By Elahe Izadi
It was a mistake for the ages, one that apparently has never happened before.
The best picture mix-up at Sunday night’s Oscars left audiences in the Dolby Theatre and at home in total shock as they tried to process that “Moonlight” actually won, and that “La La Land” had incorrectly been declared winner.
The confusion and chaos of the moment left a bunch of people in its wake who are deserving of collective sympathy. Here’s a rundown:
‘La La Land’ cast and crew
Seriously, can you imagine? You just won the biggest accolade of your career, and are well into letting the glow of this triumph sink in when all of a sudden you discover it was for naught?
There was “La La Land” writer-director Damien Chazelle, who had earlier in the evening made Oscars history by becoming the youngest person to ever win the best directing award. His facial expression after he figured out what happened at the end of Oscars night has officially become the stuff of memes.
There was producer Jordan Horowitz, who had to take on the awkward task of breaking the news to a stunned audience that “Moonlight” actually won. And producer Fred Berger, who was in the middle of thanking his family when he turned around, figured out what happened, and quickly remarked, “we lost, by the way.”
Horowitz and “La La Land” star Emma Stone both have said how happy they were that “Moonlight” won, and it’s clear that after a year of the festival circuit and award-show rounds, the cast and crew members of both movies have developed quite a friendly rapport and mutual admiration. But still – oof.
"Moonlight" cast and crew
Even though Barry Jenkins’ film ended up the official best picture winner – an accolade that brings prestige that will last his entire lifetime – the unbelievable chaos of this mishap overshadowed his crowning moment.
Jenkins appeared so perplexed by the craziness of it all that he voiced his shock before wandering away from the microphone. “Even in my dreams this could not be true,” he said. “But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it because this is true. Oh my goodness.”
The director had to also take time during his acceptance to acknowledge the kinship he had developed with the folks behind “La La Land.”
“Moonlight” actress Naomie Harris later told the Los Angeles Times she thought she was being subjected to some kind of practical joke.
“I’m not going to say I think it’s a great thing we won this way,” Harris told the newspaper. “I think it would have been great to have a [typical] moment."
A lot of ire is being directed at the presenters. Warren Beatty opened an envelope and appeared confused by its contents. He looked inside for more paper. From the perspective of the audience and co-presenter Faye Dunaway, Beatty was stretching out the announcement for some kind of twisted comedic effect.
But it turns out he didn’t have the correct envelope. And after Horowitz announced “Moonlight” actually won, host Jimmy Kimmel even cast the blame on Beatty, yelling, “Warren, what did you do?!”
Beatty stepped to the microphone to explain he had paused earlier when he looked at the envelope because it said “Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’ ” Stone had just won best actress. “That’s why I took such a long look at Faye,” Beatty said. “I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
A close-up of that envelope confirms Beatty had the wrong card. “I looked down at the card and thought, ‘This is very strange, because it says “best actress.”’ Maybe there was a misprint,” Beatty told the Los Angeles Times after the ceremony. “I don’t know what happened. And that’s all I have to say on the subject.”
But couldn’t he have stalled? Or declared from the stage that he had the wrong card, rather than handing it over to his co-presenter? Let the Monday morning quarterbacking commence.
Co-presenter Faye Dunaway was actually the person who declared “La La Land” the best picture winner.
She had clearly thought Beatty was playing some kind of joke in delaying the announcement. So Beatty showed her the card, and she took it to mean “La La Land” won. Per Beatty’s telling, that card said “Emma Stone, La La Land.”
Not only will Dunaway be subject to the same kind of post-show questioning that Beatty will be, but she will be forever connected with the biggest mistake in Oscars history.
Man, Jimmy Kimmel. He almost made it through the entire high-profile Oscars gig – his first! – until the entire thing unraveled. Now, no one will really be talking about his orchestrated Matt Damon trolling bits, or how he got a busload of unsuspecting Hollywood tourists to crash the Oscars and managed some improvised moments into genuine laughs.
And while no one is really blaming Kimmel for the mix-up, he decided to shoulder the burden.
“Well, I don’t know what happened. I blame myself for this,” Kimmel said at the close of the show. “Let’s remember, it’s just an awards show. I mean, we hate to see people disappointed, but the good news is we got to see some extra speeches.”
He then voiced that his fear had come true: “I knew I would screw this up, I really did. Thank you for watching, I’m back at work tomorrow on my regular show and I promise I’ll never come back.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants and Oscars production crew
If you’re running a live event, you want to be sort of invisible. You know you’ve done a good job when you’re not the center of attention.
But a mishap of this magnitude has placed the crew behind the Oscars production front-and-center, with the questions of how-could-this-have-happened being directed right at them.
And only two people knew all of the Oscar winners before Sunday night, both accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers. One of them, Martha Ruiz, could be seen on the stage as commotion erupted and it became clear something wasn’t right. It appeared she and a stagehand were trying to quickly clear up the mistake.
Likely everyone involved with the production will face some kind of scrutiny for what went down, especially since the Oscars have never had to deal with an error of this magnitude.
“We sincerely apologize to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture,” PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a statement.
The statement continued: “The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”
The full list of winners:
Best actress in a leading role: Emma Stone, "La La Land"
Best actor in a leading role: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best director: Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Best actress in a supporting role: Viola Davis, "Fences"
Best actor in a supporting role: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best documentary: "O.J.: Made in America"
Best foreign language film: "The Salesman"
Best animated feature film: "Zootopia"
Best adapted screenplay: "Moonlight," Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney
Best original screenplay: "Manchester by the Sea," Kenneth Lonergan
Best original song: "City of Stars," "La La Land"
Best original score: "La La Land," Justin Hurwitz
Best cinematography: "La La Land," Linus Sandgren
Best production design: "La La Land," David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Best visual effects: "The Jungle Book," Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Best costume design: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," Colleen Atwood
Best makeup and hair styling: "Suicide Squad," Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
Best animated short film: "Piper"
Best live action short film: "Sing (Mindenki)"
Best documentary short subject: "The White Helmets"
Best film editing: "Hacksaw Ridge," John Gilbert
Best sound editing: "Arrival," Sylvain Bellemare
Best sound mixing: "Hacksaw Ridge," Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace