After “La La Land” won six Academy Awards, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took to the stage to announce that the ray-of-sunshine musical had won best picture as well.
Apparently they were given the wrong envelope.
Organizers realized the mistake soon after the “La La Land” crew took the stage. In an upset, the top winner from Sunday night was actually “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ exquisite coming-of-age drama about a gay African-American boy growing up in poverty in Miami.
“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Beatty explained, saying he had seen the name Emma Stone from “La La Land” when he opened his envelope.
“La La Land” had been the front-runner for best picture, but it faced some backlash from those who found it just too light — or too white, considering the jazz story it depicts.
“Moonlight” also won the Oscar for the adapted screenplay by writer/director Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, who both grew up in the impoverished area of Miami where the film takes place. Or, as McCraney put it: “Two boys from Liberty City, up here on this stage representing (area code) 305.”
And, as expected, first-time nominee Mahershala Ali, who made us believe in a wise, nurturing drug dealer in “Moonlight,” won supporting actor, though he appeared in only about 20 minutes of the film.
“I had so many wonderful teachers,” he said in his acceptance speech. “One thing that they consistently told me …. is that it wasn’t about you. It’s not about you. It’s about these characters. … I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity.”
It’s been an angry season of awards shows, where politics and pointed speeches often upstaged the actual winners. So maybe this wasn’t the year for “La La Land” to win best picture after all, even though Damien Chazelle’s frothy musical about romance in the entertainment industry received a record-tying 14 nominations.
Still, “La La Land” did well for itself, winning best director (Chazelle), actress (Emma Stone, nabbing her first Oscar), cinematography, score and song (“City of Stars”) and production design.
After praising her fellow nominees and thanking her director, Stone turned to her co-star, Ryan Gosling: “Thank you for making me laugh and for always raising the bar and for being the greatest partner on this crazy adventure.”
Besides best picture, the race with the most suspense was best actor. For much of the awards season, Casey Affleck of “Manchester by the Sea” was the favorite to win for his dead-eyed portrayal of a shell of a man who reluctantly becomes the guardian of his teenage nephew. But Denzel Washington proved a formidable contender in a more popular movie, “Fences,” winning the predictive Screen Actors Guild Award last month. But Affleck prevailed.
“One of the first people who taught me how to act was Denzel Washington, and I just met him tonight for the first time,” said Affleck, looking scruffy in beard and overgrown hair — a look he needs for his current film role, he said earlier on the red carpet.
After two years of #OscarsSoWhite, the supporting acting prizes went according to script, to two African-Americans. In addition to Ali of “Moonlight,” Washington’s co-star, Viola Davis, who plays his long-suffering wife, was a shoo-in as soon as she signed on to reprise her Broadway role in “Fences.” This is her first Academy Award after three nominations. (Though, really, she should have been in the best actress category, given all her screen time. The academy has no time constraints for the acting categories.)
She paid tribute to regular people who die without any recognition and thanked the late playwright August Wilson for telling “the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition.”
“La La Land” also lost in the original screenplay category, to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” a study in grief and forgiveness.
“The movie is about people trying to take care of each other in the face of terrible adversity,” Lonergan said. “I have been taken care of my whole life by wonderful people who I love and who love me.”
And though “La La Land” was far from breaking the record of 11 Oscars (set by the original “Ben Hur” and tied by “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”), the winners list is notable in several ways:
▪ Stone is the first best actress winner for a musical since Liza Minnelli for 1972’s “Cabaret.”
▪ Little over a month after his 32nd birthday, Chazelle is the youngest best director winner.
▪ Davis is the first African-American to win the rare acting triple crown of an Oscar, Emmy and Tony (two Tonys, in her case, one of them for “Fences”).
Meanwhile, Mel Gibson’s bloody World War II saga “Hacksaw Ridge” picked up two technical awards, for editing and sound mixing.
Walking away empty-handed: the little-boy-lost tale of “Lion,” the topical Western “Hell or High Water” and “Hidden Figures,” the rousing story of NASA’s brainy black women (including Kansas City, Kan., native Janelle Monae, who also co-starred in “Moonlight”). Of the nine best picture nominees, "Hidden Figures" has the biggest box office.