To be fair, the 2022 Oscars had a very low bar to clear.
This year’s ceremony had nowhere to go but up, honestly: Last year’s Oscars were a trainwreck (one that took place at a train station, ironically) plagued by sluggish pacing and a humorless tone. Viewership cratered, too, with an all-time low of 10.4 million total viewers — less than half of the previous low mark. This year, though, with first-time producer Will Packer at the helm, the Oscars was able to return to its home turf at L.A.’s Dolby Theatre and restore some measure of its former glitz and glamour, thanks to falling COVID numbers. And yes, this Oscars ceremony did easily clear that low bar by getting back to what the Oscars does best: showcasing the very best of cinema and playing host to some very memorable moments. (Thank you, Will Smith.)
It kicked off with a majestic performance from Beyoncé of her nominated song “Be Alive” from King Richard, dressed in tennis-ball yellow on a Compton tennis court. But setting the number outside the theater robbed it of some of its power. (It felt more Grammys than Oscars.) Then after an overly sweaty hype-up from DJ Khaled — why was he there again? — hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes came out for a shared monologue. They did get off a few good zingers, but the format was a little awkward, with the trio waiting for their turn to deliver the next punchline. Schumer was really strong, though, in what I guess we could call a secondary monologue (?) filled with stinging burns that kind of made me wish she got the gig all to herself. (Hall’s thirsty bit calling up handsome celebs for a backstage “COVID test,” meanwhile, landed with a thud.)
I was a little worried about how, let’s say, eclectic this year’s Oscars would be when the opening list of the night’s celebrities went straight from Tony Hawk to H.E.R. to Anthony Hopkins. It had an air of throwing just about everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. (Really, who better to introduce a James Bond tribute than Hawk, Kelly Slater and Shaun White?) Piling speeches on top of clip packages on top of pre-taped comedy bits made for a frantic pace at times, and the clear eagerness to reach a wider audience reeked of desperation, like bringing on K-pop superstars BTS to talk about Disney movies and announcing the results of a Twitter poll for the top five cheer-worthy movie moments of all time. Um, OK…?
But aside from a few odd choices, the ceremony thankfully went back to basics for the most part, with actual clips from the nominated performances (what a refreshing change!) and montages celebrating decades of Hollywood history, including a fittingly grand tribute to The Godfather. Plus, the broadcast had a cozy feel, with nominees seated in Golden Globes-style chairs and tables right up front, and the intimate close-ups during the acceptance speeches really captured the emotion in the room. CODA star Troy Kotsur’s speech, with Minari winner Yuh-Jung Youn by his side, was an adorable highlight… and hey, it doesn’t get much more unscripted than Will Smith slapping the hell out of Chris Rock for making fun of his wife! That shocker was an all-time awards show moment and turned Smith’s emotional acceptance speech into riveting, must-see TV.
One big change this year: A full third (!) of this year’s Oscar categories — eight of 23 — were handed out before the show and pre-taped, angering many in the industry who felt like the move diminished vital filmmaking elements like editing and score. But then they went ahead and announced those categories on the live show anyway and showed the winners’ speeches, so the much-derided move didn’t even save all that much air time! Was it even worth it, then, to annoy half of Hollywood just to shave a minute or two off the (still longer than last year!) running time? I say scrap it and bring back the full show next year.
No, these Oscars weren’t perfect, but let’s be honest: The Oscars are never perfect. At their best, they entertain us enough to make up for the inevitable groaners and give us a few timeless moments while reminding us why we love the movies in the first place. This year’s wild, freewheeling ceremony hit all those marks… and made it fun to watch the Oscars again.
Now it’s your turn: Give this year’s Oscars a grade in our poll, and hit the comments below to share your thoughts.