Shoulda, CODA, Woulda: How The 94th Academy Awards Was A Knockout

Umm… okay then. Guess we gotta talk about the Oscars. 

Let’s start by saying that I had no idea what to expect going into this Oscar ceremony. Between the producers cutting eight categories from the live telecast to a couple of superfluous awards that served as half-hearted attempts to win over a mainstream audience to Amy “Joke Thief” Schumer being named one of the Oscar hosts, I was not expecting this to be a good ceremony at all. After all, the past few ceremonies have been struggling immensely with audience ratings and viewership. All of these ludicrous changes seemed like they were going to worsen the symptoms that were already there. 

Well, I was half-right. While the technical categories were still minimized during the live telecast, they did have a small snippet play of the winners accepting their awards. So they weren’t so much “cut” from the ceremony as they were simply edited down for time, which still isn’t ideal, but I’ll take what I can get. The superfluous “fan-favorite” and “cheer moment” awards were also not highlighted as much as I feared they would be, briskly montaging through their winners and nominees before cutting straight to commercial. It was a surprisingly good use of time, didn’t take up too much space, and got to involve more movie fans in the voting process. Plus, Zack Snyder now gets to technically call himself a two-time Academy Award-winner, which he’s more than earned since the Academy shelved his cut of Justice League from any Oscar consideration for some arbitrary reason (God knows he deserves it more than The Power Of The Dog does).

Even the hosts were really good. Wanda Sykes’ wit and sassiness easily stole the show, with her tour through the Academy museum easily being the biggest highlight (the part where she pointed to an orc and called it “Harvey Weinstein” had me dying). Regina Hall was also really funny, pulling up all of the most attractive guys in the Dolby Theatre and saying she was going to administer a COVID test “with her tongue.” Even Amy Schumer had her charming moments, especially one hilarious bit where she dressed up as Spider-Man and shot silly string at the audience. 

Dare I say it, this telecast was more fun than last year’s Academy Awards. That’s especially surprising considering how much behind-the-scenes drama was going on. 

Unfortunately, this is still the Oscars, and every year brings its own variety of shocking surprises. After previous ceremonies where Best Picture winners got mixed up, a Korean film took home the top prize, and an In Memoriam segment where the Academy disrespectfully sped through it like it was trying to skip a cutscene, I thought I had seen it all. 

I was wrong. I was so, so, so very wrong. 

SOURCE: Apple TV

Best Picture:

Let’s start with the good news: The Power Of The Dog lost 11 out of 12 of its nominations, including Best Picture. It more than deserved it too since it’s one of the most tepid and stale movies ever put in the running for Best Picture. How it got this far is beyond me, and I’m glad to see it bomb so precariously at the Oscars, even if my ballot suffered as a result of it. 

Instead, the tender deaf family drama CODA took home the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards. This is surprising for a few reasons. For one thing, out of all 10 nominees, CODA was tied with Licorice Pizza for the least amount of nominations with three. This meant that in the grand scope of things, CODA had the most to overcome, especially with Dune and The Power Of The Dog sweeping across the nominations board.

For another thing, its director Sian Heder was not nominated for a Best Directing Oscar, and that hindered its chances even more. Sure, a Best Picture win wasn’t impossible (Green Book won Best Picture in 2018 despite also not receiving a Best Director nom), but considering eight out of the past 10 Best Picture winners were at least nominated for Best Director, it was nothing but an uphill battle for CODA. The fact that it persevered and pulled off a Best Picture win despite everything it was up against makes CODA’s victory all the more incredible. 

Either way, congratulations to this amazing film and its heartfelt victory. I still feel like Dune was the most visionary out of all of the Best Picture nominees, and Tick, Tick… BOOM! and The Last Duel were still straight up robbed in this category. That doesn’t change how important CODA’s win was for the deaf community or how grateful I am to it for taking away the win from The Power Of The Dog. God, do I hate that film. 

Best Director: Unfortunately, The Power Of The Dog did win one Oscar last night, and that was Jane Campion for Best Director. She didn’t deserve this award any more than Simon McQuoid deserved it for his Mortal Kombat remake, but like I already said, CODA’s director wasn’t nominated in this category anyway, so if The Power Of The Dog had to sneak in a win, I guess Best Director is most acceptable. I’m still infuriated over the fact that Denis Villeneuve wasn’t even nominated for Dune. He more than deserved to win, not to mention at the very least get nominated. A cinematic crime if there ever was one, and it unfortunately won’t be the last one the Academy ever commits. 

