The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Superman: The Movie. It was a fairytale about a superhero from another planet with super strength, the gift of flight and a perfect moral compass, whose alter ego was a mild-mannered newspaper reporter who clumsily wooed a more attractive reporter. But more unrealistically, it created the notion that when Superman saves the world — but not the woman he loves — he can turn back time.
Cut to last night’s Academy Awards, 14-time nominee Warren Beatty and the curious case of the wrong envelope. Beatty and Faye Dunaway presented the Oscar for Best Picture to the wrong picture — La La Land instead of Moonlight — because he was given the Best Actress envelope as he walked onstage. When he opened it, Beatty looked confused, then more confused, then handed the envelope to Dunaway, who read: La La Land.
As the producers, cast and crew of La La Land accepted the award, there were rumblings behind them. One of the producers, in mid-speech, said: “We lost, by the way.” Another interrupted: “There’s been a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. … This is not a joke.” He held up a card that read:
ADELE ROMANSKI, DEDE GARDNER
AND JEREMY KLEINER, PRODUCERS
Jimmy Kimmel and Beatty stepped in to further clarify.
“I want to tell you what happened,” Beatty said. “I opened the envelope, and it said: Emma Stone, La La Land. That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny.” He held up the right envelope. “This is Moonlight, the Best Picture.”
It was the most confusing moment in Academy Awards history and for many critics and the few people who saw Moonlight, it was also poetic justice.
La La Land, while largely well received, had its detractors and experienced some awards backlash: The two main characters are empty. They can’t sing or dance. Ryan Gosling mansplains jazz, the black man’s classical music. It’s another Hollywood movie about Hollywood. It was also the heavy favorite to win Best Picture, according to Gold Derby, Metacritic and 538.
Moonlight was the critics choice and the choice of those in Hollywood who wanted to see the first Best Picture winner with an all-black cast after the #OscarSoWhite stigma of the last two years. It was slightly better reviewed than La La Land — 99 to 93 on Metacritic. It also won a few more awards from critics associations and grabbed more first- and second-place finishes on critics top 10 lists.
Moonlight’s victory was a Best Picture (redux) in real time. The big feel-good Hollywood movie won, then the Academy (and Beatty) corrected themselves and gave the Oscar to the more substantive film. It usually takes at least 24 hours for Academy voters to regret selecting Rocky over Taxi Driver, Ordinary People over Raging Bull or Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas. The La La Land correction took about two minutes.
If last night’s Oscars were a movie, the coda would have been Beatty returning to the stage to accept Best Picture awards for Bonnie and Clyde (1968), Reds (1982) and Bugsy (1992). Now where’s Superman when you need him.