Forget it, Jake – it’s La La Land.
No wait, sorry, there’s been a mistake. it’s Moonlight! Our bad.
What a glorious only-in-Hollywood fiasco, and what a sublimely insane ending to an Oscar night for the ages. It was just like the end of Bonnie and Clyde:Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway bask in each others’ glow, there’s suddenly an awkward silence, they share a moment of doomed erotic eye contact … and then oh, the carnage. The only thing missing was some sad banjo music. The Best Picture screw-up was a magnificent triumph of live TV, starring two of the greatest movie stars ever – the kind of beautiful disaster only the Oscars could deliver. That was absolutely perfect. If you didn’t savor every second of that moment, maybe you just don’t like movies.
This was a Lana Del Rey song of an Oscar night, except with a tragic final verse that rhymes “Faye Dunaway” with “baby, put your smoking gun away,” or maybe “Bonnie and Clyde” with “spritzer spiked with cyanide.” No matter how many times you re-watch that final 10-minute meltdown, it’s still hard to believe, like a lost outtake from The Bodyguard. The La La Land crew made their acceptance speeches, a guy with an earpiece holding the red envelope came around whispering in ears, then La La producer Jordan Horowitz made the announcement that an unprecedented pooch-grope just happened. Should we blame Price Waterhouse? Faye? Warren? Why not chalk it up to the Magic of the Movies™ that we kept hearing about all night? Because this instant-classic moment seemed to mash up decades of Hollywood history, given the illustrious legacy on display. You could picture Howard Beale from Network emerging onstage to rant, “I want you to get up right now, open your windows, stick your head out and yell: ‘20th Century Women wasn’t even nominated?'”
The biggest shock was how the La La Land and Moonlight teams showed such valiant grace under pressure, displaying mutual respect and admiration, salvaging what could have been a miserable scene. Horowitz looked happy for Moonlight, just as Barry Jenkins gave his respects to La La Land. Everyone involved came out looking cooler and more majestic. It was a touching moment of artists looking out for each other, responding to an unimaginable sticky gaffe with adult courtesy and heart, acting like true artists on a night when movie people can often seem like squabbling prom queens. But let’s face it, the scene was also comedy gold – the most priceless Oscar fuck-up ever, and the greatest heist Bonnie and Clyde ever pulled. Sacheem Littlefeather tangoing for Marlon Brando, David Niven getting upstaged by a streaker, John Travolta giving it up to Adele Dazeem – these look a little small time in comparison. Really, the only losers in this situation were the scribes who spent months polishing their “Moonlight got robbed” thinkpieces. Among the shocked-looking faces in the crowd: Warren’s sister Shirley MacLaine, standing next to Charlize Theron. City of stars, indeed.
The whole night belonged to Moonlight and La La Land, two totally different movies that deserve better than to get pitted against each other in a phony “authentic serious art vs. fluffy chick flicks” binary. I’m glad Moonlight won, but Ryan Gosling getting all “listens to Mingus Ah Um once” is considerably more entertaining than Non-Goslings explaining why they deserve a woke cookie for not liking a movie that (whatever its failings in terms of jazz history) gave us the sight of the star with a keytar doing A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran.” It was easily the best song in that musical, and that wasn’t even one of the 10 best Flock of Seagulls songs. Really, La La Land might have won Best Picture if they’d gone for a full Seagulls score: “Space Age Love Song” for the Griffith Observatory scene, “It’s Not Me Talking” for the audition scene, “Wishing” over the end credits.
Jimmy Kimmel did a clever job as host – in the year the networks decided to use the Big Three award shows to pimp their own late-night franchises, Kimmel easily outclassed James Corden at the Grammys or Jimmy Fallon at the Golden Globes. Instead of doing a big political joke-dump at the start, he tossed darts all through the night, from “Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz” to “Dr. Strange was nominated for outstanding visual effects and was also named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.” He also got a lot of welcome help from Matt Damon. His tour-bus stunt was a bore, yet even that was redeemed by King Denzel performing an impromptu wedding ceremony for a couple of tourists.