Best Actor: This is where the ceremony gets really, really bizarre. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Will Smith won Best Actor for playing Venus and Serena Williams’ father in King Richard, a win he absolutely deserved due to his sincere and deeply moving performance in that film. Unfortunately, absolutely nobody was paying attention to that moment or his speech because they were still reeling from when Will Smith slapped the bejeezus outta Chris Rock minutes earlier for joking about his wife’s hair loss, calling Jada Pinkett Smith “G.I. Jane.” Then Will Smith just strutted off, sat back down, and yelled at Chris to “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.” 

Man. Talk about everybody hates Chris. 

Now look, this is a very loaded moment, and I’m not going to even begin trying to unpack this because of all of the complex emotions tied into this. I will simply emphasize three truths. First of all, it was a bad joke on Chris’ part to make. A really, really, really bad joke. Jada had spoken publicly several times before about how much her hair loss has affected her and her well-being, so it was highly insensitive for him to make that remark without realizing how she or her husband might take it. Whether that joke was prewritten for the ceremony or if Chris made it up on the fly doesn’t matter. It was in poor taste, and Chris should have known better. 

Second, Will Smith probably could have handled the moment a little better. Should he have? I admit I don’t know the answer to that. Or at the very least, I don’t know how I would have reacted if my wife and I were caught up in that same moment. Would any of us have? It was an idiotic comment to make, and in a flurry of rage, Will was blind to reason and self-control and acted solely based off of his instincts. His reaction was a very human one. Could he have potentially waited during a commercial break and confronted Chris then without involving the entire theater and the television audience? Again, I don’t know. It’s a difficult situation to get caught up in, and unfortunately, neither party is really free from blame. 

Regardless of whether you see Smith or Rock primarily at fault, it doesn’t change the fact that this situation colored the rest of the ceremony in an awkward and uncomfortable way. After that very intense altercation, I couldn’t focus on Questlove’s moving speech about advocating for Harlem with Summer Of Soul. I couldn’t really tune in to Will Smith’s acceptance speech when he won his Oscar. I couldn’t even really celebrate CODA’s Best Picture win. All I could think about through the rest of the ceremony was that damn slap. It kind of took away from the rest of the evening and sadly kind of ruined the ceremony for me. That really, really sucks. 

We’ll see in the coming days if the Academy decides to discipline Smith in some way for his actions. Regardless, I hope they don’t decide to revoke his Oscar. He’s worked way too long and too hard to have this honor taken from him now just because of one altercation. I hope the Academy can see past that and Will and Chris can come to some understanding afterward regardless. 

Best Actress: As predicted, Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for her performance in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. I’m happy she has finally earned an Oscar, especially after a long and illustrious career with credits including The Help, The Tree Of Life, Zero Dark Thirty, and more. But considering this is the same category where both Jodie Comer and Lady Gaga were robbed for their performances in The Last Duel and House Of Gucci, I’m too pissed about this category to properly celebrate her win. I guess I’m just grateful Nicole Kidman didn’t win for her half-hearted performance as Lucille Ball in Being The Ricardos. Still, what slim pickings we have for Best Actress this year guys. 

Best Supporting Actor: This is easily my favorite win and moment out of the whole night. After playing the role of a loving father and husband in the drama film CODA, real-life deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was a touching moment before Troy even stepped onto the stage to accept his award, with Youn Yuh-jung not only signing his name to himself but with the crowd also showing the “clapping” sign to show their support for Troy. Him dedicating his success to his father and to those who empowered him throughout his career was sincerely heartfelt and deeply touching to listen to. I’m not crying, I swear. 

Best Supporting Actress: In the first acting Oscar of the night, Ariana DeBose won for her performance as Anita in West Side Story. She joins an elite club of actors winning Oscars for the same role, including Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, and even Rita Moreno. Congratulations to Ariana for her much-deserved win. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: No surprise here either: Encanto won Best Animated Feature. Again, I would have preferred the Oscar go to The Mitchells v.s. The Machines, but in a year where Luca, Flee, and Raya And The Last Dragon were all nominated, this was a spectacular year where all of the nominees were deserving of the win. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: the real winner here is the Best Animated Feature category overall. Congratulations to all of these amazing nominated films and their achievements.

Best Documentary: In the midst of all of the awkward Will Smith and Chris Rock drama, Questlove won his much-deserved Oscar for his restoration and revival of the Harlem Cultural Festival in Summer Of Soul. His film was the most deserving winner, especially when Val wasn’t even nominated in the first place. 

Best International Feature: Drive My Car won this year’s international feature Oscar, and props to Ryusuke Hamaguchi for not letting the orchestra play him off stage. If the Academy can give Will Smith 10 minutes for his acceptance speech after clocking Chris square in the mouth, they can give Ryusuke Hamaguchi two minutes to thank his cast and crew. 

