Listen, I am still shocked to the bone, but like everything that I can’t make sense with, I do my best to really analyze the situation and give myself some reasons why whatever was surprising really shouldn’t have been all along. So here we go…
The lack of SAG Best Ensemble nomination. This is a stat that goes all the way back to 1995 when Braveheart became a very rare instance to not receive a SAG Best Ensemble nomination but ended up winning Best Picture anyway. Of course, we all thought that La La Land was going to break that spell, but at the end of the night, the SAG Ensemble nomination seems to be quite a telling factor in awards season. Looking back at recent Oscar history, movies certainly in contention for Best Picture such as Gravity and The Revenant got bit by the lack of SAG Ensemble as well. Needless to say, you better snag a SAG nom in order to win Best Picture!
The La La Land backlash was real, but effectively quiet. Listen, I talked about it with my friends, critics talked about it, we have to face it that everyone talked about it. Was La La Land really deserving of making history throughout the awards season? It had ridiculously high standards since the Golden Globes being the only film to sweep the movie categories. And then receiving a record-tying 14 nominations, it just looked like La La Land was a too strong of a force to stop. So what about the rest of The Academy who didn’t love La La Land? The murmur grew larger and there seemed to be a consensus at what film was in the #2 spot: Moonlight. I’m guessing that a lot of people who didn’t want La La Land to win voted for Moonlight. And let’s face it, was La La Land really one of the greatest films in history? Can you really compare it to the likes of Titanic, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, All About Eve, and Ben-Hur? Apparently, a lot of people didn’t think so.
I guess this is a good time to bring up the preferential ballot that took over the Best Picture voting in 2009. By the preferential ballot, Best Picture winners seem to go to safer, more universally-liked films when up against a more daring and polarizing film. The King’s Speech won over The Social Network; The Artist over The Help; Argo over Lincoln; and Spotlight over The Big Short and The Revenant. If I were to guess, I would guess that La La Land had more #1 votes than Moonlight did, but taking the votes for additional rounds, the support for the bottom films ended up in Moonlight’s favor in the long-run. So what films were at the bottom? And did the voters who supported those films really have so much love for Moonlight to place it in as their #2?
Reaction to #OscarsSoWhite. The last two years there hasn’t been an acting nominee of color, sparking controversy and outrage among Hollywood and the world who tunes into movies and entertainment. Now I’m not saying that Moonlight doesn’t deserve the Best Picture win, but let’s say that the reaction to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite caused more people than usual to vote for a progressive, challenging and important film such as Moonlight. Is that how this huge upset happened?
Finally, maybe La La Land wasn’t as loved as people thought. Aside from the backlash, there is a simple possible explanation that Academy voters didn’t think that La La Land was great, but instead just very good. And as for all of those nominations, La La Land was simply very darn good in every detailed aspect, but as the film lost category-after-category, it was evident that it wasn’t as loved as we might have speculated. Out of 14 nominations, La La Land only won 6 Oscars. It won the most awards that night, but lost out on big awards such as Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Lead Actor, and Best Editing. It even lost out on both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, the latter an award that usually goes to musicals. For those who watched, it took about 2 hours into the telecast for La La Land to win its first award. Being completely objective, this should’ve have been huge red flags indicating that La La Land would not win Best Picture. Finally, there have been splits between Best Director and Best Picture for four of the last five years now. So when Damien Chazelle won Best Director, it should have seemed likely that La La Land would lose Best Picture.
Does this answer all the questions? Most definitely not, but it does allow me to try and understand what could be considered the biggest Best Picture upset in Oscar history.