Presenters shocked the world last night by presenting the Academy Award for Best Picture to the wrong movie due to a clerical error. While no one wanted this onstage situation, in which La La Land producers were asked to physically hand their Oscars over to Moonlight, it’s nice to have such a wonderful visual representation of what essentially happened behind the scenes.
It’s important to understand exactly how heavy of a favorite La La Land was. Academy Award voting is split into two phases — first, Academy members nominate movies for categories corresponding to their profession. Editors nominate films for Best Editing, cinematographers for Best Cinematography, and so on. Once the nominees are announced, final voting is open to all members of the Academy. This means groupthink is a huge factor — an editor who sees the movie he nominated for Best Editing up for another category will naturally vote for it there, too. The more awards a film is up for, the more it is likely to win.
La La Land was nominated for 14 golden statues, tying a record held by Titanic and All About Eve — both of which won Best Picture. While the Oscars have moved away from awarding Best Picture to the film with the most nominations in the past few years, with the nomination leader winning four of the last 10 spots, the trend becomes incredibly strong the further back in time we go. From 1977-2003, A Beautiful Mind, Silence of the Lambs, Chariots of Fire, Ordinary People and Annie Hall are the only movies to win Best Picture without being the most nominated movie.
La La Land also took the Producers Guild of America’s award, historically one of the highest-percentage predictors of Best Picture winners.
This also must be taken into context with the racially divisive political climate, of which the Academy was made an express part last year when it nominated 20 white actors for the second year in a row, and the bevy of articles accusing La La Land of white-washing.
While it’s possible that a majority of the Academy members watched both films and genuinely thought Moonlight was a little better, it’s exceedingly unlikely. All historical precedent points to Moonlight being purely a political choice, and that’s not fair to anyone.
It’s obviously not fair to La La Land and its makers to be humiliated the way they were, though that’s really no one’s fault. It’s not fair for the movie to suffer such out-of-nowhere, largely uncalled for ugliness from entertainment writers.
It’s not fair to the accusers of Casey Affleck, who won Best Actor despite rampant rumors of sexual misconduct on the set of I’m Still Here in 2009. By jiggering one vote and not the other, the Academy made it clear that they think being able to say, “I’m not racist” is much more important than being able to say, “I chose to believe accusers.”
And while Moonlight may benefit from this, and more people are now bound to see it — and it is a wonderful film — being reduced to a political pawn isn’t really fair to it, either. It’s strange to think, but Best Picture winners in recent years have kind of ridden off into the night after their victories. The Social Network and Black Swan are cemented as modern classics, but who’s watched The King’s Speech in the past few years? Argo? The Artist?
La La Land’s place in film history is guaranteed because they’ll be teaching it in film school for decades as a peerless technical accomplishment, if for no other reason. Unless this win leads to an incredibly successful re-release, Moonlight is on pace to become the answer to a trivia question.