The Oscar producers don’t deserve the Oscars they got. Because there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and there’s probably no such thing as a bad viral moment that will definitively serve as the wildest thing to have ever happened on the Oscars stage for (ideally) years to come—and yes, that includes the times Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong Best Picture winner and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper breathed directly into each other’s mouths on a piano bench.
While I never fully understood what a “cheer-worthy” moment was heading into this broadcast, Sunday night’s Academy Awards at least explained what it isn’t. ABC wanted an Oscars broadcast that even the most casual filmgoer would care about, and the network clearly made one too many deals with one too many devils, because two hours and 26 minutes into the 94th annual Academy Awards, they got it. But not because they let viewers choose their favorite cinematic moments (more on that later), or because they listed every single celebrity in attendance at the top of the broadcast—instead, ABC got its headline when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock across the face on stage at the Oscars, followed immediately by fingers all over the world flying across their keyboards to sleuth out what the hell had just happened.
And then 40 minutes later … Will Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, returning him to the stage where he had recently, and with a stunning level of nonchalance, accosted a fellow A-list celebrity. Jane Campion could not write this drama; Kevin Costner, introducing the award for which Campion won her second Oscar, could not write this drama. And we still don’t entirely understand why this drama occurred, though a couple of international broadcasts did at least reveal what was actually said: Rock made a G.I. Jane joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, who has publicly spoken about her struggles with alopecia, and Will Smith told Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his (“FUCKING”) mouth.
But we don’t know whether Chris Rock knew that when he made the joke. We don’t know whether Smith was already fired up from a previous joke about his being in an open marriage, or the thousands of other comments that have been made about his and Jada’s marriage over the years. We may never know how Chris Rock simply continued presenting the nominees for Best Documentary Feature after being slapped on television. The only thing that became clear when hand hit cheek was that the winning had officially ceased for pretty much everyone except ABC, which now has a wildly viral moment and an opportunity to green-light Season 2 of The Slap (starring 2022 Oscar presenter Uma Thurman).
Denzel Washington and Anthony Hopkins did their best to step in with some fatherly wisdom in this complicated moment, but honestly, there’s only one place where true healing could occur here, and I’m just not sure when Jada will be ready to invite Rock to the Red Table. But in the spirit of Rock saying “Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me” and then handing an award to Questlove, the show must go on. Because in between all of the drama, the Oscars actually happened, so here are the winners and losers from the 94th Academy Awards in a non-slap category …
No shirt, no problem, if you're Timothée Chalamet at the #Oscars https://t.co/M5GljMMdCx pic.twitter.com/pXwipXrkBE— Variety (@Variety) March 27, 2022
Listen, if the goal is to make the Oscars more casually relatable, there are worse things its participating celebrities could do than show a little shoulder—or sternum, as it were. There was Timothée Chalamet showing up as perhaps the first ever shirtless Oscars attendee; there was Kristen Stewart wearing a satin suit that featured shorts the approximate size of a belt, plus—you guessed it—more sternum thanks to her unbuttoned dress shirt. And finally, cohost Wanda Sykes walked on-stage dressed as Richard Williams, which meant another pair of short-shorts and a proclamation that she had “shaved a lot—like a lot” for this moment. The 2022 Oscars were kind of a volatile, horny mess. So I guess it’s true what they say: Award shows really do imitate life.
Loser: The Pretaped Awards Plan
To quote likely future Academy Award winner Cardi B: What was the reason?! It’s been well documented that the intention behind moving eight major awards to a preshow ceremony was to make the Oscars more casual-viewer-friendly. But given that they still aired those winners receiving their Oscars, the decision mostly just ended up causing the audience to do a lot of mental math on what we were and were not allowed to see all night. Yes, the producers shaved off 20 seconds by not airing the winners of Best Documentary Short walking to the stage … but why, then, did they fill those 20 seconds by announcing three separate times that we’d be seeing Jacob Elordi in the near future? Why did we watch a lengthy James Bond tribute montage but were forced to find out that Hans Zimmer had won his first Oscar in 27 years on Twitter?
