The 89th Academy Awards will be forever remembered as the night when Bonnie and Clyde — a.k.a. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty — stole the show with an outlandish caper.
One that few would have believed, had it been in a movie instead of real life: La La Land was briefly announced as Best Picture winner instead of rightful victor Moonlight, because confused presenters Dunaway and Beatty opened and read the card for a previous winner, Best Actress Emma Stone.
But Sunday’s Oscars really deserves recall as one of the best and funniest of such shows in recent memory, with host Jimmy Kimmel doing a grand job of delivering barbs designed to sting a bit but draw smiles rather than blood.
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Even better, though, was how inclusive these Oscars were, and how natural and unforced it seemed. All of the winners were truly deserving of their honours, even if voters required a nudge to do the right thing.
Last year’s Academy Awards show was like a hostage-taking, with host Chris Rock steadfastly berating the assembled boldface for their #OscarsSoWhite shame in failing to nominate a single actor of colour for the second year running.
He had a point, even if he pounded it into a blunt instrument. The academy responded by clearing out inactive (read: older) members and by inducting hundreds of younger and more diverse people.
The result was not only a considerably more representative slate of acting nominees — seven out of the 20 were people of colour — but a winner’s list that more accurately represented the multiracial and multinational nature of the movie industry and the world of the 21st century.
This year’s Oscars show was more like the celebration it should be, and kudos for La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz for the classy way he swiftly called out the Best Picture error and then called up the Moonlight team to rightfully receive their golden statues.
Moonlight, a lyrical coming-of-age story by writer/director Barry Jenkins about an African-American man’s quest for personal identity, took not only Best Picture but also Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali). Along with the Best Supporting Actress win for Viola Davis for her impassioned performance in Fences, it was an impressive showing by diverse films and talent in the top categories of the Oscars.
And there’s the bonus of Moonlight’s sexual inclusivity: the film’s protagonist, played at three different ages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, is about a gay man’s struggle to find his place in the world, an exceedingly rare theme for a Best Picture winner.
The success of Moonlight and Davis can’t be dismissed as the academy pandering to affirmative action, even if some necessary coercion was used and felt — as with all great social causes, such as women’s rights and gay marriage.
The fact that Moonlight was so unlike what we traditionally think of as a Best Picture winner is why its victory is so much more important than when 12 Years a Slave took top honours in 2014. It addresses issues of African-American daily life in poetic and emotive ways that exceed all stereotypes.
It proves, contrary to some arguments, that you don’t have to make a drama about slavery or subordination to attract serious awards attention for diverse works of art — and I don’t say this to take anything away from 12 Years a Slave, a very fine and deserving film.
From now on, any kind of movie can and should be considered a potential Best Picture candidate, and we should hope for future contenders that also make more room for Asian, Latin American and indigenous talent, too.
Sunday’s Oscars felt like progress, even if they ended up as hilarious farce.
And, hey, wasn’t that a party?
Like the late, great Muhammad Ali, Kimmel floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, especially when he was trolling Donald Trump, the unseen but certainly not forgotten villain of the piece. I loved the bit where Kimmel tweeted Trump mid-show, to ask if the Twitter-happy prez was watching from the White House: “U up? Meryl says hi.”
Trump said nothing. This year’s Oscars were probably way too inclusive and way too truthful for his liking.
Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic.
Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic.
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