I want to focus on the highlights of the night. I want to happily announce that CODA won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in a touching night for great storytelling and filmmaking. And yet, that is not what the story of the day is going to be. Instead, that story is about a ceremony horribly mismanaged by its producers and television network and marred by one of the strangest moments in the history of live television.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the winners, as there is much to say about this deserving bunch – and I don’t just say that because I went 19/23. Sian Heder’s deaf family comedy-drama did indeed make history, becoming the first film released on a streaming platform to win Best Picture. The film also won Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur (who delivered a moving, sweet speech) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Heder. The most awarded film of the night, meanwhile, was Dune. Denis Villeneuve’s space epic took home six Oscars, for Best Sound, Best Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and even a slightly surprising win for Best Production Design. Not that you could watch any of these, of course. They were all presented before the ceremony and presented in twelve-second snippets during the show.
As for nomination frontrunner The Power of the Dog, it did not go home empty-handed. Legendary auteur Jane Campion won her first directing Oscar for her incisive Western, the film’s sole win out of twelve nominations – sadly, she read her speech from a piece of paper so as to avoid any Critics Choice-esque slip-ups. She is the third woman to ever win the award, the first to ever be nominated twice, and the first since Mike Nichols to receive her film’s only Oscar. The acting winners similarly went as expected – Belfast won Kenneth Branagh his first Oscar in Best Original Screenplay. Jessica Chastain won for Best Actress and gave one of the night’s few political speeches, tying the state of the world into Tammy Faye’s radical love religion. Ariana DeBose gave the template for a great speech as the first openly queer acting winner for her work in West Side Story. And Will Smith won Best Actor shortly after…well, we’ll get there.
As for the rest of the nominees, things mostly played out as expected. Billie Eilish won her first Oscar for Best Original Song. Questlove gave the most emotional speech of the night after winning for Summer of Soul. Drive My Car won for International Feature and Encanto for Animated. And Cruella and Chastain’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye were Dune’s only roadblocks in the technical categories. In fact, the only real surprises came in the shorts – and even those weren’t “surprises.” The Long Goodbye was the frontrunner all along, and late challenges from Ala Kachuu and Please Hold weren’t able to hold off Riz Ahmed’s star power (the rising superstar earned his first Oscar for the film). The Queen of Basketball narrowly edged out Netflix’s Audible (honestly, it was a terrible night for Netflix). And in the night’s only awards misstep, the terrible The Windshield Wiper beat out a far more impressive field in Best Animated Short. Otherwise, it was an impressively strong night of winners.
It’s just a shame the show itself couldn’t live up to that promise. I’m not going to mince words with you: that was an absolute travesty from start to finish. I don’t envy, or even fully blame, producer Will Packer, as the show has faced issues from the beginning as the Academy a) introduced fan-voted awards to the show; b) cut eight categories from the ceremony to be haphazardly handed out beforehand, and c) tried to deliver a “classic” Oscar ceremony by emphasizing the bits and performances that audiences notoriously hate. And honestly, ABC and the Academy got what they deserved. For starters, the attempt to cut categories to shorten the show backfired – it ended up as one of the longest Oscars in recent history. None of the bits landed, and worse still, they were dragged out longer than necessary due to the “extra time.” Outside of a moment where host Wanda Sykes crashed the Academy Museum, as well as a perfectly-executed joke about Aaron Sorkin from host Amy Schumer, every joke and bit landed with a resounding thud.
The musical numbers were equally bizarre. Beyoncé opened the show with a grand performance at the Compton tennis courts where Venus and Serena Williams learned to play, attempting to cover the rather basic song with the type of showmanship she has become known for (it kinda worked too!). Reba McEntire sang the incredibly boring song from Four Good Days that made for a good bathroom break. Van Morrison didn’t even bother to show up, and refused to let anyone else sing his song from Belfast. And in the funniest bait-and-switch of the night, the much-advertised “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” performance was massively overshadowed (even with an assist by Megan Thee Stallion) by the nominated “Dos Oruguitas” – the Encanto song consistently mocked for its inferiority to the chart-topping “Bruno.” Oh, and the less said about the In Memoriam, which focused on the Sunday Service Choir performing “Spirit In The Sky” while announcing the names of the deceased haphazardly in the background, the better.
