And the winner isn’t: Faye Dunaway, left, and Warren Beatty present the award for best picture to the wrong film. Photo: Chris Pizzello Barry Jenkins, foreground centre, and the Moonlight cast accept the award for best picture.
Jordan Horowitz, producer of “La La Land,” shows the envelope revealing Moonlight as the true winner of best picture, with Warren Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel at right. Photo: Chris Pizzello
It was the late plot twist that turned a so-so ceremony into an unforgettable moment we’ll be talking about for years to come. It was the moment Bonnie and Clyde pulled off the greatest heist in Academy Awards history – stealing the best picture Oscar from right under the nose of Moonlight, if only momentarily.
It was car-crash television, and no matter how many times you see it, or how many explanations you read, it will remain as baffling and remarkable as it was in the moment it actually happened.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were on stage to announce the final award of the night, best picture. They were there to mark the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, which Beatty produced and the pair starred in, a film that won two awards from 10 nominations in 1968. And they got it so horribly wrong.
Beatty set up the announcement, then baulked, seemingly confused by what was written on the card inside the red envelope. But as he dithered, Dunaway blazed ahead, announcing La La Land as best picture.
Only it wasn’t. Moonlight was.
It really couldn’t have been much worse if Basil Fawlty had been up there alongside them. “Don’t mention the award. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.”
Watching in , it was impossible not to think of the moment Sarah Murdoch announced the wrong winner live on the finale of ‘s Next Top Model in 2010. But that was to a pay TV audience of about 200,000 people. The Oscars are seen, if we are to believe the Academy’s hype, by more than a billion.
How, you have to ask, in an event stage-managed and planned to such a degree, could the biggest set-piece of the night go so utterly wrong? And, you might add, wasn’t it a hoot to see it happen.
Apparently, there are two envelopes for each award (a practice that might be up for a rethink after this), and as Beatty walked on stage he mistakenly took the duplicate envelope containing the best actress award winner, Emma Stone for La La Land.
That would explain why he looked so confused as he gazed at the card, though it doesn’t explain why he gave it to Dunaway and let her read out La La Land as best picture winner, and smiled Beattyfically beside her as she did so.
It was only as the producers of that film were well into their acceptance speeches that it became apparent what had happened.
Host Jimmy Kimmel wrapped the evening by saying, “I knew I would screw up this show. I really did.” But in truth, he had done a pretty decent job, bringing a little edge to proceedings without ever descending into nastiness. The running gag about his supposed feud with Matt Damon aside, that is.
What really surprised was how tame the evening was. Kimmel got in a dig at Donald Trump, and even tweeted to him. “We’re more than two hours into the show and Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted at us once,” said Kimmel. “I’m starting to get worried about him.”
Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal took a swipe at Trump’s wall, and there were many nods to diversity and inclusiveness. But for the most part, presenters and winners alike preferred to let the films do the talking.
Maybe that was fair enough in a year of uncommonly strong movies, many of which carried subtle, or not so subtle, messages about acceptance and tolerance and common humanity. But with no one taking the opportunity afforded by the platform to really make a statement, the way Glenda Jackson or Vanessa Redgrave or Marlon Brando did in years gone by, it was a largely unremarkable event.
And then along came Bonnie and Clyde to turn everything on its head.
Yes they shot the place up and made an ungainly mess. But wasn’t it magnificent?
Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin