Every year, my cynicism towards the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences grows, yet every year, as I watch the Oscar show, I feel the romanticism towards the art form that will never leave me. I don’t want to care, yet I end up caring nonetheless. This year’s films were certainly an improvement over 2020’s COVID-depleted roster, yet still, some of them were not what I wanted them to be, some were ignored by the Academy come nomination time (The Last Duel and Pig for example), and as of this writing, there are still several key contenders I haven’t seen. This year’s show was an improvement, and I was never bored, but unfortunately, one moment will forever overshadow anything else that happened. So here are my thoughts on an incredibly strange night in Hollywood.
Of course, we have to start with the elephant stampede in the room. We witnessed the first on-air physical assault in Oscars history when Will Smith proudly walked up onto the stage and slapped Chris Rock in the face in front of the entire world.
I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t think it was funny. It was at once confusing, embarrassing, and concerning. As a black man myself, seeing the first on-air physical attack in the show’s history be between two black men is a stain. It hurts me. Will Smith appeared to be in some kind of psychotic state, smiling awkwardly as he walked off the stage as if he may have been waiting for cheers of approval. Then, once back in his seat, he screamed at Rock for the entire audience to hear. This was not the behavior of someone thinking clearly. He’s a smart guy and in a normal state of mind, he has to know zero good is going to come from any of that. Some people in the upper decks got video of Smith being talked to by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry during a commercial break. I’d love to have heard that conversation.
No, I don’t believe it was staged, so let’s debunk that idea right now. Because who the fuck would condone that? The Academy, desperate for ratings as they may be, sure as shit wouldn’t want them doing that on their show, and if you’re Smith & Rock and planning this independently without telling the people running the show, that’s even more stupid. Smith was the frontrunner for Best Actor and he’s gonna sully that with some gag that doesn’t make any sense? For all he knows they could’ve kicked him out of the building right then and there. Smith is going to be punished in some form by the Academy. You don’t risk that damage to your reputation as a huge A-list celebrity, nevermind as one of the biggest black celebrities on earth. Nobody in his camp would recommend risking that, and Smith cares about how he’s perceived way too much to put it all on the line for some stunt. This was real, folks. In case you had any doubts.
I can’t get over wondering what was going through Smith’s head. Is he really that thin-skinned? Did he think people would cheer him for “defending” his wife from the horror of…a joke by a standup comedian? Sure, it was a lame and easy joke, but you don’t respond to a joke with physicality unless you’re drunk or deranged. Jada Pinkett Smith didn’t care about the joke nearly as much as her husband did, which is not a good sign for the husband. I despise the term ‘toxic masculinity’, but I have to admit, there it was in all its sad glory.
The episode ruined any joy I had for Smith winning Best Actor just a short time later. He gave a heartfelt speech and apologized to the Academy, but seemed to have no regrets (because he did not include a public apology to Rock), and actually seemed to be excusing his behavior by tying it into the character he played being known for “defending his family.” I thought that was pretty lame and again speaks to an arrogant, unhinged state of mind. Some people think Smith should’ve been kicked out of the ceremony immediately after what he did, and it would be hard to argue against that. Others have pointed out it was shameful for the room to give Smith a standing ovation when he won, which happened just 30 minutes or so later. I’m on board with that, too. Imagine his reaction if there was merely a smattering of applause, everyone remained seated and he was forced to look out upon a sea of disappointed, confused faces? I suspect his speech may have been quite a bit different.
The only thing that impressed me about the entire incident was Chris Rock’s ability to stay composed and continue his duties as a presenter. He joked about it (“Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me!”) but then immediately moved past it, likely in an effort to keep Smith in his seat by not antagonizing him further. At that moment, he was in the middle of the most awkwardly quiet room on planet Earth, and he smiled, tried to laugh it off, then introduced Best Documentary Feature as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. A lot of other celebrities might not have reacted in a similar manner. So kudos to Chris Rock, and shame on Will Smith. That’s the long and short of it.
I’ll put it this way: Will Smith had the front row middle seats directly in front of the stage. They cut to him for all the big reaction shots. He was Celebrity #1 for the night. He had the Jack Nicholson/Meryl Streep seats, and this is what we’ll remember most about the night he won an Oscar.
–The Hosts. The show desperately needed a host after going 3 straight years without one, but of course, they completely botched it. The three hosts thing, for the most part, was a massive failure. Having all three be women was both predictable and unfortunate because two of the three of them were not and typically are not funny, and all three brought their politics to the table, which is literally the last thing people at home want to hear about. There are plenty of funny women in Hollywood. They only found one.
