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La La Moonlight, an Unexpected Finale to Oscar Night

My head is still spinning. As I cleaned up after the Oscar party, I imagined an Oliver Stone like JFK treatment of the 89th Academy Awards finale. We need evidence and diagrams, I thought to myself while filling up the recycling bag with empty bottles.  People might argue and theorize about this forever and make themseleves conspiracy theorists in the process. What was it, exactly, that happened?

First there was Warren Beatty's excruciating pause when he opened the envelope, a look of disbelief or was it confusion or 'how about that?' smirking. Inscrutable really... At first I'd assumed he was just trying to create suspense where none existed or maybe he was actually having his own Crash moment like his friend Jack Nicholson's surprise on that awful Black Sunday 11 years ago when Brokeback Mountain unexpectedly lost its rightful Oscar and Jack didn't disguise his surprise.

As I wiped the kitchen counter I though of Beatty handing the envelope over to his Bonnie, Faye Dunaway... for help or just to give her the honor? She seemed less confused and said "La La Land". Cue the usual anti-climax to the Oscar party each year when the expected happens and the show is running way over time, anyway. My guests were already tuning out the producer's speech.

But then the unthinkable. My head is still spinning.

La La Land has left the building

There'd been a mistake and La La Land hadn't won after all. The winner was Moonlight, and for a brief moment the stage was a jumble of people and more confusion with two teams as one key Oscar changed hands and suddenly the Moonlight team was there, bewildered but then happy -- a direct reversal of the trajectory of La La Land emotions. One team robbed of their triumph, the other unable to celebrate theirs in the traditional way. So much confusion. Warren Beatty tried to explain -- something about having the Best Actress envelope.

My party guests and I argued back and forth. How did they get the Best Actress envelope? Didn't Leo have it? Was there a duplicate? Nothing made any sense except that Moonlight will look great in the history books as an Oscar winner. One of my guests, a black gay man, said he needed a moment. He couldn't believe he was seeing a movie like that on the screen and definitely didn't expect to ever see it win Best Picture at the Oscars. When he left I thought about my own heart breaking when Brokeback lost and now a gay picture actually did win the big prize. 

As I put the mixers back in the fridge I thought back to the commotion behind the La La Land team during their speeches. I didn't think much of while it was happening other than a passing thought "why are people moving around so much -- was that someone running across the stage?" More thank yous followed. And then suddenly the chaos, and holding the envelope up to the camera. Moonlight was the winner. 

My head is still spinning but it's all too fresh to watch the recording again to verify. Tomorrow. As I took out the garbage my mood changed. Empathy for both teams experiencing their wins and loss in such a strange way. But didn't this make a kind of poetic sense? Moonlight's arc is a slow road of self-actualization, and always, always a struggle, melancholy even in its happiest moment.  La La Land's enormous success, on the other hand comes with significant loss. In the musical's last act we leave the current moment for a rewind and a 'dream ballet' like segment wherein we envision a different reality that might have been. The 89th Academy Awards finale was messy and chaotic rather than elegant and inspired but in its own way it was a dream ballet; a sliding door, an alternate reality, which suddenly closes off. This new reality is fine but the 'what if' may never quite subside. 


PICTURE Moonlight
DIRECTOR Damien Chazelle, La La Land
ACTRESS Emma Stone, La La Land
ACTOR Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
SUPPORTING ACTOR Mahershala Ali, Moonlight 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Manchester by the Sea
COSTUME DESIGN Fantastic Beast and How To Find Them
FILM EDITING Hacksaw Ridge
SOUND MIXING Hacksaw Ridge
MAKEUP Suicide Squad
ORIGINAL SONG "City of Stars," La La Land


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Reader Comments (87)

I'm actually having trouble falling asleep lol. It was a great show with (imo) the best host they've had in quite awhile and very deserving winners but unfortunately the only thing people will talk about and remember is the misread best picture winner. Too bad.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

You guys, the *second* La La Land was announced as Best Picture, I dipped. I didn't know this happened till and HOUR LATER!!!!! This is crazy! But amazing.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmandaBuffamonteezi

Too shocking. A great show, with large and small denunciations of Trump, but also a lot of love. You pulled a Beatty and typed in Moonlight as winning Production Design btw. Twas La La Land.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Beautiful write up on a bizarre yet inspiring night

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterZ


February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

You have your own mistake on "Production Design" :)

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDanno

It was such a surreal moment. Screenshot from the broadcast on Sasha Stone's twitter show that Warren Beatty was holding the best actress envelope. There must have been a duplicate. The person who took the duplicate didn't read the front of the envelope.

