“It makes me nostalgic for the year of La La Land and Moonlight,” one executive lamented about the now infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock debacle that is all anyone is talking about post-94th Oscar show.
Another top marketing exec with a Best Picture nominee this year actually told me at the Governors Ball that he thinks this could make the Oscars “appointment television” again. “Who wouldn’t tune in to see a rematch next year with Will Smith and Chris Rock? I think this means the Oscars could get up to 15 million viewers this year,” he predicted indicating a 50% possible increase over last year’s all time low abysmal numbers.
Yes, of course in analyzing the impact and success or failure level of the actual Oscar show, well, Smith sucked all the air out of the room in a really cringe-inducing display of a lack of self control, and a man who might need some anger management sessions. Yes, it is now ingrained way up on the list of unforgettable Oscar moments, maybe even topping the aforementioned La La/Moonlight disaster. Like that one, it left us with a real distaste, and even sadness for overshadowing the exceptional work of display that deserved its moment in the sun. Smith’s subsequent acceptance speech was dramatic, the best public example of a self-help speech since 1985 when Sally Field exclaimed the voters “liked” her. “You like me, you like me,” she effused with true emotion. Right now however Smith, one of the previously most liked personalities in the business, it appears is simply not very well liked (at least for the time being), but the end result of this unique moment is still to come no doubt as it gets endlessly dissected in the days to come and Smith’s handlers try to find ways to smooth it over. Some audience members to whom I spoke were pretty horrified and sorry the producers let Smith take up so much time explaining his mindset. One prominent African American producer was heard saying at the Governors Ball, “that one stupid act undoes years of what hardworking producers like myself and others like me strive for. he took us all down with him tonight”.
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I told one former AMPAS President that if you are looking to get people talking about the Oscars again, this was a hell of a way to do it.
I thought Rock handled it with style, class, and frankly courage in those unpredictable moments when Smith’s sheer and kinda frightening violent outburst got the best of him. The audience inside the Dolby went dead silent. It was bizarre to say the very least. Of this I am certain, the Academy is going to have a come-to-jesus episode at their next board meeting when the time comes to assess what just happened here, if they will take any action around this, and where they head next. That meeting will no doubt also be assessing the damage done by the decision to pre-tape eight categories in the non-televised 4PM hour in order to save time and hopefully help being the show in at a more ratings-friendly three hours (it landed at about three hours and forty minutes, not counting the first untelevised hour — a very long sit for those of us in the audience).
AMPAS President David Rubin, and CEO Dawn Hudson were not offering comments , at least on the record, when I caught up with them separately at the Governors Ball, although Academy staffers and PR consultants were busy crafting a statement later put out. “The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” it read. You THINK? When you have to put out a statement like that about an Oscar show, you know we have now entered the Twilight Zone.
I also caught up with Smith’s King Richard producer Trevor White, before he headed over to the Warner Bros party, clearly upset and disturbed over the whole thing, rightfully thinking it took away from what should have been a wonderful celebratory moment for the film, the cast and crew, and Venus and Serena Williams who were in the audience and appeared at the top of the show to introduce Beyonce singing her nominated song from the film, “Be Alive”. The film’s director Reinaldo Marcus Green also came over but declined to say anything. Like many there though they had a kind of shell-shocked look which isn’t what you usually find at the Governors Ball.
The liveliest celebration I spotted at the Ball might actually surprise you. It was the Netflix section where the streamer ((if you don’t count the FanFavorite #1 spot for their Zack Snyder zombie movie, Army Of The Dead) won only one Oscar for Jane Campion’s direction of The Power Of The Dog which led with 12 nominations and was an early front runner before CODA came roaring in. By the level of sheer dancing joy going on there you would have sworn they won Best Picture. Ted Sarandos was rocking away with Campion and a host of others in a go-for-it dance party I have rarely seen at these Oscar Governors Balls.
I had hoped to catch up with Oscarcast producer Will Packer who over the weekend was full of enthusiasm for the entertainment-packed Oscars he was bringing to the world, at least that is what he told me at Friday’s Governors Awards. It obviously got out of his hands as Live TV often finds a way to do, but hopefully the better parts of this production won’t be completely drowned out. The look of it, with terrific production design, and rotating musical elements was inspired. The musical numbers in fact were all presented in style right from that limelike Beyonce number on a tennis court in Compton to a stylish and different In Memoriam segment. Some may have thought the three hosts – Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall – may have been too snarky in pure Gervais Golden Globe style about the night’s nominated movies, but I have to say some of their jokes and bits landed more often than not, even if they don’t play as well when repeated or written about the morning after. Bottom line it was great to have hosts back in the room, even when not reaching the levels of Oscar’s best. I loved the cast reunions, particularly for Pulp Fiction and The Godfather. Bringing Lady Gaga and a wheelchair bound Liza Minnelli on the 50th anniversary of Cabaret to present Best Picture was a nice poignant touch. The speeches of the other acting winners were heartfelt as well, particulary CODA’s Troy Kotsur who showed how it should be done, and the class act of Kenneth Branagh taking Original Screenplay for Belfast.
