For months, in the magma of Twitter and in the spaces of newspapers and arts publications, a battle has waged over “La La Land.” Is it the greatest thing ever? Or is it a strained nuisance, falling far short of the dreamy musicals it passionately emulates? Or, you know, is it somewhere in between? Maybe it’s just fine? And in the age of Black Lives Matter, would this lilywhite confection, in which Ryan Gosling whitesplains jazz to John Legend, steal the Best Picture trophy detined for “Moonlight” — the film about a poor, gay black kid struggling to eke by?
So, yeah. That almost happened. And all of a sudden then it didn’t.
As journalists were wrapping up their Oscar pieces, hoping to bike home through the cold of an East Coast winter, something happened. “La La Land” had just been named Best Picture of 2016. The producers were trying to make it sound relevant like all the other big winners, when they were suddenly interrupted by the Oscar fuzz. It hadn’t, in fact, won Best Picture. That was a mistake. Presenter Warren Beatty had called the wrong film. It was “Moonlight” after all. It was an actual “stop the presses” moment — for the eight or nine news publications that still actually print newspapers.
Was this Warren Beatty calling the wrong name intentionally? He quickly explained the weird thing that allegedly went down: that he was handed the wrong envelope — the one just used to fete Emma Stone, who we guess really did beat Isabelle Huppert — and read it off anyway. (For one thing, this puts to rest that awful line about how Marisa Tomei’s name was called by mistake back in 1992. This is what happens when this happens for real.) We’re not sure if this is legit, but it was the second awesomely chaotic mess Beatty has made since last year’s underrated “Rules Don’t Apply.”
And so, at the end, after a while, this year’s Oscars turned out to be pretty much fine. It wasn’t a “La La Land” orgy; the love went all around, like a good kind of orgy. The musical still won a ton. Damien Chazelle stole (which is not to mean actually stole, we should say) the Best Director Oscar that ought to have gone to “Moonlight”‘s Barry Jenkins, but Jenkins did win for Best Adapted Screenplay.Emma Stone beat out Isabelle Huppert for “Elle,” but Ryan Gosling did not triumph over Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea,” while Chazelle lost the Original Screenplay award to Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester” again.
“La La Land” is thin on the ground for supporting actors, so the other two acting awards went to “Moonlight”’s Mahershala Ali and “Fences”’ Viola Davis took the Supporting categories, and rightly so. All in all, it was a fine make-up for last year’s #OscarsSoWhite embarrassment — though we’ll see how the 2018 Oscars go. You can’t trust these people.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge