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Will Smith’s Smackapalooza and the 15 Best, Worst, and Most WTF Oscars Moments

Oscars? What Oscars? It’s tough to remember there was an entire awards ceremony last night, but from historic wins to bizarre comedy bits, a few more weird and wonderful things went down

ABC via Getty Images

Allegedly, bookending the moment when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television in front of millions of viewers, there was an Academy Awards ceremony last night. Frankly, we can’t quite recall.  

The thing about the Oscars — or any major awards broadcast, for that matter — is that it’s an event that relies on careful orchestration and unspoken codes of decorum: Limit your acceptance speech to 45 seconds, clap graciously if you lose, and, y’know, don’t physically or verbally assault the presenters. TV viewers are watching less to find out who’s going to take home the gold and more in the hopes of witnessing a genuinely spontaneous moment, whether it’s Warren Beatty announcing the wrong best picture winner or Jennifer Lawrence tripping over her own gown.  

Well, last night they sure got it, when Smith stormed onstage and assaulted Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, chasing that with an obscenity-laden exchange that had producers scrambling to cut the sound in the Dolby Theatre. Suddenly, the numbing rhythm we’ve come to expect from awards shows was interrupted, the gristle beneath Hollywood’s artfully Botoxed skin exposed.  

But hey, there were also some awards. The 94th Academy Awards didn’t crown one big winner; rather, the major honors were scattered among a variety of nominees. Two female filmmakers won the evening, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay winner CODA, helmed by Sian Heder; and Jane Campion, who nabbed Best Director for The Power of the Dog. Two big acting awards went to a pair of biopic performances: Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Smith for King Richard. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune performed a near-sweep of the technical categories, most of which were presented in a pre-broadcast segment of the ceremony.  

Read on for the best, worst, and most baffling moments of this year’s Oscars — one that, thanks to Smith’s outburst and its aftermath, will go down in infamy. 

From Rolling Stone US

Best: Hosts Are Back — And They’re Not Dudes!

The Academy Awards have gone emceeless for the past three years, the last being late-night stalwart Jimmy Kimmel in 2018. This time around, we got three hosts: Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. It was a refreshing change for a ceremony that has long been dominated by white, male presenters. In the past 30 years, only three women and two people of color have hosted. The Oscars didn’t quite seem to know how to juggle all three, making for a slightly uneven experience. The trio performed a joint opening monologue (trialogue?) that included Hall and Sykes bantering about Black Twitter and Schumer asking, “What is that?”; Schumer delivered a light roast of the nominees (“After Hollywood ignoring women for years, we finally got a movie about the incredible Williams sisters’…dad,” she quipped of King Richard); Sykes went on a tour of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (“You ever been to Meryl Streep’s house? Looks just like this”); and Hall lusted after a few of the hotter A-listers in attendance (more on that later). The trifecta model didn’t quite work, but it felt revitalizing just the same.—JS

Best: Queen Bey Takes Over Compton

This year’s ceremony was mostly back to “normal,” with a Dolby Theatre filled with glamorously dressed, unmasked celebs. But Beyoncé’s opening performance of her stirring King Richard song “Be Alive” was like a throwback to last year’s Covid-affected, socially-distanced awards ceremonies. No matter: Shot on the streets and tennis courts of Compton, where Venus and Serena Williams learned to be champions, the number featured striking tennis-ball-colored costumes sported by a small orchestra and a graceful group of dancers. Like her Lemonade video album and the Coachella sets preserved in the documentary Homecoming, this was a classic Queen Bey production, blending spellbinding visuals with rousing declarations of personal power. —NM

Worst: Giving Out Oscars Before the Oscars

One of the first warning signs that this year’s telecast might be a disaster came back in February, when the Academy announced that eight of the night’s competitive awards — including for all the short films and most of the tech categories — would be handed out before airtime. This continues a worrying trend for the Oscars, which several years ago stopped airing its “lifetime achievement” tributes. (In 2022, that meant viewers at home didn’t get to see Denzel Washington celebrate the work of Samuel L. Jackson… something that might’ve been pretty entertaining!) Excerpts from the pre-show segments were edited into the broadcast, but why didn’t ABC offer an option to see them live online, via Hulu or the like? Judging by the snippet shown from Best Live Action Short winner Riz Ahmed’s prerecorded speech, the TV audience may have missed a few of this year’s most impassioned thank-yous. —NM

