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Wrapping Up the 89th Academy Awards

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I really wish I hadn’t been buried in my phone.

I was too busy grumbling about a film I had never come to love, a film I had never been able to respect, even as a hypothetical winner. Too busy to notice at first the confusion in the background.

And then came the revelation. I thought it was a joke. A lot of you probably did as well. But then the La La Land team gracefully ceded the stage to the stunned and triumphant Moonlight crowd, and that perennial maverick Warren Beatty found himself at the center of the first time in Oscar history (that I know of) that the wrong name was called.

And how do I feel about it?

Read on.

My full predictions here.

Best Picture: Moonlight

I predicted: La La Land

I’m not just happy about it because La La Land lost. That was an awesome, if unintended, rebuke to a film that I felt merited it.

I’m happy because a good film won. I’m happy because a low-budget (possibly, adjusted for inflation, the lowest-budgeted winner ever) film about a gay black kid won. I’m happy because a film that could easily have fallen through the cracks and never found an audience won the biggest award the film industry can give.

No, it’s not my favorite film of the year. It’s a flawed film – I maintain the third act sets up more than it delivers on, and that the ending, touching though it is, is mildly underwhelming.

But it’s a film dealing with people and experiences that once had no chance at Oscar recognition. It was made with passion and skill. And in this year, without a Best Picture nominee I was out-and-out rooting for, it was the film I was hoping could somehow pull it off. I think it’ll hold up better as a winner than La La Land would have.

Of course, now that we know how the wrong name got read (Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope, hence his obvious trepidation in announcing the winner), the question is: how did La La Land lose?

I think a lot has to do with the preferential ballot. I’m not going to break it down here and now – frankly, I’d do better to just cut-and-paste someone else’s explanation. But suffice to say, enough people liked Moonlight more than La La Land – even if La La Land got more #1 votes (which may or may not be the case), the support for Moonlight ran deeper. And that, honestly, parallels the relative complexity of those films quite nicely.

Whatever the reason, a worthy film won. And that’s something we can all be happy with. (Also, A24, one of my favorite distributors, now has a Best Picture winner to their name. And that’s the cherry on top.)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

I predicted: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

This was gonna happen either way. Because even I could see how much making this film meant to him and how much of that comes through in the end result. Whatever qualms I may have about the film, I have no doubt that it was made out of a sincere love of cinema. So I’m reasonably okay with this win. He’s the youngest director ever to win, and that’s not something I need to take away from him. He’s got quite a while to make even bigger and better things.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

I predicted: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

I can’t say the performance wasn’t worthy. The man isn’t, but…we’ll leave it at that.

I was hoping up until the last moment that Denzel would somehow pull it out. The SAG win had me hoping. But it was not to be.

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

I predicted: Emma Stone, La La Land

Good for her. She deserved to win two years ago (in Supporting). I felt her performance was the weakest of the five, but they did a good enough job with the nominees that she was still a decent choice. I was holding out hope for an Isabelle Huppert upset, but her being nominated was a pretty sizable victory in of itself.

I will say, the wins for Stone and Chazelle make me think La La Land probably had the most #1 votes in Picture. Because the rest of the categories don’t have the preferential ballot. In the rest of the categories, the contender with the most #1 votes wins, end of story. In Picture, things get complicated. And the film you figured couldn’t lose does.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

I predicted: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

He’s awesome. I’ve probably undervalued this performance somewhat over the course of the season, and I might bump him up in my own rankings on re-watching the film. I do think at least two of his co-stars are better, but I can’t say he wasn’t good. He’s a strong enough actor overall – and made a good enough speech – that I can be quite okay with his winning.

I will say, though, if there was any category that seemed headed for an upset, it was this one. Because he lost both the Globe and the BAFTA. But there wasn’t that one strong competitor who could overtake him, and so he never relinquished his lead.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

I predicted: Viola Davis, Fences

Jesus, that speech. And the orchestra didn’t dare play her off.

This was probably the least surprising win of the night. She earned this through and through. There’s really nothing to say, other than…exhume.

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By the Sea

I predicted: Manchester By the Sea

Wouldn’t it have been awkward as shit if they’d brought out Matt and Ben to announce and Kenneth Lonergan didn’t win?

I still have my issues with the script, but it’s a good one, and much, much, much better than La La Land‘s. Granted, that film was a pretty distant second in this category, really only having its own momentum and the Globe win in its favor. So this doesn’t really count as a surprise.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

I predicted: Moonlight

I’m glad they pushed this Adapted. I’m glad Tarell Alvin McCraney got to win an Oscar as well. That was a damn good speech. And McCraney’s tux was pretty damn impressive.

It wasn’t my choice in the category, but it was in my top 10, and I can’t argue too much with its winning. That it was also solidly the front-runner, even with the category confusion, only helps.

Best Cinematography: La La Land

I predicted: La La Land

I’m okay with this. It was a good looking film. (I was actually reasonably okay with most of its major nominations outside of Picture and Original Screenplay.)

That, and there was really no way Silence was going to upset.

Best Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

I predicted: La La Land

Was this the biggest shock of the night, pre-Best Picture? For me, it might’ve been. Here’s what I said while writing up my predictions:

This won the BAFTA, in a bit of an upset. I’m not sure why; the battle scenes are well-edited, but the film as a whole is overlong and not notably well-paced. Given that the film might be a bigger winner than expected, I’ll say it’s the third likeliest in this category, but I’d be genuinely surprised if it won.

I didn’t even rank it (or if I had, it got bumped off the list by other films), making it the only winner to earn no ranking from me.

