‘This Is Not A Joke’: Warren Beatty And The Academy Awards’ Biggest Screw-Up Saved Last Night’s Oscars

Senior Editor
02.27.17 66 Comments

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HOLY SHIT. I don’t think I’ve ever finished an Oscars telecast feeling so exhilarated. The La La Land producers were giving their speeches and I was mid-groan, already dreading another day of shitty La La Land hot takes when I noticed men in headsets rush the stage and begin hurriedly checking the envelopes. And that’s when something magical happened.

“This is not a joke, Moonlight has won best picture!”

It seems Warren Beatty somehow had the previous envelope, for Best Actress, which Emma Stone won, instead of the one he was supposed to be presenting, for Best Picture. So when he opened it and it said “Emma Stone, La La Land,” he froze, his hands shaking, and then co-presenter Faye Dunaway just read the only movie listed on the envelope — La La Land. And so we all got a glimpse of an alternate reality where La La Land had won Best Picture, followed by the most surreal moment of any Oscars I can remember.

Was that Warren Beatty’s fault? Faye Dunaway’s? Whoever handed them the envelope? I’m guessing the third — (It was) — but why bother assigning blame for the best thing that happened all night? It saved the entire evening. There would’ve been nothing worse than having to spend all day fighting over La La Land vs. Moonlight again. Guess what?: They’re both great! I would’ve been happy with either of them winning. And thanks to Warren Beatty (it’s fun to blame poor, confused-looking Warren Beatty even if this wasn’t his fault at all), they both kind of did.

I just couldn’t take another day of pieces about La La Land being a “white savior movie.” I know I shouldn’t say this because I’m white and all (or at least some kind of Mediterranean mutt who’d get in on the second or third caucasity ballot), but, like, La La Land isn’t a white savior movie. Ryan Gosling’s character is an asshole everyone hates, until halfway through the movie, John Legend shows up in a mustard colored turtleneck to tell him to stop being an obnoxious pedant. Gosling takes this obviously good advice and his only success in the entire story comes from hitching his star to John Legend’s mustard-colored wagon. He doesn’t “save jazz,” he’s a pompous dick who’s far too precious about the black art form he loves until an actual black artist gets him too loosen up a little. How is that a white savior narrative? Why is it always works making fun of obnoxious hipsters that get branded obnoxious and hipster?

I mean, I get it. Superficially, La La Land is easy to hate. It’s about L.A. It’s a movie about filmmaking (sort of). It’s a musical. It stars two of the world’s wholesomest, mayo-fed white people, and the poster looks like a Gap ad. Superficially, I hate it. But then I saw it.

Did I like it better than Moonlight? A little, but not nearly so much more that I’d care which movie won. (Notice how both filmmaking teams have been nothing but supportive of each other throughout all this? Let’s be more like them.) Moonlight was fantastic. I don’t know how they even chose which Moonlight performance to nominate when everyone in it crushed it so hard. Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor going away, and then during his acceptance speech he did that wonderful slow-building laugh thing he does, that sounds like a bass drum rolling down a hill. Can I get that as a ring tone? That guy has a laugh like a warm blanket.

For his part, Jimmy Kimmel beat everyone to the Steve Harvey joke, seconds after the Warren Beatty envelope debacle, saving Twitter the trouble (don’t worry, there’s still lots of “Moonlight won the electoral college“/”La La Land should’ve campaigned harder in Wisconsin” jokes to be made). All in all, I thought he was pretty great host. Yes, he probably shouldn’t have made fun of that Asian girl’s name. I guess because it didn’t sound like an Asian name? Either way, saying, “Patrick, now that’s a real name” right afterwards was probably a bad call. I cut him some slack because he was improvising, it’s not like it was a planned joke. But that, and holding the Indian kid up like Lion King, and having a running “Mahershala” joke would’ve been easier to swallow individually.

Which is a shame, because otherwise I’m firmly in the Bus People Was A Great Bit camp. Kimmel brought a bus full of tourists into the auditorium, letting some agog normies take selfies and kiss celebrity hands. It was the perfect culture clash and element of unpredictability. The possibility that something weird might happen is exactly what this show needed. Also, real people reacting to celebrities is a thousand times more interesting that celebrities lip synching/bantering/karaoke-ing/selfie-ing etc. Hollywood people are up their own asses? Great, make them play nice with the weird tourists! It was a solid concept.

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