Movies - The Oscars postsMonday February 27, 2017
Another Best Director/Picture Split Means...What?
“Moonlight” is the fourth best picture in five years to win without its director winning.
Lost in the controversy and just plain WTF shock of Oscar's best-picture envelope screw-up (Waterhoouuuse!) is the fact that this is the second best picture in a row with light at the end of its title: First “Spotlight,” now “Moonlight.” #OscarsSoLight.
I thought I was vaguely original with that hashtag, but when I began to tweet it this morning, #OscarsSoLight was already a thing. Thousands, tens of thousands, were ahead of me. That's what I get for hosting a party, then cleaning up after the party, then going to bed and not tweeting anything until like 12 hours later. Lazy.
No, what's really lost amid the envelope controversy is the fact that the connect between best picture and director may be broken forever.
A little history. I was born in 1963, and into my mid-30s best director and picture matched every year but four:
- 1967, when Mike Nichols won for “The Graduate” but best picture went to “In the Heat of the Night”
- 1972, when Bob Fosse won for “Cabaret” but best picture went to “The Godfather”
- 1981, when Warren Beatty won for “Reds” but best picture went to “Chariots of Fire”
- 1989, when Oliver Stone won for “Born on the Fourth of July” but best picture went to “Driving Miss Daisy”
In the 18 years since? We've had a director/picture split eight times:
- 1998, when Steven Spielberg won for “Saving Private Ryan” but best pic went to “Shakespeare in Love”
- 2000, when Steven Soderbergh won for “Traffic” but pic went to “Gladiator”
- 2002, when Roman Polanski won for “The Pianist” but “Chicago” won best pic
- 2005, when Ang Lee won for “Brokeback Mountain” but “Crash” won best pic
- 2012, when Ang Lee won for “Life of Pi” but “Argo” won best pic
- 2013, when Alfonso Cuaron won for “Gravity” but “12 Years a Slave” won best pic
- 2015, when Alejandro Innaritu won for “The Revenant” but “Spotlight” won best pic
- 2016, when Damien Chazalle won for “La La Land” but “Moonlight” won best pic
What's going on? Well, the recent splits may be the result of the preferential voting system for best picture, which the Academy adopted in 2009. Now you need 50 percent + 1 vote to win, and if no film has that after ballots are counted, then the film with the least top votes leaves the race and its votes are redistributed to the voter's second-place choice. And on and on until you get your 50+1.
The Academy used this system from 1934 to 1945 until it went with the more straightforward “Whoever has the most votes, wins” method from 1946 to 2008. During that period, which is most of the Academy's history, you had 13 director/picture splits over 62 years, or approximately 21% of the time. Since 2009, we've had four splits in eight years: 50/50.
The oddity is that in its first three years, the preferential system went with the same old director/picture combo, even with such middling fare as “The King's Speech.” Then something changed. Not sure what.
But I'm in favor of it. Makes the Oscar pools that much more interesting. It's also a small stick in the eye of the auteur theory, which I've never bought into.
The Oscars: Everyone's Getting It Wrong About Who Got It Wrong
“There's a mistake. 'Moonlight,' you guys won best picture.”
I admit it: I thought he was milking it.
I like presenters who get right down to it. “And the Oscar goes to Vinny for that piece of shit, 'Mad Max.'” Boom. Over, done. Don't hold the stage when the stage isn't yours; when we're all there for someone and something else.
But Warren Beatty seemed to be doing just that. The best picture winners were all announced, he opened the envelope, looked at the card, then looked back in the envelope. The fuck? He got some laughs for that. “Just announce it already,” I thought. He looked over at Faye Dunaway, his costar for “Bonnie and Clyde,” which was released 50 years ago and heralded a new (and shortlived) era in Hollywood, which was what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was honoring last night, Feb. 26, 2017, by having these two former big, big stars present the Oscar for best picture. But even as Beatty looked at her, Dunaway seemed impatient. He tried to right the ship. “And the Academy Award ... for best picture ...” Then he stopped again. She moved forward, as if to say, “Say it already!” and he shot her a look. No, not her. If you watch it again, he shot a look to the sides, to the wings of the stage, as if to say, “Is anyone going to help me here?”
Think about that. It's an unprecedented moment for anyone presenting at the Academy Awards. You're about to announce the most presitigious film award of the year and you know they've given you the wrong card. The card in your hand says, “Emma Stone, La La Land.” It's the card for best actress, which has already been announced. Apparently they have two envelopes for each award, one for either wing of the stage, and somehow Beatty wound up with the best actress envelope/card.
That's the real story. How did he wind up with the wrong card? Who gave it to him? Who wasn't paying attention? (UPDATE: The answer appears to be Brian Cullinan of PriceWaterhouseCooper.)
