About Last Night

“Guys, guys, sorry, no. There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture.”

With those words, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announced to the world, and almost to himself, that the unthinkable had happened in the most unthinkable way possible. The fact that Moonlight, a film made with a budget most blockbusters waste by a hundredfold, directed by a virtual unknown, starring no big name actors, released by independent distributor A24, and with a gay black man as its central character released a year after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, toppled a fourteen-times-nominated, white-people-fall-in-love powerhouse that had swept all precursor awards before it and, for 150 remarkable seconds, won the ultimate prize, is the single greatest upset in modern Oscar history. That was enough to provoke gasps on its own. The manner in which this jaw-dropping triumph was revealed however, will remain embossed into the minds, and the mouths, of myself and the rest of the watching world.

Unsurprisingly, speculation as to what the flying fuck actually happened in the chambers of the Dolby Theatre last night is running rampant: multiple theories have been put forth as to the person who made the catastrophic error, the process by which such an error was allowed to take place, and (hilariously) if this was all a beautiful revenge plot orchestrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. However, I don’t want to do that right now: there will be many more times, and many more awards ceremonies to wonder wildly whether Warren Beatty did away with Dunaway on that Dolby stage. As heart-stopping as that reveal was, a twist so shocking M. Night Shyamalan has desperately claimed to have written it, it has unfortunately hurt the men and women behind two utterly spectacular films, both of which were worthy winners. My heart goes out to everybody behind La La Land, a sun-kissed musical miracle that spoke to me so personally and intoxicated me so severely that I couldn’t possibly write a review of it here, for what happened. The Best Picture Oscar is the pinnacle, the peak of movie mountain, and for them to have reached it for a couple of minutes before being taken out by a gale force wind is unthinkable. Their grace in handing the award to the Moonlight team was exemplary, and for them my respect and love knows no bounds.

In the case of Moonlight, its hard to say right now how the envelope mix-up has changed the nature of their victory. On one hand, no other film will win quite that dramatically for as long as the Academy Awards continue to be presented – the footage of director Barry Jenkins, co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and the rest of that wonderful team realising they had pulled off the nigh-on impossible is spine-tingling. They have that distinction forever. But in a sense, I feel like that moment when the name is read and the audience rise to applaud was taken from them, amidst the bedlam that began to transpire on stage. I know that in my case I was still in such a state of paralysis, my hands clasped to my mouth like the air was toxic, that it was simply impossible to take in what was happening before my eyes. From the perspective of the Academy, the PR department will have a shift on for this to not reflect badly on the organisation: PwC, the accounting firm that handles the envelopes and the voting, has already issued a statement of apology, but I wonder whether that will be enough. Questions must be raised over how the envelopes were even in the position to be mixed up, and over the security of Oscar winners six months in the campaigning. I see us movie obsessives like prospectors in a mine ran dry, relentlessly poring through the dust, waiting for it to settle.

But despite a disaster nobody involved in will want to think about again, the Oscars are, and always will be, about the remarkable films that won those prestigious statuettes. Staying with Best Picture for a little while longer, what’s been lost in all this a little is that Moonlight‘s victory is MOMENTOUS. On paper, its everything a Best Picture winner never is, apart from the one key thing that it was: an incredible, challenging, astonishing, powerful, brilliant film. To describe Moonlight in tangible movie reviewing terms is actually difficult when you start to try: the more you think about it, the more this film turns into an epic poem, or striking triptych hanging in a famous gallery. Moonlight explores themes about as heavy as the Earth’s gravity currently allows for, and tackles them head-on, but in a way that is subtle, elegant and never ever exploitative. If you haven’t had a chance to see Moonlight, or were planning on it, then I urge you to give this movie your time. For most of the people who have the displeasure of me spamming them with this, its playing at the ODEON in Bournemouth tomorrow and on Wednesday in a limited engagement, and if you can make it then I strongly encourage you to make it – you won’t regret it, I promise. The performances from Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali (the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar: how’s that for a trump card), the electrifying Naomie Harris (who could have easily won in a year where Viola Davis’s snot blocked out all of her competitors from view), and the three superbly talented actors that play protagonist Chiron during the film – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes – are all impactful, affecting, and above all genuine. Sand has never been held like this.

This Oscars also celebrated a wide variety of movies: La La Land of course did major damage, picking up six Academy Awards including Best Director for Damien Chazelle, a teenage film prodigy whose victory ensures he can pay his tuition at University (he’s the youngest ever winner of the award), every musical award that they could throw at Justin Hurwitz (within 30 seconds he had won the same amount of Oscars as Denzel Washington) for his beautiful compositions – personally, I thought Audition was better than City Of Stars (braces self) – and of course Emma Stone, one of the certified best human beings to ever human, won Best Actress, exuding the kind of real-world charm Jennifer Lawrence has been forcing with all of her strength for years. Anyone that knows me can tell you that La La Land hit me like no movie has in a long time: Whiplash was already enough to prove to me that Chazelle knew what he was doing, a white-hot knuckle-crash-cymbal of a film, but La La Land somehow went further. The music was packed with heart, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are an on-screen couple to rival the best of the Golden Age, and the final scenes have a raw, unfettered magic that had me frozen to my seat, trying desperately to read the credits through the wall of my own tears. If you haven’t seen La La Land either, same goes for Moonlight: just find a way, take your partner, take your dog, take a random stranger, anybody who you can hum the earworm melody of Another Day Of Sun to without them trying to scupper your trip.

