Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 89th Academy Awards

     I wasn't nearly as up to date on all the buzz as I have been in years past, but it didn't stop me from wanting to tune in for the passion, fashion, glamour, and occasional yawn of the Academy Awards. At the time of the Oscars, the only major contender I'd seen was Hacksaw Ridge, but with full intention to check out Hidden Figures, La La Land, and maybe Manchester by the Sea. The night rolled along with awards going to the shocked and excited, the humble and nervous. Yes, there is one moment that stands above the rest and will be all anyone is talking about for a while, but let's not forget how many other memorable things happened that night. 

     The night begins with the red carpet coverage, where everyone is sized up on national television for their fashion taste, and let me just say that Michael Strahan and Dwayne Johnson can rock a velvet jacket. Halle Berry arrives with her hair channeling Tina Turner, and Salma Hayek channeling a madame of the old West. Michelle Williams and Charlize Theron compete for most exposed sternum, losing to Janelle Monae, who sports a dress with a sheer top that may or may not have been inspired by Halle Berry when she took home her own gold. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson finally appears onscreen in something her grandmother wouldn't be ashamed of. The closest Jessica Biel ever comes to an Oscar is by accompanying her husband Justin Timberlake and dressing like a gold statuette herself. Timberlake photobombs Emma Stone while she interviews in a stunning 1920's-inspired tiered gown, while Viola Davis can be seen a mile away in an amazing fire-engine red dress, complimented by her swept-off pixie cut. In a rare show of inclusion, the Academy demonstrates its commitment to unity by inviting Mel Gibson-- a man who is loved only slightly more than President Trump.

     And then the fun begins where the Academy picks from the artsy, controversial, political, or mediocre pieces that critics love but audiences don't. Replacing the traditional opening number performed by the host, Justin Timberlake kicks things off by singing and dancing his way in to the auditorium with his Best Original Song nominee "Can't Stop the Feeling". The electrifying performance showcases Timberlake's talent, gets the whole place dancing, and leaves everyone asking "was that song from a movie?" The song is from Trolls, but don't expect anyone to really know that in this crowd.

     Jimmy Kimmel breaks the ice of wondering who will be the first to take shots at President Trump, and lays the groundwork for a night of POTUS roasting with some back-handed compliments to "Hollywood's most overrated actress" Meryl Streep. And of course with Matt Damon seated in the second row, Kimmel reignites their famous feud with an insincere apology to Damon for the years of grief caused by Damon's selfishness and difficult attitude.

     A few surprises ensue from the results, not the least of which is when Zootopia takes home Best Animated Feature over fan favorites Moana and Kubo and the Two Strings. Suicide Squad takes home an Oscar for Makeup over Star Trek Beyond and something called A Man Called Ove. Whether or not Suicide Squad deserved it is less important to me than the fact that the members didn't vote against it just to avoid putting their name anywhere near one of the year's worst-reviewed movies. Pleasantly, Colleen Atwood takes home an Oscar (category Costume Design) for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that no one (including herself) was expecting. The always-delightful Dwayne Johnson introduces Lin Manuel-Miranda, who prologues an excellent musical performance by sixteen year old Auli'i Cravalho for Moana. Although Cravalho's song didn't win, she gets points for holding her own when the rest of the evening's musical performers included John Legend, Sting, Sara Bareilles, and Justin Timberlake. And one of the background performers accidentally hit her in the head with their fan prop, but she kept right on singing like a true professional.
     Mahershala Ali leads the first-time Oscar recipients with his win for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Moonlight. Viola Davis gives a powerful acceptance speech when she receives her long overdue Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Fences, which also makes her a member of the "Triple Crown Club" for now having won an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar. The Academy awards Casey Affleck Best Actor in a Leading Role, upsetting Twitter, which is quick to bring up sexual harassment claims from 2010 and point out that Brie Larsen looks unhappy. Fan favorite Emma Stone wins Best Actress in a Leading Role for Academy favorite La La Land.

     Elsewhere, Kimmel keeps the night interesting when he ushers a group of unsuspecting selfie stick-holding tourists into the auditorium. Most of the actors get into it, enthusiastically giving hugs and handshakes to the baffled crowd, while others seem to regret sitting on the front row. The real stars of this moment however, are the tourists, who hop from one celebrity to the next with disbelief. Despite being on national television, every one of them persist with using their phones to capture this moment through their tiny screens instead of lifting their eyes to the glamour that is right in front of them.

    The evening's awards roll onwards, with occasional snacks being parachuted into the audience. The POTUS barbs predictably continue, but it's the Damon roast that reaches a peak. First, Kimmel gives a mock-inspirational commentary on We Bought a Zoo. A moment later, Matt Damon is introduced as "Guest" when he walks onstage with Ben Affleck. A good-humored Damon surges forward, even as the band plays the cue music to wrap it up, every time he says anything. Before the night is over, Kimmel notes that they're coming up on his favorite part of the evening, where Matt Damon loses an Oscar (having no nominations this year). A sweet song from Sara Bareilles pays tribute to the members of the Academy who died this past year, accidentally including someone who hasn't kicked the bucket yet.

     Then, the moment that would define the 89th Academy Awards: the Best Picture announcement. As veteran actors Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty take the stage and review the nominees for the year, I was feeling torn. Though I had called La La Land, I leaned over to my husband and said "You know, Moonlight could be the dark horse this year", which turned into an interesting prophecy on my part. Having had moderate success at calling the winners to this point, I called the winners for Best Picture in the same order that the Academy did. First, La La Land, which seemed like the obvious and predictable choice. Then there was that awkward confusion you could observe onstage as people in headsets rushed in amongst the group of winners behind the speech-makers. A few shocked faces could be seen behind those at the mic who were still thanking their parakeets. Then you saw it: producer Jordan Horowitz, who had been holding his Oscar statue near his heart, dropped his arm into a limp swing, leaving Oscar dangling at his fingertips. Horowitz and Beatty both made a move towards the mic, with Horowitz being the one to announce that there had been a mistake, and Moonlight was the actual winner.

     Suddenly all the air in the room was sucked out as disbelief swept the audience.

     Horowitz snapped the slip away from Beatty, holding it up as proof that Moonlight was indeed the winner of the night. There could not have been more apologies in the next few minutes as the cast and crew of La La Land made their way off the stage to make way for Moonlight. Horowitz, recovering from his shock, graciously handed his Oscar to Jeremy Kleiner with a big embrace, and then vanished off-stage (no doubt to console the rest of La La Land backstage) to allow Moonlight their moment in the spotlight; a moment overflowing with conflicting emotions as the gracious crew of the true winning movie held statues that only seconds before had been in the hands of another crew celebrating their supposed win.

     The Best Picture moment is being called the biggest mistake in Oscar history. In previous years, the fact that this was a very low-rated ceremony with low viewership would have been a comfort to the Academy after such a snafu, but thanks to social media, no one hasn't heard about this by now. Whispers have even indicated that it may have been a planned mishap to generate more chatter and scandal, but that seems like an overly harsh thing to do to the nominees. The moment came, the moment went, and will surely be talked about for years to come.

     This may have been a low-rated year, but I don't remember the last time I was enjoying the ceremony enough to watch it all the way to the end. Kimmel brought his personality to the evening, with all of his late night TV-type features in tow. From the unsuspecting tourists to the parachuting snacks to the mean tweets, Kimmel owned the moment, embracing his own style along with it. The night may have recognized great actors and other talent, but it was Kimmel who was tasked with being the main entertainer for the evening, and entertain, he did. And looking back, he did this without relying on the cheap vulgarity that has permeated and coarsened entertainment today.
 Good show old boy!

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