Despite awkward mix-up, this year’s Oscars are a step forward

by Sebastian Wurzrainer | 2/28/17 12:00am

After last year’s “Oscars So White” controversy, I didn’t think a more uncomfortable Oscar ceremony would be possible. But somehow, the last five minutes of this year’s ceremony managed to top it and then some. In one of the most awkward moments in Academy Awards history, it was revealed that “Moonlight” had actually won Best Picture, even while the “La La Land” team was giving speeches on stage.

“Moonlight” was my favorite film of 2016, though “La La Land” follows behind as a close second. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that these were the top competitors for Best Picture, particularly considering the Oscars’ track record. On the other hand, I felt like a parent forced to decide between my children. However, before last night, I mentioned to friends and family that I felt “Moonlight” should win Best Picture for being the superior and more relevant film, while “La La Land” should still be recognized for its magnificent accomplishment via a Best Director win for Damien Chazelle. Ultimately, this is exactly what happened, and I think it was the only reasonable way to honor the best films of a truly exceptional year.

Aside from the major mishap, this was a relatively uneventful ceremony. Even the upsets weren’t that “upsetty.” Jimmy Kimmel was tame but funny, dropping his japes at our “Supreme Leader” right on cue. While many of the speeches were political, particularly in the foreign language film category, most (except for the force of nature that is Viola Davis) lacked the intensity that defined last year’s Oscars, instead opting for a tone of compassion. Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts on some of the highlights and surprises:

Best Original Screenplay: “La La Land” didn’t sweep the Awards like everyone thought it would, winning only six of its 14 nominations, which left room for other great films to win. I’m still not entirely sold on “Manchester by the Sea” and would have happily seen “Hell or High Water,” or maybe even “The Lobster,” win in this category instead.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This Award divided my loyalties between the elegance of “Moonlight” and the intelligence of “Arrival” (incidentally, my third favorite film of the year). After watching Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s speech, though, I think the right film — “Moonlight” — won.

Best Foreign Language Film: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won for “The Salesman” but did not attend the Oscars. Instead a prepared statement was read revealing that he was protesting Trump’s travel ban, which affects Iran. It was possibly the most moving moment of the evening.

Best Animated Feature Film: We all knew “Zootopia” would win on charm alone, but how I would have loved to see “Kubo and the Two Strings” get the recognition it deserves.

Best Original Song: Fellow Dartmouth Film Society members may vehemently disagree with me, but I will continue to argue that “City of Stars” will one day be recognized as one of the great songs in a musical film. I’m glad to see that it won.

Best Sound Editing: Well, at least “Arrival” won an Award for something (I’m still peeved that Amy Adams wasn’t nominated for her beautifully restrained performance).

And finally, I think I’ll wrap this discussion up by mentioning the Award for Best Cinematography, which is where Martin Scorsese’s haunting masterpiece “Silence” had its only nomination (it didn’t win). I think the film will be remembered as one of Scorsese’s best, and it just goes to show that even this year the Oscars couldn’t get everything right.

Nonetheless, this year represents huge progress; for one thing, it was the first year in Oscar history where every acting category featured a nomination for a black actor. Progress never happens all at once, though, and next year I certainly hope another woman (or women) is nominated for Best Director, as only four women have ever been nominated and only Kathryn Bigelow has ever won (for “The Hurt Locker”). But, for right now, this was a great wrap up to a great year at the movies. It’s clear that when the lights go down in the theater, we can all still experience some cinematic magic.