To be fair, watching Zimmer receive his Best Original Score award on Twitter was still pretty good, thanks to his daughter…
It’s 2am in Amsterdam, and my daughter Zoë woke me up to go to the hotel bar. Wow!! #Oscars pic.twitter.com/VlwnrElkaL— Hans Zimmer (@HansZimmer) March 28, 2022
… but the production of this year’s Oscars was, for the most part, inexplicable.
Winner: Youn Yuh-jung, Again
Thank goodness for Youn Yuh-jung, who scored her second Oscar win in as many years by giving us one little piece of goodness to hold on to from this broadcast. (To be clear, this year’s win didn’t score Youn another statuette, just the eternal affections of the Oscars’ viewing public.) Tasked with presenting Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Youn first teased that she was about to mispronounce a bunch of white men’s names. Then, after opening the envelope, she gleefully announced that Troy Kotsur had won using ASL, something she’d clearly taken the time to practice. Once Kotsur took the stage, she had the foresight to hold his Oscar for him so that he could sign his acceptance, and didn’t take her eyes off him or stop grinning for his entire speech. This was the unexpected on-stage interaction we needed!
Loser: “The Flash Enters the Speed Force”
If ABC wanted an Oscars show that appealed to the broader moviegoing audience, why not just go all in and have the three Spider-Mans from Spider-Man: No Way Home host the whole shebang? Why not pay Netflix to put the broadcast in its Top 10, or cover the stage in Dune sand, or let Gabriel from Malignant present Best Picture?
But why, oh why, create a poll for any random bot to choose their favorite “Cheer-Worthy Movie Moment,” just to compile those moments into an MTV Movie Award–style montage that ends with—hold on to your hats—“The Flash Enters the Speed Force” from Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a cheer-worthy moment that had everyone in the Dolby Theatre staring in bored silence? Next year, should we air a few segments on our favorite movie smooches? Maybe the Top Five Things Celebrities Are Carrying in Their Purses Right Now? The world really is our oyster when we’re not airing actual Oscar categories!
Winner: “The Flash Enters the Speed Force”
On the other hand, at some point “The Flash Enters the Speed Force” took on a life of its own. Watching this scene lauded as the most “cheer-worthy” moment of 2022 cinema play to a silent theater packed with filmmakers was so silly, so uninspiring, that it couldn’t help but become a viral dunkfest.
We don't talk about Bruno. We do, however, talk about The Flash entering the Speed Force.— Sean Fennessey (@SeanFennessey) March 28, 2022
it says here “the flash enters the speed force" pic.twitter.com/W8MXFPJSz0— Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) March 28, 2022
Yuh-jung Youn watching The Flash enter the speed force pic.twitter.com/0vCyfzGlh0— Mitchell Beaupre (@itismitchell) March 28, 2022
I've cried three times in my life.— Sir Dickson Poon (@JackKennedy) March 28, 2022
1. When I watched the stairway scene in 'Children of Men'
2. When I got married
3. When I saw the Flash enter Speed Force in Zack Snyder's Justice League
tfw flash enters the speed force pic.twitter.com/TR9vw1Raai— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) March 28, 2022
You can’t pay for a meme like this, and you certainly can’t plan for it; if you’re the Oscars, you simply have to embrace that being embarrassing will always get you more attention than being boring.
Obviously, this Oscars broadcast wasn’t boring. But when the ringing in your ears from an unexpected confrontation stops, and the image of Chris Rock’s confused but still smiling face finally disappears from behind your eyelids, what’s left are the actual winners of the actual Oscars. And no one won bigger, or to more ASL applause from an audience full of movie stars than the cast and crew of CODA, an independent film written and directed by a woman, starring multiple deaf actors, that premiered on Apple TV+ and just won Best Picture at the Oscars.
All slaps aside, that’s pretty sweet.