A Night to Remember (…to Double-Check the Envelope): Looking Back at the 89th Academy Awards

Well, that was quite something.

I think for everyone who watched the Academy Awards live, we can all agree that we just witnessed history being made. For those who haven’t watched it yet, don’t let me spoil it for you, but it was one of the most shocking moments in live television history.

I don’t usually comment officially on the Academy Awards, but this year was such a strange year for this ceremony, filled with some wonderful moments and some terrible ones as well. So here is a discussion about some moments from the ceremony tonight that I feel are so discussion-worthy.

The Best Moments:

For me, the moment that had me near tears was when Casey Affleck managed to win Best Actor. Now it wasn’t a huge upset – the 41 awards he won for his devastating performance in Manchester by the Sea clearly show he was a favorite to win – but then the eternally likable Denzel Washington won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor, and combined with the allegations of sexual misconduct again Casey Affleck, it looked like the critical favorite may very well have to cheer for someone else. It was a nail-biter of a category, but when Brie Larson announced Affleck as the winner, I think many of us jumped for joy. He is one of the greatest winners in this category, and was beyond deserving.

Casey Affleck wins Best Actor for his beautiful performance in Manchester by the Sea, and even better, said on the red carpet that he’ll only be looking like a homeless drunkard for a few more weeks (Photo: ABC News)

The Oscars constantly try and use the history of film to try and show how it influences present filmmakers and performers. They often dismally fail in messy and incoherent tributes. This year they did the inspiration theme exceptionally well with a few testimonies from actors (Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, Javier Bardem) explaining how certain films and their performers (Shirley MacLaine, Michael J. Fox, Meryl Streep) influenced them in their careers. This was subtle and wonderful, and bringing them out to present awards was genius. I wish they would make this a regular fixture, because it was wonderful.

Charlize Theron and her acting influence, Shirley MacLaine (Photo: The Denver Post)

Now I need to be a bit contrary to my constant position – I loved Birdman so much, and I will defend it until the day I die. However, in 2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu (an amazing filmmaker) won three Academy Awards – they weren’t completely undeserving, but when you consider that he took Best Original Screenplay away from Wes Anderson, and Best Director away from Richard Linklater (two amazing filmmakers in their own right), only to also win Best Picture, it seems a bit overly excessive. This year, the three most acclaimed films all received something for their remarkable creators. Kenneth Lonergan won a very deserving Best Original Screenplay award, whereas Barry Jenkins won Best Adapted Screenplay. Damien Chazelle took home Best Director for La La Land. I am so happy that the minds behind the three most acclaimed films of the year were recognized with an award, and the fact that the three of them will have a trophy to take home tonight is really very comforting.

Of course, the greatest moment (not of the evening, the greatest moment in history) was when La La Land won Best Picture…but didn’t. I adored La La Land (it was my favorite of the nominees, followed closely by Manchester by the Sea), and it would’ve been beyond deserving of Best Picture – and no one batted an eyelid when it won, but the moment when it was revealed that Moonlight actually won, and a mishap with presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (legends, both of them) caused one of the most remarkably shocking moments in Oscar history. I am of course very sad, because La La Land was great, and the producers lost their moment, but I am just surprised at the intense craziness of it all. It may be a depressing moment when you get down to it, but it was certainly a memorable one.

Warren Beatty explaining the Best Picture snafu – a sure-to-be iconic moment for Oscar history books, and a way for Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to still be relevant in the modern day (Photo: The Denver Post)

Of course, the best moment was when one realizes that Isabelle Huppert was there. She didn’t win Best Actress, but that doesn’t matter, because she is still Greatest Actress, and will continue to be the greatest actress in the world. She doesn’t need an Oscar to prove that – she has a career that no one can come close to achieving.

How can one individual be simultaneously so intimidating and terrifyingly alluring? (Photo: Oscars)

The Worst Moments:

Ellen Degeneres really surprised us when she hosted in 2014, when she brought pizza out to feed the audience. It was a fun and surprising little addition to the telecast. Since then, there have been other attempts at feeding the audience at other awards shows – and its just not funny anymore. Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel relied on the gag of candy falling from the ceilings three times – that’s three times too many.

