Hollywood’s biggest night — and the glitzy, glam-filled capper of the annual awards season — unfolded Sunday at Hollywood & Highland’s Dolby Theatre, where the entertainment industry’s biggest and brightest turned out en masse to celebrate (and potentially walk away with a statuette of their very own). By the time Oscar Sunday bowed (a little dark, a touch rainy) there was still plenty left up in the air (though few could predict the wild turn the ceremony eventually took in its final moments).
Ultimately, big nominee “La La Land” walked away with 6 Oscars — including Best Actress and Best Director — though there’s no question the biggest story of the night (of the year? of the Oscars ever?) was an announcing flub from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who initially announced that “La La Land” had won Best Picture, before issuing a correction that the accolade actually belonged to Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.”
Only in Hollywood.
As is tradition, each winner capped off their win with a trip backstage to chat with press, often serving up some of the evening’s most notable, interesting and just plain entertaining speeches and answers. Here are some of the best.
Shocks and Surprises
Some of the surprises were small.
Lauded costume designer Colleen Atwood professed that she was shocked to learn that she was the first Oscar recipient for a Harry Potter film (the Oscar was her fourth), and told the crowd, “I didn’t realize that. That’s shocking, there’s so much incredible artistry in the Harry Potter movies.”
But the memory of that little surprise disappeared as soon as the already infamous Best Picture announcement snafu unfolded on stage. Emma Stone was the first member of team “La La Land” to arrive backstage after the mixup, where she was inundated with questions about her reaction.
Stone kept up both her grace and good humor. “I fucking love ‘Moonlight.’ God, I love ‘Moonlight’ so much,” Stone said. “I am so excited for ‘Moonlight.’ Of course, it was an amazing thing to hear ‘La La Land,’ I think we all would have loved to win Best Picture, but we are so excited for ‘Moonlight.’ I think it’s one of the best films of all time.”
Stone was also eager to clear up some explanations for the snafu, however, and told the crowd, “I was holding my Best Actress in a Leading Role [winner] card the entire time. I don’t mean to start stuff, but whatever story that was, I had that card. I’m not sure what happened, but I really wanted to talk to you guys first.”
Appropriately enough, she eventually deemed it “a very strange happening for Oscar history.”
When team “Moonlight” arrived just minutes behind her, the mix-up questions were still at the top of everyone’s mind. Filmmaker Barry Jenkins was asked to comment on his reaction to the initial “La La Land” announcement — and its wild change.
“I think all the movies that were nominated were worthy, so I took the result, I applauded like everyone else,” Jenkins said. “I noticed a commotion that was happening, I thought something strange had occurred. I’m sure everybody saw my face, I was speechless with the result.”
Later, Jenkins detailed what happened when he hit the stage to accept the award in the midst of total madness. When asked what explanation he was given, he said, “no explanation.”
Pressed for more details, he explained, “It just happened. I will say I saw two cards, and so things just happen. I wanted to see the card, to see the card, and Warren refused to show the card to anybody before he showed it to me. He did…He showed the card. Everybody was asking, can I see the card, and he said, ‘no, Barry Jenkins has to see the card. I need him to know.’ And he showed it to me. And I felt better about what had happened.”
Jenkins wasn’t done, however, and told the press in attendance, “I will say to all you people, please write this down, the folks from ‘La La Land’ were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. We’ve spent a lot of time together the last six months, and I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that.”
He added, “But hot damn, we won Best Picture.”
Challenges and Changes
So often, awards season narratives lean on the various challenges that filmmakers and performers faced when crafting their work, but this year’s Oscars found the time to award craftspeople who also had to overcome tough stuff in service to their work — and that theme was prevalent during a number of backstage chat sessions.
Alessandro Bertolazzi, one member of the three-man team that won Best Makeup and Hairstyling for their work on “Suicide Squad,” happily told the backstage crowd about his unusual process — which including rifling through actual trash.
