I have watched the Academy Awards every year since the mid-90s, but I have never seen anything quite like the shitstorm that was served up 10 hours ago. This was TV at its most out of control, yet most watchable. I have no doubts there will be executives somewhere claiming it to have been a success, but for us the fans, oh God no.
The controversy and general uneasiness started before anyone stepped foot on a red carpet. The decision to relegate 8 categories from the live show to be recorded prior to the main event then edited seamlessly into the main show was a decision that was as disrespectful to the artists as it was misjudged. The reasoning behind the decision was an attempt to trim the run-time of the overall broadcast……….well that went well, the show ultimately clocked in longer than the last 2 broadcasts.
The snubbing of the categories was one thing, but artistic decisions after artistic decisions were at times baffling. To celebrate James Bond’s 60th anniversary, they played a montage that looked like it had been put together by some 16-year-old YouTuber, but perhaps more bizarrely, the segment was introduced by skateboarder Tony Hawk and two other sporting icons who I didn’t recognise. Who were these guys supposed to appeal to? A younger audience? Tony Hawk is older than me. Could they not have found ANYONE with a connection to the actual films? Just like to point out that Dame Judi Dench and Javier Bardem were sat in the audience, even Rami Malek was in the building, as he came out to present later. Very odd. In the same vein, there was a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Godfather. Another montage, but this time accompanied by music from Sean P Diddy Coombs, because as anyone who has seen The Godfather will testify, the wrap soundtrack really finishes it off. Francis Ford Coppola, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino came onto the stage which was a nice touch, but neither DeNiro, who less we forget wasn’t even in the first Godfather, nor Pacino said anything. They might as well have been holograms. There was also a rather bizarre White Men Can’t Jump reunion. I appreciate the film is 30 years old, but lots of films are 30 years old this year, so why that one?
If the tributes were misguided that was nothing compared to the fabled Fans Favourites that allowed the always trustworthy folk of Twitter to vote for the fan’s favourite film from last year and the greatest cinematic moment ever. What we ended up within last year’s favourite film was not Spider-Man (which the producers clearly set this up for), not Dune, not No Time to Die, no the Twitterati voted for Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, which about 4 people saw.
Better still, ask yourself what is the greatest Cinematic moment ever, maybe Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, maybe the opening scene in Star Wars, maybe George Bailey running through a snow-covered Bedford Falls, maybe E.T and Elliot flying past a giant moon. No the greatest Cinematic moment ever, according to last night’s Oscar broadcast was The Flash starting to run fast in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, well-done everyone, that was so worth reducing Best Editing to an advert break.
The awfulness didn’t stop there. The In Memoriam segment is always a highlight for me, not in a depressive way but due to the fact that usually among all the razzamatazz, it is a couple of minutes of quiet reflection where we pay our respects to the legends who have sadly left us in the past year. In the UK, the broadcast kept cutting out so sadly, we missed Tyler Perry’s tribute to Sidney Poitier, however worse was to come. Someone, somewhere deemed it appropriate during the In Memoriam segment to have a large, brightly dressed gospel choir, singing and dancing to Spirit in the Sky as the names and faces appeared on the screen in the distance. Most of the people you couldn’t see as they focussed more on the dancers. It was another awful moment.
Now onto the hosts. I for one was pleased that we had hosts back after a couple of years without. The Academy decided that they would have 3 hosts, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall. I thought Schumer was fine generally, the slightly edgy roasting of the celebs was in keeping with ceremonies in the past (more about roasting going wrong in a moment). Wanda Sykes was actually pretty good, I liked the trip around the Academy museum, again hosts have always done wacky things like this. However, a major duff note was Regina Hall’s COVID test gag. Her inappropriate touching of both Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa was probably intended well but if either Brolin or Momoa had touched and frisked Hall in the same manner then a lawsuit and public outrage would have been imminent. I appreciate it was done for laughs but we can’t have it one way and not the other.
Finally, I come to THE moment, the moment that everyone involved in, I have no doubt deeply regrets now. What upset me most, and it did upset me actually, about the incident is that it took the shine off all the winners that had gone before and definitely cast a dark cloud over those who were named, Smith included, winners after the incident. How to ruin the most sought after moment of your career, by a moment of madness, by Will Smith. What perhaps is most disturbing looking at the incident as an outsider is the swiftness of the switch. Chris Rock’s joke was indeed in bad taste, but Will was happily laughing along, then within the space of 10 seconds, he was there slapping Chris Rock. At that point I thought it was staged, the slap at first glance didn’t look real, then the swearing started, and the whole atmosphere changed in an instant.
As i do every year, I make notes as we go along, which award it is and who is presenting and then who is the winner. I’ve looked back at my notes this morning and they stop at the words Chris Rock. I just didn’t write anything after that as I was a little bit numb, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Will Smith was 15 minutes away from the moment in his career he had craved since “doin’ some b’ball outside a school”, and he completely broke character. The Will Smith brand lay in astonishing pieces.
My heart genuinely goes out to the people who received awards straight after the incident, namely Questlove for the brilliant Summer of Soul documentary. His speech shamefully cut due to the ongoing shock on screen.
At this point, one can only assume that producer Will Packer, whose controversial approach to the ceremony now lay in tatters, left the building. Thankfully a semblance of normality returned to proceedings. Friends and advisers surrounded Smith to calm him and prepare him for the inevitability of his Best Actor win. On stage Hollywood royalty such as Kevin Costner, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, John Travolta and Sir Anthony Hopkins brought some control and calmness to proceedings. the Pulp Fiction triumvirate awarded Smith his Oscar. Smith’s acceptance speech will go down in Academy Award history but like a lot of this ceremony, not necessarily for the right reasons. A tearful Smith recounting, how he is there to protect his family, like Richard Williams the character that had finally won him his Oscar. The speech seemed to go on for an age, it was uncomfortable viewing. I have followed Smith’s career since those West Philly days and in my mind, if anyone was ready to make an Oscar acceptance speech for the ages it was Will Smith. I was right, but not how I expected it to be.
The biggest downside to the incident is that it’s what the ceremony will be remembered for, when in fact what it should have been remembered for was the wonderful, inspiring acceptance speeches of some truly worthy winners. Troy Kotsur, Ariana DeBose and Kenneth Branagh fortunately, got their statues before the Smith/Rock debacle but poor Jessica Chastain who made a beautiful speech for a wonderful performance was all lost in the heated mire. Finally, CODA was a worthy Best Picture winner, but by this point, everyone just wanted to get out of there.
I will say this though, a true highlight of the entire night was reserved for the end. Lady Gaga and a wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli presenting Best Picture. As Lady Gaga asked the audience to watch the nominees she bent down to Minnelli who was struggling with the autocue to whisper “I’ve got you”, Minnelli responded with a simple “I know” and with that the most dysfunctional and disastrous Academy Award ceremony came to a beautifully sweet end, giving cause to hope that the ceremony will be back next year and it will be done right.
Finally, my suggestions for a successful Academy Award ceremony.
- One host, they can be edgy but know the audience
2. Have a diverse number of presenters but they MUST be best known for working in the film industry
3. Show clips of all nominees work, ALL OF THEM
4. PRESENT ALL 23 CATEGORIES LIVE
5. Never, ever, ever talk about the Fan Favourites again…………………ever
6. Make this a celebration of the movies, leave the celebrity out in the street.