Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
This year, the Oscars learned the dangers of trying to get into the speed force. The show, scaled down for broadcast, started out wanting to please and looks populist, filled with edited homages to films the Academy expected everyone to recognize and even selections from the ‘moments of joy’ chosen by Twitter last year. It was already a ceremony that felt compelled to score too many goals, but it fell apart once, three quarters into the event, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage after Rock made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. The telecast came to a halt and fell silent, and the theater audience seemed unsure how to react as the ceremony continued until Smith’s widely predicted win for Best Actor. He gave a rambling, tearful speech about protecting his family that contained some kind of apology to the Academy, but it felt like the ceremony had tipped off its axis, insignificant and chintzy compared to the altercation. unscripted that had just happened. In a year when the Oscars posed as a big return to normal, Hollywood felt more unnatural than ever. In an attempt to make sense of the evening, we’ve rounded up the highs, lows, and many whoas of the 2022 Oscars.
LOW: Watching the red carpet as the Oscars are handed out inside. Much has already been said about the savage decision to cut eight categories from television broadcasting. But that didn’t prepare us for the sheer speed of being subjected to an hour of red carpet coverage knowing that, simultaneously, people were accepting awards inside the theater, which you could only follow at through grainy cellphone videos of reporters on Twitter. Instead of looking at the winners for shorts, makeup and hair, score, etc., we had the deep insight of Vanessa Hudgens telling us what was on her ballot at the Oscars.
HIGH: Beyoncé turns to the camera and says “Oscars…!” The ceremony opened with his offsite performance of “Be Alive” by King Richard in Compton, filled with green tennis ball costumes and a full ensemble of dancers and musicians. Not the best song, but a complete and spectacular performance by Beyoncé. She wasn’t at the Oscars yet, but she has been there, saying: “Oscars…!”
LOW and HIGH and LOW: Three announcers, no cohesion. It’s hard to know how anyone could have predicted this, but it turns out that when you have three hosts, you’re going to have… three hosts. Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes do type of make sense together: these are three women who are funny. Beyond that, however, the trio had little in common as Oscar hosts, and it was palpable from the moment they first took the stage together. Schumer’s style was deliberate, often moan-worthy jokes with a bit of punch (at one point she yelled Don’t look up then cracked that the Academy seems to have forgotten to consult the reviews of this film). When it was Hall’s turn, the mood shifted to unhinged hilarity, with an extended, pitch-perfect track involving bringing handsome actors up on stage. Hall is single, she explained, and she was just going to, um, give them COVID tests with her tongue. Things slipped to the quiet and underwhelming when it was time for Sykes, whose host showcase was largely a pre-recorded tour of the Academy museum.
HIGH: Clips are back! The Oscars have toyed with different ways of introducing acting nominees over the past few years, but what’s better than a good old-fashioned music video, really? It’s nice to see people in the movies they’ve been nominated for, and even when the clips are tricky choices, it’s a tiny bit of context that just feels right.
HIGH: Ariana DeBose wins Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story. DeBose is the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar, and her moment was a great example of how a speech (polite, obviously pre-planned) can achieve a strong combination of emotion and poise. Pick a last line, nail it, go with confidence. It is also the advantage of awarding prizes to the great children of the theatre.
LOW: ABC inserts the pre-recorded Oscars as if they were broadcast live. We knew the clips would be edited into the rest of the show, but to do so without an explanation or pretense was disorienting. The nominees still have their clip reels, but the producers cut their march to the stage and shortened the speeches, while interspersing clips from famous audience members who weren’t in the room at the time. Then the broadcast pretended it was business as usual, spending that free time playing clips to remind us that James Bond exists.
LOW: The Oscars are constantly asking “hey, remember that?” Does anyone remember The Godfather? A good film. What about the moments that made you “stand up and clap”? It was a real list of movies, excerpts from them played, and the top three were Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: No Coming Home and the Snyder cut Justice League. Remember those?!
HIGH: Coda Acceptance Speech for Best Supporting Actor, Troy Kotsur. Introduced by Youn Yuh-Jung, who signed his name and stood next to him, holding his statuette while signing his speech, Kotsur sent a heartfelt thank you to the Academy, his interpreter choking while he talked. It’s the kind of raw, emotional moment the Oscars are meant to be. Remove all other layers and give us this!
