Ambushed Again: Bonnie, Clyde and the 2017 Oscars

Warren and Faye always were good for a bloody ending. Especially Faye Dunaway, who has shown a genius for getting shot in a car to finish a movie. We should feel forgiving toward Mrs. Mulwray. She was born with an eye imperfection. And died with an even bigger one.


Did Faye Dunaway’s eye problem stop her from reading the Best Picture card correctly?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could not have picked a better dance pair for the greatest televised mistake in the history of the world. As you surely know, Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented, and mis-presented, the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. When an envelope mix-up led them to announce “La La Land” as the winner, instead of “Moonlight,” the ceremony grabbed millions of worldwide viewers and hightailed it for some level of … what was it? … Pandemonium? Horror? Comedy?

As all the big media interns head to the archives (or Youtube) to start digging for videos of Sacheen Littlefeather for “9 Craziest Things to Happen at the Oscars” blog posts, let’s indulge in the glorious fun of analyzing reaction shots of the stunned stars in the audience. Who has the best stunned look? Brad Pitt’s gape is probably the leader in the club house. Or Michelle Williams. But the sheer subtle horror on Salma Hayek’s face is a thing of bewildered beauty.


Millions of dollars’ worth of faces stunned by the Academy Award Best Picture gaffe.

What worked for Beatty and Dunaway in 1967 worked for them Sunday night – the power of the shock ending. After 30 years of many wonderful movies being made under the restrictions of the Hays Code, “Bonnie and Clyde” exploded into theaters with an ending so violent that it still shocks. And if that was not enough for you, the length of violence in the previous shootout was even greater. Today, movie violence is perfectly manicured to PG-13 for maximum dollar value.  Our over-rehearsed society has lost the ability to surprise. It’s why people watch sports or live-action events. Or sky diving from space or walking tightropes across canyons.

The other great thing is Oscar’s return to a level of zaniness that used to be an annual rite.  As I grew up, some moon-beamy disaster that got the world talking happened every year. You really like me. Rob Lowe and Snow White. Jack Palance’s push-ups. Richard Gere asking America to send positive vibes to the Chinese leadership. In recent years, the ceremony has tried to chop down on marathon speeches and run the whole thing like a train station. Cutting down on time has cut down on the opportunity for the California weirdness that used to mark the event. What was the last Oscar moment that imprinted the nation’s imagination?  Maybe Julia Roberts photobombing Halle Berry and Denzel Washington all night in 2003, before anyone knew what photobombing was. That’s been a long time.

The mistake also obscured, to an extent, another Oscar anomaly – a genuine upset in the Best Picture race. The last clear upset was probably “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006. That was a decade ago. “La La Land,” with 14 nominations, seemed like an unusually strong front runner. “Moonlight” is the type of well-regarded indie coming from the “happy to be nominated” deck.

Some people think the whole thing is a tragedy for “Moonlight” – that the mistake trampled its moment to shine. Are you kidding? Without the mistake, “Moonlight” might have gone the way of “Chariots of Fire.” Now it’s permanently intertwined with a movie likely to become an American favorite for decades. On a crazy night, that’s one outcome Barry Jenkins and his team couldn’t have imagined.

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