Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.
"The Slap Heard Around The World" is all that anyone is talking about (rightly so) or will remember from the 2022 Academy Awards. But it was bad even before that moment, dubbed on Twitter afterwards by Mark Hamill as "#UgliestOscarMoment_Ever."
3 hour and 42 minute run-time, after all the hoopla surrounding the decision to move and minimize eight of the awards to the pre-show? "The Army of the Dead" is the "fan-favorite" movie of 2021? The most cheer-worthy movie moment - IN THE HISTORY OF MOVIES - is..."The Flash enters The Speed Force"? Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are brought on-stage to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Godfather," despite the fact that Robert De Niro was not in that film?
WTF is going on?
Upon writing this reaction, it's still too early to know what the exact ratings were for this year's 94th annual Academy Awards telecast. But it mostly doesn't even matter anymore. Up, down or the same, those that did tune in this year were served up one of the worst amalgams of ill-fated ideas and uncomfortable moments the show has ever produced.
It started off strong enough, with a pre-taped but wondrous performance of the Oscar-nominated song, "Be Alive," from the film "King Richard," performed by Beyoncé and an impressive ensemble of musicians and dancers. The hosting trio of Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall - at first - was quite funny and seemed to set a laid-back and fun tone for the night. But things quickly derailed, culminating in "the slap" that now overshadows every other notable moment or memory the Oscars could have had generated.
You must remember, The Oscars were already on life support. To be fair, ratings for all award shows have been trending downwards over the past several years, but The Oscars is not supposed to be just any old award show. 55 million tuned in back in 1998 to watch "Titanic" win Best Picture, juxtaposed with the sub-10-million that tuned in during the pandemic in 2021.
This year they made the controversial call to include "fan-favorite" votes, an idea that was horrible at inception and somehow ended up being even worse in reality during Sunday's show. A live performance of the #1 hit song from Disney's "Encanto" - "We Don't Talk About Bruno" - came nearly two hours into the telecast, presumably well after the intended audience for that song was already asleep or bored to death. And the much-loathed decision to pre-tape eight of the award winners - which was billed as an effort to keep the show under 3 hours - was not only jarring each time we noticed a segment being edited into the telecast, but when the show ended up clocking in closer to 4 hours and given what WAS included in the broadcast, I feel like this was also, ultimately, an ill-fated move by an Academy that seems so desperate for attention, yet so inept at connecting with what actually makes the Oscars malleable for most people.
With sporadic moments of humor (I was a fan of Amy Schumer and even Wanda Sykes, although the overly "horny" Regina Hall did not do the talented actress much justice) and a few touching moments (Lada Gaga assisting the legendary Liza Minnelli, Troy Kotsur's acceptance speech for his Best Supporting Actor win for "CODA"), any and all momentum was destroyed with the telling of a bad, tasteless joke.
About two hours into the telecast, Chris Rock was set to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. It should have been a memorable moment for Qwestlove, whose film "Summer of Soul" took the top honor in the category, and whom gave a heartfelt, touching speech. We expect Rock to be funny, but the jokes he spewed were beneath him and mostly throw-away. He then made a joke at the expense of actress Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith, who was set to win his first-ever Best Actor Oscar for his outstanding performance in "King Richard."
The joke, telling Jada, "G.I. Jane 2, I can't wait to see it," was in reference to Jada's hair...the dated reference was to the 1997 film, "G. I. Jane," in which actress Demi Moore famously shaved her head for the role. Pinkett Smith openly has battled with alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss. While at first seeming to chuckle at the off-colored barb, Pinkett Smith gave a visible eye roll. The next thing we saw on our televisions was Will Smith walk on stage, and with much force, gave a whopping slap across the face of Rock, the man who just insulted his wife. At first, the audience laughed thinking this was some sort of "bit," but after returning to his seat, Will Smith twice yelled out, "Keep my wife's name out of your f---ing mouth!" It was clear that this was no joke, no ploy. Rock, visibly shaken, stumbled through but was able to present his award.
That moment now defines the 2022 Oscars. Forget that "CODA" was the surprise, upset Best Picture winner, becoming the first film since 1932's "Grand Hotel" to win Best Picture with three or fewer overall nominations, and without nominations in Best Directing and Best Editing ("CODA" won all three awards in which it was nominated for). Forget that "Dune" led the pack with overall wins, with 6, all in technical categories. Forget that Jane Campion won for Best Director for "The Power of the Dog," the first time since Mike Nichols with 1967's "The Graduate," in which a film ONLY won Best Director and nothing else, or that Campion is the second-consecutive female Oscar winner in the category. Or that Ariana DeBose became only the third Latina to win for Best Supporting Actor, the first being Rita Moreno, for playing the same part of Anita in "West Side Story" (Mercedes Ruehl was the other, who won for 1992's "The Fisher King").
Yep, forget all of that. All the talk is now about Will Smith and Chris Rock. Overwhelmingly, it's agreed that Rock's joke was not only NOT funny, but was completely unnecessary and an awful thing to joke about. But also that Will Smith's conduct was wholly unacceptable...yes, some might "understand" his anger and his impulse to defend his wife, but assault, especially on this stage and especially considering Smith's far-reaching influence, is absolutely never condoned. Making this unthinkable situation worse, Smith assaulted Rock, then returned to his seat as if nothing had happened. Not 15 minutes later, Will Smith was back on stage to accept an Oscar for Best Actor, in which he received a standing ovation and was given the floor to talk for as long as he wanted. He apologized - although notably not to Chris or anyone watching - but his cringe-worthy explanation, "Love will make you do crazy things," is being called-out as coming directly from the physically/mentally abusive playbook.
The last hour of the show became an uncomfortable slog, spent with most of us on our phones making sure that our eyes didn't deceive us in what we had just witnessed. Sorry Jessica Chastain, I remember almost nothing from your winning speech for Best Actress in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," I was too busy watching the uncensored slap released from Australian TV. "CODA" winning Best Picture should have been a great "cheer moment" in and of itself, but I honestly don't remember much of that either.
With all of the controversy, and all of the misfires, I didn't even mention the "In Memoriam" montage, which was given a more celebratory tone this year (which I liked) but whose coverage of on stage seemed to eclipse the images of those we have lost this past year (which I did not like).
What really should have been added to the "In Memoriam" segment though, is the Oscars telecast itself. It's no longer on life-support, but in need of defibrillators. I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe it's time that we all just say our goodbyes.
When you lose me - one of the show's staunchest supporters maybe ever - you know you are in serious, serious trouble. But what was meant to be a fun, magical celebration of movies was turned into an unbearable, excruciatingly misguided headache. We all feel worse for having watched it, not better. This isn't the show that made me dream, as a young kid, of being up on stage and winning a fabled Oscar statuette.
Had I seen this when I was young, I would have probably agreed that whatever artform they're celebrating, must have been cool and important at one time...but it's obviously long-gone. Whatever it is that's being celebrated now is not at all what made me fall in love with the movies, and I long for that magical feeling to return. It's desperately needed in today's world.
Chris Rock wasn't the only one who was slapped in the face last night. So were we all.