In a night of surprises the greatest revelation of the 89th Academy Awards was that Pricewaterhousecoopers plays a leading role in counting voting. If anyone ever queried the involvement of accountants in Hollywood the Best Picture mix-up has provided sufficient ammo. The knee-jerk statement of regret from PwC, coupled with the obligatory promise to investigate how the wrong envelop came into the hands of Warren Beatty, comes as no surprise.
But shouldn’t it be the Academy that is thanking PwC? What happened last night is in a long tradition of Oscar shambles. From Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to reject his 1973 awards to Marisa Tomei ‘accidentally’ winning Best Supporting Actress, these moments have become the stuff of legend. In an industry of planetary megalomania the Oscars is the ego around which all others orbit. There is a brutal choreography to the event. Humour is test screened. Prize preambles are read out with mechanical precision. No star, no matter how luminous, can exceed their two minutes on stage before being swept away by minders and platitude-drowning orchestrals.
Gaffes disrupt this monotonous flow. They remind us that these splendid beings are real people too. They make mistakes. They have opinions we might disagree with. And the stultifying solemnity that surrounds much of the Oscars suddenly becomes an absurdity. Having had years of falling ratings the Oscars have turned up the glamour- with stunts such as the star-studded Oscar selfie from 2015 having all the hallmarks of cynical bean-counting. In fact what the event needs most it less bombast and more lightness and fun.
The genius of the Best Picture mix up is that it brought to the night one of the great B movie tricks- a twist. You can see from the brilliant reaction photo of the crowd that the moment elicited real physical responses. People moved from confusion, to wonder, to excitement, all tinged with embarrassment for the poor producers of La La Land who had made their thank yous only to be swiftly stripped of their Oscars. Long after the other films nominated are forgotten people will remember the year Moonlight lost then won. It may even have gone some way towards healing a rift between the fractious for that the two front-running movies created during the awards campaign with defenders on either side lashing out at the other’s supposed unworthiness. In the end talent from both films shared the stage and the idea of pitting one great film against another couldn’t have looked more ridiculous.
It is a cliché of the awards ceremony that everyone is a winner. This year, however, it really was the case. PwC, take a bow!