Best Original Screenplay: I’m a little flabbergasted that Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast won Best Original Screenplay over Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, especially when his body of work has been more consistent and creative than Branaugh’s. Still, Belfast is some of his most genuine work yet, and I hope he writes more screenplays like it in the future. Congratulations to him and his upset win. 

Best Adapted Screenplay: Just like how it stole The Power Of The Dog’s chances at winning Best Picture, so too did CODA seal its fate by winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m still stunned that Sian Heder wasn’t nominated for Best Director, but at least she didn’t go home empty-handed and won an Oscar for her writing. Other Best Picture-winning directors aren’t so lucky (see Driving Miss Daisy, Gladiator, Chicago, etc.). 

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Cinematography: The first of many awards to not be televised live, Greig Fraser won for his stunning and captivating work on the science-fiction epic Dune. It’s criminal to imagine that we couldn’t see him accept his award live. If you want to support more of his work, check out The Batman in theaters. You’ll see more of Greig Fraser’s mesmerizing technique on display and you’ll get to see a hauntingly great superhero flick at the same time. 

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker followed up Dune’s next technical feat by winning Best Film Editing. With credits that include Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to imagine it taking so long for him to win his first Oscar. But clearly his patience paid off for him. I can’t wait to see his work on Dune 2

Best Makeup And Hairstyling: The Eyes Of Tammy Faye won best makeup. Is anybody legitimately surprised? Let’s just be grateful Coming 2 America didn’t win instead.

Best Production Design: Dune once again wins for its brilliant realization of Arrakis and its many warring factions. At this point in the ceremony, I’m losing my mind a little bit that Dune has won half of its technical awards and has yet to get a full spotlight moment during the main telecast. I’m grateful they weren’t outright cut from the ceremony, but I really can’t understate how stupid it was to edit these awards down from the main telecast. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

Best Costume Design: It was split down the middle on this one between Cruella and Dune, and I’m glad I went with the popular vote on this one, because Cruella barely snagged it from Dune. Personally, I felt Dune had a stronger showcase of its outfits and costumes, but if Cruella were to shine in any category, costume design was its best chance to do so. At least Cruella’s outfits weren’t made out of puppies… yet. 

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Musical Score: While he couldn’t be there in person to accept his award, Hans Zimmer won his second Oscar for his hypnotizing score on Dune. His work on that film displays the very best of his talents. He couldn’t have won for a better score: not even Inception or The Dark Knight trilogy. 

Best Original Song: It was a close call between Billie Eilish’s “No Time To Die” and Encanto’s “Dos Oruguitas”: and “No Time To Die” clinched it, in no small part thanks to Billie Eilish’s breathtaking performance. I’m just grateful that Billie Eilish can now cement herself among the all-time definitive James Bond singles. Imagine how maddening it would have been if Billie Eilish lost while Sam Smith won for their dry, drab, melodramatic single “The Writing’s On The Wall.” Thank God that didn’t happen and Billie Eilish can now call herself an Oscar winner. She more than deserves it. 

On another note, Lin Manuel-Miranda had to unfortunately skip out on the Oscar ceremony due to an untimely positive COVID test from his wife. Pray for them as COVID hits a little closer to home for their family this week. 

Best Sound: Dune again, obviously. This is the fifth Oscar the star-studded saga has won and the fifth one to get edited down from the ceremony. At this point, the eight category snubs are gradually becoming the Dune snubs and it’s royally pissing me off. 

Best Visual Effects: FINALLY. After snubbing the picture all blasted night, Dune FINALLY got its moment to shine by winning in the Best Visual Effects category. It’s incredibly frustrating that it takes SIX Oscar wins to get TWO MINUTES of recognition for its hard-working artists and animators, but better late than never I guess. 

With that, we come to the dreaded short categories. As with any other year, I’ve gotten most of these wrong save for Best Live-Action short for The Long Goodbye, which I didn’t realize until the ceremony that it was actually produced by Sound Of Metal actor Riz Ahmed, which now makes him an official Oscar winner. Good for him. I thought I’d have to wait much longer to see him win an Oscar, and here he is a year later proving me wrong just like that. Man, do I love it when a pleasant surprise comes my way. 

With that, my final tally for this year’s Academy Awards is 17, which is a slight improvement over last year’s ceremony. Where will the Oscars go from here? Hopefully back to a regular telecast with all of the award categories included this time, and ideally with less slapping involved. 

– David Dunn

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