This year’s Academy Awards, from top to bottom and in every conceivable facet, were a complete disaster … and it made for some invigorating television. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of producers desperately trying to keep an irrelevant awards show relevant led to an amalgamation of appeals to different audiences, none of which actually want to watch the Oscars in the first place.
If the Academy Awards is supposed to be a show for film lovers, it probably wasn’t a good idea to wait until 20 minutes into the show to actually start talking about movies. Instead, the telecast began with a performance by Beyoncé of her song “Be Alive,” a song that does not appear in “King Richard” until the end credits and was recorded for the sole purpose of getting nominated for this award. Sure, having Beyoncé perform during the broadcast might entice more viewers to watch, but is it really worth cutting numerous important categories to make room for the performance of a song with about seven million listens on Spotify?
By turning the Oscars into the Grammys, all the musical numbers meant that the producers of the show cut major categories like Best Editing and Best Visual Effects — both categories that typically recognize movies that a broader audience has seen — in order to save time. And yet, the broadcast went on for over 20 minutes longer than last year’s. Thanks to the reintroduction of a host to the ceremony — in this case three: Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall — the broadcast stole time from the countless behind-the-scenes crew members who won awards and the likes of Best International Feature winner Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who could only get a measly 52 words in before they tried to play him off. All so the three hosts could tell bad jokes about one of the better Best Picture nominees being boring and do terrible bits like calling famous actress and Best Supporting Actress nominee Kirsten Dunst a seat-filler. If the Academy was going to go back to having a host despite three years of positive reviews regarding the lack of a host, perhaps they should have gone with one that actually likes and cares about the art of film. But maybe that’s asking too much of an awards show honoring the art of film.
Another bizarre decision was to include two “fan-voted” categories: One for the “Oscars Cheer Moment” and one for the “Oscars Fan Favorite.” Fans voted online for their favorite in each, and the results were as moronic as you would expect. The cult of Zack Snyder came out in full force to claim both prizes for “Flash Enters The Speed Force” in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and “Army of the Dead” in both categories, respectively. Other films included in the so-short-it’s-not-even-worth-showing top five montages were Marvel movies galore, “Dreamgirls,” Camila Cabello’s “Cinderella” and the Johnny Depp-led “Minamata.” Give the internet an inch and it will take a mile. These categories were treated as nothing but a joke by viewers from the start, reeking of desperation from the producers of the show to pander to new viewers who are not at all interested in being catered to.
Speaking of pandering, the telecast also featured numerous tributes to famous movies and reunions of cast members. Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater and Shaun White came out to present a tribute to the James Bond franchise, which the producers felt inclined to include for some reason despite there only being two more entries into the franchise since the last time they did this. These “tributes” felt incredibly surface-level and added nothing to the show except padding the guest list with more people that could possibly broaden its audience.
And yet, all this nonsense wasn’t even the most shocking or embarrassing part. The beauty of live television is that if something unexpected happens, nobody knows what to do. So when Will Smith (“King Richard”) decided to go up onstage and slap Chris Rock for telling a dated, unfunny, in-poor-taste joke, not even the directors of the telecast could do anything besides cut sound and hope to move on as quickly as possible. And, in an unfortunate bit of timing, Will Smith was recognized as Best Actor for his work in “King Richard” shortly after this moment. In his speech, after apologizing to everyone except Chris Rock (which, it should be mentioned, he did later), he said “I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things.” Seemingly equating what he just did earlier in the night to what Richard Williams did to help his daughters succeed was an interesting choice, and it’s no surprise that Smith was the only winner to skip out on his post-win backstage interview beside Hans Zimmer (who did not attend the ceremony).
The ironic part of all of this is that, while the producers of the show tried so many different things to try and keep their broadcast an important part of the culture, the one thing that actually caused conversation around the Oscars was something they had nothing to do with. This happened a few years ago with the “Moonlight”-“La La Land” Best Picture fiasco, but while that was just a funny Oscars blunder, this is a more serious issue. What can the Academy do about this going forward? Nothing really. If anything, unless all they care about is ratings — which isn’t out of the realm of possibility — they need to do a better job of making sure something like this doesn’t happen again. If the show’s two options are not being in the conversation and being in the conversation as a laughingstock, they need to just take their niche audience like everything else on television right now and make a great telecast for them.
And if all that extra garbage wasn’t enough, the choices in the major categories may be one of the worst collections of winners in recent years. In the screenplay categories, the Academy felt like the safest, most uninteresting nominees were deserving and went with “Belfast” for Original and “CODA” for Adapted. Ariana Debose (“West Side Story”) and Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) winning in the supporting acting categories were nice — both speeches were particularly moving as each, overcome with emotion, expressed great pride in their identities and backgrounds. However, the lead acting categories had the unfortunate problem of not nominating some of the best performances of the year in the first place (like Nicolas Cage (“Pig”), Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”) in Actor, Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”) and Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”) in Actress). Best Director went to Jane Campion, one of the few deserving winners on the night. It was an important victory, as she became just the third female recipient of the award. But, as she pointed out in her backstage interview, she is just “another woman who is going to be followed by a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh and an eighth. I am very excited by the fact that this is moving fast now. And, you know, we need it. Equality matters.”
Unfortunately, Best Picture went to “CODA” — a by-the-numbers Sundance crowd-pleaser (it’s still a solid movie, for what it’s worth) that became just the third Best Picture winner since 1990 to win the big award without its director being nominated for Best Director. A lot of its win can likely be attributed to the way the Academy does voting for Best Picture. By using a ranked choice method, it ends up favoring movies that are generally well-liked as opposed to those that generate strong reactions one way or the other. It’s a shame that in a year with wonderful works of art nominated like “West Side Story,” “Drive My Car,” “Licorice Pizza” and “The Power of the Dog,” the biggest prize of the night ended up going to one of the least ambitious, most unassuming and most inoffensive nominees.
I’ve leveled a lot of criticism at the telecast, but I do want to be clear that this has been my favorite Oscars broadcast to watch in years. From incredibly awkward, live, unscripted moments to blatant cringe-inducing pandering moments (like a tribute to TikTok via a performance of the viral, not-nominated song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the Oscar-winning film “Encanto”), it was incredibly fun to watch the Academy Awards have an identity crisis in real time. In the future, if they refuse to ever honor the best in film, fine, but at least make it as hilariously entertaining as this year’s ceremony.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at email@example.com.