My Oscars Journey: From Moonstruck to La La Land

From top: Cher and Nicolas Cage in "Moonstruck," Annette Bening and Warren Beatty in "Bugsy," Stephen Rea on the cover of EW's "The Crying Game" issue, the Crossroads Twin Cinema in Corinth, MS, Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery winning Best Original Screenplay for "Pulp Fiction," Jack Nicholson awarding Paul Haggis Best Picture for "Crash" and Emma Stone in "La La Land." 

I woke up this Oscar morning like I did when I was a kid on Christmas Day. We got some nice Oscars Eve gifts yesterday with the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Particularly the Robert Altman award for “Moonlight.” Kerry Washington’s introduction certainly reminded us of the passion for “Moonlight” and seeing Alex Hibbert and Jaden Piner so giddy on stage was a delight. I also loved Molly Shanon’s wonderful speech. And Casey Affleck finally managed to be funny! The show also reminded me that there are plenty of great movies from 2016 I have still yet to see.

But today is the main event.

Keeping the Christmas theme, I like to tell my “Twas the Night” Oscar story. Many of you will have heard it before but it’s a tradition!

On March 18, 1988, my sister, her friends and I were going to see Police Academy 5 at Crossroads Twin Cinema in Corinth, Mississippi. I somehow went over to the wrong side and they wouldn’t let me switch to the other screen. I still don’t quite understand why. For one thing I was 11, and the film I ended up seeing, “Moonstruck” was rated R. I can still remember what it felt like, sitting on the front row experiencing “Moonstruck” and Cher’s performance for the first time. It was magical.

I loved the film so much, I had to consume everything about it. Which of course led me to reading about the Oscars race. This was March of 88 and the Oscars were on April 11th that year. Remember…there was no Oscarwatch (aka: Awards Daily) back then. AOL barely even existed at this point. I read everything in the newspaper and magazines. I watched Siskel & Ebert: At the Movies. I devoured the Oscar coverage in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, even entering my first predictions contest. Of course, “Moonstruck” lost, but my beloved Cher took the prize.

In the 90s with the publication of Entertainment Weekly and film reviews by Owen Geiberman, my passion continued.

1991 was the real turning point for me. It was all about “Bugsy.” Nominated against “JFK,” “The Prince of Tides,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Beauty and the Beast,” I managed to see all of them but Lambs prior to the show. I was so upset that “Bugsy” lost until I finally saw “The Silence of the Lambs.” Had I seen them both before the awards I would have been fine either way. (Just like 2017. More on that later!)

A couple of years later, both Siskel & Ebert and EW fueled my desire to see “The Crying Game.” It didn’t come to our small town, but I managed to get my high school Trig teacher to take me to see it during the Beta Club convention in Biloxi, MS in 1993. When she gasped at the twist, I was shocked. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. This was a masterpiece.  Even if there was a penis on screen (spoilers!) I hated that “Unforgiven” won Best Picture that year and have yet to watch it again since. Talk about a crazy grudge.

My parents had a similar reaction to my teacher in 1994 when I showed them “Pulp Fiction.” Ball gag? Big deal, Mom! It’s a work of art!!!  This was the year that things got really personal.  Watching the 95 show at my parents’ house in Corinth, I threw a glass at the television, enraged when “Forrest Gump” beat “Pulp Fiction.” Quentin’s screenplay win was not enough for that film.

But that couldn’t compare to what I felt after the 2006 ceremony.  I was so emotionally invested in “Brokeback Mountain” that I was completely inconsolable when Jack Nicholson announced that “Crash” won, weeping in my tiny NYC bathroom for what seemed like hours.

In 2010, I was lucky to love so many nominees for Best Picture (“Black Swan,” “127 Hours” and “The Social Network) that I barely cared that the lesser “The Kings Speech” won. It helped that most of my eggs were in the Best Actress basket with Natalie Portman and “Black Swan.”

Oscars 2017 has truly been unique. The love I have for the two frontrunners “Moonlight” and “La La Land’ is so immense.  It even goes beyond those two films. I absolutely love “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” “Jackie” and “Manchester By the Sea.” In any other year all 4 could have been my favorite. And better than my top choice of the last several years (sorry “Inherent Vice!”)

I will absolutely be happy if either “Moonlight” or “La La Land” wins Best Picture tonight. I enjoyed “Hidden Figures” but it has no place at the podium, sorry. But that is rather unlikely to happen.

There are actually several win possibilities that will make me happy. Huppert, Stone or Portman for Actress. Ali, Patel or Bridges in Supporting. Chazelle or Jenkins for Best Director.

I will struggle if Denzel wins Best Actor. Sure, he is fantastic. It’s the best performance I have seen him give in years. And self-directed! But Casey Affleck is better. Much better. And I hope the Academy will do the right thing.

I’ve tried so hard to stay out of the politics of this Best Picture race. Mostly because I do not agree with the idea that “Moonlight” should win because “Brokeback” lost, righting a wrong, or that since it tells a story that had to be told it must win. 

I don't believe that “La La Land” epitomizes white privilege or that it’s only winning because it’s a film about Hollywood being awarded by Hollywood. It’s about dreaming and romance and what we give up for our dreams. It is spectacularly directed, scored, written. I think it is deserving because it is the best picture of the year.

I know people will be disappointed if “La La Land” wins. And I will not rub it in anyone’s face. When “Crash” won I felt that I had been silenced as a gay man and an artist. And that lasted for years. But that was my own stuff. I can relate to both “La La Land” and “Moonlight” which is probably why I love them both.  Which is lucky on my part, I guess. And if “La La Land” loses, I will clap heartily for “Moonlight” and get the hell off of social media.

Here’s to the ones who dream.


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