“There’s, like, a different vibe in here.” So remarked host Amy Schumer towards the end of the 94th annual Academy Awards, after an emotionally exhausting night that did deliver a lot of surprises. Perhaps not the kinds of surprises that anyone watching was hoping for, because as the show creeped past the three-and-a-half-hour mark, what was striking was how the Oscars managed to make the handing out of actual Oscars feel like an afterthought.
In the minutes before the Oscars began this year, the vibes were not great due to the controversial choice to eliminate eight categories from the live broadcast (instead handing those awards out an hour before the official ceremony started, and then editing the winning acceptance speeches into the show later). In concept, an idea which might trim some screen time, but in the end, led to a situation as nicely summarized by Knives Out director Rian Johnson before the show even started:
I knew this was absolute bullshit, but the full metric volume of bullshittyness is only landing for me now, as I refresh my twitter feed to see what craftspeople are winning oscars while a red carpet fashion show plays on ABC. https://t.co/ESIttmvlum
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) March 27, 2022
This is perhaps where the night went off the rails to begin with, because the problem with eliminating aspects of the show that have always been a part of the live ceremony (like, say, eight actual awards) is that it puts every. other. part that did make the cut under scrutiny. Such as, for example, the Internet-determined Fan Favorite and Cheer-Worthy Moment awards, which ended up being a farce overrun by extreme pockets of fandom demanding attention for Zack Snyder and Johnny Depp, and a complete waste of time and energy.
In the end, so many of the ideas and innovations promised over the course of the night were well-intended in nature but ultimately fell flat, with the most notable moment of the night having no connection to the awarding of an actual award, and the ceremony ultimately not managing to do the one damn thing it was supposed to do: truly celebrate the best movies of 2021.
Perhaps it was the earlier tension over the awards which led to some of the chaos. Even without Will Smith punching Chris Rock, the vibes, in general, were rough, with some jokes that perhaps went a little too far (what did The Last Duel do to anyone to deserve being called out like that?) and a few bits that felt mired in awkwardness.
The issues with the night might best be encapsulated by the In Memoriam section, traditionally a somber point in any awards show. For this year’s ceremony, though, the producers took a bold approach in enlisting The Samples Choir to perform a relatively upbeat melody of songs, interspersed with some personal commentary from Tyler Perry, Bill Murray, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a tiny puppy on the specific passings of Sidney Poitier, Ivan Reitman, and Betty White.
On paper, the idea of trying to keep the theme of celebration going through this portion of the show wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. But it fell apart due to, if nothing else, the staging: It was pretty hard to focus on the names and photos being displayed on the stage’s giant screen, because there were people singing and (more importantly) dancing in front of it.