It started with hopes and dreams in Sundance, and then Cannes, and Venice and Telluride and Toronto. It slogged on for months of campaigning, turning gifted artists into promo machines and, eventually, awards zombies.
And it ended on Sunday night in a confused mess on the stage of the Dolby Theatre, where one movie won Best Picture and then lost it, and another lost it and then won it, and nobody really knew what was going on.
But when the dust cleared, we located a few winners and losers from Oscar night 2017, and from the entire awards season.
It won Best Picture, an amazing feat for an indie film that cost a paltry $1.5 million, features an all-black cast and was made by a director with only one previous feature to his name. It capped a night devoted to inclusion and diversity, and served — as TheWrap wrote when we put it on the cover of our first Oscar print magazine in November — as “a pointed rebuke to #OscarsSoWhite.”
But the film didn’t get the moment that would have sent a jolt through the Dolby Theatre and through many viewers at home, when Faye Dunaway or Warren Beatty would have opened the envelope and said, “And the Oscar goes to ‘Moonlight.'” Instead, its win came clouded in chaos and confusion — which might have made it more memorable, but also made it less satisfying.
The indie company didn’t exist until 2012, and for its first few years it didn’t get much awards traction with releases like “A Glimpse in the Mind of Charles Swan III,” “Spring Breakers” and “The Bling Ring,” or even with presumably awards-worthy films like “The Spectacular Now,” “Under the Skin” and “A Most Violent Year.” But last year, “Ex Machina” won a surprise Oscar for visual effects and “Room” was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Actress for Brie Larson. And now, while its drama “20th Century Women” didn’t get the awards love it deserved, A24 has won the big prize with “Moonlight,” and done it without the budget of many of its competitors.
There’s no question who looks worst in the wrong-envelope fiasco: the accounting firm of PwC, who for more than 80 years have been entrusted with keeping Oscar voting secure and beyond reproach. PwC balloting leader Brian Cullinan blew it on the biggest stage and at the biggest moment — and the revelation that he was tweeting celeb pix when he could have been double-checking envelopes only tarnishes PwC’s brand (and their client’s brand) even further.
WINNER: Jordan Horowitz
It was the ultimate nightmare situation for any movie producer: You’ve just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, you’ve given an acceptance speech and suddenly you’re told that there’s been a mistake and you actually lost. But “La La Land” producer Horowitz handled it with as much grace and class as you could possibly imagine. He might not have deserved the label of “hero” that the Boston Globe gave him, but he deserved this grateful tweet from “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins: “Jordan Horowitz. Wow. I’m slipping slowly into reflection, perspective. Much respect to that dude.”
(Horowitz’s fellow producer, Fred Berger, on the other hand, didn’t exactly shine, giving an acceptance speech after learning of the mistake and ending with, “we lost, by the way — but, you know.”)
LOSER: Warren Beatty
Yes, the blame falls mostly on PwC, which gave him the wrong envelope. But Beatty could have noticed that his envelope said “ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE” both on the front and on the card inside. He was sharp enough to know that something was wrong, so he should have been sharp enough not to let Faye Dunaway read “La La Land.” Plus his decades-in-the-works passion project “Rules Don’t Apply” wasn’t nominated for anything, making it an awards season to forget for the much-admired Hollywood icon.
WINNER: The Race
Here are a few things I believe about this year’s Oscar-contending movies:
“Moonlight” is a great movie. It won three Oscars. “La La Land” is a great movie. It won six Oscars. “Manchester by the Sea” is a great movie. It won two Oscars.
When the race gives us three movies that dazzle and move and inspire us like those three did for me, and all three of them win important awards, it’s hard to feel cheated or disappointed in any way. And it was equally inspiring to see the real camaraderie that seemed to grow between writer-directors Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle and Kenneth Lonergan, and their teams, over the course of the season.
So when it ended in chaos, what was there to do but laugh? At the Governors Ball, I ran into Chazelle, who’d been reading my book about the Oscars during much of awards season. (He once pulled a battered copy out of his backpack to prove it.) I told him that after covering 25 Oscars, I’d never seen anything like that. “Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I was trying to give you something new to write about.”
UNDECIDED: The Academy
A lot hangs in the balance for AMPAS now. Their nominations this year, and their choices on Sunday, were a huge step up from the debacle of #OscarsSoWhite last year. But they’re at the mercy of what Hollywood makes, and they won’t always have the choices they did this year.
And they’ve also got that Best Picture debacle hanging over them. PwC has apologized and promised to investigate. Brian Cullinan is unlikely to be back. Next year’s envelopes will no doubt be easier to read. But on their biggest night, their brand was made to look silly, and that’s a hard thing from which to recover.
