Oscars 2017: The Academy's Biggest Surprises & Best Moments


Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 89th Academy Awards last night, and the evening was packed with heartfelt speeches, politically-charged moments, and more than a few surprises. The seeming frontrunner of the night, La La Land (2016) garnered a whopping 14 nominations, including the major awards Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. However, in all of these categories, La La Land faced steep competition from other top contenders, including the acting powerhouse Fences (2016), the tumultuous Manchester by the Sea (2016), and the critically-acclaimed Moonlight (2016). The question on everyone's minds before the Oscars: will La La Land sweep the awards, or will it fall flat?

Click here to view the full list of Oscar winners.

The most incredible moment of the night was at the very end, and it was a shocking turn of events that will be remembered for years to come. The following list includes highlights from the 2017 Oscars, from the biggest upsets to the downright predictable but much-deserved awards (yes, we're talking about Viola Davis.). From the memorable to the meme-able, here are The Academy's Biggest Surprises And Best Moments" for the Oscars 2017:

15 Jimmy Kimmel's Matt Damon Joke

The Great Wall (2017) - Matt Damon

In his opening speech, Jimmy Kimmel encouraged people to close the political divide with people by talking to people who think differently from them. He then alluded to a person that he would speak to: Matt Damon. While Kimmel did not explicitly reference his "differences" with Matt Damon, the reference was to an earlier sketch with Jimmy Kimmel's then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman in 2008. Silverman reveals in a music video that "I'm F@#$ing Matt Damon". Matt Damon also appeared in the video to confirm that Silverman was, in fact, f@$%ing him. Kimmel shot back with a song and video of his own called "I'm F^%&ing Ben Affleck".

At the Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel proceeded to roast Matt Damon, saying that he passed up playing the lead in Manchester by the Sea (2016) to be in a "Chinese Ponytail movie", referencing Damon's movie The Great Wall (2016). Kimmel's roast of Damon was the funniest part of his opening monologue, but the allusion to the original feud between the comedian and the actor made it even more ridiculous.

Kimmel did not let it go, and two hours later continued to roast Damon for his film We Bought a Zoo (2011).

14 Mahershala Ali's Moving Speech

Moonlight - Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali

When Mahershala Ali won for Best Supporting Actor, he started by thanking his teachers and professors. He said that acting was not about the actor, but the characters that they played. Mahershala Ali was a clear frontrunner for the category, having won the SAG Award and being nominated for both the BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Ali, known for his roles in House of Cards (2013), Luke Cage (2016), Hidden Figures (2016), played the role of Juan in Moonlight (2016), a drug dealer who becomes a father figure to the young Chiron.

Mahershala Ali proceeded to thank the creative team and his co-stars, saying that any of them deserved to win an award. He finished his speech by thanking his wife and announcing that his daughter had been born four days ago. Despite being the favorite to win, it was clearly a surprising and moving moment for the actor.

Mahershala Ali made history as the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar.

13 Hidden Figures Cast Introduce a Real Life Hero, Katherine Johnson

Hidden Figures

The Hidden Figures (2016) trio, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer entered in an array of stunning ballgowns. Before presenting the award for Best Documentary Film to O.J.: Made in America (2016), the actresses took a moment to invite Katherine Johnson. A mathematician who worked at NASA and helped to get a man on the moon, Johnson's life and work was the basis of Hidden Figures, and she is portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the film. Because of both her gender and her race, Johnson's contributions at NASA were largely overlooked and Hidden Figures worked to share her accomplishments with the world. Johnson, who is ninety-eight, came out in her wheelchair to greet the crowd.While Johnson only spoke a quick thank you, she was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.

Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars, including Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.

12 Lin-Manuel Miranda and Auli'i Cravalho Perform for Moana

Disney - Moana and Maui

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, in a brilliant blue velvet suit jacket, introduced songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda and castmate Auli'i Cravalho for their performance of the Oscar nominated song "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. Johnson, played Maui in Moana, joked about how he wanted to perform before revealing that Miranda had written an original prologue to the song. Miranda briefly rapped to set the scene for Cravalho's song, but Cravalho was clearly the star. The sixteen-year-old actress, wearing a striking crimson gown, sang while a group of dancers waved rippling blue flags in formations to look like waves. Even when one of the dancers accidentally hit Cravalho with a flag, she did not miss a beat and continued an exhilarating performance.

The first music performance of the night, Cravalho set a high bar for the other musical performances to follow. Her live performance showcased her incredible talent and poise - she probably has an Oscar in her future.

