Oscar Night 2022


And here I thought I’d have very little to write about this year’s Oscars. At least it looked a bit more like a typical Oscar show, after last year’s weird COVID-deformed ceremony. There were the usual bumps and awkwardnesses, but there always are. I figured the big take-aways would be Troy Kotsur’s signed acceptance speech (which was amazing) and the much-cherished-on-social-media detail of Zack Snyder’s Justice League winning the Best Cheer Moment (or whatever) for “The Flash entering the Speed Force.” 

Then Will Smith entered the Speed Force and got upside Chris Rock’s head for cracking a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (she has alopecia). I spent a while thinking it was just a bit.

Truthfully, I was almost expecting Smith, when he went up to collect his Best Actor Oscar, to chuckle and say “Y’all thought I really smacked Chris, didn’t you?” But the longer and weirder his speech got, the more I realized it wasn’t a bit. All that exchange getting muted on American TV should’ve tipped me off, though that could’ve been part of the bit. (When I caught the uncensored footage on Twitter from Japanese TV, that’s when I knew for sure.) 

Where do I fall on this? Rock was being a prick. Smith lost his shit. I don’t think either one deserves a parade for his actions. But when your life partner has been living with alopecia for years — often a painful and traumatizing illness to treat and deal with — and along comes some asshole to snark about their head … I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to condemn Smith. An offense had been rendered, and it needed to be answered. (It occurred to me during Smith’s harrowed “protector” speech that there may be something direr wrong with Pinkett Smith than just alopecia. We don’t know.) Wherever you fall on this, though, it was a powerfully strange moment, probably now part of the canon of “whoa” Oscar events already. 

As for the reason we were all supposedly there, eight of the categories were awarded before the show proper started, were taped, and were aired during the course of the night. Dune ended up with a good armful of technical awards — I guess I have to see it now. Jimmy Fallon will now have to introduce his bandleader as “Oscar winner Questlove.” The Power of the Dog may be the rare movie to win Best Director and nothing else. Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t have to fret about not being there to complete his EGOT (his wife has COVID so he sent his regrets), since he lost Best Song to Billie Eilish, who now has a GO and just needs an E and a T. Prior to the Slap Heard ‘Round the World, the most emotionally fraught moment belonged to the puppy Jamie Lee Curtis was holding while memorializing Betty White. The puppy did not enjoy the lights and the noise one little bit and just wanted to quiver in his blankie. This might also describe Rami Malek.

The stuff the Academy thinks will pull in more or younger viewers — the fan-favorite “awards,” jettisoning almost a third of the awards from the live broadcast — are always beside the point. The Oscars are supposed to be overlong and clunky and corny, with lots of things to complain about. I would say it’s the rare Oscar-watcher indeed who watches the show with unconditional love and no roasting the outfits or the scripted presenter banter or the bathetic acceptance speeches or Sean Penn. Penn wasn’t even there, I don’t think, but earlier in the week he made a big show of announcing he’d smelt his Oscars if the show didn’t invite Volodymyr Zelensky to speak. Uh, Sean, I think the guy has two or three bigger fish to fry. 

The three hosts (Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer) were fine, and Schumer gracefully nodded at the elephant in the room — someone had to. The thing everyone will possibly still be talking about as you read this, though, will be a man defending his wife’s honor. Really it’s a classic movie moment. If you saw it in a movie you’d applaud Smith. But during this night about movies, about illusion and bullshit, came a moment that was very real. Approve of it or not, it was a clarifying belt across the chops, and a reminder that real, flawed humans make these films. Some wondered why the Academy didn’t disqualify Smith, or have him arrested. I didn’t wonder. That slap is the biggest thing to happen to this creaky-ass ceremony in years. The Academy better send Smith and Rock big fucking gift baskets. 

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