First up…Regina Hall, who now that I check, I don’t think I’ve ever liked in anything previously, decided to come out as the inarticulate, loud, obnoxious black lady, which made me sick. In her longest and worst bit of the night, I couldn’t believe my eyes at what I was seeing as she sexualized and fawned over a few big-name actors, who sadly cooperated with this crap and came up on stage for it. Imagine for a moment what the reaction would be if a male host brought a bunch of attractive actresses up on stage, said he needed to take them out back to test them for COVID, and the test was him shoving his tongue down their throats. THEN, he went over and patted down two female presenters at the podium in an overtly sexual way. That male host would be arrested by the Blue Checkmark Brigade on the spot and would never be heard from again. But these “progressive” champions of equality and inclusivity thought nobody would bat an eye if a female host did all of that stuff in one segment. Double standards are hilarious! #METOO! (Thankfully, this segment was almost universally criticized online, showing that there is some sanity left in the world.)
Regina Hall is less funny than Tiffany Haddish, if such a thing is possible. I thought nobody in Hollywood was more determined to impede the progress of black people in public than she was. I may have been wrong. The same Tiffany Haddish, who, by the way, was perhaps the only person in Hollywood to publicly support Will Smith’s actions and joke about it in a positive light. She called it “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” because she’s a fucking regressive simpleton. It’s no wonder Haddish and Hall were both in Girls Trip, one of the worst movies ever made.
Amy Schumer sucked, plain and simple. She just couldn’t help herself with the feminist man-hating jokes and the pandering identity politics bullshit. She embraced the very thing that makes her unlikeable and has made most Americans stop watching the show. You ask regular people why they don’t watch, and “celebrity politics” is almost always the #1 reason. I laughed out loud when at one point she just went off about Ukraine and then at the very end of her rant just randomly screamed “trans people!” as if her brain was looking for every trendy keyword it could access and realized it had nearly forgotten something.
I actually like Wanda Sykes, and have always found her to be pretty funny. She was the best of the three by a country mile. However, that bar couldn’t have been set much lower.
Controversy aside, you had Chris Rock in the building and for some reason, he wasn’t hosting. He was the funniest presenter by far and were it not for him picking one wrong joke target, he might have kept going. But if they really wanted to boost ratings, they’d have let Ricky Gervais host. He’s said he would do it, but he also knows the Academy is absolutely terrified to turn him loose, and that fear sadly outweighs their desire for the ratings increase a Gervais-hosted show would bring.
-As far as the results go, here’s the logic we now face with the modern Academy: CODA, your Best Picture winner, had only 3 nominations (but won them all). None of those nominations was Best Director. Dune won 6 Oscars (twice as many as any other film) and was nominated for 10, but none of those 10 was Best Director. It’s amazing how these great films manage to direct themselves. Then, the actual Best Director winner’s film won NO other Oscars, despite being nominated for 12 in total. Stop me when you see something here that makes any sense.
-It’s noteworthy that Apple TV+ becomes the first streaming service to take Best Picture. They bought CODA out of Sundance last January and it’s still the only place you can watch it. You can’t even rent it anywhere else as I type this, because Apple is Apple. Netflix, despite trying the hardest over the past few years and producing the most contenders, still couldn’t get the job done, despite Power of the Dog being the frontrunner for months.
-My girl Jessica Chastain finally won an Oscar, Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. I have not watched this yet (it’s available on HBO Max), but I have little doubt she deserved it (Kristen Stewart was da bomb in Spencer, though). I believe she should’ve won Best Actress 10 damn years ago for Zero Dark Thirty, and again in 2016 for Miss Sloane, but what the hell do I know? Her speech was nice, if not vague. The moment clearly had a big impact on her.
-Best Supporting Actress winner Ariana DeBose becomes the first member of the original Hamilton cast & crew to win an Oscar. Who’d have predicted that? And she won’t be the last, either. Few people in Hollywood clearly want an Oscar more than Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it’s only a matter of time. When he does win, it’ll likely be for Original Song, but I’m hoping it’s not for a Disney cartoon, which is what both his nominations so far have been for.
Fun trivia: DeBose won playing the same character that Rita Moreno won for in the original film 60 years ago. That means “Anita” from West Side Story joins Vito Corleone and The Joker as the only movie characters multiple actors have won Oscars for playing. Pretty crazy.
