The 90th Academy Awards will take place on March 4, 358 days from today.
In the days following the Oscars, newspapers and magazines published their normal slew of post-Oscar questions. Who was best dressed? What were the parties like? Can Nicole Kidman clap? And should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reexamine its decades-long relationship with accounting powerhouse PwC?
After Oscar night, details behind the fiasco began to emerge. There were two PwC accountants (Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz) tasked with memorizing the winners and handing correct envelopes to people. Cullinan handed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope shortly after tweeting a picture of Emma Stone backstage. (Oops.) When La La Land was announced, Cullinan and Ruiz froze, and it took way, way too long for anyone to tell the stage managers that something was wrong. (For a play-by-play from an angry stage manager, see this article.) Cullinan and Ruiz will not be back next year (obviously), and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told the Associated Press that the relationship with PwC “remains under review.”
The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting article on why PwC was brought into the Academy Awards in the first place. For the first two years, Oscar winners were selected by a five-person Central Board of Judges rather than by voters, which suspiciously gave awards to founding members of the Academy rather than, say, the most deserving candidate. For the next few years, after voting opened up to the full membership, there were still “doubts about the legitimacy of the outcomes,” which inspired Frank Lloyd, then-Academy president, to hire PwC to tabulate results in 1934. (My favorite tidbit from the article is that the Academy used to give newspapers results ahead of time, which meant that people who arrived late to the Oscars could walk in with a newspaper telling them who was going to win everything.)
Splitting from PwC will not be easy and is frankly unlikely to happen. According to Variety, “The company also oversees AMPAS’s elections, prepares its financial documents, and does its taxes. Because the Academy is a non-profit and in consideration of the tremendous promotional value from its Academy Awards role, PwC does not charge the organization its typical rate.” In an informal poll of Academy members, the Hollywood Reporter found that most think that the Academy should sever ties with the individual accountants responsible but should not end the relationship with PwC. (“Settle for [Cullinan and Ruiz’s] scalps and make them sit through Arrival,” suggested one member.)
Who else is to blame? Typography, for one. An article on Medium shows how the poorly designed winner cards made this situation far more difficult than they needed to be. My favorite theory, though, comes from my friend Samantha. She thinks that the whole envelope mix up happened because the Academy did not let the accountants come out on stage and get their usual round of applause.
To their credit, the folks behind Moonlight and La La Land have handled this situation with a remarkable level of cool and grace. I recommend you read this post-Oscars interview in Variety with directors Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, two brilliant men under 40 who took home awards Oscar night. The article notes that, “In an odd way, the most embarrassing snafu in the history of the Academy Awards offered a rare glimpse into expressions of grace, humanity, and camaraderie among fierce rivals contending for Hollywood’s biggest movie prize in a high-stakes race to the finish.” As Chazelle said, “It’s weird to be friendly with someone but to feel like there’s a mano-a-mano thing, which I guess is the nature of the Oscars. So it was nice to explode that myth a little bit on a big stage.” The article details the relationship between Jenkins and Chazelle, who met at Telluride this year and have a great deal of respect for each other’s past projects, as well as the new opportunities this year’s successes will provide both.
Winning an Academy Award can do a large amount to boost box office revenue for a small movie. Moonlight is experiencing that in full. According to Variety, after Moonlight’s win, A24 has nearly tripled the domestic run, expanding from 585 to over 1,500 theaters. (For reference, Spotlight jumped from 685 to 1,227 sites following its Best Picture win last year.) Moonlight has made $25.8 million off of a budget of only $1.5 million, so it’s clearly a success story in a lot of ways. (Calvin Klein also announced that the stars of Moonlight would front their next underwear advertisements, but that’s a different kind of success story entirely.)