Even though I was rooting for Moonlight, my heart breaks for the La La Land team. But, as you said, we mustn't forget how monumental this win is.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdela

So very happy for MOONLIGHT but also crushed that LA LA LAND had to lose THIS way. First it fuels the whole Moonlight vs. La La Land narrative that I've HATED this whole award season even though it's been abundantly clear how much everyone in both film adore and respect each other. Second, I can't stand the glee of every La La Land hater who seem to think the film deserves to be shot and put down in any form. And finally, it really does rob MOONLIGHT of its moment with this mishap overshadowing the win just a bit.

ANYWAYS... both films will now be forever tied in Oscar lore. That's something I guess.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

This is the first time in my life I've witnessed my #1 film of the year win Best Picture. I am so happy. And I refuse to accept that Isabelle Huppert didn't win. She won and Barry Jenkins also won Best Director.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I'm still shocked and I have the alarm clock right now could not sleep after this! As a gay man I think a LaLaLand is superior and better tha Moonlight anyway

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRiccardo

thanks for the post. Will be looking forward to the comments tomorrow. It was such a great show this year but i regret not getting the true gasp moment of having moonlight announced as it should have been. It's too murky now! What a great year for film though. Truly brilliant films went home with nothing (HF, Lion, HoHW) or one (Arrival) but La La Land and Moonlight deserved every one of their awards.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermikey67

You left out a few more monumental wins:

Pixar winning Animated Short again for the first time in 15 years

Kevin O'Connell winning for the first time in 21 nominations!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

Bonnie and Clyde done another robbery tonight.
For all it's worth this will put Faye Dunaway back in the spotlight for days to come.
Beatty and Bening household had a bad year.
Damn this is both so sad and AMAZINGGG
But still ARRIVAL is the best picture of the year imo
LLL won production design tho.
So fricking happy for Viola!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

It was such a great show until the chaos at the very end. I was already down about Huppert losing and then this shit has to happen? What in the hell was happening backstage? This is absurd and The Academy will definitely have some explaining to do in the morning.

I felt so bad for all parties involved. Just so so so awkward and weird.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I think losing Best Picture is a blessing in disguise of "La La Land". There have been tons of think pieces pretty much accusing Damien Chazelle of being a D.W. Griffith/Leni Riefenstahl figure. At least now, those voices will be silenced a bit and we can just love and enjoy both films that won big, reminiscent of "Cabaret" and "The Godfather". "Cabaret" won a slew of Oscars including Director and Actress but lost Best Picture. Both films are beloved today. I think the same can be said for "La La Land" and "Moonlight".

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

"...a dream ballet; a sliding door..."

what a great reading of an awkward moment

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

And while People talk endlessly about this, they forget that a sexual harrasser won.

Emma's win will not age well, beCause Huppert was sitting right there. Embarassing.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Who ever handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope is leaving the country in haste.
But for the rest of us it was the greatest viral moment since the streaker back in the 70's.
It was a generally good show and it was nice that the wealth was spread around.

My big observation of the night - Emma Stone is this generation's Diane Keaton. A popular win for an actress who is easy to love.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

"La La Land" was in trouble immediately when it lost Costumes, then Sound, then Editing...

No Best Picture winner this decade has won the most Oscars of its year. The most any has won is five. Sweeps appear to be a thing of the past, at least for now.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Supposedly there are (at least) two sets of envelopes, one on each side of the stage. DiCaprio left the stage with the envelope he received, and Emma Stone says she had the Best Actress card in her hand while Best Picture was being presented. Beatty says he opened the envelope and saw her name on the card, which is why he was confused. Dunaway saw the words "La La Land" on the card, and that's what she read (although she should have seen Emma Stone's name there as well). So it looks like Beatty was given the second Best Actress envelope by mistake, which can be clearly seen in a screen grab. There would have been no reason for him to look on the front of the envelope, as most presenters are dealing with too many other things: teleprompter, co-presenter, nerves, making sure the envelope is open, etc.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

So there were two envelopes that said "Actress in a Leading Role" on the front.

Someone handed an envelope with that to Beatty and Dunaway to present best Picture.

Beatty and Dunaway read the card in the envelope and thought Emma Stone was the producer of La La Land?

Who will be held accountable?

This beats the naked guy behind David Niven by miles. Light years even.

I have to sleep!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael W.

Update from one of my friends who works in publicity/marketing in LA: "You guys need to understand how messy this Oscar fiasco is in the entertainment industry. It is BIG. People are SHOOK UP. Shit is going DOWN right now - no one is celebrating. This is BAD."

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

"Emma's win will not age well, beCause Huppert was sitting right there. Embarassing."