The show was nearly four hours long. That’s way too long – and I understand its Hollywood’s biggest night, but not only was the duration far too long, the show just dragged. There were way too many commercial breaks, and it just felt like it took too long to get to anything interesting. Not everyone is likely to want to watch the entire ceremony unless it is really interesting and fun for the audience – this just didn’t do it, unfortunately.

I despised Suicide Squad, and now the fact that it won Best Makeup or Hairstyling is rather despicable, all the more because the Suicide Squad apologists are going to have a field day pointing out that it won an Oscar. A terrible win for an even worse film.

Giorgio Gregorini, from left, Alessandro Bertolazzi
The makeup and hair-styling team of Suicide Squad, that were rewarded for having to endure being a part of such an awful film with an Academy Award win (Photo: The Denver Post)

*sigh* I liked Zootopia. But how does anyone consider this the best achievement in animation of the year? Not only did this year have some incredible animated films, this very category had some incredible nominees – Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini were all nominated and were innovative and creative – but they went with the film with a good story, but nothing really else going for it. Disappointing puts it very lightly.

The Salesman was an incredible film – and it would’ve been deserving of the Best Foreign Language Film award (which it did win), based on its merits. Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious that the film didn’t win on its own merits, but the current political climate played a part in it. Obviously I have nothing against this film (I adored it), but I just wish that it wasn’t so obviously the benefactor of a sort of protest vote again the Trump administration and a form of rebellion. It was a film good enough to win – but the fact that it won over Toni Erdmann, an even more acclaimed and adored film that picked up a lot of critical steam along the way, just shows that sometimes art and politics are inseparable. Instead of being the critical favorite that won Best Foreign Language Film for being an amazing film, it will be seen as the AMPAS trying to take a stand against the political climate – admirable for history, unfortunate for awards. Obviously politics matter much more than a movie award, so I’m not too hurt by it (and Asghar Farhadi now has two Academy Awards – even if they aren’t his own, it solidifies him as a great filmmaker)

Astronaut and engineer (and all-around inspirational human being) Anousheh Ansari accepting the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on behalf of Asghar Farhadi, who was barred from attending the Academy Awards due to the travel ban (Photo: The Denver Post)

The Big Winners:

Tonight saw quite a few very deserving people win in the bigger categories, which are always exciting but sometimes terrifying, as the prospect of your favorite losing, or someone undeserving winning. I have to say, none of the major winners tonight were particularly bad or undeserving, and while my favorites in each category didn’t necessarily win, I’m not unhappy with any of the winners.

The powerhouse actress that is Viola Davis finally won an Academy Award, and she couldn’t have been more deserving. Beautifully complex and incredible in Fences, she deserved to win, and in doing so, she gave a beautiful speech that clearly resonated with the audience and folks at home. Although I would’ve preferred a win in Lead (no one is supporting to Viola Davis – no one), I will take the fact that we can call her Academy Award-winner Viola Davis.

Viola Davis poses in the press
The legendary and brilliant Viola Davis finally holding her well-deserved and overdue Academy Award, plotting her rise to pop superstar so she can win a Grammy and achieve the EGOT (Photo: The Denver Post)

Mahershala Ali was not my favorite of the nominated performances, but he was still good, and I don’t begrudge his win because not only was a great in Moonlight, he also has been a hard-working actor for several years now and deserves this breakout. In winning Best Supporting Actor, he proves that a small and meaningful performance can overcome screen-time issues, and the impact of his performance should not be underestimated. He also gave possibly the best speech of the night, which also happened to be the first speech of the night, and set a high bar for the subsequent winners.

Mahershala Ali receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Photo: The Denver Post)

I love Emma Stone, but she chose the wrong year to give an amazing performance. As much as I adore her, she’ll always be the one who defeated Isabelle Huppert. However, Stone was still wonderful in La La Land, and the fact that she now has an Academy Award to her name brings me immense joy, because like many of us, I have relished in seeing her rise from her incredible performance in Easy A to now be an Oscar-winning actress (even if I can attest to having been a fan of her since 2006, when I saw her on Louis C.K.’s ill-fated sitcom Lucky Louie).

