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Oscars 2017: ‘Moonlight’ Wins in a Chaotic Kerfuffle


Moonlight is best picture. In a bewildering end to the show, La La Land was first announced as the winner before its jubilant cast and crew were interrupted with a scarecely believable correction.

Jimmy Kimmel, his Everyman schtick carefully in place, opened the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday with a plea for viewers to bridge divides, followed by a jab at President Trump. It promised to be a whipsawing night, with Kimmel determined to deliver an effervescent, ratings-lifting show and Hollywood in a sour political mood and itching to tell the world about it.

As for the awards, which sometimes seemed like an afterthought as the show moved toward a marathon four hours, voters had spread honors across an array of films by the ceremony’s midway mark. Moonlight, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Zootopia and La La Land had all won at least one Oscar apiece. Hacksaw Ridge, the true story of a heroic World War II medic, won Oscars for sound mixing and film editing, a category that is often predictive of the best picture winner.

La La Land was honored with Oscars for Damien Chazelle’s directing, its cinematography, song, score and production design. “This is dedicated to all the kids who sing in the rain, and all the moms who let them,” said Justin Paul, part of the La La Land songwriting team, as they accepted the statuette.

The supporting acting prizes went to Viola Davis for her performance in Fences, about a Pittsburgh family in the 1950s, and Mahershala Ali for his portrayal of a sympathetic drug dealer in Moonlight.

Ceremony organizers played up Hollywood glamour and paid homage to Academy Awards history. Music interludes were taken from the scores of Top Gun and Tootsie. Shirley MacLaine appeared as a presenter, joking that the standing ovation was “the nicest reception I’ve had 250,000 years.” At one point, Kimmel trotted out a tour bus full of unsuspecting tourists, to mixed results.

But politics was a consistent topic. Gael García Bernal, presenting best animated film to Zootopia, said, “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that wants to separate us.”

As he opened his monologue, Kimmel asked viewers, both conservative and liberal, to come together in a calm conversation. “If we could all do that we could make America great again, we really could,” he said, to applause.

As expected, Davis won the best supporting actress Oscar — her first — for playing a world-weary housewife in Fences. (She won best actress at the 2010 Tony Awards for playing the same role onstage. She was the one who decided to drop to the supporting category for the Oscars.)

An intense, nearly overcome Davis touched on her family, her industry “cheerleaders,” the film’s director (Denzel Washington), graveyards, dashed dreams and the playwright August Wilson, who adapted his “Fences” for the screen and whom Viola praised as someone who “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”

The night’s first award, best supporting actor, went to Ali, who tearfully thanked the film’s cast and crew of Moonlight and his own family. “Peace and blessings,” he said, avoiding a repeat of the pointed comments he made at previous awards shows about the Trump administration’s travel ban.

After two years when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was attacked as racist for overlooking black actors and films about African-American experiences, the current nominee list is remarkably diverse.

Ahead of the ceremony, the favorite to win best picture is La La Land, which received 14 nominations, a tie with All About Eve and Titanic for the most in academy history. Hollywood never tires of gazing in a mirror: La La Land, a musical love letter to the entertainment industry, would become the fourth show-business story in six years to win best picture, joining The Artist, Argo and Birdman.

But Hidden Figures, a more conventional studio film with an uplifting story about overlooked NASA heroines in the 1960s, could pull off an upset win, as could the critical darling Moonlight, an art-house film about a young, black, gay man growing up poor in Miami.

The best actor race was extremely tight and in the end it went to Casey Affleck, a 41-year-old comeback kid?

Affleck, at long last seeming to leave behind his lamentable 2010 film, I’m Still Here, was once seen as a lock. His nuanced performance in “Manchester by the Sea” was widely hailed as a triumph and won him trophies at stops including the Golden Globes. But Affleck was dogged by the fact that in 2010 he settled sexual harassment complaints tied to I’m Still Here. In late January, Washington, the director and star of Fences, staged an upset win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

It’s rare for an actor to collect a Screen Actors Guild award and not go on to land an Oscar. But it is also rare for an actor to win three Oscars or more. In the end, Affleck pulled out the victory.

Anger about Trump’s administration has been palpable in the movie capital in recent days. On Friday, a fired-up Jodie Foster helped lead an anti-Trump rally hosted by the United Talent Agency, just as the directors of the five foreign film nominees voiced their “emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US.” in a joint statement.

On the red carpet (where some stars were shivering in the mid-50s weather), nominees like Ruth Negga, a best actress honoree for Loving, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, nominated for his Moana song, wore blue ribbons signaling support for the American Civil Liberties Union. But most celebrities seemed to avoid political barbs.

On Sunday, some supporters of Trump used Twitter to advocate for ignoring the Oscar telecast. Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas wrote:

Governor Mike Huckabee ? @GovMikeHuckabee
Watch celebs spew ignorant political venom at Oscars?? Nah...think I'd rather have a colonoscopy. Both happen from same location.

(A White House spokeswoman said in an email that Trump was spending Sunday night hosting the National Governors Association’s annual dinner in Washington.)

The foreign film and documentary races were notably relevant this year.

Among foreign films, the German satire Toni Erdmann initially had the momentum. But Trump’s travel ban put the spotlight on Iran’s entry, The Salesman, whose director, Asghar Farhadi, said that he would boycott the ceremony in protest — a decision that may have ultimately helped his film win.

Anousheh Ansari, an American-Iranian businesswoman, accepted the award for “The Salesman” and read a message from Farhadi. The note said he was not attending in solidarity with immigrants “who have been disrespected by the inhumane law,” referring to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

Among nonfiction films, Ava DuVernay’s much-esteemed look at mass incarceration, 13th, was campaigned for aggressively by Netflix and the civil rights-themed I Am Not Your Negro surged late in the season. But the nearly eight-hour, is-it-a-mini-series-or-is-it-a-film O. J.: Made in America was named best documentary. In accepting the award, Ezra Edelman, the film’s director, dedicated the award to Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman and “the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence and criminal injustice.”

An unenviable balancing act for Kimmel

Left to bridge the gap between people watching from their sofas in Kansas City and the theater filled with coastal elites, Kimmel spent little time trying to pretend the Oscars were anything but a liberal affair. When popping up after the first few statuettes were presented, he made a reference to the box-office success of “Doctor Strange,” the Marvel comics movie. Kimmel then joked that the character “was also named secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

In a moment that certainly checked the populist box, a busload of unsuspecting Hollywood tourists, selfie sticks aloft, found themselves ushered into the Dolby Theater, and shuffled before Hollywood A-listers and the world. The bit, which went on at some length, drew a polarizing response on social media, with some viewers criticizing Kimmel for exploiting them and mocking an Asian woman’s name.

Later, Kimmel joked that President Trump had not tweeted about the show. So Kimmel typed out a tweet to the president on his phone: “Hey @realDonaldTrump u up?”

NY Times 2/26


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