Nevertheless, it wound up in his hand. And he knew. And that's what that cutting look backstage meant. But he saw no help there. And everyone in front of him and around the world was impatient. Everyone, like me, thought the old man was milking it; that he was in his dotage and wanted the attention.
I think in his younger days Beatty would've said something. He would've announced, “We got the wrong card. Can someone give us the card for best picture, please?” Straightforward. He might’ve made a joke about it. “Emma Stone is great but she's hardly best picture.” But he's older now, a month from turning 80 years old, and he didn't quite know what to do. Backstage wasn’t helping. So he showed Faye Dunaway the card—probably to show her that it was effed up—and she simply read the bottom part. She announced “La La Land.” The orchestra played, and the producers, etc., got up in their finery and made their way to the stage. Like normal.
Meanwhile, Beatty had a slightly sick look on his face. Like he was trapped in a nightmare from which he couldn't wake.
The straightforwardness had to come from producer Jordan Horowitz, who was the first to thank everyone for the Oscar for best picture, and who, amid other speeches, realized the error. He came forward and said the following:
“I'm sorry, no. There's a mistake. 'Moonlight,' you guys won best picture.”
I love the “you guys.” Makes it sound like it’s a little league game or something.
The calm straightforwardness with which he said all of this made it seem even more surreal, but I love Horowitz's thoughts about it this morning to CNN:
“Hey, I won the Oscar for best picture. I got to thank my wife and kids. And then I got to present the Oscar for best picture. Not many people can say that.”
I would say zero other people can say that. He’s the first person in history to both present and accept the Oscar for best picture in the same evening. Good future Oscar trivia question.
Normally I would’ve liked this twist ending if but for the following reasons:
- It was a good show. Jimmy Kimmel was a great host. And all of that is forgotten now. No one’s mentioning it. Shame. He should be asked back.
- There’s already conspiracy theorists out there thinking the old Hollywood guard was trying to deny this black LGBTQ movie its rightful place in Oscar history. #envelopegate is currently trending on Twitter. Good god, people, go back to the moon landing or something.
- Beatty’s getting blamed for it. The one guy who knew it was wrong; the one who didn’t announce. It’s being called “The Warren Beatty Oscar screw-up.” Variety tweeted “Warren Beatty makes mistake.” Etc. etc.
Here's one of those tweets:
That’ll never go away, by the way. That will always be there. People will always get it wrong about who got it wrong. They'll crow about it.
The moment: Beatty looks angrily backstage for help, receives none.
What 'The Oscars Always Get It Wrong' Gets Wrong
My friends Andrew and Vinny alerted me to this piece in The Washington Post, titled “The Oscars always get it wrong. Here are the real Best Pictures of the past 41 years.” That's always a fun topic. It's written by Dan Zak and Amy Argetsinger, two Post journalists who talk knowledgably about movies, but the point of the piece is discussion. We're resolving nothing. The opposite, really.
And it turns out hindsight isn't always 20/20. More accurately, there is no 20/20 when we're talking favorite films. Or favorite anything.
Where do I disagree with Dan and Amy enough to say anything?
- 1976: I go with “All the President's Men,” which I can't stop watching. But something tells me if their choice, “Network,” had won the Oscar, they would've opted for “Rocky.” (See: 1981.) That said, this is such a strong year, before “Rocky” and “Star Wars” changed the way movies were made, that it's hard to make a wrong choice. Although “Bound for Glory,” a good/not great biopic of Woody Guthrie, would've been a wrong choice.
- 1978: “An Unmarried Woman”? Seriously? Maybe I have to watch it again. Mostly I remember the SCTV parody of this and “Norma Rae” called “My Factory, My Self,” in which the Michael Murphy character keeps breaking down and crying.
- 1979: “Apocalypse Now” is the obvious choice. I'd make the unobvious one: “Breaking Away.”
- 1980: I like the split here: “Raging Bull” vs. “The Shining.”
- 1981: At first I thought: “'Raiders of the Lost Ark'? Really?” Then I saw the competition. Hmmmm...
- 1983: I'd go “The Right Stuff.”
- 1985: I like the “Back to the Future” pivot. It's fun. Despite the movie's race-fulfillment fantasy: the white kid teaching the black pros how to rock.
- 1989: “Field of Dreams”? It's not even in my top 10 baseball movies. I believe “Do the Right Thing” came out that year.
- 1995: Agree with Amy here: “Apollo 13” is underrated.
- 1996: Again, with Amy: “Fargo.” Darn tootin'.
- 1997: Hey, they went with “Titanic”! I love that. I probably would've gone “L.A. Confidential” but I like the ballsy choice.
- 1998: “The Thin Red Line,” people. It's not even a question.
- 1999: “The Insider,” people. It's not even a question.
- 2002: Love me the musical, but not “Chicago.” Should be “The Pianist.”
