This column is going to have to serve as the “last word” on the whole Oscars best-picture announcement debacle.
I would have written it up sooner, but instead decided to finish up a column about fast food joints, one in which I wrote about our family’s ill-fated trip to a Carl’s Jr. in Los Angeles in 1988.
The Oscar show wasn’t much different, as it turned out. After a long wait, they still messed it up.
Actually, I almost forgot the Oscars were on. I was more excited about the Daytona 500 that was happening earlier in the day, the traditional start of the NASCAR season. Believe me, that race was like throwing a lifeline to a dying sports fan after the end of the NFL season.
The Daytona race was a good precursor to what would happen at the Oscars that night. It was an absolute wreck-fest, from start to finish.
I didn’t think the Academy Awards could possibly top Daytona for excitement. Frankly, it has become such a boring and pretentious telecast, with an audience full of well-dressed rich people.
In recent years, it has become easy to forget that strange and exciting things do happen at the Academy Awards. There was the time Jack Palance won Best Supporting Actor and then took to the stage to do pushups.
There was the time Michael Moore accepted the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine by trashing President Bush and the War in Iraq.
Marlon Brando once refused to show up to accept a Best Actor award, sending Sacheen Littlefeather onto the stage instead to make a statement denouncing the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry.
In one incident, a naked guy ran on stage behind David Niven as he was presenting, live. Until this year, that was probably the most infamous moment in the history of the Oscar show. But it pales compared to botching the Best Picture announcement.
The sad thing is that this Oscar telecast seemed to be one of the better ones of recent years. Credit for that had to go to host Jimmy Kimmel.
One of his more interesting routines was when a Hollywood tour bus stopped at the theatre and a load of tourists found themselves right in the middle of the Oscar show. Now, some people thought this segment was over-the-top and not funny, but I thought it was great. Among other things, the Oscar show is always accused of being an elitist production catering to Hollywood big shots. Here, though, you had a real “fan” connection to the show, for a change.
The ongoing feud between Kimmel and Matt Damon was even more hilarious. The bit when Kimmel was shown conducting the orchestra, “playing off” Damon while Damon was on the podium presenting, had me on the floor laughing.
The other thing to keep the flow of the show going was the parade of anti-Donald Trump pronouncements and jokes throughout the show, starting with Kimmel’s opening monologue which was full of jokes at the president’s expense, and followed with no shortage of political statements during the show. One winner, director Asghar Farhadi, who won for The Salesman, had refused to even attend the Oscars in protest of Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries.
With all the anti-Trump sentiment in the room, you never knew what was going to happen. Someone was bound to go up on stage and say something. Yet in the latter stages, the show dragged on and on.
After Emma Stone took the Best Actress award for La La Land, for that picture’s sixth Oscar of the evening, I was ready for the night to be over. It looked like La La Land had it in the bag for Best Picture by this point, with all their wins.
Finally, it was time to announce the Best Picture. On stage were Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of their iconic movie Bonnie and Clyde.
The moment arrived. The envelope was opened, Beatty looked at it, then looked around with a confused look to his face, and then he handed the card to Dunaway who declared the Best Picture winner to be La La Land.
I threw up my hands and said “I knew it,” and immediately went on Twitter to share the news and gauge the reaction from people.
I was still distracted by my Twitter feed when all heck suddenly broke loose on stage, with people saying there was a mistake, and the Oscar should go to Moonlight.
At this point I was wondering if maybe this was some sort of joke. I thought maybe this was yet another Jimmy Kimmel stunt going on, and that they were parodying what had happened during the Miss Universe pageant a year earlier.
At that pageant, host Steve Harvey had announced Colombia as the new Miss Universe, and the crown had been placed on her head and everyone was already congratulating her when Harvey turned to the audience and said: “I have to apologize.”
Then Harvey announced Colombia was the first runner-up, and that Miss Philippines had won, with stunned looks on everyone’s faces.
Such a debacle couldn’t possibly happen again, could it? That’s what I was initially thinking watching this chaos unfold on stage. Meanwhile, my Twitter feed had gone crazy, with a lot of “OMG” reactions from people.
This was no joke. In fact, for days after, “Envelopegate” was treated by entertainment news organizations with the seriousness of Watergate.
Everyone was asking “how the hell could this have happened?” It took a while to get to the bottom of it, but we finally got a coherent explanation.
According to the reports, there were two duplicate sets of envelopes set aside for the Oscars. The card Beatty and Dunaway should have received, the one that read “Moonlight, Best Picture,” hadn’t made it onto the stage. Instead, a wrong envelope was taken from the wrong “duplicate” pile, and handed to them instead.
The envelope they were given was a duplicate Best Actress card that read “Emma Stone, La La Land.”
That explains the confused look on Beatty’s face during the Best Picture announcement. A lot of the initial reaction pointed fingers at Beatty and asked “what did he do?” The fact is Beatty had done nothing wrong. Beatty and Dunaway had one job, to announce the winner. It’s not their fault they got the wrong envelope.
Whose job is it to keep track of the envelopes and make sure the right cards are delivered to the presenters on stage?
Simply put, it is the accountants’ responsibility. It was the responsibility of PricewaterhouseCoopers to keep track and above all, make sure the correct winners were announced. Quite simply, the two accountants assigned to this role dropped the ball.
Even for a job as low-level as handling envelopes for the Oscars, you need to be “in the zone.” You need to keep your focus, and not allow yourself to be distracted by what is going on.
From all accounts, it sounds like these two accountants were decidedly star-struck at the Academy Awards. They were preoccupied with Tweeting and taking pictures of celebrities backstage instead of making sure the correct envelopes went to the right people on stage in the right order.
If this is really what happened, these two ought to be totally embarrassed.
The Academy has reportedly banished both of these accountants from the Oscar show forever, but if I were these two I wouldn’t be caught dead at the Oscars ever again anyway, out of humiliation.
To top off a bad night for the Academy, the wrong photo was used of one of the deceased individuals shown during the usually screw up-prone “In Memoriam” segment.
No doubt, Sunday, Feb. 26 will go down as the most infamous night for the Academy Awards in possibly its entire history. But the Academy will survive this.
The fact is the Oscars have survived many infamous moments before, and so has the television medium. Heck, you never know what will happen on a live telecast, as David Niven found out, as Steve Harvey found out, and as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway found out the hard way on Oscar night.
All I have to say about the Oscar show is that it definitely wasn’t boring this year. Moreover, it proves once more that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
I leave you with the quote from Barry Jenkins in accepting Best Picture for Moonlight: “Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true, but to hell with dreams! I'm done with it, because this is true!”