Chasing the Gold: The 94th Academy Awards
The 94th Academy Awards happened two nights ago and what an event it turned out to be. The ceremony certainly did not pan out the way that ABC and the Academy hoped that it would, and yet the winners were exactly what most pundits were expecting. Now that a few days have passed, it is time to reflect on how the night went. From the ceremony to the winners, this is a recap of the 2022 Oscars.
A quick note before I begin. It is hard not to address the situation that occurred between Chris Rock and Will Smith during the presentation for Best Documentary Feature. However, as the situation has not been fully resolved as of yet, I will not be sharing my opinions or making it a focus point of this analysis. This piece is to talk about the decisions that ABC and the Academy made, as well as to celebrate the winners and give them the spotlight as they have earned.
At the beginning of the ceremony, there was hope that this would be a good show. Choosing to open the show with a recorded performance of Beyonce singing her Oscar-nominated song ‘Be Alive’ kicked off the show with high energy. In fact, all four of the nominated songs performed at the ceremony were well done, with Billie Eilish and Finneas stealing the show with their performance of ‘No Time to Die’. While not everyone likes the songs being included in the main show, they ended up providing the most entertainment in this year’s ceremony.
There were two moments in particular that warmed my heart in this year’s show, and both of them came from the award presenters. To finally see Anthony Hopkins get the respect that he was due for winning Best Actor last year was wonderful, and he rightfully earned the standing ovation he received simply for walking on the stage. However, it was the presentation of the Best Picture prize that emotionally impacted me. After a long ceremony, to see Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli announce the big award and for Lady Gaga, in particular, to do it with such grace made me shed a tear. The respect that Lady Gaga has shown legendary performers from Minnelli to Tony Bennett over the past few years is so touching, and this has made me want to see her get the hosting gig for the Oscars next year.
Outside of those few moments, I unfortunately found myself completely disappointed with the telecast of the Academy Awards this year. The first glaring issue became clear an hour before the telecast when winners were being announced on Twitter. It feels completely wrong to honor these wins through text on a screen, especially when some of these wins included a documentary short honoring a sporting legend who recently passed away, as well as Riz Ahmed’s first Oscar.
What hurts even more is that the telecast treated the presentations of these awards poorly. Not only were the nomination clips for these awards shortened and the order of presentation strange, but some of the speeches were clearly cut down for the telecast. In particular, Ahmed’s speech was cut by half and his co-director, Aneil Karia, had his speech fully cut. I also struggle to see how this decision would help boost viewership, as the biggest blockbuster hit of the Best Picture nominees in Dune won four out of the five feature categories not presented live. The disrespect done to these categories was apparent during the show and having host Amy Schumer say during one of the gags that “each job is equally important” increased my anger at the situation.
It was not only their categories that were treated with a lack of respect during the telecast. There were two moments in particular that frustrated me, and they both have to do with the Feature categories. Ryusake Hamaguchi knew he was going to win International Film for Drive My Car, and, as such, prepared a speech in English so that the translator would not be needed and time would be saved. Instead, any time he took a small break to compose himself during the speech, they tried to play him off. The second time the music came on during his speech, one of the presenters rushed him off the stage. This felt incredibly rude to Hamaguchi, especially when other winners got to give much longer speeches throughout the night.
The other moment that left a negative impression on me was with the Animated Feature category, in which Lily James, Naomi Scott ,and Halle Bailey went on stage to present. This sequence then went on about the Disney princesses, and how animation particularly impacts children. While I get the purpose of this speech and it was cute, this message rubbed me the wrong way. Firstly, this is another case of ABC pushing Disney Animation front and center of the ceremony and ignoring other incredible animated films such as The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Not only that, but to imply that animation is only for children when Flee was nominated is insulting to the team who worked on that and the stories that can be told through animation for any age.