11 Candy from the Ceiling

Jimmy Kimmel the Emmys

Twice in the evening, host Jimmy Kimmel released treats to the audience in the form of small satchels tied to white parachutes. The dramatic "Flight of the Valkyries" blared as the small parcels descended into the crowd of outstretched hands. First, "movie candy" descended into the crowd: Red Vines and Junior Mints. Later, Kimmel once again released treats, this time promising cookies and donuts to the hungry crowd. It seems that people were hungry, as they enthusiastically reached for the falling food.

The presentation of the treats may not rival Kimmel's choice of food delivery at the Emmy's, when he had the kids from Stranger Things (2016) give out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, the parachutes were a whimsical light moment that broke up the many speeches of the night, made for a beautiful visual, and were honestly a creative way to distribute food quickly in a packed house.


Viola Davis in Fences

It was not a surprise when Viola Davis took the stage for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Her performance in Fences (2016) was brilliant and critically acclaimed, and this was her third Oscar nomination (but the first for her to win). Additionally, she opted to run a campaign for Supporting Actress instead of Lead Actress despite her major role in the film. In a speech that brought tears to her eyes and tears to the crowd in front of her, Viola Davis said:

Thank you to the Academy. You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that's the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

She went on to thank her family and the production team, pausing to declare, "O Captain, My Captain, Denzel Washington!" to her co-star and director. Davis's words were inspirational, and there was not a dry eye in the house.

9 Asghar Farhadi Protests the Travel Ban

Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi on The Salesman set

Asghar Farhadi is an Iranian filmmaker whose film The Salesman was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. His country, Iran, is one of seven currently affected by the executive order travel ban. Farhadi announced that even if he was given an exemption from the travel ban, he would still boycott the event. Farhadi had previously won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for A Separation (2012). The travel ban is currently blocked by a federal court.

Anousheh Ansari accepted the award on Farhadi's behalf, reading a statement on behalf of the filmmaker:

I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhuman law that bans entry of immigrants to the US. Dividing the world into the “us" and "our enemies" categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.

Farhadi's absense was a bold statement, and his call for empathy was an effective political commentary (in comparison for many of Jimmy Kimmel's political jokes which fell flat).

8 Jimmy Kimmel Brings Fans to the Front Row

Oscars 2017 - Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel surprised a Hollywood tour group by tricking them into thinking that they were going on a simple studio tour... and then bringing them to the front row of the Oscars. While this is in line with Kimmel's typical pranks, it was a warm and welcoming gesture. The fans had hoped to catch a glimpse of one star, but instead they got to meet Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, and Viola Davis. One man kissed Meryl Streep's hand. A woman who was with her fiancé identified Denzel Washington as her favorite actor, and not only did Washington come up to meet them, but he jokingly officiated their wedding.

The fans also got to meet Mahershala Ali and touch his new Oscar. It was a cute moment for fans to meet the people that they admired, and made the star-studded and exclusive event accessible to some of the everyday people who love movies.

7 In Memoriam

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Jennifer Aniston had to pause to compose herself when introducing the "In Memorium" segment, and she also mentioned the recent passing of actor Bill Paxton (Apollo 13). In the moving tribute that followed for the people who passed away in 2016, Sara Bareilles sang Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides" while a series of names and faces flashed across the screen behind her. Some were people who worked behind the camera as animators, writers, directors, and production crew. Their names and figures were interlaced with famous actors and actresses who died this past year, including Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein), Prince (Purple Rain), and John Hurt (Alien). Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), who died in a tragic accident, appeared as Chekov, and Kenny Baker (Star Wars) appeared along with the iconic sounds of his character R2-D2.

The tribute ended with the mother and daughter pair Debbie Fisher (Singing in the Rain) and Carrie Fisher (Star Wars), who died one day apart. Carrie Fisher, known for her acting talents and made famous by her portrayal of Princess Leia, was also acknowledged for being a writer and script doctor.

6 Chazelle wins Best Director

La La Land - Griffith Park Dance - Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebatian

Damien Chazelle's win for La La Land (2016) at the age of 32 makes him the youngest person to win Best Director. The young Harvard graduate won over Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) who was hoping to make a comeback and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) who won earlier in the night for Best Adapted Screenplay. Chazelle thanked his composer and collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, who is also a childhood friend. He also thanked his girlfriend, Olivia Hamilton, who he called "the love of my life".

