Monday, February 27, 2017

"Moonlight" Overtakes LA LA Fantasies After Biggest Flub In Oscar History

Actor Warren Beatty (C) explains a
The instant of total chaos last night after Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway screwed the pooch at the Oscars by reading from the wrong card.

We had waited some three and a half hours and finally the award of the night was to be announced, the Oscar for 'Best Picture'. I'd already written in the previous post how I believed awarding the Oscar to "La La Land" -  a vacuous, navel gazing musical about aspiring actors in LA  - would be a monumental waste. So Janice and I waited with bated breath as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway approached the mic with the red envelopes bearing the winner.

The pair had one job to do and one only: simply announce the Best Picture movie. How hard could it be? Well evidently pretty damned hard as the pair screwed the pooch - making infamous  Oscar history by announcing "La La Land" - then some three minutes later, having to retract it  after La La Land  producer Jordan Horowitz interrupted the celebration. He held up the card and immediately  called attention to the discrepancy on the winners card in his hand. That card showed the actual Best Picture winner the award went to "Moonlight", a small circulation, Miami-based indie flick.

  Until the "Moonlight" cast and team made its way to the stage everyone looked lost in a surreal, parallel universe. Or to put in more blunt terms, they didn't know whether to shit or go blind, given"Moonlight" was named Oscar winner  after   "La La Land" was announced first.

What happened to cause this travesty, and whose fault was it? Contrary to some hot head Trumpie nitwits (commenting on the Miami Herald site) it was not "stupid Hollywood liberals" but one pair of over the hill actors to blame.  While the keepers of the envelopes (Price Waterhouse Cooper) did admit giving Beatty the wrong envelop (it was for Actress in a Leading Role) it was ultimately Beatty (and Dunaway's) job to provide to final fail safe. That was as opposed to acting the part of two unthinking automatons.  Hence, Michael Strahan's take this a.m. that "it was nobody's fault" is bare balderdash. Of course it was! It's the fault of anyone who doesn't take the initiative to use his or her brains!

We know computers are basically "dumb" (save Watson maybe) because they always do just what you program them to do, so they take input and process it literally.  Humans are supposed to know better and think before they act or expel or generate output (Trump excluded). Beatty didn't - this despite the fact that the damned outside of the envelope was clearly freakin' labeled in gold-embossed letters, "Actress in a Leading Role". Even if Beatty  and Dunaway didn't clearly see the envelope lettering, once he opened it up and pulled out the sheet even Faye Dunaway observed (as shown this a.m. on ABC): it said "Emma Stone".

A sentient human would know at that point something was amiss. Rather than go ahead and babble out the wrong award, they'd have done better to ACT like sentient beings. In other words,  pause the proceedings saying: "Excuse us but we think we've been handed the wrong envelope."  This might have created some minor embarrassment as the correct envelope was retrieved, but would have avoided a total, unbelievable fuckup of the proportions observed.

In that sense, I blame both of them for being ultimately responsible for the snafu when they had the final control over ensuring it didn't happen. But they botched it, creating shock for both the falsely named winners, and also the actual winners. Who, let us note, were denied the singular spotlight and acclaim  they were due for winning the top prize of the night. Having that moment of spotlight eclipsed by an  incorrect award. (Which is now mostly being talked about as opposed to the winning movie).

And that was no small achievement for a small budget film (est. $1.7 million by The Miami Herald to make it) by two guys - Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney- who hail from Liberty City in Miami. Here's all you need to know about Liberty City: In LA terms it is roughly analogous to Watts or South Central. It's the "hood" where  in 1984 -  after I returned from an American Astronomical Society conference in Baltimore - my cousin Linda sped past the area in her Corvette,  driving from the airport on the I-95 expressway at 85 mph.   In her words: "We are not going to go slow here or even stop at any lights!"

The movie itself is based on a play ('In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue') by McCraney concerning a troubled kid ("Chiron") who must deal not only with assorted bullies, but a drug addicted mother.  The kid in one scene is chased into an abandoned building by a mob of boys tossing rocks and wielding sticks. After some time, the door opens and it's one of the main local drug dealers (played by Mahershala Ali) who also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, e.g.

The drug dealer then becomes the boy's father figure and mentor to steer him toward a more constructive life - or at least try. (I won't give any more details for those who'd like to watch it. It's currently playing on DirectTV Pay Per View, it's hard to find in the cinemas - but the Oscar may change that.)

In his review of "Moonlight, " L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote, "So intimate you feel like you're trespassing on its characters’ souls, so transcendent it's made visual and emotional poetry out of intensely painful experience, it's a film that manages to be both achingly familiar and unlike anything we've seen before."

Though I had wanted to see 'Hidden Figures' win (last post) because of it's wide appeal, I am okay with "Moonlight" given how - in Barry Jenkins' words - it had shone light on troubled kids of color who barely got any attention in film. Nothing to "mirror" them or their lives. And just as La La Land was described as a love letter to LA, "Moonlight" was described as a love letter to Miami, urban blight and all. In Barry Jenkins words:

Miami felt really small to me when I was a kid. You couldn’t really leave the neighborhood — the city was so compartmentalized — and because of the way I grew up, I don’t remember it as a happy place. But it wasn’t like ‘Boyz n the Hood’ either. There weren’t as many guns on the street as there are now. It didn’t feel like a dark place, even though there were a lot of dark things going on around us."

In the end, the reality of Miami and Liberty City triumphed over the movie star fantasies stoked by La La Land. The tragedy is that in the wake of the Best Picture disaster last night the talk is more about the disaster than the movie itself. 

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