Monday, April 15, 2024

OSCARS: Why “Moonlight” Beat “La La Land” for the Same Reason “Spotlight” Beat “The Revenant” Last Year


Everyone wants to know what happened– why didn’t “La La Land” win Best Picture? After all, it was supposed to sweep the awards with 14 nominations. Emma Stone won Best Actress. Damien Chazelle won Best Director. They had the Best Song and the Best Score.  How did it all go wrong– Envelope Gate notwithstanding?

Easy answer easily forgotten: the Best Picture must have a Big Idea. It must elevate the culture, teach us something. It can’t just be dessert. And if it doesn’t do that, the Best Picture has to least be so highly entertaining and fresh that it outshines everything else. (That’s what happened with “The Artist,” a movie that deserved to win for its ingenuity.)

Last year, “The Revenant” was favored to win Best Picture but it was beaten by “Spotlight.” Leonardo DiCaprio was Best Actor from the former movie, and Alejandro Innaritu was Best Director. But “Spotlight” took the big prize. Why? “The Revenant” was a revenge movie. It was self contained and meant nothing to the outside culture. “Spotlight” was about a Big Idea. The Boston Globe reporters did something noble that helped people. The Academy was always going to vote for Tom McCarthy’s movie. They rewarded Innaritu, but the bear and the hollowed horse did not make a Big Idea.

And so it is with “La La Land.” Chazelle’s movie is gorgeous and fun but what does it mean? It is in and of itself. Chazelle and his leading lady Emma Stone were rewarded. In the end though “Moonlight” carried many messages that are Big Ideas. Black, gay, inclusive. Made for relatively nothing by someone few people were aware of, with not big stars but faces who’d been supporting everyone for a long time: Naomie Harris as you’d never imagined her. Mahershala Ali– a face you sort of recognized but never put to a name. And Janelle Monae– a revelation after years of being a hit singer.

“Moonlight” is a satisfying meal. “La La Land” is the best pastry cart at Bouchon. And that’s how the Academy saw them.

So now we have “Spotlight” and “Moonlight.” Maybe someone should make a movie this year called “Daylight.”


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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