Chazelle is known for previously directing Whiplash (2014), which won an Oscar for actor J. K. Simmons. He also co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) and La La Land (2016). As the director-writer of La La Land, Chazelle's win solidifies his place among Hollywood's up-and-coming directors. While Chazelle was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, he lost to director-writer Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea. Chazelle, however, beat out Kenneth Lonergan for Best Director.

5 Casey Affleck Wins Over Denzel Washington for Best Actor

Manchester by the Sea - Casey Affleck

The frontrunner for Best Actor was hard to predict this year. Denzel Washington's monumental performance in Fences (2016) along with his two previous Oscar wins made him a favorite. Washington also won at the Screen Actors Guild for his performance, while Affleck won at the Golden Globes. Many saw Casey Affleck as a frontrunner for the award, but allegations of sexual harrassment made some question whether or not Affleck should or would win. Despite Affleck's troubled history, he managed to win for his performance in Manchester by the Sea (2016).

After Casey Affleck was announced as the winner, he noted briefly that he looked up to Denzel Washington. Washington tried to look neutral, but was clearly disheartened by the loss. While the moment was an "upset", Affleck's speech was neither controversial or interesting. At one point, he noted:

Man, I wish I had something bigger and more meaningful to say.

We only get to imagine the speech that Denzel Washington had prepared.

4 Emma Stone Wins Best Actress

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land

Emma Stone was the frontrunner for Best Actress, but she had quite the competition from Meryl Streep (her 20th nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins), Ruth Negga (Loving), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), and Natalie Portman (Jackie; who was not in attendance). Stone had been previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Birdman (2014), but was beaten by Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (2014). However, this year was Emma Stone's year, and her performance in La La Land won.

Stone thanked her friends and family, including her brother Spencer who was her date to the Oscars, as well as her co-star Ryan Gosling and director Damien Chazelle. She was the only actress nominated for Best Actress who was also in a film nominated for Best Picture, which helped to set the stage for a La La Land win for Best Picture. Her win marked the first acting win for La La Land, but the sixth win of the night for the film.

3 La La Land Was Announced as the Winner...

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land

For the final award of the night, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the winner. Warren Beatty paused awkwardly when looking at the contents of the envelope and it was unclear if he was trying to be funny by creating suspence. Eventually, however, he handed the card to Faye Dunaway to read and she announced that La La Land was the winner. La La Land was the predicted favorite, with fourteen nominations, and it seemed that the challenger Moonlight was not able to beat it out for the top prize.

The La La Land crew and cast poured onto the stage to celebrate. Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damien Chazelle were joined by the rest of the production team on the stage. Producer Jordan Horowitz spoke on behalf of the group and gave a moving speech about the project. With what would be seven wins out of fourteen nominations, La La Land had performed very well. It looked like the Oscars were about to wrap up for the night, but the biggest shock of the night was yet to come.

2 But It Was an Error

La La Land - Jazz Discussion - Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebatian

It appeared that the Oscars would come and go without any major upsets or surprises. The major categories had gone by and large to the frontrunners without much surprise. However, the night took quite the turn with the last award. As it turned outLa La Land was not the winner. Jordan Horowitz's speech was interrupted, and then the producer for La La Land turned to the microphone and announced that, in fact, Moonlight was the winner. At first, the crowd thought that Horowitz was, like Adele at the Grammy's, making a symbolic tribute to Moonlight. He clarified, saying: "This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture." He held up the slip of paper that announced Moonlight as the winner so that the cameras could see the real result.

Warren Beatty apologized and clarified saying that the slip of paper that he had read "Emma Stone - La La Land" on it, and appeared to be for her award for Best Lead Actress. In the confusion, La La Land was announced as the winner, but Moonlight had actually won. The 89th Academy Awards will go down in history for the biggest upset for any Best Picture award.

1 Moonlight Won

Moonlight poster (cropped)

The cast and crew of La La Land were ushered off the stage, and they were replaced by the cast and crew of Moonlight. Barry Jenkins, the co-writer and director of Moonlight, was utterly shocked by the turn of events:

Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true. But to hell with dreams, I'm done with it, cause this is true. Oh my goodness.

Jenkins was joined on stage by stars Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland (all three played the character 'Chiron' at different stages in his life), Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress Naomie Harris, co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, and actress Janelle Monáe (who, like Mahershala Ali appeared in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures).

While the Oscars ended on a somewhat strange note of the Moonlight cast and crew getting limited time to speak and an awkward Jimmy Kimmel making jokes about the switch, this proved to be the most exciting Academy Awards in recent history. This was a night to remember.


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