As La La Land producer Marc Platt thanked his fellow producers and his wife for the movie’s Best Picture victory, the other producers of La La Land were engaged in hurried conversation. A stage manager ran onstage, headset on, to take the red envelope out of producer Jordan Horowitz’s hand. Chaos reigned onstage as his fellow producer Fred Berger gave a short speech, which ended, confusingly, “We lost, by the way.” Horowitz took the microphone back and announced, “There’s a mistake.” And immediately what had been a dispiriting, unsurprising Academy Awards telecast turned into the funniest, craziest, most memorable awards night in memory. Warren Beatty had apparently been given the wrong envelope! La La Land had not won Best Picture; Moonlight had.
There’s long been a rumor that Marisa Tomei should not have won Best Supporting Actress at the 1993 Oscars—that presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name. The official explanation was that, should such a mistake occur, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers vote talliers would immediately remedy the error, even if it meant interrupting the show. And for those of us drama-hungry awards show nuts who’ve long wanted such a fiasco to happen—it finally did! And man, was it glorious.
Especially glorious because it was the most welcome twist possible: The best movie of the year came from behind, came from losing, to win Best Picture. La La Land was still richly rewarded, and its producers were remarkably gracious onstage when the error came to light. And we got to see a beautiful work of art get the prize it truly deserved—in the most dramatic way imaginable. Most years, we all forget who wins Best Picture six months later. But no one will ever forget Moonlight won the big prize. “Even in my dreams, this could not be true,” Moonlight director Barry Jenkins said when he came onstage. Here’s to the ones who dream, indeed.