While Stone took the Best Actress prize to jubilation, her male counterpart faced a tetchier response: Casey Affleck took home the award, and depending on what reports and allegations you have read, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest he’s a bit of a Manchester By The Sea U-N-T. The announcement of his triumph over actors favourite Denzel Washington was decidedly muted, and possibly apprehensive considering the face last year’s Best Actress and my actual muse Brie Larson gave to the envelope, one of those stares most people reserve for killing their greatest enemies (massive tangent but since we’re talking Brie: I watched Room again and its a fucking masterpiece. Also, the cheese of the same name is pretty excellent as well, very creamy and succulent…and before I forget, Brie’s in Kong: Skull Island and Free Fire which are both out next month. Also, please return my fan mail, that expensive photo frame isn’t going to fill itself). Kenneth Lonergan’s two and a half hour sadness train also picked up the Original Screenplay honour, presented by Matt Damon whilst being played off by long-time rival and Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel, who did an excellent job that makes Neil Patrick Harris look like someone who just stumbled in from literally being stabbed by an ex-lover who delivers straight fire monologues (yes I rewatched that as well).

Hacksaw Ridge picked up two below the line awards, including Best Editing (literally I’m still not over that, in the single most revealing piece of information on how sad I really am since I promoted a French cheese one paragraph ago) in what would have been the shock of the night if not for the star of Town & Country refusing to die. You get the sense that the triumphs are what will maintain the life-force of Bond villain and Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel Meldolf Gibler as he moves on to whatever car-crash publicity that awaits him in the future. The rest of the single-Oscar-winning films included Denis Villeneuve’s remarkable sci-fi Arrival, which picked up a sound nod and was vicariously the hottest thing in the world when Amy Adams came out in a halo of binding light to present Adapted Screenplay to Moonlight. Adams was of course dealt the greatest injustice since O.J. Simpson’s trial when she was denied a nomination for Best Actress so we could wheel Meryl Streep out for another year, and in a further twist of the knife a documentary about O.J. Simpson’s trial went home with an Oscar. If we could all donate something to her, whether it be homemade cake, fan art of her in Junebug, even hand-drawn heptapod letters of condolence amongst other things, just to remind her that we’re all willing her on, that would be much appreciated.

Viola Davis’s powerhouse performance ensured Fences went home with a statuette, as the How To Get Away With Murder star became the 23rd actor to take home the Triple Crown (Emmy, Tony, Oscar). Disney also had a good night as Zootopia‘s socially conscious cartoon animals took home the Best Animated Feature prize, The Jungle Book‘s socially conscious CGI animals were awarded with the Best Visual Effects gong, and the sudden announcement by Dwayne Johnson that the performance of How Far I’ll Go would begin with an original prologue by Lin-Manuel Miranda (which was exactly as good as it sounds) made animals of us all. The performance by Auli’i Cravalho, the Moana star so young that she hasn’t even had a certain ABBA song be about her yet, was probably the best of the night, with barely a note out of place. She’s achieved more than any of us probably ever will. The three other musical performances for Best Original Song included John Legend’s medley of Audition and City Of Stars, which was excellent but just not Emma Stone in the darkness with a camera spinning around the back of her; Sting’s random appearance to perform that random song from that random film, which was so forgettable it would have been irrelevant in a show where that was the only performance; and Justin Timberlake’s show-opening Can’t Stop The Feeling proved that the Oscars is not a place for pop intros to ‘get the crowd mad lit, yo’. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them also became the first Oscar-winning Potter flick with a surprise costume design nod, casting a spell to make the entire of the world forget that Jackie was a film that came out and was one that had the best costumes of the year. Credit must also be given to all the shorts that won their respective prizes, including Pixar who got their first ever win in the Animated Short category for Piper. And, finally, in a reminder that the Doomsday Clock is at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, Kellyanne Conway could find the nuclear codes down the back of a Trump Tower sofa tonight, and that Vladimir Putin was probably a huge fan of Moonlight, Suicide Squad is an Oscar-winning film. Hair & Make-Up was the award in question: apparently Margot Robbie can make middle-aged white men do anything.

So I think that’s all bases covered. Of course, the Oscars has its winners and its unfortunate losers as well, and while there’s far too many to go in depth with, special mentions should go to three Best Picture nominees that aimed high and got to the top.  Hidden Figures, the feel-good movie about the three most badass mathematicians you have ever seen in your life, reached for the top through calculating rocket-ship trajectories. Lion, the feel-good Where Are They Now? documentary about the guy who won Indian Who Wants To Be A Millionaire that one time, reached for the top through 8-year-old cherub Sunny Pawar being lifted into the air to the music from The Lion King. And Hell Or High Water, the not-so-feel-good movie about an economic climate so harsh bank robbers are getting fucked over by the bank as well, reached for the top and found Jeff Bridges’ truly ascendant facial hair, and got him a Supporting Actor nomination in return. That just about wraps the 89th Academy Awards: not that the last 2000 words was relevant in any way as literally nobody will be talking about that nor will remember it by the time the 90th Academy Awards roll into town. You’ll probably just stay up the top of the article, reading Horowitz’s words over and over again, wondering whether DiCaprio really did plot to destroy the Oscars, whether Warren Beatty was bitter enough over Rules Don’t Apply to mess around with the Academy, or whether things would have felt any different, or been somehow more right if they’d read Moonlight out the first time. All that can be said is that the world would be much less interesting if everything went according to plan.

Roll on next year. Also if there’s anyone that can get my hands from my face, they’ve been plastered to my lips since about 5am. I really need to have some food. Also, I hope I can return that telepathic typing machine, as she was fucking dear.

James Stephenson





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