The Little Engine that would [win]

“Tonight is proof that art has no boundaries, no single language and does not belong to a single faith.  The power of art is that it transcends all these things.” – President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

Did you hear about the one time Jimmy Kimmel hosted the Oscars?oscars-jimmy-kimmel-to-host-2017-academy-awards_jw6a

By now, everyone has.  As a matter of fact, it would not surprise me if Sunday night’s gaffe wasn’t louder than the “shot heard round the world” where social media amplifies every sound bite known to man.

But, that’s not why I’m writing this; there is plenty to celebrate.

No, the celebration does not start with the fact that the Academy redeemed itself from the #OscarSoWhite debacle of the past two years.  April Reign has even said as much in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “My main takeaway was that when quality films are made that reflect the diversity of experiences in this country, people will go to see them.”

She’s right.  The Academy has absolutely no control over the slate of films that are released in a given year; they can only nominate and vote on what’s presented to them.  Of course, that’s of little consolation when 60% of the movie going public could not name a single Best Picture nominated film.  It also doesn’t help that the share of viewers has continued to drop year after year.  And, this celebration has been no exception.

la-la-land“La La Land” was expected to sweep all 14 of its nominations.  That was mathematically impossible with its two Best Original Song nominations.  History was made though:  Damien Chazelle finally broke the record for the youngest-ever Best Director winner, which was held for 85 years by Norman Taurog, director of the 1931 film “Skippy,” who was 32 years, 260 days old when he won.  In more modern times, Sam Mendes won for “American Beauty” at the age of 34.  Parents:  start them young!

Beside the mathematical impossibilities, a micro-budget independent film stood in its way.

Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was the “little engine that could” as it trucked along the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Spirit Awards, of which I was happy to have been a voter of and finally, its seven nominations a tribute to the exceptional production values in place given its $1.5 million budget.  A24 must be, literally, over the moon.

None of this takes away from any of the other seven nominees.  I was fortunate to have seen all nine films; some before they received a general release, some because my local theater chain is exceptional at getting these films as early on as the studios will allow.  This is also the first year where I was able to see all but one of the Best Foreign Language films; I had a soft spot for “A Man Called Ove” and “Toni Erdmann”.  However, “The Salesman,” despite the obvious global-political stance its win represented, was one of the more richly layered films I saw last year.  Finally, this was also the first year that I was able to see all but one of Best Animated films.  I had a soft spot for “Kubo and the Two Strings”.  The winner, “Zootopia” was a compelling look at social messages married with solid animation.

While the ongoing feud between Mr. Kimmel and Matt Damon played out, another duel manchesterbythesea_trailermeandered on. Amazon Studios’ “Manchester by the Sea,” of which producer Mr. Damon was a Best Picture nominee was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor.  It won Screenplay and Best Actor.  Meanwhile, Netflix was nominated and won in the Best Live Action Short category for “The White Helmets”.  George Clooney is working on a feature-length film based on this award-winning work.   Although significant, Amazon’s win should be a signal to Netflix that their strategy may need to be broadened.  While I anticipate that Netflix won’t budge and Amazon will continue to pick up the bigger accolades, the feud between Messrs. Kimmel and Damon also remains unresolved.

Back to the ceremony, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented the Best Picture award.  It was clear that Beatty was confused when reading the card on the inside of the envelope and tried to get assistance, but could not.  Dunaway called out “La La Land”.  With the entire cast and crew gathered on the stage, the producers started their acceptance speeches.  In the middle of one of the acceptance speeches, one of the telecasts’ producers came up on stage and corrected the record.

“La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz would utter one of the better quotes of the night to address the situation:  “’Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.  This is not a joke, come up here.  ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture.”

Jimmy Kimmel, Warren BeattyThe damage was done and the cast and crew of “Moonlight” came up on stage.  Despite the embarrassment for the Academy, for the recipients, for the presenters and for Mr.
Kimmel, everyone reacted with grace and elegance.

The Academy and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating the votes and holding the winning envelopes securely have both issued statements citing the fact that the wrong envelope was handed out to Mr. Beatty and that protocol for correcting the oversight was not followed.  They have both publicly apologized.

I can’t help but think that the two best production units shared the stage last night.

Make no mistake:  “Moonlight’s” win is important.  Not for political reasons; because it demonstrated exactly what “La La Land” set out to do:  follow your dreams and your passions, stick with it and anything can and will happen.best-director-2017-oscars-732x380

Mr. Chazelle, the cast and the crew should be exceptionally proud too.  He has an amazing career ahead of him, as does Mr. Jenkins, for amongst a “City of Stars,” the “Moonlight” shone.  I really hope Mr. Kimmel will host another ceremony.

Cliché as that last line sounds, M. Night Shaymalan has not vetted or ghost written a word of this editorial.

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