We may never know the name of the person who handed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope for Best Picture (see update below), but whoever it was is responsible for the most stunning moment I can recall seeing during an Academy Awards broadcast. My wife and I knew something was up when, while the “La La Land” producers were speaking, a guy with a headset was moving through the crowd behind them onstage, looking freaked out. That was probably the stage manager, who had been alerted that the wrong movie had been announced Best Picture.
After the broadcast, in the press room, Emma Stone said that she still had the card with her name on it as Best Actress, so the question that will have to be answered is how did a duplicate card from her category get onstage?
Yes, there are duplicates in the hands of two partners from Price Waterhouse Cooper (the accounting firm that guards the winner information backstage and will no doubt have a major Monday morning meeting about this). One of the partners is stationed on each side of the stage, because the presenters don’t always enter from the same spot, so they can be handed the envelope just before walking out. But why wasn’t the Best Actress category duplicate destroyed or thrown away after it was awarded?
The other question hanging out there is why the “La La Land” producers were allowed to get so deep into their speeches before the error was corrected — it should have been caught before they even got to the stage!
Go ahead and make all the “alternative facts” or “fake news” jokes you want, but they don’t apply when something wrong gets corrected immediately. That said, you have to feel for the “La La Land” team, who had the golden statues in their hands only to have them yanked away and given to the “Moonlight” team, yet still handled the moment with as much grace as you could expect under the unique circumstances.
Now, let’s get to Jimmy Kimmel as host. He did a fine job with his monologue and some other material, but I’m fed up with TV hosts taking up too much time with schtick. It started 22 years ago with David Letterman, who felt he had to bring along bits from his show (e.g. Stupid Pet Tricks and a Top Ten List) which bombed on the Oscars. Then we had Ellen DeGeneres taking the much-retweeted selfie with a bunch of other stars (technically, it wasn’t a selfie, since Bradley Cooper took the photo). And there was the horrible year that Seth Macfarlane sang the highly inappropriate song, “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Finally, three hours and ten minutes into the broadcast, Kimmel said, “When we come back, no more fooling around.” Sorry, Jimmy, that was too little, too late. I don’t complain about the Oscars running long when the reason is a lot of wonderful content, but when the show is bloated with host schtick, it’s a waste of time. It’s the same complaint I have about Kimmel, Fallon, and Colbert — they all spend so much time trying to create viral videos that they fail to engage in real conversations with their guests, who end up playing a less-than-secondary role on those shows.
Last night, instead of seeing more beautifully-edited film montages — after all, this is supposed to be a show that celebrates movies — we had Kimmel’s running Matt Damon gags, the mean tweets, the tour bus people who were kept on the air far too long, and the multiple candy drops (which will hopefully be the last feed-the-stars gag at the Oscars). All of it was as unnecessary as Denzel Washington writing an acceptance speech.
Other random Oscars thoughts:
- On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I went to The Tivoli to see all the Oscar-nominated shorts. Many of them were clever and well made, and we were happy to see that the two we liked most ended up winning last night. “Sing,” the best live action short (not to be confused with the animated feature movie), is a Hungarian movie with a great cast of kids in a story about a girl who moves to a new elementary school and becomes a member of the award-winning school choir. “Piper,” the best animated short, is a Pixar movie that, yet again, advances the art of animation, particularly when it comes to water and sand, and is stunningly beautiful. It’s worth your time to search both out and enjoy them — preferably with a minimum of distracting TV schtick.
- Kimmel said that, by financing “Manchester By The Sea,” Amazon was the first streaming service to be nominated for an Academy Award, which it won for Best Original Screenplay. But Netflix underwrote “The White Helmets,” which won Best Documentary Short.
- I’m already sick of Tour Bus Gary and his fiancee, before they make their inevitable appearances on “GMA” and Kimmel’s show and then disappear from the public eye faster than Ken Bone.
Updated 2/28/17 at 1:17am…The culprit who handed Beatty the wrong envelope backstage must be one of two PWC partners, Brian Cullinan or Martha Ruiz. According to a story published Friday on The Huffington Post:
Throughout the telecast, Cullinan and Ruiz are stationed on opposite sides backstage. The duo will have memorized the winners, thereby preventing the need to list them on any documentation that could land in the wrong hands. As the night progresses, Cullinan and Ruiz ensure every category’s presentation is factual. Should a presenter declare a false winner for any reason, they are prepared to tell the nearest stage manager, who will immediately alert the show’s producers.
Cullinan and Ruiz, who spoke to The Huffington Post last week, say the exact procedure is unknown because no mistake of that kind has been made in the Oscars’ 88-year history.
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan said. “Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”
Check that: it WAS so unlikely until last night.