LOW: Attempts to play against Ryusuke Hamaguchi during his acceptance speech. Calm down, Oscar gang! Hamaguchi makes very long films. Give him time to finish his very thoughtful and generous speech, in which he classily shouted out the work of his actors, none of whom were nominated for any awards.
HIGH: Megan Thee Stallion’s remix of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”. There really was no need to perform this song at the Oscars. I’m sure there are regrets that it wasn’t the nominated song of Encanto, but incorporating it into the ceremony just smacks of the rest of the theme for these Oscars, Hey, remember that one thing you haven’t forgotten, because all the things we remind you of are famous enough already? However, if we Homework having an unnecessary “Bruno,” at least Megan Thee Stallion doing a verse in the middle felt like it was tailor-made for the Oscars. It’s very corny to have someone in the middle of a song and rap about the Oscars; the Oscars should be corny.
DOWN: Crypto dot com.
HIGH… on life! Jessica Chestnut! Featured by the Oscars editors in seemingly every reaction shot they managed to get! She was simply thrilled with every new development! Laugh at Amy Schumer’s tired joke about Leo’s girlfriend’s youth like it was the first joke she ever heard! Good for her, glad she had a good night.
LOW: The award for the most popular film (?) goes to army of the dead! After the announcement that the Oscars would award a “fan-favorite” film based on a particularly reliable and flawless method of public entry (a Twitter poll), the ceremony itself did its best to downplay the results: a countdown with short excerpts from the best voters included No coming home and Minimalthen a slightly longer excerpt from army of the dead. There was no dramatic presentation. None of the hosts came to make jokes. At the end of the countdown, the theater crowd applauded weakly.
WHOA: Will Smith’s reaction to Chris Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith. Before presenting Best Documentary, Chris Rock did a little crowd work about married couples in the audience, spoke to Will Smith and then pointed to Jada, who spoke about hair loss due to alopecia , and said, “I love you. GI Jane 2Can’t wait to see this.” Will then ran onto the stage, punched Chris Rock and said, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Those watching ABC at home saw the The screen froze, then a mute Smith yelling at Rock. After that, the show went back to normal. Rock presented the award to Questlove, who gave a nice speech overshadowed by the chaos of the previous moment.
LOW, continuing WHOA: The few minutes after what happened. Then came a desperate and completely bizarre sequence of events that was to try to regain control of the series. There was a Godfather tribute to which no one paid attention because everyone was going there, What was that? Then came an In Memoriam tribute that included Bill Murray saluting Ivan Reitman and Jamie Lee Curtis holding a puppy (!) in honor of Betty White. The general tone was gotta keep moving! As long as we keep moving, this won’t fall apart. No host arrived to acknowledge what had happened, so the feeling of disorientation and loss of reality yawned more and more, until finally…
WOW ?!?! Will Smith won the Best Actor Oscar. Somehow, impossible but inevitable, Will Smith won Best Actor in King Richard and, almost in tears, took the stage to deliver his acceptance speech. “Richard Williams was a fierce advocate for his family,” Smith began. Weeping seriously, he explained that he felt God had commanded him to protect those he loved. He compared his own impulse to that of Richard Williams, who also stood up for the people he loved. “I want to apologize to the Academy,” Smith said. “I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. It’s a beautiful moment, and I’m not crying about winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about of being able to shine a light. The theater applauded Smith throughout, especially when he announced, “Love will make you do crazy things.”Smith concluded by hoping, with a chuckle, that the next year the Academy would invite him back (At no point did he apologize to Chris Rock.)
It’s like we’re past the highs and lows at this point, you know? Jessica Chastain won for Tammy Faye’s eyes; CODA won for best film. At one point, Amy Schumer appeared and made a joke about how she’d spent all this time trying to get out of her Spider-man costume and was curious as to why the mood was so different. In some ways, the latter part of the show felt like giddy relief as something like a traditional awards show rhythm fell back into place. But there was an ongoing feeling that the Oscars were more divorced from reality; the best actor winner slapped a presenter in the face and half an hour later was crying as the entire theater cheered him on. It’s not the kind of thing that a show can recover from. And yet, did the show continue? Footage of Smith kissing Pinkett-Smith appeared during the closing credits, as did footage of Smith accepting his award, as if both moments were part of a regular Oscar party. The three hosts again appeared in their pajamas to say goodnight, and you could almost feel the huge sigh of relief when the live stream cut out.