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It was a last-minute twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan: the big winner of Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards… wasn’t.
The award for best picture was briefly given to La La Land, which had already racked up wins earlier in the night for best director, best actress, best cinematography, best score, best original song and best production design.
But as the awards ceremony looked set to draw to a close, there was a halt in the proceedings.
“I’m sorry, no, there’s a mistake,” said Jordan Horowitz, one of La La Land’s producers leaning in to the microphone at centre stage. “Moonlight, you guys won best picture.”
“This is not a joke,” he repeated, prompting a gasp from the gathered throngs of Hollywood stars and celebrities and waving the other film’s cast and crew up onto the platform.
There had been a mix-up: Warren Beatty, one of the two announcers for best picture, paused before reading out the winner’s name. His counterpart, Faye Dunaway, laughed off Mr Beatty’s hesitance and finished it for him: “La La Land”.
But Mr Beatty appeared to have been given the wrong envelope – that for best actress, marking La La Land’s female lead Emma Stone for the win.
After the initial presentation, representatives from PWC, the accounting firm tasked with tallying the academy’s vote, came onstage to correct the record. Only two individuals at the firm had actually known the outcome in advance, according to PWC, memorising the outcome for each award to ensure the correct recipients take home their proper statues.
“Moonlight has won best picture,” Mr Horowitz said. He held up the slip of paper with the names of the film and its producers for the cameras and stunned silence turned gradually to a standing ovation. “Moonlight. Best picture.”
Mr Beatty stammered in front of the microphone and the show’s host Jimmy Kimmel feigned outrage: “Warren! What did you do?”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Mr Beatty said, before letting out an exasperated chuckle.