Each year it seems like the Oscars gets just a little bit worse, and the 94th Academy Award ceremony was no different. Cringey hosts, bad jokes, and literal on-screen assault made it a night to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Back in the Dolby Theatre after a COVID-related location change last year, the iconic setting looked different, better even. Instead of the classic theatre rows, Hollywood’s finest sat at elegant tables, similar to last year’s seating arrangement at Union Station. Whether it was a COVID measure, or simply to allow them to mix more freely with the other guests, the change made the atmosphere seem far more relaxed (well, for most of the ceremony that is, we’ll get to *that* moment later).
The night started with a video of Beyoncé performing her nominated song “Be Alive” from King Richard on a monochrome lime green tennis court. Every performer was colour matched to the set and it was incredible.
There were some memorable winners and speeches throughout. Ariana DeBose’s supporting actress win made history as she is the first openly queer woman of colour to win an Academy Award for acting. In her speech, she said, “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the grey spaces, I promise you this: There is, indeed, a place for us.”
Troy Kotsur also made history by becoming the first deaf man, and only the second deaf person, to win an acting Oscar. His speech was full of humour and emotion and he dedicated his award to the deaf community, “This is our moment,” he said. His film, CODA, also won Best Picture.
The show itself, however, ended up being quite the mess. In a desperate attempt to bump viewing figures, the organisers made a series of unusual choices, many of which have been heavily criticised online. The only good choice they made was getting Megan Thee Stallion to rap during the performance of Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”.
Hosts Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall had plenty of personality, but they didn’t deliver one funny joke the entire night. From Regina Hall’s awkward bit that bordered on sexual harassment, to Amy Schumer pulling Kirsten Dunst out of her seat and shoving her off-screen to do a strange and uncomfortable joke that didn’t land whatsoever, it was a resounding flop. The only potentially good joke was squandered because Wanda Sykes clearly did not know what an NFT was.
Two voted for sections – cheer moment and fan favourite – saw Zack Snyder take home two awards. It’s not totally clear if he actually got Oscars for this or if it was just a pointless addition to appease the stans (my money’s on the latter). Maybe he’ll get a Non-Fungible Oscar sent to him by the Academy? Hopefully, they never do this again.
There was a random clip of K-pop sensations BTS talking about their favourite movie moments. The 30-second clip (yes it really was that short) saw them talk about Coco and Aladdin and read like a very confused Disney promo. The weird Disney-related clips don’t stop there. After Kotsur’s emotional and touching acceptance speech, they very tastefully (note the sarcasm) cut to Chris Evans advertising his new film Lightyear – except the Sky stream didn’t show that part for UK viewers.
They included random clips of films followed by a “reunion” of the cast to present some awards and it just felt weird. Like, it’s nice to see Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta talk about Pulp Fiction, but 28 years isn’t exactly an important anniversary, is it? And who would’ve thought that Travolta would be the one to lighten the mood?
And of course, the elephant in the room. Will Smith slapped Chris Rock live on air after an offensive jab the comedian made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. The moment was so out of nowhere that there was an extremely awkward delay in reaction because no one knew if it was scripted or not. It wasn’t. The whole thing was crazy but it also has far too much nuance for me to comment on (this TikTok explains why).
Smith then went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor and gave the weirdest speech with snotty tears (we love a celebrity messy cry). At first he acted like it didn’t happen, and then he apologised (not to Rock though). The whole thing went on too long and had an all round uneasy vibe.
Since then, Will Smith has apologised to Chris Rock (who isn’t pressing charges) and the Academy announced they have launched a review into him.
The worst thing is that the other achievements from the night will now be overshadowed. The most memorable thing won’t be the first deaf man to win an acting Oscar or the third woman to win Best Director, it’ll be the live-streamed assault.
The rest of the night wasn’t without controversy either. This year the Academy made the shameful decision to give eight awards out off-camera in the hour leading up to the ceremony. No alternate live stream was provided and so all the public got was edited down snippets of their acceptance speeches. In an award show dedicated to the art of cinema, a hierarchy has been created, placing the awards for the most famous at the top, and deeming the people who work behind the scenes less important.
Will the Oscars be cancelled? Probably not. It will, however, need to re-evaluate its approach if it wants to repair its reputation in the years to come.
Full list of the winners:
Best Picture: CODA
Best Director: Jane Campion
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain
Best Actor: Will Smith
Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose
Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur
Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul
Best International Feature: Drive My Car
Best Animated Feature: Encanto
Best Adapted Screenplay: CODA
Best Original Screenplay: Belfast
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eye’s of Tammy Faye
Best Original Song: No Time to Die
Best Production Design: Dune
Best Editing: Dune
Best Costume Design: Cruella
Best Live Action Short: The Long Goodbye
Best Animated Short: The Windshield Wiper
Best Documentary Short: The Queen of Basketball
Best Visual Effects: Dune
Best Cinematography: Dune
Best Score: Dune
Best Sound: Dune
Feature image credit: edited on Canva