The fun started on the red carpet, with Michael Strahan in a purple velvet tux interviewing sugar-titted sleazebag Mel Gibson about his latest comeback, while Mel groped his date, who looked like she was blinking “help” in Morse code. The lucky gal, who just gave birth to the Hacksaw Ridge director’s ninth child last month, was born in 1990, the week Die Hard 2 was released. (The same year Mel starred in Hamlet, the version Alicia Silverstone quotes in Clueless. In Alicia’s words, “Ugh, as if.”)
Isabelle Huppert was the essence of French so-over-it glam, to the point where winning the Oscar only could have dimmed her luster. She beamed all night like a Roxy Music album cover come to life. Meryl Streep sat in the front row with the regal attitude Jack Nicholson used to bring to his annual front-row duties. Whatever you think of Meryl’s latest movies, she is crushing it in her current phase as grande dame of award shows, a role that used to seem clumsy for her – it was a treat to watch Meryl munch Junior Mints and nuzzle with Javier Bardem. Her front-row neighbor Denzel was awesomely pissed at losing the Best Actor award to Casey Affleck, whose excruciating beard-chew of a speech was like listening to three Fleet Foxes songs in a row.
Viola Davis’ tearful acceptance for Fences was a classic in itself. Other great speeches came from Mahershala Ali, Emma Stone, Kenneth Lonergan and really, everyone who wasn’t Casey Affleck. The most moving by a long shot, however, was Moonlight writers Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney dedicating the award to “all the black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming.” Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who won for The Salesman, wrote a powerful statement denouncing the Muslim ban. Lin-Manuel Miranda got to perform just a couple lines of his Moana song; this was less airtime than Seth Rogen and Michael J. Fox singing “Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton. Shirley MacLaine did a delightfully odd cameo to celebrate The Apartment (a movie always worth celebrating) alongside Charlize Theron, who testified that watching that Billy Wilder movie on her 17th birthday inspired her to become an actress and slap the crap out of Teri Hatcher in 2 Days in the Valley. Well, as Shirley would say, that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.
John Legend sang the winning La La Land theme, a counterpoint to how he played against type as the movie’s bad guy – as clever a stunt as Paul Simon stealing the girl in Annie Hall or Marshall Crenshaw playing Buddy Holly as a smug prima donna in La Bamba. The “In Memoriam” montage had Sara Bareilles singing “Both Sides Now.” (Wait, they know Joni is still kicking, right?) It ended with Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia uttered “May the Force be with you.” It looked like this year’s Oscar gala might reach a tasteful and respectable conclusion. And then came that ending – what a mess. One thing’s for sure: Marisa Tomei is finally vindicated for all time. Ever since she won Best Supporting Actress in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny, conspiracy fiends have questioned whether Jack Palance read her name off the teleprompter instead of looking at the envelope. (She beat Judy Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright.) Now we finally know what really happens if somebody announces the wrong winner’s name. There must be some way to make it up to Marisa Tomei – maybe next year she can get her own “I inspired Charlize!” cameo.
Respect is due, because only mega-legends on the level of Warren and Faye could have made this moment such a towering inferno as live-TV snafus go; some 50 years after Bonnie and Clyde, they’re still robbing banks. I love them both more than words can say – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the Eighties TV movie Beverly Hills Madam just to see Faye yell, “Discretion! That’s what they pay us for!” at Donna Dixon. Price Waterhouse officially took the blame, though we’ll all keep Zapruder-ing the footage to play “Where’s the envelope?” (Kimmel has another theory about what went wrong: “Warren Beatty has had so much sex he can’t think about it right.”) But I love tragically fucked-up and glamorous award shows the way Ryan Gosling loves vintage Monk vinyl, and this was one for the history books. So here’s to the artists whose work got celebrated. And here’s also to Warren and Faye, who proved that Hollywood is a place where glamour will always conquer good sense, and where true stars obey no rules but their own.