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The Best Picture Mix-Up, And Other Takeaways From The Oscars

Barry Jenkins and the cast of "Moonlight" accept the award for Best Picture. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Barry Jenkins and the cast of "Moonlight" accept the award for Best Picture. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

The ARTery team of film critics first take on what went down at the 89th annual Academy Awards Sunday night. (Here's a full list of the winners.)

Best Picture Plot Twist

No doubt the story of the 89th annual Academy Awards is perhaps the biggest plot twist in Oscar history. Just as I was resigning myself to the inevitable news that "La La Land" had won Best Picture, it was discovered that "Moonlight" (my favorite film of the year) had actually won! Justice has been done. The right picture won. The Academy acknowledged "La La Land's" obvious flaws (the stars of this so-called "re-imagined" musical couldn't sing and dance) to choose the masterpiece that is "Moonlight." Directed by Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight" stars three actors who depict a young, poor, gay, black man from childhood to adulthood in Miami and glows with the raw poetry of a human being's unruly truth. The sheer humanity of "Moonlight," and these profoundly absorbing performances about a reality seldom seen on the screen make it the film of the year.

More humanity was on display Sunday night when the producer of "La La Land" very graciously announced "Moonlight" as the winner and handed the Oscar over. Emma Stone later said she was "beyond excited for 'Moonlight' " and thought it "one of the greatest movies of all time." That Damien Chazelle won best director is OK with me — that opening scene was astounding, a huge production number on the Hollywood freeway while performers jumped in and out and on top of cars, singing and dancing at rush hour.

Now, who will be fired for handing Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope? On the 50th anniversary of their film together "Bonnie and Clyde," these two found themselves unwittingly at the helm of what would have been the biggest Oscar heist in Academy Award history.

— Joyce Kulhawik

Top Thespians

Casey Affleck as Best Actor beating out his closest competition Denzel Washington in "Fences" was the right call. Affleck's subtle, implosive performance was like an earthquake that resonated from a well-spring of unresolved pain far beyond the confines of "Manchester by the Sea." The Boston Society of Film Critics named Affleck Best Actor earlier this year — his hometown called it right from the beginning.

Emma Stone was predictable as Best Actress, and did a fine job in the role of an actress who dreams of making it big in Hollywood as we watch her suffer through bruising auditions and the aches and pains of love. She's marvelous in those comic/dramatic scenes, but not so much in the production numbers. That she neither sang nor danced really well in the movie's lavish musical numbers seemed not to matter. She remains one of our best actors. I'd have chosen Natalie Portman for her eerie turn in "Jackie" or Isabelle Huppert as a woman who tracks down the man who assaulted her in "Elle."

— Joyce Kulhawik

Kimmel Overstays His Welcome

Nobody ever talks about what a good job the Oscar host did. It’s such a lose-lose proposition I’m honestly shocked anyone takes the gig in the first place. Jimmy Kimmel came out strong, pounding on Donald Trump as if preparing us for an evening of political speeches that never quite materialized. But even the worst hosts know well enough to disappear for long stretches of the show. Kimmel never went away, repeating that dumb gag with the food falling from the ceiling twice more than it deserved, and eventually grinding the show to a halt with a diverted Hollywood tour bus prank that felt longer than the 467-minute Best Documentary winner, “O.J.: Made In America.”

That stunt was one of many bits in which Kimmel goofed on foreign-sounding names. It was a weird, ad-lib quirk that kept coming up, almost Tourette’s-like regarding Mahershala Ali. (“Patrick, now that’s a name.” Such a strange and ugly little slip on an evening that claimed to celebrate diversity.) Holding up young Sunny Pawar as a prop while “The Lion King” theme played was exactly the kind of icky joke that gets OK'd when there are only white writers in the room. A good part of Kimmel’s appeal has always been his sort of smarmy, Playboy club entitlement, which was probably a bad call for this batch of nominees. His beef with Matt Damon will never not be funny, though.

— Sean Burns

#OscarsSoWhite Dissipates

The #OscarSoWhite controversy faded Sunday night, but not without incident or politicization, as "Moonlight" won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis took home Oscars for their supporting roles. More people of color were nominated this year than the last two years combined. Poignantly, the heartfelt speeches by Ali, Davis and "Moonlight" writer and director Barry Jenkins didn't hug the race line, but instead spoke to art, family, inclusion and the opportunity to triumph for all. They let their work speak for itself and aptly so. The one sad note is that the botched ballot boondoggle of the evening will be the big talking point for days to come, but with time, it will be remembered that "Moonlight," a human story that rose up and was recognized for its artistic merit, was the best film of the year. On another note, Hollywood now needs to enable more women to get behind the camera.

— Tom Meek

A Presence In Absentia

"The Salesman" won Best Foreign Language film, but writer-director Asghar Farhadi did not attend in protest of President Trump’s (currently halted) travel ban. Before the ceremony he and fellow nominees from the category signed a statement denouncing the rise of nationalism and fanaticism in the United States and promised to dedicate the award, no matter who wins, to those who “who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity.” Farhadi's film was Iran's nominee and his public outcry may have influenced his win.

— Erin Trahan

'O.J.' Takes Documentary Win

“I am Not Your Negro” and “Fire At Sea” were two of my favorite films from 2016. While I certainly admire “OJ: Made In America” it was not my pick for best documentary feature. That’s because however monumental it was in its eight hours for ESPN, and while a game-changer in comparison to usual fare documentary, I’ll admit I was romanced earlier in the year by the fictional “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story.” It had my wheels turning and returning to the Simpson trial in a way that I’ll confess influenced how I later saw Ezra Edelman’s now Oscar-winning documentary. The issues didn’t feel new to me. That said, the win may push the form into longer, more investigative, and episodic realms. Away from the movies and into that cutting edge world we’re still calling television.

— Erin Trahan

Sour For The Score That Succeeded

Samuel L. Jackson was responsible for one of Oscar’s most indelible moments way back in 1995, when he lost the Best Supporting Actor for his instantly iconic role in “Pulp Fiction” and instead of graciously putting on a fake smile and clapping along for the camera like the other nominees, he uttered a hilariously lip-readable obscenity. Jackson’s notoriously poor poker face made him a bizarre choice to present the award for Best Original Score, which everybody already knew months ago was going to “La La Land ” — a movie Jackson proudly and vociferously loathes.

The actor could barely conceal his contempt when presenting the award to composer Justin Hurwitz and you could catch him rolling his eyes during some of “La La Land’s” victories, which I think is telling in this year of slightly obnoxious self-congratulatory back-patting by the Academy for remembering that African-Americans exist. As the film’s lone black character (played by John Legend) is depicted as an Uncle Tom, selling out sacred jazz music by shucking and jiving for the crowds, Ryan Gosling’s noble white knight remains the stubborn, standard-bearer for a largely African-American art form. The fact that Legend has exponentially more musical talent than either of “La La Land’s” pale leads adds insult to injury. But it does make this Oscar night’s surprise ending even sweeter.

— Sean Burns

This article was originally published on February 27, 2017.


Joyce Kulhawik Contributor, The ARTery
Joyce Kulhawik, best known as the Emmy Award-winning arts and entertainment critic for CBS-Boston, is the president of the Boston Theater Critics Association.


Sean Burns Film Critic
Sean Burns is a film critic for The ARTery.


Tom Meek Contributor, The ARTery
In addition to The ARTery, Tom Meek's reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Boston Globe, The Rumpus, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal.


Erin Trahan Film Writer
Erin Trahan writes about film for WBUR.



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