An Oscars for Everyone Except the Winners

The 94th Academy Awards will be one of the most talked about in Oscars history… and barely anyone will mention who won.

Will Smith Slap obscures achievement of Oscar winners
Photo: Getty Images

It’s an Oscar moment that makes the Moonlight/La La Land fiasco look quaint by comparison. What is an unintentional envelope mix-up next to an intentional slap heard around the world? Twelve hours later, no can stop talking about last night’s Oscars… and that surreal moment when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock across the face because of a joke that was in questionable taste.

The morning after, there are countless reports among entertainment outlets and hard-nosed news organizations alike: Rock is not pressing charges; Smith may be asked to return his Oscar; there was an after-party dance of “Getting Jiggy With It!” And oh yeah, some movies won some awards. Apparently.

For all the ugliness of last night’s spectacle, it is perhaps befitting of what was the most shameful Oscars in recent memory—a capstone on an evening that seemed to be about everything except the movies the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was allegedly there to honor. While the Academy itself is apparently aghast, as per The New York Post, about chaos breaking out on the Oscar stage, the institution signed off long ago on a chaotic evening that did just about everything to undercut their winners’ big night, beginning with refusing to telecast live eight of those wins.

Indeed, the biggest controversy going into Sunday was about how major categories, including Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling—as well as the short film categories—were all presented in the hour before the broadcast began. As A-list stars and celebrities, including Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, were still giving interviews on the red carpet and making their way to their seats, Oscars were unceremoniously handed out to production designer Patrice Vermette, film editor Joe Walker, and composer Hans Zimmer (who did not bother attending). All of whom, it should be noted, won for their contributions to Dune.

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There’s an irony in this. With its gross of $400 million worldwide—earned while being simultaneously available on streaming (and therefore pirating sites)—Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was the biggest non-sequel box office success story of last year. Sure, Spider-Man, No Time to Die, F9, and Shang-Chi all earned more, but Dune was not a follow-up or extension of a popular shared universe. And with its six Oscar wins, which also included Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound during the telecast, it won more awards last night than any other film.

However, if you tuned in, you might have missed that fact since so many important categories, including editing, were largely edited out of the ceremony beyond truncated clips shown at the beginning and end of commercial breaks. So instead of international audiences seeing one of the most internationally popular films of the year get decorated, the Academy and ABC instead ran 42 minutes past 11pm EST to show things like… the #OscarsFanFavorite category.

As one of the worst ideas the Academy has had in a long time, the #OscarsFanFavorite publicity stunt allowed Twitter users to “vote” for their favorite movie of the year by using that hashtag as many times as they’d like—they could similarly pick their favorite moment in movie history via the #OscarsCheerMoment.

The concept was likely designed to find more ways to include clips of popular movies that were not nominated for major awards. In other words, a chance to recognize Spider-Man: No Way Home—or on the off-chance it lost, then surely another popular global blockbuster. Perhaps Daniel Craig’s final James Bond picture or, well, Dune? Instead the Academy demonstrated a complete obliviousness to how social media works with fans and stan accounts spamming their hashtags to vote for movies with their favorite stars and directors.

By showing fans’ “top five” favorites, the Academy was still able to show a few No Way Home clips, but the Spidey epic finished second in “cheer-worthy moments” and fourth in favorite movie of the year. What did it lose to? In the cheers category, the scene where Ezra Miller’s Flash runs really fast in Zack Snyder’s Justice League was dubbed the greatest moment in cinema history; in the Oscars Fan Favorite category, it lost to Snyder’s Army of the Dead, as well as the Camila Cabello-starring Cinderella and Johnny Depp’s Minamata.

If you haven’t heard of the last film, it’s understandable. The movie was abandoned in the U.S. when it was released into one market last December; worldwide it only grossed $1.5 million. However, Depp has a huge cult of personality following on Twitter, and those fans organize and tweet. Hence, according to the Academy’s much publicized Twitter poll, Minamata is a more popular film than No Way Home, even though Spidey grossed $1.9 billion. It’s also apparently more popular than Dune, too, since Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic didn’t place in these fan polls. How could it when the Snyder fanbase was able to organize so well that the Academy was forced to show an extended clip of Dave Bautista battling a zombie from Army of the Dead?!

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The fact we did not get to see Walker’s Oscar speech live, and in front of all his peers, or Linda Dowds’ for the remarkable makeup work on The Eyes of Tammy Faye, but we did see a clip of the thoroughly mediocre Army of the Dead is disgraceful. It also plays into a seemingly endless trend of missing the mark.

For example, when the Academy (due to Disney’s questionable submission choices) failed to nominate “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” for Best Original Song, the institution still felt obligated to have the song performed at the ceremony and for the first time ever in public, as the telecast repeatedly noted. But even then rather than playing a tune that millions of children and families around the globe love, producers still used this as an opportunity to invite pop star Megan Thee Stallion to sing a rap bridge that not only didn’t talk about Bruno, but also had nothing to do with the movie as it became a lyrical celebration of “Hollywood’s biggest night.”

It might be Hollywood’s biggest night, but I doubt the millions of kids who wanted to see the voice actors from Encanto perform that song live (or recorded since it aired at almost 10pm!) enjoyed the most popular sequences of the song getting excised to make room for a rap about the wonderful Academy. Once again, the winners—or even just the films in the case of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”—took a backseat to dubious producing choices.

And so here we are with an Oscars for everyone, except the winners. Did you know CODA won Best Picture? It was an underdog Cinderella victory that until two weeks ago few folks thought was even in contention. And the sweet coming-of-age dramedy about a family comprised of largely deaf members is also the first streaming release to ever win Best Picture. The Sian Heder-helmed movie premiered on Apple TV+ before it broke through a ceiling Netflix’s much pricier epics still have failed to crack.

But no one is talking about that. Just as it seems few paid attention to Jessica Chastain’s eloquent acceptance speech for winning Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye or Questlove’s for winning Best Documentary Feature for the beautiful Summer of Soul mere seconds after Smith slapped Rock. CODA‘s Troy Kotsur became only the second deaf person to win an Oscar, and Ariana DeBose the first openly queer woman to win an acting Oscar for her transcendent interpretation of Anita in West Side Story. But in a ceremony that became a circus, the special moments were obscured by the sideshows.

Even Smith, who went on to accept the Best Actor Oscar within the same hour he struck a presenter in the face, seemed retroactively aware that his own great achievement of playing Richard Williams in King Richard will now be overshadowed by a poor decision made earlier that night. So with tears in his eyes, he attempted to explain himself to be a “vessel of love.”

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Last night, there was very little room for love, be it for the winners or the art of making movies. Only spectacles designed to be tweeted about stood tall. But hey, this week the Academy doesn’t need a hashtag to reach trending status.