Out in Oscar pundit land, people are still trying to figure out how Moonlight beat La La Land. What are the lessons we learned this year? The importance of the preferential ballot is the main takeaway. This is the second year in a row where the least hated frontrunner took the big prize. (Remember last year when Spotlight beat The Revenant and The Big Short? That was pretty surprising too.) With the preferential ballot, you have to think about where a film ranks on a given ballot as opposed to the number of first-choice picks. So if La La Land is many people’s favorite but no one’s second-favorite, that’s a problem. (The preferential ballot is sparking a small backlash; one Hollywood Reporter article calls for a “simpler method, where whoever gets the most votes wins.”) The next big takeaway is about prior awards, though there are two interpretations here. Either they don’t matter at all (PGA and DGA went for La La Land, SAG went for Hidden Figures) or they matter a lot (La La Land did not get a SAG nomination; as actors run the Academy, this should have been a bigger sign). Honestly, this is going to be one of those big upsets a la Crash and Shakespeare in Love that people puzzle about for years, so I don’t see a need to figure it out right now. (Another article tries to deduce how Casey Affleck beat Denzel Washington, but as I chose Affleck on my Kroll Poll, that’s less surprising to me. Brie Larson, though, is probably a Denzel supporter.)
Finally, a few statistics I learned or was reminded of after this year’s ceremony:
– Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar
– The last Best Picture winner with a nominee for Best Actress was Million Dollar Baby 12 years ago; this article discussed the Academy Awards’ “woman problem” in greater detail
– Moonlight is one of only three films inspired by unproduced plays to have won Best Picture, with the other two being Casablanca and The King’s Speech
– This year’s ceremony drew 32.9 million viewers, the second-lowest total since Nielsen started tracking viewership in 1974.
- Scenes from the Oscar-Night Implosion: This New Yorker article doesn’t explain why the envelope fiasco happened, but it does talk about what it was like in the press room at the time. It also talks about the five court reporters hired to transcribe everything the winners said from the press room. (“I do superior-court work, deposition work. And then we also do the SAG Awards,” said one. The hardest person to transcribe, she said, was “Martin Scorsese, hands down. He doesn’t have a normal speech pattern. You know the dog from ‘Up’ who’ll all of a sudden go, ‘Ooh, a squirrel’? That’s how Martin Scorsese speaks.”)
- Best headline of the week: PwC’s Oscars Snafu Is Making It Hard to Pick Jurors for This Wall Street Trial.
- Here’s to the ones who lose: Of course James Corden spoofed the La La Land audition song to be about the Oscars mix-up.
- The guy who went to the Oscars with Carrie Fisher: Tom Coleman recounts attending the 50th Academy Awards (where Star Wars picked up seven Oscars and Annie Hall took home the big prize) with Carrie Fisher. In a Hollywood Reporter article, he shares some memories of the night, which are a little bit “oh look, there’s Steven Spielberg” but largely a tribute to Carrie Fisher.
- Category fraud: This website details every time that a performance nominated for a Best Supporting Actor/Actress Oscar was longer than one nominated for Best Actor/Actress from the same film. The least egregious example was Fargo (where William H. Macy spent less than a minute on screen more than Frances McDormand), the most egregious example was Ordinary People (where Timothy Hutton spent more than half an hour on screen more than Mary Tyler Moore) and the most recent example was Carol (where Rooney Mara spent 5 minutes more on screen than Cate Blanchett).
- I don’t even know: Someone made “credits raps” for Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.
- Best actress dresses: Here is a really cool infographic showing the dresses worn by Best Actress winners over time.
- FiveThirtyEight identifies when Meryl Streep is overrated: According to this analysis drawn from box office performance and Rotten Tomatoes score, Meryl Streep was overrated in Out of Africa, Ironweed, Music of the Heart, The Iron Lady and August: Osage County. The analysis is dumb, though. The guy basically just looks at Rotten Tomatoes scores and breaks the movies into three groups.
- Except this: Meryl Streep is working with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on a movie about the Pentagon Papers. If you think this will be bad, you are wrong.
- Plea for better movies: Ann Hornaday, Washington Post movie critic, wants to have Oscar-worthy movies in theaters all year, not just during awards season.
Ugh: Kellyanne Conway
- was asked about “alternative facts” on CBS and responded with this: “It was alternative information and additional facts and that got conflated. I see mistakes on TV every single day and people just brush them off. Everybody thinks it’s just so funny that the wrong movie was heralded as the winner of the Oscars. You say, ‘Oh well, that’s just all in good fun. Things happen.’ Well, things happen to everyone.”