WINNER: The Film Independent Spirit Awards
Last year, the Indie Spirit Awards’ two-year streak of predicting Oscar winners seemed to be in jeopardy, but Spirit winner “Spotlight” upset “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” to keep the streak alive. This year, with “La La Land” in the way of Spirit winner “Moonlight,” the streak seemed all but certain to end at three — but it didn’t.
The winner at the Spirit Awards has now won the Best Picture Oscar four years in a row, and five years out of the last six. The Oscars have gotten so indie that we underestimate the power of a Spirit Award winner at our own peril.
LOSER: The Producers Guild Awards
For a while, the Producers Guild Award for feature film seemed an unimpeachable indicator of Oscar strength. When the Academy expanded from five to 10 best-pic nominees and instituted the preferential system of vote-counting in the final round in that category, the Producers Guild did the same — and for the next six years, every Oscar winner first won the PGA.
But a crack had appeared in 2013, when Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave” tied with “Gravity” at the Producers Guild — and for the last two years, the PGA winner has failed to take home the Oscar. “The Big Short” and “La La Land” both won with the producers but came up short with the Academy, and suddenly the Producers Guild Award seems less like the ultimate precursor award than just another guild.
WINNER: Plan B Entertainment
The production company Plan B, run by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, is on a remarkable run. The company has had six Best Picture nominees in the last six years: “The Tree of Life” and “Moneyball” in 2011, and then a streak of four years in a row, with “12 Years a Slave” in 2013, “Selma” in 2014, “The Big Short” in 2015 and “Moonlight in 2016. The first and last film in that streak won, making Gardner the first woman to win Best Picture twice. So which of Plan B’s upcoming films is now a lock for a nomination next year?
LOSER: The Best Director-Best Picture correlation
For most of the history of the Oscars, about 80 percent of the men (and one woman) who were named Best Director saw their films also win Best Picture. But for the past five years, with an expanded Best Picture field and different methods of counting the votes in the two categories, only one director has seen his film take both awards. Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Alejandro G. Inarritu (“The Revenant”) and now Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) have all had to settle for Best Director, while somebody else’s film has won Best Picture. And suddenly, that directing prize doesn’t seem quite as predictive as it used to be.
WINNER: The SAG ensemble nomination
After the Screen Actors Guild nominations were announced in December, a red flag went up for “La La Land”: No film had won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination since “Braveheart” in 1996. But most of us brushed off that statistic because “La La Land” was mostly a two-person film, so why should its ensemble be nominated? But that losing streak for films without a SAG ensemble nod has now reached 21 years, and it’s hard not to take it seriously.
LOSER: The SAG individual win
For the last 12 years in a row, the actor who won the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role has gone on to win the Best Actor Oscar. That was the stat routinely cited by many who predicted that Denzel Washington would win this year for “Fences” over Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea.” But the streak ended with Affleck’s win, so maybe we’ll have to focus on the eight-year winning streak in the SAG supporting-actress category.
WINNER: Kevin O’Connell
Before Sunday night, sound mixer Kevin O’Connell had been nominated for Oscars 21 times, and he’d never won. But the Susan Lucci of the Oscars ended the Academy’s longest losing streak when “Hacksaw Ridge” scored an upset victory in the category.
LOSER: Greg P. Russell
It was a rough two days for another sound mixer, Greg P. Russell, who went into Oscar weekend with 17 Oscar nominations. On Saturday, the Academy announced that it was rescinding his nomination for “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” because he’d phoned members of the Sound Branch in violation of Oscar campaign rules. And then on Sunday, Kevin O’Connell’s win immediately turned Russell into the person with the most nominations without a win, at 0-for-16.
WINNER: “Brokeback Mountain”
Remember the 2005 Oscars? “Brokeback Mountain,” a subtle and lyrical film about two men who fall into a sexual relationship in the mountains of Wyoming, won the lion’s share of critics’ awards and was considered the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture. But it lost to a flashier Los Angeles-set film, “Crash,” and anecdotal evidence suggested that some members of the conservative Academy were uneasy with a same-sex relationship depicted on screen.
Well, the L.A.-set “La La Land” is a far better film than “Crash,” but “Brokeback” nonetheless got its revenge on Sunday night, and maybe the Academy grew up a bit.
We sift the tea leaves, examine all the guild and critics’ awards, talk to Academy members and decide that we can predict what voters are going to do. Because, you know, we’re master Oscarologists.
And then the Academy Awards roll around, and suddenly “Suicide Squad” is an Oscar-winning movie.
And the Best Picture contender that can’t lose has lost.
And we have finished third in our own family’s Oscar pool.
(And by we, I mean me. And my family consists of three people.)
Sigh. At least it’s over until next year.