Warren Beatty opened the envelope, took a long look at the card and passed it to Faye Dunaway, who said, “La La Land” into the microphone. The frontrunner’s producers, director and cast hugged, celebrating their seventh Oscar of the night, and made their way to the stage. The outcome was no surprise and kind of anti-climatic, as an upset would be the only thing that would make this night memorable. Instead, the Academy Awards followed the script. La La Land won big, but not historically big. Live-tweeting the event, I had my head down feverishly typing La La Land had won best picture. I also got another Tweet out about La La Land’s Oscar total for the evening…then it happened.
“There’s been a mistake,” La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz bellowed into the microphone.
My head sprung up as the rest of my body froze.
“Moonlight, you guys won best picture,” Horowitz said. And he called them onto the stage reassuring those who worked on the film that this was not a joke.
Horowitz even held up the winning card, which one of the cameras closed in on so we could all clearly see Moonlight won best picture. The classy Horowitz then waited on stage to hand his golden statue off to the approaching Moonlight crew.
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins took the mic, still in shock, but absolutely overjoyed.
“Even in my dreams this could not be true,” Jenkins said. “But to hell with dreams. I’m done with it, because this is true.”
It was unfortunately a poor choice of words (considering La La Land is about dreams), but Jenkins in no way meant to take a shot at La La Land. He in fact went on to give his love to La La Land.
Beatty and Dunaway don’t deserve blame. They were given the wrong envelope. Horowitz and host Jimmy Kimmel deserve a lot of credit, Horowitz for grabbing control of the situation and displaying great class in a time where he was probably devastated, and Kimmel for making jokes to try to ease the awkwardness.
How did this happen? Well, I think the more important question is did Moonlight deserve the upset victory?
When I first heard about Moonlight earlier in 2016, it was actually an early favorite to take best picture or at least be in the hunt before La La Land swooped in and moved Moonlight into the underdog role. Even though I saw a myriad of films in 2016, the theaters I go to never showed a trailer for Moonlight before any of them, so I had to look it up myself. It was a great trailer in the sense that it didn’t tell you a lot about the film, always a plus for me. It shows the studio has confidence in the quality of its movie.
Now, I live in Scranton, Pennsylvania, so movies don’t always get to our theaters right away, but they do eventually get here. I missed Moonlight’s very short run in I believe November, but luckily it came back around, and I jumped at the chance to see it. I didn’t want to miss it a second time.
Before going into the theater, I was skeptical as to what would make Moonlight a best picture nominee. Obviously, I knew it would be well acted (Earned a best supporting actor award and a best supporting actress nomination) and well written (Won for best adapted screenplay) with a very powerful message relevant to today, but will it be shot well to enhance the film’s engagement? Will the score be any good? Will the director make the right choices to bring the movie to new heights?
One of the first things I noticed was the cinematography. Just amazing camerawork. A scene that really stood out to me (And I’m sure to you as well) was when Mahershala Ali (The winner for best supporting actor) held main character, Little (played by Alex R. Hibbert), flat on top of the ocean, half in the water and half outside the water. I loved how the camera looked as though it sat on top of the water floating and moving with the gentle undulation of the ocean. This is just one of the many examples of amazing cinematography in the film. I enjoy the way the camera follows characters and finds the perfect balance of bringing us into the action without putting us uncomfortably close to actors’ faces.
Another great movie in 2016 and fellow best picture nominee Manchester by the Sea has a similar base to Moonlight. It’s well written (Won best original screenplay) and well acted (Won best actor and earned nominations for best supporting actor and best supporting actress) with a powerful message relevant to today. But there wasn’t anything special about the cinematography. I felt as though I was watching real life, which don’t get me wrong was amazing. But Moonlight brings you into the film so you feel as though you’re living real life. That’s where it gets the edge. That’s where it gets its greatness.
Moonlight also has a solid score (Oscar nominated in fact) that fits the film without over-dramatizing scenes by being overly loud like Jackie did. How Jackie’s score also got nominated will baffle me forever, but I digress.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the greatness of director Barry Jenkins (Who also wrote the screenplay). He’s the quarterback of the entire operation and I challenge anyone to find a blip in the film. All the accolades I’ve given Moonlight above are a testament to his supreme direction, although he fell short of winning the Oscar against La La Land director Damien Chazelle. He made it happen. He created all of this and without his vision this movie is just good. He brought it to best picture heights.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Although La La Land had the buzz, this was a great crop of best picture films, and it was difficult to choose a winner. Although La La Land took home the most Oscars on the night (6), pretty much all the films earned something at some point during the night. Moonlight won three Oscars; Hacksaw Ridge and Manchester by the Sea two apiece; and Arrival and Fences each with one. Every movie was well represented as it should have been. If I were to rank them, it would go something like this:
To put that in perspective, I thought Fences was amazing and it’s difficult to find flaws with it. And that’s probably my least favorite of the best picture nominees.
La La Land is easily one of my favorite movies of the year. I don’t think it was over-hyped either. I loved it. I thought it was brilliant, and this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually enjoy musicals. However, Moonlight was great too. And the film that had no chance, Arrival, was actually my favorite of the year. But in a race between the two movies involved in the best picture mishap, I thought La La Land should have barely edged out Moonlight for the award. But make no mistake about it, Moonlight fits the criteria for a best picture winner and deserves every bit of that trophy.
Also, I hope the La La Land backlash will end now that it lost the most coveted award at the Oscars. Let’s instead take a step back and appreciate the greatness in the 2016 movie season.
P.S. Suicide Squad winning an Oscar was easily the biggest tragedy of the 89th Academy Awards.