I was happy to catch up with Branagh as he entered the Governors Ball, and he could not have been more gracious obviously happy after landing seven career nominations in a record-setting seven categories to finally take one of those Oscars home, and just as ebullient was Marlee Matlin and the cast of CODA who joyfully entered at the same time. Let’s not let the Smith incident take away from these great films and this year. Not since Grand Hotel in the early 30’s has a film overcome a statistical deficit, and only three nominations, to ultimately triumph. With Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor it ended up taking the same three wins as another feel-good winner, 2018’s Green Book. Despite all its membership changes the Academy seems to be what they have often been, going their own way and not lining up with the critics, even if in the end there were no surprises in terms of what was being predicted by most pundits by the end of a very long seven month season, something Branagh noted to me last night. “I don’t know how you all do this, it is more than half a year,” he said exasperated at just the sound of it.
The momentum in the final weeks of the campaign was clear, the television spots from Apple excellent, and the need for a feel good movie at this moment obvious. Where it really took off, never to look back, was at the SAG Awards on February 27 when it won awards for Kotsur and the Cast Award. The enthusiasm was every bit as contagious as it was a couple of years earlier for Parasite. It was a launch point, no doubt, and in fact SAG went five for five this year giving it new cred in the Oscar campaign whirl, and with PGA and WGA, and even BAFTA to a lesser degree on board this was CODA’s to lose. Emotional movies with heart are always a good bet to trump art. CODA had been around longer than any other Best Picture nominee this year, but that SAG win might have brought it fresh eyes at the Academy screening room just when it needed to be rediscovered for the final stretch. CODA’s winning night was significant in so many ways, not the least of which is it is the first Sundance debut to go on to Best Picture,and the first from a streamer to win the big one. Documentary Feature winner Summer Of Soul was another Sundance premiere to take an Oscar, and I only hope it is remembered for much more than being the movie Chris Rock was announcing when all hell broke loose. Questlove deserves an apology from Smith when he gets around to making that list.
As for the controversial idea of pre-taping those eight categories it all seemed to go very quickly in a tight 35 minutes, and with no hiccips. There was no hint of protest at all and the controversy was never mentioned, except in joking fashion by first hour hosts, Dune’s Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin (appropriate since their film took a leading six Oscars for its crafts). For the most part they were inserted into the telecast effectively but still felt canned and it doesn’t seem worth the blowback the Academy received, and with the show still coming in forty minutes over and one of the longest in the TV age of Oscars, what did it gain except problems and criticism? If you are going to do it, get those categories out of the way earlier in the show. The final one, for makeup and hairstyling, was plopped in right after Smith’s dramatic speech and just before Actress and Picture presentations. It was out of place and stopped any momentum in the show’s crucial last act. It also was one that had a very nice speech lauding the crafts people who work in movies and that winner’s sentiments were never heard by the tv audience as her speech was completely truncated in editing (at that point the show was way behind).
And please, the OscarFanFavorite Twitter bit was a complete bust, as it was taken over by packs of organized internet zealots looking to crown anything by Zack Snyder, and to rehabilitate Johnny Depp. Relegate to some on air graphics, the winner was Snyder’s Army Of The Dead (which the director actively campaigned among his fans for), and somehow anointed Depp’s almost completely unseen social drama Minimata in third place, one notch ahead of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Packer had some good ideas for this Oscar show. This didn’t happen to be one of them.
A couple of other notes, Academy. Print may be on the way out, but the digital ticket thing this year was very frustrating. Having passed and been given a green light on the required two covid tests, the integration of that news somehow did not get relayed to my digital ticket in my Apple Wallet and on Sunday morning I found it said “Non Covid Compliant” and has disappeared my actual ticket. After about 40 minutes trying to find a solution, an Academy staff member I know came to my rescue in time for the show. I wasn’t alone. I know of one studio that had several of their nominees experience the same problem. What is wrong with a hard ticket, folks? And while we are complaining, is there not a way to get the Hollywood and Highland parking garage to put the gates up for the Oscars as we exit? It took a solid and miserable 90+ minutes to get out of that garage and on to freedom on La Brea. “It’s like this every year,” one guy yelled as he tried to manuever past my car.
Somehow the invisible ticket and the endless parking jam seemed appropriate for an Oscar show that, despite the best laid plans and some memorable moments, was a bit out of control itself.
But Oscar nut that I am, I can’t wait to see what next year has in store, hopefully a little more love and peace.
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