Was this the point we should’ve realized La La Land was in trouble? Or was it a fluke? It didn’t win the ACE Eddie (though neither did Whiplash), but it did win the BAFTA, and I assumed it was a fluke then. Sometimes the stats outweigh that “front-runner feeling”.

Best Production Design: La La Land

I predicted: La La Land

This looks kind of gratuitous without the Best Picture win. I mean, there were some decent sets, and the category wasn’t overwhelmingly strong, but I still ranked it as the weakest nominee, and at least they could’ve given it to Fantastic Beasts to match that surprise Costume Design win.

Best Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I predicted: Jackie

This was a solid upset. I figured Jackie would continue its relative sweep or La La Land would add another trophy to its own. Here’s what I said at the time:

It lost the Fantasy Film CDG award (to…Doctor Strange?), and I wouldn’t take it for a front-runner here, but I’ll say it’s not the least likely nominee.

I actually had it ranked fourth-likeliest. But they were decent costumes, and hey – the Potterverse finally won an Oscar.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Suicide Squad

I predicted: Star Trek Beyond

Academy Award winner Suicide Squad.

Does anything need to be said beyond that?

Best Score: La La Land

I predicted: La La Land

I’ll say it again: the actual music is fine. Actively good, even. So I can live with this.

Best Song: “City of Stars”

I predicted: “City of Stars”

I love that they brought John Legend to sing this and “Audition” and even he couldn’t make the lyrics sound good.

I will say, had they polled the audience, would “How Far I’ll Go” have won? Auli’i Cravalho pretty much killed it. And the song is incredible on top of it.

I just want to add a comment one of my friends made watching the winners’ speech: “Of course they all look like bros!”

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge

I predicted: La La Land

This was a pretty damn big upset as well. Because how does a musical not win here? Even if it wasn’t going to win Best Picture, this category is traditionally the province of musicals when they’re in competition. Had La La Land not been such a force, that might be a different matter, but I did say this category could’ve gone to one of three films and I wouldn’t have been shocked. And this was one.

Though, and this may surprise you, I actually thought La La Land would’ve been the better choice here. I ranked it 3rd and Hacksaw 6th.

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

I predicted: Hacksaw Ridge

The Academy and I actually agreed 100% on a category! That only happened twice this year.

I had this as my runner-up, so it’s not a total shock, but it is a bit strange that Hacksaw upset in Mixing and lost here. Not sure when the last time that happened was. But I’m so happy it did.

On a side note, Sound Editing seems to be an oddly common consolation prize or nomination for films, especially sci-fi or action films, the Academy otherwise neglected. Here’s a few films which were only nominated for or only won this award (winners marked with an asterisk):

Back to the Future*, The Fifth Element, Fight Club, Minority Report, Drive, Zero Dark Thirty*, All is Lost, American Sniper*and Sully.

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

I predicted: The Jungle Book

A year after one of the biggest-ever upsets in this category, one of the least surprising results.

But given what the effects team accomplished here, can you really argue with it? I can’t. I can argue with not nominating Arrival, but this result is entirely justified.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

I predicted: The Salesman

I think we all knew this would happen. Because there was a compelling reason to vote for it, on top of its own merits.

And Farhadi’s proxies got his word out, which probably drove a few people up the wall, but was a big deal to a great many more. You can’t say that would’ve happened had Toni Erdmann won.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

I predicted: Zootopia

A proud moment for furries everywhere.

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America

I predicted: O.J.: Made in America

There was some suspense here – I really thought 13th could pull it off – but they chose an excellent winner. The longest film ever to be nominated or win an Oscar, and it was absolutely deserved.

Now, let’s see how I did.

Of 21 categories, I predicted 15 dead-on. 71.4%. Not too bad. Better than last year, though I improved my score by not trying to predict the shorts.

Of the 6 I missed, my second choice won in three of them (Picture, Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Editing). And since I give myself half-credit for those, my score comes out to 16.5 out of 21, which comes out to…78.6%. Not too shabby. A tiny bit better than last year.

Of the other three, my third-likeliest won in two (Editing and Sound Mixing – both going to Hacksaw Ridge), and my fourth-likeliest won Costume Design. Possibly I should’ve had it higher, since Fantastic Beasts was a pretty big deal, but that’s on me.

And now for a few scores:

  • Average overall rank of the winners*: 9.2.
    • *Since I didn’t rank Hacksaw Ridge in Editing, I’m only averaging the winners I have ranked.
    • NOTE: Because I didn’t see all of the Foreign Language, Animated Feature, or Documentary Feature nominees, I decided only to average the winners of the main competitive categories. This applies to the other
  • Average overall rank of the winners w/o Best Picture: 8.4

So the Academy didn’t make amazing choices overall. Only two winners do I outright agree with (Supporting Actress and Sound Editing), and only five overall make my top 5 in their respective categories, though another five managed to make my top 10, with three winners coming in 6th on my list – Cinematography, Score, and Sound Mixing.

And of course, those are my subjective rankings, so take them with a grain of salt.

  • Average rank of the winners among the nominees: 2.8

They picked the best nominee twice, the second-best five times, the third-best a whopping eight times (including Picture and both Screenplay categories), fourth-best…never, actually, and fifth-best three times – Actress, Editing, and Production Design.

They almost picked ninth-best for Best Picture, but we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

  • Average predicted rank of the winners: 1.6

I was dead-on 12 times, my second-likeliest won three times, my third-likeliest twice, and my fourth-likeliest once. And if you want to count Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature, my score goes up a hair to 1.5. All things considered, not too bad.

So that wraps up these Oscars, my awards, and 2016 in film. And not a moment too soon.

The gravy has been gotten.

 

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