Actress Emma Stone (L) and accepts
Emma Stone receiving her first Academy Award for Best Actress, hopefully feeling some form of regret and terror for being the person who won over Isabelle Huppert (Photo: The Denver Post)

 

Three years ago Whiplash premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Damien Chazelle was not known to many of us. When Whiplash became a huge critical and popular success, many of us predicted that Damien may very well become quite a big name in the world of film – and here we are, seeing him become the youngest Best Director winner ever, and someone who had a film of almost literally historic proportions. La La Land may have been the tragic victor of the evening (being given Best Picture only to have it taken away after it was revealed to be an error), but that doesn’t stop the fact that Chazelle managed, in the span of two years, go from obscure wunderkind to respected auteur who has the same amount of Best Director Oscars as Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola.

The Little Winners:

When it comes to talking about overdue people, often Glenn Close, Amy Adams or various other notorious Oscar “losers” are brought up – but they all pale in comparison to Kevin O’Connell, who received twenty nominations without a single win for Best Sound Mixing. Tonight, after a career spanning nearly forty years, he won his very first Academy Award. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then I’m not sure what will.

(L-R) Sound mixers Peter Grace, Robert
Kevin O’Connell (second from the right) finally receiving his first Academy Award, after 20 losses in the Best Sound Mixing Category – he’s got more nominations than Meryl Streep, yet he’s somehow not overrated (Photo: The Denver Post)

If you don’t know why Kenneth Lonergan winning an Academy Award is special, then you have yet to hear about his amazing career. Not only did he make perhaps the greatest film of the current century (Margaret), he is also a distinguished playwright and screenwriter. In winning Best Original Screenplay for Manchester by the Sea, it is a reward for his incredible work on the film, but also for his amazing career. I urge anyone who doesn’t done so already to see out Lonergan’s work, and you’ll understand why so many people who praying for him to win here.

Kenneth Lonergan receives the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and unlike his screenplay for Manchester by the Sea, it wasn’t at all depressing (Photo: The Denver Post)

In a world where films can be very serious, a small and sweet little film like Sing wins. It may have been for a small category like Best Live Action Short Film, but the winners of this category always seem very special and heartfelt, and Kristóf Deák gave a sweet and endearing speech. If all goes well, he might even be able to make a name for himself alongside previous winners in this category, such as Martin McDonagh, Andrea Arnold, Taylor Hackford and Peter Capaldi. I always keep an eye on this category in particular, because we could see a real breakout star here.

How Was Jimmy Kimmel?

Hosting the Academy Awards is a seemingly thankless task, and recently we’ve seen hosts be brilliant (Hugh Jackman), very good (Ellen Degeneres) and outright terrible (Chris Rock last year). This year, they chose Jimmy Kimmel – I initially thought this a very lazy choice – Kimmel has hosted the Primetime Emmy Awards twice, and he just seems too obvious, and a bit of a poor fit for the Oscars.

Jimmy Kimmel was one of the better hosts of recent years (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

However, I have to say I’m very impressed with Kimmel. He didn’t try too hard, and he actually came off as one of the better hosts of recent years. Self-deprecating, funny and not too serious, he moved the proceedings along well, and brought an element of showmanship to the role. It may not be flashy or showy hosting, nor is it viral-worthy (other moments, however, are what viral internet trends are made of), but it was solid, consistent hosting – and the Oscars could do with someone like Kimmel – funny, laid-back and not too overt. It isn’t about the host, its about the movies, and Kimmel made sure to be as present as necessary, but knew when to just let the movies speak for themselves.

Final Thoughts:

So I have to say that this was quite a ceremony. It started off dull and dreary, and excruciatingly slow, but it picked up, and the final eight awards were so exciting and the final moments will go down in film history. The magic of live television is you never know what is going to happen, and this year the Academy Awards proved this. That little snafu will be remembered forever, and its a little disappointing the most exciting moment came right at the end. I can’t wait to see what next year holds.

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