It's already aged horribly! I will forever tell myself Isabelle Huppert has an Oscar.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

It appears that Leo didn't hand Emma Stone her winning envelope. He must have handed it to someone who then got it confused with the Best Picture envelope. I try to see all the nominated best pictures before the Oscars. There's always a few that didn't make it out my way and Moonlight was one of them. I enjoyed La La Land but preferred Lion, Hidden Figures and Arrival. Nevertheless I felt for the La La Land producers yet handled it beautifully.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

Paul Outlaw explained what happened very well. A friend in the States watching the ABC post-award telecast tells me they mentioned that the wrong winner was announced at least once before in 1957 (well, what did they refer to? Year of eligibility/release or year when the Oscar were awarded?)
In any case, I was not able to find what category it was in and the films/persons involved. Do any of you guys know?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

How am I supposed to ever sleep again after this? My favorite night of the year and it ends like THAT, in a historic moment (and not at all in a good way)? I need to move to the woods and journal about this for the rest of my life.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

Not a good look for the Oscars and will likely cast a shadow over Moonlight's deserved win with the overlarge tRump/Alex Jones sector of this nation. But it could've been worse if the mistake hadn't been caught. Imagine La La Land's people walking off with those awards, the curtain falling, and the show ending without that mistake having come to light. Would the Oscars correct it later? Imagine the conspiracy theories gone wild if it had gone down that way. As it is, the envelopes were held up to the camera for proof, so most sane people will accept the gaffe and move on.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

@ Joanne

See above.

@ Dan

People are celebrating, all right. Just not the producers of the awards ceremony, Price Waterhouse Cooper and the Academy.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

And from now on Oscar presenters and winners will both be checking those cards with extreme care, and still not feel entirely sure about the contents of the envelope. I thought Beatty did a great job trying to straighten things out, considering how unprecedented this was- felt bad for Faye forever being linked to this mistake, although it was great to see one of my idols onstage at the year's biggest movie event, at least at first. Happy "Moonlight" ended up eventually taking it, as I felt it addressed certain aspects of the gay experience I've never seen in a movie before (particularily how hard it can be to make a connection with someone) but damn, you gotta feel sorry for those poor "La La Land" guys- I only won a trophy for bowling once, but it's still easy to feel their pain right now.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShawn

I feel like the biggest winner of the night was Marisa Tomei, vindicated after 25 years. "See? That's what would have happened if the wrong winner was announced."

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

@ Brevity

+1 to you, sir or madam...nice one there...

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJHR

I still have my conspiracy theory hat on (it's Tom Ford and it's gorgeous) that this was a stunt. Something doesn't add up to me. It also lessens the joy/surprise of Moonlight winning but that's just me.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

@Roger & @Amanda -- I am one with you in my heartbreak over Isabelle's loss to Emma. While Emma is indeed believable and wonderful in La La Land and I am happy for her subsequent career of better roles, I cannot understand how Isabelle's turn in Elle can be bettered -- I know, tastes and preferences are subjective, but it stands that in a year with so many truly amazing actressing and with several wonderful performances not nominated, Stone's performance is considered the best of 2016. Isabelle ultimately wins with her body of work being discussed by cinephiles worldwide.

Happy for Moonlight's win. What I would give to see/hear Beatty/Dunaway reading it correctly and seeing the reaction of the audience.

Love Viola's speech, BTW.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

"And the Best Picture goes to La L--Moonlight!" One of the best Oscar telecasts in a while: surprising and fun, wacky yet classy, and blessedly free of heavy-handed soapboxing,

First, "Spotlight" and now "Moonlight" win Best Picture. What'll be the title of the next winner?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

La La Light?

Gaslight II: The Revenge?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdavide

I'm so happy that Kenneth Lonergan, Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins all won tonight.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjack

WTF!! Why was Beatty handed the wrong card??!!

I really feel bad for LLL, Beatty n Dunaway. Its not their fault tt The Academy f**ked up the Big Prize!!!

N Moonlight's win is forever tainted. This fiasco totally eclipses all the other deserving winners.

The Academy F**ked up BIG-TIME !!

Moonlight is a deserving winner, but so is LLL!!!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

The parallels you identify between the respective endings of La La Land and Moonlight, and their ultimate Oscar fortunes, is genius. Like you suggest, La La Land's bittersweet closing moments present a dream of what might have been, whilst Moonlight ends finally with a triumph of sorts for the protagonist, albeit a hard-earned one tinged with melancholy.