Best: Ariana DeBose’s History-Making Win

Oddsmakers knew it was coming from a city block away, but it didn’t make the honor any less sweet: Broadway-to-Hollywood breakout Ariana DeBose won best supporting actress for her turn as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, while the 90-year-old Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for the same role in 1962, beamed at her from the audience like the sun. DeBose was a charisma machine in the musical remake, bringing her formidable triple-threat chops to bear on the film’s most complex character. The actor also made history, becoming the first openly queer Afro-Latina woman to win an Academy Award. She wrapped up her emotional speech with the declaration, “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity — ever, ever, ever — or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is, indeed, a place for us.” —JS

WTF: The Slap Heard ’Round the World

Let’s leave aside the question of whether Chris Rock crossed a line by making fun of Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair-loss; and let’s forget for a moment whether Will Smith should’ve been escorted from the auditorium immediately after he smacked Rock. The bottom line is this: Smith slapping Rock ruined the night. Everything that happened in the minutes immediately following the attack — which included Questlove’s wonderful Summer of Soul winning Best Documentary and Francis Ford Coppola delivering a belated thanks to the late producer Robert Evans during a salute to The Godfather — was almost impossible to pay attention to. It’s fair to say these Oscars would’ve been a bust regardless. But there were some nice moments throughout the evening, and nearly all of them, unfortunately for those honorees, are bound to be forgotten in the years to come. —NM

Best: Jane Campion Locks Up Best Director

It took them long enough, but the Academy is finally course-correcting for its nearly century-long history of recognizing almost exclusively male filmmakers. In 2021, Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao became the second woman ever to win best director; the first was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010. This year, two became three with Campion’s win for The Power of the Dog. (She’s also the only woman to ever be nominated in the category twice, having been in the running for The Piano in 1994.) In a thoughtful speech, the New Zealander writer-director talked about the collaborative nature of making movies (“The task of manifesting a world can be overwhelming. The sweet thing is, I’m not alone”). She also paid tribute to the message of Thomas Savage’s novel, which the film was based on: “He wrote about cruelty, wanting the opposite — kindness.” —JS

WTF: Zack Snyder Fans Hijack the Show

There’s some poetic justice in the way that the Academy’s sloppy attempt to celebrate “popular” movies this year went so hilariously awry. The goal may have been to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some air time, assuming the blockbuster hit’s millions of fans would vote for it in two Twitter polls: one for “Oscars Fan Favorite” and one for “Oscars Cheer Moment.” Instead, the same internet-savvy legions who a few years back pressured Warner Bros. into letting director Zack Snyder re-edit his Justice League also dominated the Twitter voting, naming Snyder’s Netflix zombie thriller Army of the Dead the best film of 2021 and “The Flash enters the Speed Force” scene in Justice League as the greatest movie moment ever. That’s right, folks — better than anything from Citizen Kane, Singin’ in the Rain or Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Academy’s new museum better clear some space for Flash memorabilia. —NM

Best: A Movie Awards Show That Shows Movie Clips!

Many of last year’s experiments with altering the Academy Awards format were roundly panned; but the one that really riled up longtime Oscars aficionados was the decision to present nominees with no supporting video clips. Those fans could breathe a huge sigh of relief early in this year’s show, after the first category of the night — Best Supporting Actress — was introduced with a package featuring short scenes from every contender. One of the reasons Hollywood honors itself in the first place is for the opportunity to pitch its movies to TV viewers who may otherwise know nothing about them. Maybe somebody who tuned in to the Oscars last night is sold now on Belfast or West Side Story or Dune, just because of the few spectacular seconds they saw during the show. —NM

WTF: Regina Hall’s Thirsty Single Gal Routine

The overall gist of co-host Hall’s bit at the 94th Oscars boiled down to one thing: She’s single, and she’s looking. At one point in the ceremony, the actor called fellow single attendees Timothée Chalamet, Bradley Cooper, Simu Liu, and Tyler Perry up to the stage do some “emergency Covid testing” that involved “swabbing the back of your mouth with my tongue” and doing “some other freaky stuff which I will record.” And when Dune stars Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin came onstage to present the best sound award, Hall gave them both a “Covid pat-down” that involved a generous amount of butt-touching. The skit skirted the line between brazenly funny and… uncomfortably objectifying? In any case, all the guys involved seemed very game, which is more than we can say for 2013 host Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs”.—JS  

Worst: The Band Cutting Off ‘Drive My Car’ Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi — Twice

