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Moonlight Surprises in Best Picture in a Strange Oscar Twist

I have never seen the wrong card read during a telecast of the Oscars. People have occasionally suspected some winners won because the person read the wrong name off the card but nothing has ever been proven. The beauty of the moment wasn’t that you had that rush of excitement when Moonlight’s name was called. That moment belonged to La La Land, which by then had collected six Oscars. Why did Faye Dunaway read La La Land? Who knows. Why didn’t Warren Beatty say “this is the wrong card?” Who knows. What I thought was moving about it was how supportive the Moonlight and La La Land teams were to each other. They’ve been on the same track since Telluride and have been at nearly every show together and have grown close as friends. That was evident when the cock-up happened and that, I thought, was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen at the Oscars. And was, I thought, a great way to cap off a night that played, at least from this person who attended, as a night of unity and love.

Moonlight’s win does reflect the the thing we’ve discussed for a while now; namely, that on a preferential ballot, a movie that is almost impossible to dislike has a better chance than a film that divides audiences. A movie like La La Land, or The Revenant has no problem winning on a plurality ballot: you just count the most votes and that’s that. But a preferential is strange. You have to be not just a number 1 but you have to rank high on ballots where you didn’t land the number one spot. When I did a poll and when Rob did his we discovered that Moonlight collected votes from a lot of the down ballot films. In other words, Hidden Figures, Fences, Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge – those redistributed votes tended to go to Moonlight over La La Land. That put Moonlight well ahead on all of the polls that were taken – and it wasn’t even close.

But even still, it seemed like the longest shot for Moonlight to win. It hadn’t won the PGA, the DGA, the SAG or even the BAFTA. But word of mouth and momentum drove it forward. People probably didn’t watch it until it started picking up word of mouth. Once they watched it, most loved it. Most were rooting for it but if you noticed, particularly men. And men make up the majority in the Academy, and the actors rule. So no SAG ensemble means for actors it didn’t rise to the top of the pile.

That’s the wonky part of it. Ultimately this was a great year for films – they were all really good. Pure poetry and beauty. I was disappointed that Denzel Washington didn’t win – I mean, come on people – but Casey Affleck was great too. The Academy made an effort to really spread it around this year.

I know many who watched the show are still in shock. I will write something much longer tomorrow to close out the season but wow, right? Wow.