Alistair Harkness: Oscars mix-up was life imitating art

The Oscars are frequently accused of getting it wrong, but at last night's Academy Awards ceremony they literarily got it wrong.

Jordan Horowitz, producer of "La La Land," shows the envelope revealing "Moonlight" as the true winner of Best Picture. Picture: AP

When a confused Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the best picture winner, the ceremony briefly turned into a scene from Zoolander as the musical’s producers were informed mid-acceptance speech that a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the winner after all.

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Coming at the end of a show in which multiple veiled and not-so-veiled digs had been directed towards President Trump, the ability to correct such a catastrophic error so swiftly seemed appropriate: how many haven’t fantasised about changing the outcome of last November’s election result in a similar manner?

Moonlight’s Hollywood ending at the Oscars was doubly ironic given the much-fancied La La Land’s status as a nostalgic celebration of the very business of show is traditionally much more the Academy’s tempo. But the right movie triumphed. Barry Jenkins’ sublime coming-of-age drama about a young black American male wrestling with his sexuality at three stages in his life was a more potent, poignant and politically relevant film and its three awards – including best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali and best adapted screenplay for Jenkins – was a triumph for art and empathy in politically hostile times. It was also further step in the right direction for the Academy after the #OscarSoWhite campaign of the last two years shone such a damning spotlight on the systemic racism of the industry as a whole. This was bolstered by Viola Davis’s best supporting actress win for Fences. She received one of the loudest ovations of the night and no wonder: the acting masterclass she delivers opposite her co-star/director Denzel Washington made her victory impossible to deny.

Also impossible to deny was Casey Affleck’s best actor win for the exceptional Manchester By the Sea, which earned writer/director Kenneth Lonergan a deserved statue for best screenplay as well. But if all this makes it seem like La La Land was the big loser, nothing could be further from the truth. Director Damien Chazelle won best director, Emma Stone best actress and its ear-worm-like ditty City of Stars picked up best song. In all it walked away with six awards, just not the main one – but even that seemed appropriate. The best thing about La La Land after all was its own brilliant finale in which a fantasy happy ending is abruptly curtailed by reality. This was life imitating art.