“Love will make you do crazy things.” Will Smith dropped that line into his Best Actor award acceptance speech at the 2022 Oscars as a veiled reference to the ceremony’s biggest drama. Partway through the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony, the actor got up out of his seat and slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face for a joke Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife.
That moment staggered social media, as the viewing audience tried to decide whether the interaction had been a scripted bit. Smith’s tearful speech certainly suggests it wasn’t. In a year when the Academy once again struggled to find new ways to boost viewership after years of steady audience decline, it was a guarantee that while audiences may argue over whether either the awards or the ceremony are relevant to general audiences, people will certainly be discussing this year’s ceremony, and not for the reasons the Academy had hoped.
This year, the experiments in the show’s format included a return to actual hosts for the first time in four years, with Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes, and Amy Schumer overseeing the presentations. (“This year, the Oscars hired three women to host, because it was cheaper than hiring one man,” Schumer joked during the show’s opening sequence.) The producers also made an instantly controversial decision to present eight of the awards — the short-film awards and several of the craft categories — separately before the ceremonies, and only include select footage from those presentations during the live show.
While that decision sparked instant outrage — particularly among people eligible to win those awards, who lamented that their professions were being disrespected — it wasn’t the worst tweak to the ceremony format. It effectively eliminated some of the slower parts of the show — instead of watching the winners take in the fact that their names had just been called, gather themselves, hug their loved ones, walk up to the stage, and gather themselves, audiences just got to see quick insert cuts of their acceptance speeches. But the Academy’s decision to release the winners’ names as they were announced meant that the main ceremony included eight awards where the audience potentially already knew who had won, which wound up further taking the air out of those presentations.
And the attempts to speed up and tighten the ceremony mostly made space for some questionable filler, like a stumbling comedy bit where Sykes dressed up as Will Smith’s King Richard character, tennis coach Richard Williams, Hall dressed as Tammy Faye Bakker as seen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and Schumer descended from the stage ceiling on wires, dressed as Spider-Man.
Even leaving aside the Will Smith drama, it was an odd year for the show. The traditional “In Memoriam” montage, usually a sober affair where the names of Hollywood figures who have died over the past year flash solemnly onscreen over a sentimental song, was an upbeat, rocking number this year, with a choir dancing and singing songs like Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” The speeches were largely apolitical, but the three cohosts made multiple jokes referencing current politics, including gags about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Texas’ voter suppression efforts.
And the ceremony moved along with startling speed and an oddly cavalier lack of concern about tonal shifts. At one point, the Japanese pop group BTS appeared in a segment that ran less than a minute long, where they briefly praised… well, movies, basically. At other times, the presenters were actors from movies like Juno and Pulp Fiction, which have reached significant anniversaries. And then there were the much-vaunted popular-vote categories, where fans were urged to cast online ballots for “the Most Cheer-Worthy Movie Moment Ever” and the best picture of 2021.
In both cases, Zack Snyder movies won — the moment in Snyder’s Justice League where “Flash Enters the Speed Force” came in as the cheer-worthy moment, while Netflix’s Snyder movie Army of the Dead won fan favorite. In both cases, though, the montage of the top five nominees flashed by with so little setup, explanation, or fanfare that it was hard for viewers to even take in what they were seeing.
And some of the night’s bigger surprises were a little lost among all the rapid cuts and shifts between staged bits, montages, and musical performances. CODA winning Best Picture stands out as a startling moments, and social media reacted particularly favorably when CODA’s Troy Kotsur became the first Deaf man in history to win an acting Oscar. Minari’s Best Supporting Actress winner Youn Yuh-jung presented him with the award by spelling out his name in sign language, then gently took his awards statuette out of his hands so he could sign his acceptance speech. It was a triumphant, emotional moment that blurred by briefly in the rush to get to more comedy business and guest stars. And the speed at which it all happened, in spite of the show’s nearly four-hour runtime, was a reminder that while a lot happens at the Oscars every year, most of it is meant more for the creators being celebrated than for the audience trying to take it all in.
Until the viewing stats are in, it remains to be seen whether the changes to the ceremony have the desired affect of boosting its profile. More likely, as with previous explosive Oscar moments, those who skipped the ceremony will watch the relevant clips online.
Here are all of the winners from the 94th annual Academy Awards.
Other nominees: Don’t Look Up, Dune, Belfast, West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, King Richard, Nightmare Alley, Drive My Car
Winner: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Other nominees: Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos; Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Winner: Will Smith — King Richard
Other nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog; Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick ... Boom!; Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Winner: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Other nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza; Steven Spielberg, West Side Story; Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Winner: Billie Eilish and Finneas, “No Time to Die,” in No Time to Die“
Other nominees: “Dos Oruguitas,” Encanto; “Be Alive,” King Richard; “Down to Joy,” Belfast; “Somehow You Do,” Four Good Days
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Winner: Summer of Soul
Other nominees: Flee, Ascension, Attica, Writing with Fire
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Other nominees: The Power of the Dog, The Lost Daughter, Dune, Drive My Car
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Other nominees: Licorice Pizza, Don’t Look Up, King Richard, The Worst Person in the World
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Other nominees: Dune, Nightmare Alley, Cyrano, West Side Story
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Winner: Drive My Car
Other nominees: The Worst Person in the World, Flee, The Hand of God, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Troy Kotsur, CODA
Other nominees: Kodi Smit-Mcphee, The Power of the Dog; Ciarán Hinds, Belfast; J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos; Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Other nominees: Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Flee, Raya and the Last Dragon
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Other nominees: Spider-Man: No Way Home, Free Guy, No Time To Die, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Other nominees: The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Winner: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Other nominees: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard; Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter; Judi Dench, Belfast
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Other nominees: Dune, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story
BEST FILM EDITING
Other nominees: The Power of the Dog, Don’t Look Up, Tick, Tick ... Boom!, King Richard
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Other nominees: The Power of the Dog, Parallel Mothers, Don’t Look Up, Encanto
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Winner: The Long Goodbye
Other nominees: The Dress, On My Mind, Please Hold, Ala Kachuu – Take and Run
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Winner: The Windshield Wiper
Other nominees: Robin Robin, Boxballet, Affairs of the Art, Bestia
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Winner: The Queen of Basketball
Other nominees: Audible, Lead Me Home, Three Songs for Benazir, When We Were Bullies
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Winner: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Other nominees: Coming 2 America, Cruella, Dune, House of Gucci
Other nominees: Belfast, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story