The 2017 Oscars will undoubtedly always be remembered for the shocking snafu that saw “La La Land” erroneously announced as the Best Picture winner over actual winner “Moonlight.” It will be one of those unforgettable moments that will be talked about and picked apart for years to come.
But right up until that moment, many were triumphantly calling this year’s Oscars one of the best in years. There was so much to love about the show and this year’s winners. Justin Timberlake opening the show on a delirious high as he performed the contagiously joyous “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from “Trolls,” Jimmy Kimmel’s genuinely funny and on-point opening monologue, the welcome return of video clips for each of the acting categories, and the surprising willingness of Oscar voters to generously spread the wealth among a number of deserving films throughout the night.
But despite so many positives, there were still a few disappointments. Missed opportunities, if you will. Let’s count them down in order of most unfortunate.
1. “Moonlight” doesn’t get the spotlight it deserved
When Warren Beatty awkwardly paused as he opened that envelope, we all thought he was being coy, playing it up for maximum suspense for what we thought was going to be the inevitable and expected win for “La La Land.” Faye Dunaway thought so too, taking the envelope from her co-presenter and happily putting everybody out of their misery by announcing “La La Land” as winner. Minutes rolled on as the crowd happily cheered, the “La La Land” score filled the Kodak Theater and the film’s producers ecstatically thanked their loved ones. But in the background on that stage, we saw some commotion, and then shockingly learned that it was all a big stuff up. Winning co-producer Jordan Horowitz graciously and honorably turned to the audience and proclaimed that there had been a big mistake. “Moonlight” was the winner.
What followed was an uncomfortable sequence of events as the audience gasped in disbelief, the “La La Land” producers were embarrassingly ushered off the stage, Kimmel and Beatty tried to explain, and the “Moonlight” producers took to the stage to claim their prize. Such a missed opportunity to see a spontaneously jubilant moment ruined by incompetence. Who could forget back in 2005 when Jack Nicholson gasped in shock when announcing that “Crash” has beaten “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture. It is one of those surprise moments that live on in the memory because it was so unexpected. And regardless what film you thought should have won that year, the team from “Crash” had their moment. Their joy and shock and awe was palpable as they took to the stage that night.
“Moonlight” winning Best Picture was a huge surprise. It would have completely raised the roof had the right envelope been handed to Beatty and Dunaway, because “La La Land” was so heavily favored to win that award. It was the lock. And yet, a small independent film about a gay African-American man’s coming of age somehow triumphed instead. Nobody saw it coming. It would have been a real moment to remember (for all the right reasons). Such a missed opportunity for “Moonlight” to own that moment, to claim the prize against the odds and to shine and revel in the spotlight.
2. Oscars so tame
Kimmel was one of the best Oscar hosts I have seen in years. Decades even. He provided that perfect tone that is so hard to get right as he skewered Hollywood and the White House, played up his silly faux-rivalry with Matt Damon, and kept the show moving with confidence and style.
But could he have done more to really hammer an administration as unpopular as the former “Celebrity Apprentice” host? There was so much material on Donald Trump that he could have employed if he wanted to be more subversive, to really let rip.
Granted, he did try, as he urged the audience watching to “have a positive considerate conversation not as liberals or conservatives but as Americans,” adding that “if we all did that it would make America great again; it starts with us.” He subtly skewered Trump a few times, like when he referred to how “underrated” Meryl Streep is, or when he called out to Best Cinematography winner Linus Sandgren (“La La Land”), whose Scandinavian last name prompted Kimmel to hilariously console him about “what happened in Sweden last week.” He even sent the president a couple of baiting tweets from the stage. It was all relatively restrained, perhaps not to raise the ire of the alt-right trolls on standby to denounce the Oscars as yet another “bicoastal elite” attack on the “real” America.
So if the host was going to stay relatively tasteful, why did we not see some truly shocking political statements from some of the presenters and winners? Sure, Best Foreign Language Film was a great moment of defiance, as a statement was read out from winning director Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”), who boycotted the Oscars to protest the Trump travel ban. And there were a couple of defiant statements that crept through, like Gael Garcia Bernal going off-script to denounce the “building of walls.”
But why not let loose like in years gone by? Remember jaw-droppers like Sacheen Littlefeather accepting the Oscar for Marlon Brando (“The Godfather”) in 1973, or when documentary feature winner Michael Moore (“Bowling for Columbine”) was cut off by Oscar producers after publicly shaming then-resident George W. Bush for his “fictitious war” in Iraq? What better time than now for some real defiance from artists who are given platforms to use them? Another missed opportunity.
3. It’s best costume design, not most costume design
Colleen Atwood (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) surprised many by winning Best Costume Design over frontrunner Mary Zophres (“La La Land”). This was supposed to be the year that a contemporary film was finally going to win the costume design Oscar, which rarely happens because Oscar voters always love to reward the film with the most costume design. Missed opportunity. And come to think of it, the “Harry Potter” franchise was never able to win an Oscar after so many attempts (many in this same category), and then the underwhelming prequel wins?
4. “La La Land” doesn’t break records
For weeks, we were led to believe by Oscar pundits that Oscar night would be all about “La La Land,” which looked set to score possibly ten wins or even equal or break the record set by “Ben Hur,” “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” with 11 wins each. But as Oscar night rolled on, it kept losing. In fact, it took almost two hours into the show before “La La Land” won its first Oscar (for Best Production Design). In retrospect, this was the omen many of us felt was on the cards. Could “La La Land” actually lose Best Picture? Surely not, after the weeks and weeks of hype surrounding what was going to be a record breaking night for the LA-set musical. Whether you love the film or not, this was a missed opportunity. A record-breaking sweep doesn’t happen very often, and Oscar night was going to be all about “La La Land.” Not to be.
But for me, this was another missed opportunity to honor Dev Patel (“Lion”), who was likely the runner-up in a fiercely contested Best Supporting Actor race. There are so many reasons why Patel might have been a better choice. It is so rare to see Asian actors nominated at the Oscars, and there was some hope that Patel might finally reverse that trend by not only scoring the nomination, but taking home the Oscar. Patel gives one of the best Australian accents ever attempted by a non-Australian actor, something he worked so hard to hone and get right. “Lion” was beloved by the Academy for all intents and purposes, but it left Oscar night with zero wins. And finally, Patel was unfortunately overlooked a few years ago when “Slumdog Millionaire” swept the field at the Oscars, winning Best Picture and a number of below the line awards. This could have been his makeup Oscar, which the Academy likes to do often, especially in this category.