“I needed inspiration. I need to fill the room of rubbish, stuff. Everything is part of me,” he said. “When you see something attract you, probably you don’t know why, but this is the moment you can catch this stuff and put in the room. When the room is full of rubbish, full of everything, you start to build something.”
Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis has been honest throughout the season about the pains it took to play her “Fences” character. It was a sentiment she echoed backstage, too.
“Everything about Rose challenged me,” Davis said.
It doesn’t get more personal than whatever the heck happened during the ceremony’s final announcement, and filmmaker Barry Jenkins put it best when he told the backstage crowd, “The last twenty minutes of my life have been insane. I don’t think my life could be changed any more dramatically than what happened in the last twenty or thirty minutes.”
In short, the win — and the weird way it was handed out — was “beyond life-changing” for the newly minted Oscar winner.
For Best Documentary filmmaker Ezra Edelman, many of his most profound challenges came from his own involvement with the material. When asked about his personal feelings towards some of the events that feature prominently in the film — specifically the Rodney King riots — Edelman got characteristically honest.
“That was a really seminal event for me,” Edelman said. “I grew up in Washington, D.C. and when that happened, it was an awakening. It was a sort of a loss of innocence as far as how innocent black men are treated.”
He added, “The story is what it is, it’s an incredible tale about our country, but I think I definitely channeled who I am, my worldview, my relationship to O.J. Simpson before those murders ever happened, but also my experiences growing up where I did, with the parents I have and seeing the world the way I did.”
The ever-impressive Davis eventually broke down a little bit backstage, explaining through tears, “I grew up in poverty in apartments that were condemned and rat infested. I wanted to be somebody and be good at something. This is the miracle of God, of dreaming big and hoping it sticks and lands and it did. Who knew?” Later, she admitted, “At 51, I am happy to be me.”
Stone was also overwhelmed by her big win. “Surreal is probably the only way to describe it,” Stone said when asked about her reaction to winning.
“To play this woman, I knew this,” Stone continued. “I’ve lived here for 13 years. I moved when I was 15 to start auditioning. I knew what it felt like to go on audition after audition. Anything like this is pretty inconceivable in a realistic context.”
The Cultural Climate
The current political and cultural climate of the country — a divided one at that — often popped up throughout the evening (despite a strange reliance on candy-centric jokes and plenty of bits that adhered to the “hey, what is this film thing I don’t know about?” trope).
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi notably skipped the ceremony after the Muslim ban was rolled out, and when his “The Salesman” won Best Foreign-Language Film, the award was accepted by prominent fellow Iranians Anousheh Ansari and Firouz Naderi.
When the pair arrived backstage, they were quickly asked to expand on Farhadi’s reason for missing the ceremony and instead sending a statement to be read in his stead.
“I think he wanted to stand in solidarity with the rest of the people who have been subject of the travel ban and that are not able to go see their friends, their family members,” Ansari explained. “He could not be here receiving this award, which means a lot to him, and that’s a big message he was sending.”
Naderi added, “When you want to stand on your principles, you have to make hard choices, and he just made one.”
Best Actor winner Casey Affleck, who used his Indie Spirits acceptance speech the day before to get political and call out President Donald Trump, was asked why the Academy Awards seemed to hedge less politically minded than many people had expected it to be.
“I think there were quite a few people who said some things that were sort of about the current global political situation…and also they spoke about the importance of art,” Affleck said. “I don’t know why more people didn’t. It doesn’t entirely seem like an inappropriate place, given the state of things. It seems like this as fine a platform as any to make some remarks, as long as they are respectful and positive.”
He added, “Personally, I didn’t say anything because my head was completely blank, the shock of winning the award and the terror of having a mic thrown in front of you and all those faces staring at you.”
Elsewhere, when asked why he thinks so many people remain obsessed with the O.J. Simpson story (and why it helped spark both a lauded documentary and a TV series in the space of a single year), filmmaker Ezra Edelman got philosophical: “History is the present, it’s past, but it’s present.”
It’s past, it’s present and it’s still wild.