Chaos reigned at the 2022 Oscars. It could not be contained.
The 94th Academy Awards tried really hard to be good this year, to entertain and capture the big audience for ABC that so rarely comes to broadcast TV anymore.
The motion picture academy wanted a more “normal” ceremony after the 2021 telecast from Los Angeles’ Union Station with masks and fewer celebrities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s producer, Will Packer, tried to bring some comedy back after three years without a host – Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall did a joint monologue and their own bits. They tried to make the show “broad” and boost ratings by editing down some speeches and adding big-name presenters and guests that ranged from Lady Gaga to Tony Hawk to BTS.
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But whatever the intent, the ceremony certainly didn’t live up to it. It was equal parts boring and terrifying, cringe-worthy and interminable.
The things the producers, writers and hosts could control were sloppily managed and poorly paced, with bad comedy in all the wrong places and a nearly four-hour running time.The parts of the ceremony the producers had no part in – the winners, the speeches and, yes, the slap – only enhanced the feeling that the Oscars were out of control, a careening roller coaster with nowhere to go but down. It veered from soporific to riveting, enthralling television. But it wasn’t what I’d call good.
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Maybe what the telecast needs is an even bigger overhaul. Because if the awards show keeps going like this, there won’t be any viewers left to witness the mayhem.
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The night was a whiplash of good moments and bad, beginning with a stunning Beyoncé performance and a few more moments of joy before things began to decline so sharply. “West Side Story” best supporting actress winner Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer Afro-Latina to score an acting Oscar. There were a few good jokes in the hosts’ monologue, and particularly in the one Schumer delivered solo a few minutes later. Troy Kotsur of “CODA” won best supporting actor and gave a tear-jerking speech. Sebastián Yatra performed a moving rendition of “Encanto” song “Dos Oruguitas.”
But those were select moments in a sea of bad choices. Why did Schumer do a second monologue at all? Why was Regina Hall, a respected and talented performer, reduced to a sex-crazed single woman, ogling at men she called up onstage? Why were so many presenters given such long, unfunny introductions to their categories? Why were the songs accompanying the In Memoriam segment so tasteless and upbeat?
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The Oscar producers and ABC also made the baffling decision (at least to film fans and many industry insiders) to cut eight categories from the live show, presenting them in the hour beforehand and editing in select moments from the winners’ speeches. It was meant to shorten the telecast, but the show ran longer than it did last year, thanks to all those unfunny comedy bits and unnecessary montages celebrating James Bond films and “The Godfather.” It’s lovely to acknowledge the wonder of old movies, but when it distracts from the modern movies that are the point of the show, it’s a detriment.
Of course, discussion of this year’s Oscars will be forever entwined with the incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith: Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who has hair loss because of alopecia, and Smith marched onstage, slapped him and yelled profanities after he returned to his front-row seat. It was a moment that stunned the celebrities in the room, launched a thousand tweets and certainly has the potential to bring out the very worst in those who decide it’s their job to comment on it.
The moment derailed the rest of the evening entirely, overshadowing Questlove’s win in the documentary category for “Summer of Soul” and adding new meaning to Smith’s tear-stained speech when he won best actor for “King Richard” about half an hour later. The shell-shocked audience didn’t really know how to celebrate “CODA” winning best picture or Jessica Chastain winning best actress. We kept watching out of morbid curiosity for what the aftermath of the incident could bring.
Smith’s slap, the terrible jokes and bad editing and direction all added up to one of the worst Oscar nights in some time. But if nothing else, the odd mix of tedium and shock, of good moments and truly terrible ones, made the 2022 Oscars the rare awards show that is truly indicative of the times we’re living in.
Unfortunately for all of us (and the Oscars), 2022 is a confusing, scary time. Seeing that mess reflected back at us in the Oscars ceremony is not the escapist glitz and glamor we signed up for.