- 2004: No mention of “Eternal Sunshine”? Surely that's in the running.
- 2006: “United 93.”
- 2007: Not “Michael Clayton.” Either “No Country” or “There Will Be Blood” (whose fans remind me of Bernie supporters: a little too rabid, and too willing to ignore the film's flaws).
- 2008: Amy loses it here: “Twilight”????????????????????????????????????????????? “The Wrestler”'s not a bad choice. But to me “Iron Man” > “The Dark Knight.”
- 2009: “Up.”
- 2010: With Amy again: “The Social Network.” Or maybe “True Grit”?
- 2011: “Moneyball”! Nice!!! I'm fine with that. My love of “The Tree of Life” is still there but dampened by Malick's recent output. 2011, btw, was a great year for American movies.
- 2012: “Skyfall”? Not a chance in hell. Boring Bond. 2012, btw, was a bad year for American movies.
- 2013: “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Take that, Vinny!
- 2014: Between the two Bs, “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” there is no wrong answer.
- 2016: They mention three movies but not “Manchester By the Sea”? That gets my vote.
'La La Land' Lands 14 Nominations for 89th Academy Awards
A movie about movie people in L.A. is celebrated by movie people in L.A.
My main concern last night was that Oscar would follow the lead of BAFTA, which gave “Nocturnal Animals,” one of my least-favorite movies of the year, an astonishing nine nominations earlier this month. That didn't happen this morning. Tom Ford's pointless exercise in ennui and horror came away with a measly one nom, for Michael Shannon in supporting.
The big story is the 14 nominations “La La Land” landed. Only two other films have ever received that many noms: “Titanic” in 1997, which wound up winning 11, including picture and director; and “All About Eve” in 1950, which wound up with six, including picture and director. Does that mean we're done? Is “La La Land” getting this thing? Should director Damien Chazelle, who just turned 32 but looks 12, make room on his mantle? Probably, and it's not just the sheer number. Think about how much movie people in L.A. love movies about movie people in L.A. What sprawling historical epics were to the '80s (“Reds,” “Chariots,” “Out of Africa,” “Last Emperor”), movies about movie people in L.A. are to the 2010s (“The Artist,” “Argo,” “La La Land”). Take note, future filmmakers.
I haven't been paying attention much this Oscar season, but I was surprised by the love for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which came away with six noms, including best director for Mel Gibson (hello, you), and the lack of love for “Loving,” which got one: Ruth Negga for best actress. I don't like the word “snubbed” as it relates to Oscar, since we're talking a finite number of slots for a huge amount of talent, but if anyone in the acting categories got snubbed this year it was Joel Edgerton. His performance as Richard Loving was one of my favorites.
Meryl is up gain, for “Florence Foster Jenkins”: She has 20 nominations now, a record in acting. No one's close. (Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn are tied for second with 12. Twelve. Meryl is the Yankees of actors, except we still love her.) Octavia Spencer got nominated again. Apparently she's the first African-American actress to get nominated after winning an Oscar. That's a sad little fact. Dev Patel, supporting for “Lion,” is the third Indian actor to garner a nomination. Viola Davis, meanwhile, for a supporting nod for “Fences,” became not only the most-nominated black actress in Academy history, but, according to Nathaniel Rogers at Film Experience, the most nominated black woman ever. She has three. She wasn't won yet? Yeah, that'll change this year.
Here are the best pictures:
“Hell or High Water”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
I still need to see “Hacksaw,” “Hidden” and “Lion,” but my vote would go with “Manchester by the Sea,” which sadly seems all-but-forgotten now. Go see it, if you haven't.
You can find the rest of the nominations on Nathaniel's site. Or pretty much anywhere.
One thing we won't get this year is an #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which was the furious social-media focus last year. This year was much more inclusive: seven of the 20 acting noms were for people of color, while nearly half of the best picture noms focused on their stories, while more than half (three of the five) documentaries focused on racial matters: “I Am Not Your Negro,” “OJ: Made in America,” and “13th.”
What's less inclusive this year? The White House and Congress. Win some, lose everything.
The Oscar ceremony is Sunday, Feb. 26.
Post-Oscar Quote of the Day II
“As an aside, I thought Chris Rock was really good as host (though the girls scout cookie thing dragged a bit), and I thought Louis CK's presentation for Documentary Short was the highlight of the night. But I will say that the way diversity so overwhelmed the Oscars broadcast was a bit disconcerting. It's obvious that the Academy utterly embarrassed itself by not nominating even a single person of color, and yes it was something that the Oscars would have to face head on. But we are also in the midst of an incredible (defined as: impossible to believe) election, and to think that there was barely a joke or word all night about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tells you that maybe we're not paying attention.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “Oscar Predictions 2016,” Are asides more interesting than the point of the piece? Sometimes.