THEY WERE the Oscars that weren’t all right on the night. The pollsters had got it as spectacularly wrong as they had on November 8, but in an evening full of surprises, the best one had been saved for last.
La La Land, a musical about Hollywood itself, which had accrued a record-equaling 14 nominations, left with just six statuettes. Six and a half, if you count the one that was snatched back from them almost as the final curtain fell.
Instead, Moonlight, a film about a young black boy dealing with his sexuality, was named best picture, and one of its stars, Mahershala Ali, best supporting actor.
That made up some ground for last year, when the Oscars were criticised by almost everyone who hadn’t won one, for being “too white”. Indeed, Ali was the first Muslim performer ever to win an Academy Award. But that accomplishment will be a mere footnote to a night so surreal they’ll probably make a film of it some day.
Donald Trump had been widely expected to be cast as the requisite movie baddie, but despite a string of barbs from the host, Jimmy Kimmel, and in a plot development worthy of Mel Brooks, the role was snatched from him by two accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
It was they who had slipped Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope as they announced the final award of the night.
La La Land’s cast and crew had already said their thank yous when the mistake was realised, and it was the film’s producer, Jordan Horowitz, who announced the error. In not quite the Hollywood ending he had hoped for, he held aloft the correct card, which had the word Moonlight printed on it. “There’s a mistake,” he said. “Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is no joke.”
The evening’s second-biggest surprise had been Casey Affleck’s name on the best actor statuette, for the melancholy Manchester by the Sea. The quality of his performance was not in doubt but the two sexual harassment allegations he has faced made him a less likely winner than Denzel Washington, for the 1950s industrial drama, Fences, the pollsters had said.
Affleck was gracious in victory. “One of the first people who taught me how to act was Denzel Washington and I just met him tonight for the first time,” he said.
Washington’s co-star, Viola Davis, was a predictable and popular choice as best supporting actress. She had been nominated twice before, and had been the frontrunner right through the awards season.
She arrived onstage to cheers and a standing ovation, and paid tribute to Washington, who also directed the film.
“Oh captain, my captain,” she called him, before invoking the playwright August Wilson, and God.
The acceptance speeches - once again deviating from the tipsters’ predictions - did not get much more political than that. Mahershala Ali did not mention President Trump’s travel ban on seven countries, and instead, thanked to his wife, who had given birth to their first child four days earlier.
However, Asghar Farhadi’s speech was made eloquent by its absence. The Iranian director of The Salesman, named best foreign language film, boycotted the ceremony because of the ban. It prompted Kimmel to remind the audience that at this time last year, it had only been the Oscars that had seemed racist.
La La Land, despite failing to sweep the board as dramatically as expected, was still a notable winner. Its star, Emma Stone, was named best actress, and it made Damien Chazelle, at 32, the youngest person to win the best director statuette.