This year’s show took a few chances in blocking and set design that paid off — including having the stage lower to the ground and closer to the audience, allowing for more a more intimate feel and more straight-ahead close-ups of the winners (and, er, for Will Smith to easily walk up and punch Chris Rock). But putting one of the night’s three rotating house bands at the back of that stage led to an embarrassing blunder, when Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi paused briefly in his Best International Feature Film acceptance speech and the exit music immediately kicked in. Hamaguchi kept talking and the band stopped, but the next time he paused they started up again, and this time the filmmaker was hustled into the wings, clearly frustrated that he didn’t get to savor one of the most rewarding moments of his career. —NM

Best: That ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ Showstopper

There’s no denying the appeal of a good old song-and-dance break. Disney’s Encanto, which won best animated feature, submitted the ballad “Dos Oruguitas” for the original song category; but it was the catchy, dishy “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” that wound up being the film’s big hit — so much so that it rose to Number One on the Billboard Top 100 earlier this year. (Both songs were penned by Hamilton dynamo Lin-Manuel Miranda.) Sebastian Yatra did indeed perform the former on the Dolby stage; but Disney (which, of course, owns Oscars broadcaster ABC) flexed its muscle to add a big, splashy rendition of “Bruno” into the ceremony as well. And it brought down the house with five of the film’s voice actors, a full complement of dancers, and cameos from the likes of Luis Fonsi and Megan Thee Stallion. Two songs from the same film at one ceremony feels like an indulgence, but “Bruno” provided a welcome flash of joy in a night that, as it turned out, desperately needed it. —JS

WTF: A Celebratory In Memoriam Segment?

On the plus side, the Oscar producers avoided the usual clichéd version of the “Here’s who we lost last year” montage, where some drippy ballad gets performed at half-speed. Instead, a stomping and clapping gospel choir sang a relatively upbeat medley, punctuated by brief reflections on the dearly departed from celebrities like Bill Murray (talking about his friend Ivan Reitman) and Jamie Lee Curtis (holding a dog while paying tribute to animal lover Betty White). It was a fine idea… on paper, anyway. In practice though, all the dancing drew the focus away from the names and images of the people the Academy was supposed to be celebrating. We should’ve been watching Sidney Poitier and Ned Beatty do their thing, not two dozen folks doing jazz hands. —NM

Best: A Big Night for ‘CODA’

It was only nominated in three categories, but CODA won them all — including the coveted Best Picture. Sian Heder’s indie, based on the French film La Famille Bélier, broke barriers by centering the story of a deaf family and their hearing daughter. The speech that brought home the impact of the film the most came not from its producers, but from Troy Kotsur when he won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as loving, crass fisherman Frank Rossi. “I cannot believe I’m here,” he said in ASL, after sharing a sweet exchange with last year’s best supporting actress winner, Minari’s Youn Yuh-jung. “This is our moment,” he said to the Deaf, CODA, and disabled communities, finishing with a proud, “Look at me now! I did it.” CODA may be a traditionally structured family drama about a teen girl (Emilia Jones) searching for her place in the world, but that’s a big part of what makes the film so revolutionary: It tells a familiar story with actors from a minority who have long been kept from the Hollywood spotlight.—JS

Worst: Will Smith’s Post-Slap Best Actor Speech/Non-Apology

Following Smith’s violent outburst, the atmosphere in the Dolby became noticeably tense. When Smith won best actor for King Richard shortly thereafter, as he was expected to, viewers held their breath to see what Smith would say. With tears running down his face, the actor both apologized for and defended his actions. He compared himself to the character he plays in the film, real-life tennis dad Richard Williams, calling him “a fierce defender of his family,” and talked about how he was proud of “protecting” his female co-stars Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, and Demi Singleton. Disturbingly, he justified his attack on Rock by with the aphorism: “Love will make you do crazy things.” (He also, bafflingly, quoted a line from 1963 Best Picture winner Lawrence of Arabia.) Overall, it was a patriarchal diatribe about men’s roles as the guardians of defenseless women, and an argument for physical violence as a justifiable reaction to emotionally charged situations. Smith finished by saying that he hopes the Academy invites him back; we hope he gets some therapy before they do. —JS

WTF: Random Movie Reunions

Listen, we all love White Men Can’t Jump, Juno, and Pulp Fiction; and it was neat to see stars of those movies, including Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, Elliot Page, and J.K. Simmons, reunite onstage as presenters. Except… Why, exactly? Of those three films, the first two have fairly normal anniversaries this year — their 30th and their 15th, respectively — but it’ll be the 28th anniversary of Pulp Fiction in 2022, not traditionally something people stop and celebrate. Fact: It’s always the anniversary of some movie, if you think about it. So next time, just have Uma Thurman and John Travolta come out and do the Vincent-and-Mia dance for no particular reason at all. It’d be better than taking something so cool and give it an ill-fitting frame. —NM