won), as well as grabbing and displaying a card from a properly prepared envelope so there would be no doubt.

As for my thoughts on the show that preceded this blunder, I was mixed. Host Jimmy Kimmel was good at keeping things light, although a lot of his more elaborate bits seemed a bit sloppy (that sketch with the tour bus was painfully prolonged). But his presence was welcome, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him invited back. The main problem of the Oscars – that they’re too long – was clear in other ways. The truncation of the Best Original Song performances (Justin Timberlake singing “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as an opening number, and the La La Land songs being performed as a medley) seem to confirm my belief that they are superfluous. And while I’m happy that those recaps of the Best Picture nominees were cut, they were replaced by an overlong montage before the presentation of the award itself. This raises another question: why couldn’t anyone use the time taken by that clip package to realize that they had sent out the wrong envelope?

On average, the acceptance speeches were better than they have been recently. They were shorter and more to the point, without an exhaustive list of names. The current social climate ensured that at least a few of the winners’ remarks were political in nature, although no one was overly preachy. There’s definitely a way to get this show within its allotted three-hour timeslot, but it will take some precious sacrifice on the part of a creative team that, no matter who is brought in or kicked out, seems to not want to make the requisite cuts.

Yet in all the glitz, glamour, and gaffes, let’s reflect for a moment on the significance of Moonlight’s win. It’s a subtle, restrained film about the life of a gay, working-class African-American. It told us a story that many movies don’t want to tell. It was produced with many known actors and crew members, but created outside of the Hollywood machine. Sure, it’s just a movie, and as Kimmel said, this was just an awards show, but in a time when the verbose, the excessive, and the overt threaten to overpower the basic, fundamental elements at the core of creativity and art, a simple human story won the biggest prize in the film industry. Regardless of how it ended up winning, that’s pretty cool.

My prediction score this year was 15/24, or 63%, below average for me. You can see what I projected would win in this post over at filmpulse.net.

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