Finally, there are two moments of sheer disaster that must be addressed. The first is the Fan-Voted categories, which not only saw Zack Snyder win twice – once for his infamous Justice League in “Oscar Cheer Moment” (basically Best Movie Moment Ever), and once for Army of the Dead (because Justice League was ineligible) – but also saw Camilla Cabello’s Cinderella take second and the unseen Johnny Depp movie Minamata take third. Huh, it’s almost like they shouldn’t have run these categories on Twitter, where bots paid for by Camilla Cabello, Johnny Depp, and Zack Snyder’s fanbase can’t rig and spam the vote to award pure schlock. It is especially funny when one considers that Disney basically forced this upon the category in order to get Spider-Man an Oscar, and the film barely got fourth.
But that’s not what you’re here to read about. We all know why we’re here, don’t we? We’re here for what happened during the presentation for Best Documentary Feature. The moment where Will Smith, quote, “smacked the sh*t out of” Chris Rock. So for those of you who didn’t watch, Rock has made a history out of roasting Jada Pinkett Smith at the Oscars. She’s his favorite target, like Mel Gibson for Ricky Gervais. Well, last night, Rock made a joke about Jada’s bald head – one of her first appearances in public since announcing her alopecia. While Smith first seemed amused, Pinkett was not, and it was clear that she made a comment to Will about it. This resulted in Smith climbing onstage, smacking Rock across the face, and calling from the audience, loudly and angrily, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f*cking mouth,” while Rock seemed legitimately shaken.
While the smack seemed fake from our seats at home, and it’s entirely possible there was some level of bit going on, the reaction from Rock, the hush that fell over the crowd, and the Academy’s efforts to cut away, seemed to indicate that this was not a scripted moment, but instead an angry, violent outburst from the normally restrained, ultra-cool former rapper-turned-sitcom star-turned movie star. And then, after this happened and significantly altered the mood of the entire room, Smith won an Oscar. And had to give a speech. Smith used his platform to apologize to the Academy (and not to Rock) for the outburst, but also rambled for almost five incoherent minutes about “the importance of protecting your family.” It was a weird moment that’s either the funniest, strangest, or worst moment in the history of the Academy – maybe even all three.
And thus concludes the most exhausting Oscar race…maybe ever? Listen, it’s hard to end this season, with all the bad decisions and bad blood between nominees and the unexpected violence onstage and feel sort of dejected. After all, CODA began its Oscars push fifteen months ago at the Sundance Film Festival. But instead of focusing on the negatives, there are so many positives to focus on. CODA is a wonderfully enjoyable Best Picture winner. Jane Campion has a Directing Oscar now. Ariana DeBose, Troy Kotsur, and many more made history. The right film won in over 80% of the categories. And no matter how disastrous, there is something of a soothing balm to the Academy Awards. Hopefully, you can all use this list to catch up on films you haven’t seen yet.
As for me, I’ll be taking a week off to detox with cheesy television and silly comedies – maybe even a dumb slasher, doesn’t that sound nice? But don’t worry – I’ll be back in the next few weeks with my predictions for the 2022 Academy Awards. You can see the full results from last night’s show below, and until next year, thanks for joining me during this wild and crazy process.
Best Picture: CODA
Best Actor: Will Smith – King Richard
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur – CODA
Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Best Director: Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Best Original Screenplay: Belfast
Best Adapted Screenplay: CODA
Best Animated Feature: Encanto
Best International Feature: Drive My Car
Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised…)
Best Documentary Short: The Queen of Basketball
Best Live Action Short: The Long Goodbye
Best Animated Short: The Windshield Wiper
Best Original Score: Dune
Best Original Song: “No Time To Die” – No Time To Die
Best Sound: Dune
Best Production Design: Dune
Best Cinematography: Dune
Best Costume Design: Cruella
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Film Editing: Dune
Best Visual Effects: Dune