Both films are worthy Best Picture winners, and if ever a split vote was deserved then this might have been the year. For what it's worth, I marginally rate Moonlight over La La Land, so I'm satisfied with its win. La La Land is consistently entertaining and contains my favourite opening and closing sequences of the year; Moonight is a relatively slow-burner (the minimalism of the first ten/fifteen minutes actually frustrated me, and only eventually made artistic sense in the context of the film's entire 111 minute running time), but is richly rewarding come the final act, and its overall emotional punch is even more devastatingly powerful than La La Land's sublimely poignant dream sequence. I'm also not ashamed to admit that two sequences during Moonlight's final act caused me to shed a tear.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

@ Paul Outlaw I obviously read something that had been written before Emma Stone had spoken so sorry for my "fake news".

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

So weird. I immediately changed when La La Land was announced. Fine, if personally disappointing choice, but now I can't sleep. Now I can't stop wiping tears from my eyes because I'm so elated about Moonlight. I feel awful for the producers that thought they'd won, and hate that what should've been a pure moment of surprise and joy became a fiasco (even if it made for some great tv, and inarguably, THE moment in all Oscar history), but it's worth it to know that this BLACK, GAY (and so much more) movie is and will be seen, and for at least this moment, an Oscar will help US feel like we're being seen too. Just amazing.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVal

How uncomfortable. For everyone.

With all that, it feels necessary that a film about a black gay man won this year of all years.

Am I the only person, and don't shoot me, who felt Viola's speech was almost a parody of her usual self? (I know it wouldn't have been of course - the woman is god and was also best dressed) but we are the only profession to celebrate living a life??! No.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMorganb

Tbh, the moment certainly wasn't ideal, but it was pure T H E A T R E~
Just so damn gripping, lol.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of Blah Blah Land, and I wanted Moonlight to win. So when La La Land was announced--which I had expected--I was like "meh" and ya know, just sat there going about my business, feeling a bit underwhelmed but not surprised, just like the usual awards show watching goes. But THEN, what you always wish in the back of your mind, but NEVER happens, it's announced that the WRONG WINNER WAS ANNOUNCED, and YOUR FAV ACTUALLY WON!

My jaw dropped.

Don;t get me wrong, I feel bad for the La La Land producers for being teased. And I feel bad for the Moonlight producers for having their moment stolen. But man, something about that in the current state this country is in felt right. It wasn't the awards moment we need, but it's the one we deserve.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

So there are duplicate envelopes. One goes to the presenter which goes to the awardee and the other stays backstage in case there is a mistake. Apparently, Warren and Faye were given the second best actress envelope.

Also Pricewater house has announced there is going to be an investigation. People knew who the real winner was but La La Land got about 2 minutes of speeches before anyone told them what was happening. That seems to be causing real concern- how long it took them to correct the mistake. Someone is getting fired over this.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commentertom

PWC juz aplogised n admitted its their staff who gave Beatty the wrong envelope!!! Safe to say PWC wont b hired next yr!! Lol

Seriously how cld they make such an inexcusable mistake?? If I'm the academy or LLL team, i wld ask for a recount. PWC cant b trusted!!!

On a side note, wldn't it b wonderful is THIS had happened in the US election!! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Whr were PWC when u really needs them!!! ๐Ÿ˜‚

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

What. A. Clusterfuck. They also put a picture of a woman who is very much alive (Jan Chapman) in the place of Janet Patterson during the In Memoriam.

I was watching with about 200 other people in a movie theatre and the place went mad. This is truly unprecedented and will be talked about until the end of Oscar's time. What a debacle, but holy hell that was stunning TV. I feel bad for both, obviously.

It did seem even more anti-climactic that LA LA LAND "won" considering it had been losing so many categories to seemingly shrugged off winners (particularly in costume and editing).

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thanks Glenn, I was just about to mention Jan Chapman. What a terrible error.

Also, Patricia Arquette unloaded on the Vanity Fair red carpet over her sisters omission from the In Memorium segment. She was fuming.

What a crazy day it's been. We'll be talking about this ceremony for many, many years to come.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

What do we learn from this?

That the seemingly impossible can always happen, as unlikely as it may be. The hands-down favorite can actually be announced as the winner of the Best Picture Oscar, and it can still lose the Award in the end.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

A truly bizarre moment. But my thought after this development was that the preferential voting is really producing surprising results on Oscar night, including am inordinate amount of splits between best picture and best director. The broadcast was better than in years past, although several bits were overplayed (like the sightseeing tour). But what a finish (although of the nominated pictures, Arrival was my favorite, and overall, I would have wished that Jackie was the one called to the stage).

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Beatty was a little slow off the mark, age probably, it happens to us all. Interesting that a lot of the news reports focus on him and not on Dunaway who actually read out La La Land.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoe (UK)

Still buzzing, hours on. Overjoyed for MOONLIGHT. They literally took the Oscar out of LLL's hands.

A lot of wrongs last night (Creepy Affleck, Yellowface Stone) but the most important win was rightly awarded.

Here's to the ones who dream, motherfuckers!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

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