-I liked seeing CODA director Sian Heder win for Adapted Screenplay. It’s always nice to see a fellow Masshole take home Oscar gold, and she gave a fantastic speech. I know CODA feels like an American original, but it’s actually a remake of a 2014 French film. Do I think it had a better script than Dune or Power of the Dog? Probably not, but I long ago gave up on the Oscars handing out awards for merit alone.
-They finally gave Hans Zimmer his second Oscar!!! He was one of Dune‘s many winners, and definitely its most overdue. For whatever reason, the best composer alive (I’m not counting John Williams because he’s not really “active” anymore at age 90) hasn’t won an Oscar since The Lion King 28 damn years ago. It’s a disgrace. It always has been a disgrace. By my count, Zimmer should have at least 5 of these by now (he won my Original Score award for Gladiator, The Dark Knight, Inception, Man of Steel, Interstellar, and will again for Dune). So they only owe him 4 more. I’ll wait.
-I was thrilled that Billie Eilish & her brother Finneas won Best Original Song. “No Time to Die” is a fantastic Bond song, and really just a great song in general. This is the third Bond movie in a row to win this Oscar, after Sam Smith‘s “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre and Adele‘s “Skyfall.” All of them were deserved.
Credit also to Beyoncé, whose live performance was spectacular. I generally find Beyoncé worship by the media and her devotees incredibly annoying, but in this instance, it was warranted. I was completely into her performance of “Be Alive” from King Richard, which they shot in Compton at the tennis courts the Williams sisters grew up on. I loved the tennis ball green theme of the costumes and environment. Really, really well done, and better than anything they could’ve put together inside the auditorium.
And just for kicks, my best-dressed of the night without hesitation goes to Lily James. Holy shit, lady.
Runners-Up go to Jessica Chastain, CODA lead actress Emilia Jones, and West Side Story star Rachel Zegler. None of the guys really stuck out to me. Timothy Chalamet was a total hardo wearing no shirt underneath his jacket, but I admit the fucker kinda pulled it off. (click any image for full-size version)
Where do the Oscars go from here? The ratings are in, and they’re up 56% over last year, but last year was the lowest-rated show in history by a wide margin because it was a celebration of 2020’s movies, which nobody saw due to COVID shutting down theaters most of the year. I’m not sure being the second-lowest Oscar show in history is anything to brag about. Has a single person watched Nomadland since it won Best Picture last February? So there’s no cause for celebration just yet. It seems to me the Oscars are now for two groups of people; people like me who love and romanticize movies and the craftsmanship behind them, and the people who watch the show so they can have “content” for a few days and make jokes about it online for clicks. There seem to be very few people in between anymore.
I worry about what the decision makers behind the show think we want to see versus what I see smart film fans saying they want. I worry about who they want to be watching the show. They seem to want more young people to watch (as in 25-and-under young), but I don’t think broadcast TV is ever getting that group back. Young audiences are owned by streaming services, their smartphones and tablets, and more than anything else, YouTube and social media.
Essentially, ABC and AMPAS want young people who can’t focus on a story for longer than 15 seconds who don’t watch TV basically at all to watch a 3-hour plus TV show primarily showcasing the type of movies these kids don’t see in theaters. Uhh…good luck with that, Academy.
Sadly, I think we’re not far off from social media “stars” and YouTubers being presenters on the show, which to me would be the Academy’s final act of desperation in chasing this younger audience. There already were some of these people in attendance and doing red carpet stuff this year. If they start showing up on the broadcast, that might be the final straw for me.
Note: As I was writing this, Will Smith finally publicly apologized to Chris Rock via an Instagram post. I guess this is how humans communicate now. Hopefully, he’s reached out to Rock directly behind the scenes. The Academy has already stated that he will likely be sanctioned in some way for his actions. I doubt they’ll take the Oscar from him, but the most likely scenario is he gets his membership suspended, and may not be allowed to attend next year’s show. Meanwhile, it took all of two days for the internet to beat this dead horse to a pulp. I’m already sick of the memes.
Til next year! I guess. I’m almost done watching the 2021 movies that mattered. I may or may not post the Biggies results on here. I’m not sure I feel passionate about enough of these movies to spend a week or longer putting together the epic blog posts I’ve done in the past for my own awards. We’ll see.
If you missed this year’s Oscars and want to watch the show, it’s now streaming on Hulu, with a certain section no doubt heavily edited.