At first, I was on board with the three hosts for this year’s ceremony. I found that the opening with Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall worked well, as their chemistry was bouncing off each other. I also personally enjoyed Hall’s gag involving guests who needed to take another COVID test backstage with the reveal of Bradley Cooper and Timothee Chalamet being included. It was a gag that could have gone wrong or been insensitive, but Hall played it off well. Unfortunately, the gags slowly got worse and worse, with jokes insulting the poor box office of films such as The Last Duel and the Kirsten Dunst seat-filler gag being the worst of the bunch. A lot of these moments left for awkward gaps and not a lot of laughs.
Despite the Academy’s attempts to cut down the runtime by editing in some of the acceptance speeches, the show ran over by nearly 40 minutes. This is longer than the ceremony last year, which presented all 23 awards live. There are several things that contributed to this such as the nominated songs being performed live and the re-introduction of clips, but it was the extra stuff added that truly impacted the runtime this year and not in a good way. The anniversary celebrations were poorly edited, the performance of ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ including a guest appearance from Megan Thee Stallion made no logical sense, and the Fan Favorite and Cheer Moment top five went as badly as we all predicted. On top of that, the In Memoriam for a second year in a row felt weird tonally and left with little impact. While I hate to be this negative about something so close to my heart as the Oscars, this year was an incredibly tough watch, regardless of the Chris Rock and Will Smith situation, and I hope ABC and the Academy seriously consider a rehaul of the ceremony for next year.
As negative as I was on the presentation of the show, I am much more optimistic about the winners themselves. At the end of the night, I got 19/23 correct which is usually a strong score to get. However, this year the line-up of winners was for the most part predictable and no major surprises were thrown into the mix. When the winners are this good though, I cannot be too mad at the lack of a major surprise to shake up the end of the season.
Dune ended up taking home the most awards of the night as most people predicted, winning six Oscars. This is the most awards a film has taken home in one ceremony since La La Land, which also garnered six awards. With Dune being my favorite film of 2021 (you can read my full review here), it is no surprise that I am happy with this result. I may have had other preferences in categories such as Production Design or Cinematography, but any chance to see Dune succeed gives me hope that the franchise will continue its success when Part Two releases in 2023.
The two winners for Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay certainly would not have been my personal first choices – that honor belongs to Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World. However, I am also not upset that CODA and Belfast ended up taking these prizes home. CODA’s screenplay brings awareness to the D/deaf community within a beautiful story and is something that more people should be paying attention to. Belfast remains one of my top ten films of the year and I am just glad that Kenneth Branagh did not leave empty-handed considering the season it has turned out to be for that film. While this is not the strongest Screenplay duo we have seen recently, it is one that I am personally happy with.
The four acting winners were the four that have been leading most of the season, and I am glad for each and every one of them here. These wins also led to some of the strongest acceptance speeches of the night, with both Ariana DeBose and Jessica Chastain using their speech to talk about LGBTQ+ rights and representation on the big screen. Troy Kotsur has given such wonderful speeches all season long, and still somehow managed to save his best one until the end here. It has been a season-long coronation for some of these performances, and yet it feels so rewarding when the performances are as good as these ones.
Of course, we cannot have an Oscars wrap-up piece without delving into the big winner of the night: CODA walking away with Best Picture. This was the one prediction I knew I messed up in, sticking with the statistics and going with The Power of the Dog. This win for CODA is historic in many ways, and yet it is heartbreaking to see the backlash already happening on social media due to this win. I think we can all agree that CODA is not as technically strong as a film such as The Power of the Dog, but it also doesn’t have to be. CODA is an independent film first showcased at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, acquired by Apple TV and placed on the platform in August. It skipped the festival run, failed to get major nominations at the beginning of the season and only started gaining momentum after winning the Ensemble award at the SAG Awards. After that, film fans and those in the industry warmed up to this touching story and found the narrative hard to resist when it came to the Best Picture race. The win at the PGA, the only other major voting body to use a preferential ballot, ended up being enough to defy the odds and make CODA a sweeper at the Oscars. As someone that spent a majority of this award season researching the lack of accessibility for the D/deaf community and spreading awareness for these stories, I am hoping this win will tell Hollywood to listen to this community.