While the producers of the 94th Academy Awards tried their best to liven up the Oscars through scripted bits and formal tweaks, it was an unscripted moment that set the Dolby Theater—and the internet—ablaze in the end. About halfway through the show, Will Smith took offense to a joke that Chris Rock told at his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s expense, and went onstage to slap Rock. “Love will make you do crazy things,” Smith later said while accepting the award for Best Actor for King Richard.
The confrontation overshadowed the rest of the night’s proceedings, which featured a very capable triple hosting job from Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes, many awards for Dune (including score, sound editing, and production design), and Coda taking home Best Picture. Here were the best, worst, and wildest moments of the night.
Wildest: Will Smith slaps Chris Rock
In an instantly historic and infamous Oscars moment, Will Smith attacked Chris Rock onstage after Rock made a joke at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Rock, presenting Best Documentary, made a joke about Pinkett-Smith’s buzzcut, saying he looked forward to seeing her in G.I. Jane II. But Pinkett-Smith has talked publicly about her struggles with hair loss caused by alopecia. Smith immediately took offense to the joke, approaching Rock onstage, slapping him, and then saying to him, “Keep your wife’s name out my f-cking mouth.”
Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for King Richard a few minutes later, and, crying, addressed the chaos onstage by comparing himself to his character in the film. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
Best: Coda Wins Best Picture
Following the chaos, heart-warming, feel-good movie Coda, took home best picture. Coda, which tells the story of a hard-of-hearing family navigating financial and interpersonal tension in Massachusetts, was the first film distributed by a streaming service to win best picture. (Apple TV+ bought the film for a record $25 million deal following its 2021 debut at Sundance.) “Thank you to the Academy for letting our Coda make history tonight,” said Philippe Rousselet, the film’s co-producer, said in his acceptance speech.
Best: Troy Kotsur makes history
With his win for best supporting actor for Coda, Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to earn an acting Oscar. Kotsur was visibly overcome when presenter Youn Yuh-Jung announced—and signed—his name. It’s been a long road for Kotsur: he’s been acting in low-budget deaf theater productions for decades, and told a story onstage about his father becoming paralyzed from a car accident, leaving him unable to perform sign language. “This is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community,” he said in his speech. “This is our moment.”
Best: Dune editor Joe Walker’s acceptance speech
If you need further proof that the Oscars should have aired the awards for best cinematography, best makeup and hairstyling, and the like on TV rather than handing out the trophies before the show, look no further than a witty speech from Dune’s editor, Joe Walker, who has been nominated twice before for Arrival and 12 Years a Slave, but never won before. But working on one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of the year isn’t enough to save you from the sting of a teen’s insult, according to Walker.
“You may not know, that ‘Oscar nominated,’ in the words of a skilled 17-year-old, can be used as an insult,” Walker said. “So thank you for the upgrade.”
Best: Venus and Serena Williams and Beyonce kick off the show
While there’s been plenty of grumbling over the past few weeks that the Oscars lacked starpower, the show couldn’t have started with a bigger bang: Venus and Serena Williams introducing Beyonce, who performed “Be Alive” on the tennis courts in Compton that the Williams sisters spent hours practicing on en route to becoming two of the greatest athletes ever.
An aerial shot before the performance showed a young woman striding toward the courts on a horse, in a nod to the Compton Cowboys. Beyonce’s band, all decked out in monochrome tennis ball yellow, interpolated the synth riff of another Compton classic, Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”; before launching into the triumphant song, in which Beyonce sang amidst a group of dancers: “Look how we’ve been fighting to stay alive / So when we win we will have pride.”
Best: Amy Schumer’s standup
Amy Schumer took a moment at the beginning of the show to roast a few of the nominees, and she did not pull punches. The bit was a potent reminder of why Schumer ruled the standup scene for a few years.
Among her best jokes were jabs at Adam McKay’s climate change comedy Don’t Look Up. “I guess the Academy members don’t look up reviews,” she joked about the comedy that was panned by critics.
She went on to skewer the movie’s star Leonardo DiCaprio: “Leonardo DiCaprio, what can I even say about him? He’s done so much to fight climate change and leave behind a cleaner, greener planet for his girlfriends,” she said alluding to DiCaprio’s tendency to date younger women.
She also roasted Aaron Sorkin for filming a dead-serious Lucille Ball biopic, Being the Ricardos. “The inclination to make a movie about Lucille Ball without even a moment that’s funny,” she said. “It’s like making a biopic about Michael Jordan and just showing the bus trips between games.“
Best: Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes also get frisky
Schumer’s co-hosts, Hall and Sykes, were equally fearless in going after big targets and delivering raunchy punchlines for a slightly nervous crowd. After Hall cracked a joke about Lebron James’ edited hairline in Space Jam 2, Sykes responded: “Black Twitter is going to love that one.” Sykes proceeded to roast Samuel L. Jackson, accusing him of having “holes in his resume,” to Jackson’s amusement.
Hall, not to be outdone, was given a couple minutes to shamelessly hit on several of Hollywood’s leading men–including Simu Liu and Timothee Chalamet–under the guise of giving out COVID tests. “Take your masks off…and your clothes,” she told them.
Worst: The “LIVE” chyron under pre-taped footage
Frequently throughout the broadcast, the Oscars cut to speeches for awards given out before the Academy Awards broadcast. Yet the “live” chyron remained throughout those speeches, as if they were happening in real-time. While streamlining the Oscars sounds good in theory, cutting between live and taped footage felt a little too “deep fake.”
Best: Casual presenters like Jason Momoa and Woody Harrelson
The Oscars often use their presenter slots to trot out awkward pairs of en-vogue celebrities, but this year, they invited combinations of stars with pre-established rapports—and played to their strengths. Daniel Kaluuya and H.E.R., who each won an Oscar last year for Judas and the Black Messiah, weren’t asked to tell any jokes, but rather vibe off each other.
The White Men Can’t Jump power trio of Rosie Perez, Wesley Snipes, and Woody Harrelson delivered a shaggy and joyful routine, with Perez playfully barking at Snipes for botching a cue. Harrelson, after joking he hasn’t been sober ever at these awards shows, cracked that he’s been nominated three times and yet was speaking on stage for the first time as a presenter.
And Dune co-stars Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin palled around on stage: When Brolin asked Momoa if he’d ever been nominated for an Oscar, Momoa chuckled while saying, “Oh, noooooo.” He said he’d put his name in each of the categories this year though andlet out a burp to demonstrate his eligibility for Best Sound. There’s something to be said for charming actors keeping it casual. They are movie stars, after all.
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