We were preparing to write the standard bla-bla-bla review of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night as the Best Picture award was announced for the clear favorite, “La La Land.” We would have then written that the show went pretty much as expected in terms of the awards, with the musical about la-la-land dreamers winning what would have been seven awards (out of the 14 it had been nominated for) and with no other real big surprises in the winners of most of the specific awards.
And then what we’re pretty confident qualifies as the biggest screw-up in Academy Awards history unfolded on live TV as an assumed audience of 100 million world-wide viewers looked on. Even as the producers of “La La Land” were concluding their thank you speeches, something appeared to be happening on the stage. A guy who looked like a production/technical director was whispering to some of the “winners” while he held another red envelope (other than the one Warren Beatty had taken the winning card from).
And so we learned, in real time, that “La La Land” had not won. “Moonlight,” the film many critics admired as the best film of the year, had instead claimed the top prize. What followed was, to put it simply, not what was in the script. Confusion reigned as the “La La” producers handed the statuettes they’d just been given to the “Moonlight” producers, who still weren’t sure what had happened.
Ultimately, Warren Beatty got back to the microphone to explain that he had hesitated (and indeed had never actually announced the winning film—Faye Dunaway grabbed the card from his hand and read “La La Land” aloud) because he was confused that the card in the envelope he’d been given said that Emma Stone was the best actress (from “La La Land”). Dunaway, wanting to cover for Beatty’s confusion and just get the winners up on the stage, had read the name of the film that appeared on the card without reading the rest of it.
As ultimately became apparent, an error of monumental proportions (best bet is that somebody’s head will roll when the guilty culprit or culprits is/are uncovered) had led to the most bizarre and surreal finish to an otherwise entertaining, but largely staid, Academy Awards ceremony. And while some will be happy that what they feel is the best film actually won, many will wonder if the Academy Awards will ever again be regarded as the sacrosanct, revered awards show of all awards shows. Stuff like that might be expected on the Golden Globes or even the Grammies, but not on the grand-daddy of all such shows, not on the one show that claims complete integrity in its voting process and that keeps the winners’ identities sealed and under lock-and-key supervision by the accounting firm that counts all the votes. (Our presidential elections should be so well protected.)
As for the rest of the three and a half hour extravaganza, there were few highlights. The Justin Timberlake opening number was a big hit, and Jimmy Kimmel followed with a near-perfect monologue that poked fun at the Trump presidency and bordered on being political without being offensive. Kimmel, in fact, was an excellent host. The candy-from-the-rafters bits were clever, and the segment with the surprised tourists who were brought unknowingly into the festivities was different, if not particularly funny (it worked for about two minutes and lasted for about ten). Kimmel’s long-running feud, if that’s what it is, with Matt Damon was overplayed and silly. But his other introductions were witty, and his closing comments, taking full blame for the best picture mess (including his promise never to host the show again), almost salvaged the disastrous ending.
The performances of the best song nominees were again over-produced (John Legend’s portion, especially, with the dancers behind and above him). The “In Memoriam” segment was again diminished by a singer who sang over the photos of the recently deceased. Precious few clips of films running more than four seconds were shown. (For a show that is supposed to honor the film industry, little was done to showcase the films that industry produces.) And most of the speeches by the winners of all but the top awards were laden with tedious thank yous to family members and industry people no one ever heard of.
But it all came down to that best picture announcement, and we doubt anyone will remember much of anything else about the show or give Mr. Kimmel or the rest of the production much credit after what ended up being a complete embarrassment to the academy. Ironically, however, even though it didn’t end well, the finale of the broadcast was the most memorable part of the show.
It will be remembered long after the films that were honored are deemed relics of what will have become an antiquated form of entertainment.