Normally ahead of each Oscars ceremony we here at White Wall Cinema bring out in depth reviews of each major Oscar contender and earnestly pick apart the relative merits and demerits of each film individually. With 2021/2022 looking to be a arguably lacklustre crop of contenders it felt like doing something different was in order, a post award show round-up of the all the films in one piece was decided on, giving a chance to comment on the event itself and the winners and losers on the night. Little did we know there would be overall, even more losers than originally anticipated. The elephant in the room is of course the exchange between Chris Rock and Will Smith. For those that didn’t see the ceremony live and only saw clips on the internet after the fact, a brief version events is worth visiting.
In order to present an award for Best Documentary feature Rock took to the stage and began to crack a few of the customary jokes everyone has come to expect from a comedian in such moments. Far from a blistering Ricky Gervais style takedown Rock made a joke about Javier Bardem praying he didn’t win an Oscar just in case he walked away with a statuette and his also nominated wife, Penelope Cruz, didn’t. Rock imagined that Bardem was ‘praying’ Will Smith won instead of him. This amused people, including Will Smith. He then commented on Jada Pinkett Smith’s short buzzcut hairdo. Saying ‘Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see you’. This of course being in reference to Ridley Scott’s 1997 film featuring Demi Moore as a badass Navy SEAL, also with a buzzcut. This amused people, including Will Smith, and indeed Jada Pinkett Smith, then after a very short beat Jada changed her reaction. It was my assumption Jada was going to flex her arms, to show she was the tough and indeed boundary busting female G.I. Jane type Rock was referring to, which would elicit a roaring sound of approval and applause from the assembled celebs in the Dolby Theatre, instantly sending a gaggle of film producers into a frenzy of phone calls to get a G.I. Jane reboot greenlit. This reaction would have been very much the norm for a night like this.
Instead something else happened, Jada changed her initial smile into a face of displeasure followed by a pronounced eye roll. Will was happily chuckling along until he saw Jada’s reaction, getting to his feet proceeding to walk towards Rock onstage. Rock seeing the reaction said something to the effect of ‘oh c’mon, that was a nice one’ (whatever you think of Rock’s joke, he was by modern award show standards correct in saying that) followed by a a jokey ‘uh oh’ as Smith approached. At this point everyone was clearly expecting some sort of humorous exchange that would have amounted to some sort of good natured mock threat of a ‘dont mess with my woman’ type of gag. As old fashioned as that sounds, Will Smith instead inexplicably opted to do something even more old fashioned and proceeded to physically strike Chris Rock, and with some force I might add. It was loud enough a hit that many thought this might have been a ‘stage’ punch. The type where you hit your own thigh to produce a pronounced thud or slapping sound, it wasn’t, it was real blow to the side of Rock’s head. Rock managed to maintain an upright position in part because he quick enough to move WITH the impact of the blow, and indeed was able to steady (and ready) himself on his back foot. People may think I am exaggerating but it is entirely possible to knock someone out with the type of blow Smith dealt out, I’ve seen it. If the swing had been misjudged, if Rock had not leant away or stayed solid (it was a fast swing) it could have concussed him (a very dangerous proposition) or knocked him off his feet. This could have meant hitting his head on the ground, which could have had any number of consequences. A sucker punch, i.e. an impact someone isn’t expecting (who would expect this at fucking Oscars?) is especially dangerous and indeed traditionally seen as the mark of a coward who wouldn’t wish to engage in a fair fight. Speaking of cowardly, as many have already commented, would Smith have done this if it was not Chris Rock but The Rock presenting? I think not. But I digress. The truth is if Chris Rock hadn’t of had such quick reflexes frankly the situation could have been considerably worse. I can tell you as a statement of fact a blow of this nature has resulted in death for people before, indeed this is rare, but there has absolutely been many recorded incidents of this happening. I just mention all this before we go on just so we understand what we are dealing with as a reality, this is a statement of fact and not up for debate. Even a reasonably strong slap can easily result in a bleed to the brain or other serious injuries. A blow of any kind to the head is a gamble frankly.
Rock uttered ‘ oh Wow’, and Smith for his part immediately turned around and rather smugly walked back to seek Jada’s approval, acting as if he was some sort of cowboy that had just done his good deed for the day thumb firmly tucked into his waistband like he was having a flashback to being on the set of Wild Wild West. Rock clearly confused, and quick witted as ever said ‘Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me’. The audience offered something of a laugh but as it was coming into view that this might be a real incident, a mixture of shock and confusion washed over the auditorium.
As if that wasn’t enough, Smith, now seated only yards from Rock in his prime front row position, angrily shouted ‘Keep my wife’s name out you’re fucking mouth’. A few still laughed thinking this bizarrely serious response was part of some’ faux conflict’ bit (which are common at these events) that Smith might be attempting to do a deadpan ad lib for comedic effect. Rock said ‘wow dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke’ to try and emphasise how this really didn’t warrant such a drastic response. This time Smith repeated the phrase ‘Keep my wife’s name out you’re fucking mouth’ only this time the second half of the phrase was not just imbued with a scary and odd sense of strangely overblown anger, but indeed carried a very real aura of threat and was frankly the tone of a man who was potentially truly unhinged. The emotion in Smith’s eyes as he completed the statement was that of a man on the verge of losing control. ‘I’m going to, OK?’ was Chris’s response, who had clearly not planned on saying anything further about Pinkett anyway and felt the imminent need to calm Smith down. A very uncomfortable silence followed as Rock struggled to find the words to follow such a bizarre incident. Smith’s behaviour after he hit Rock had unsettled viewers perhaps more than the assault itself because at the time people were not sure what was really happening. By this point it was crystal clear, not only had Smith physically assaulted Rock on live TV in front of what would be the eyes of billions, he had then clearly threatened Rock that worse was to come if he didn’t comply.
Slowly finding his feet, and looking off stage for guidance and indeed, not without just cause, perhaps expecting the arrival of some security crew, Rock eventually referred to it as the ‘greatest night in the history television’ perhaps recalling the 1982 Andy Kaufman & Jerry Lawler incident on Letterman. This was far from a brilliantly staged hoax however, and Chris Rock’s muted but professional demeanour that followed as he got through the remainder of his award introduction, despite clearly being visibly shaken by the incident was quite an achievement by anyone’s standards. It frankly felt as though Smith was about to leap from his chair at any moment and continue the attack.
For a fuller context, it’s possible that a previous joke Rock had made about Jada seven years ago (a very tame joke and statement of fact about her not being invited to the Oscars,), and the fact that Jada suffers from hair loss due to alopecia (a fact I have only learned today and it’s possible something Rock didn’t know at the time either) could have been part of the trigger for Will Smith’s response. Rock’s joke had in impartial reality, the air of, at worst, a back handed compliment, but it’s quite possible I might not take it that way if I or my partner had been the subject of said joke. That being said it was tame by awards show standards and even if the joke had have been ten times worse, there is simply no excuse whatsoever for Smith physically assaulting Rock. Unless Rock was in the process of, or was just about to physically assail Jada, Will had no right to rise up from his chair after a fairly mild but still possibly very hurtful comment and deliberately walk across the auditorium in an attempt to demonstrate to the world that violence was the correct response of first resort in such a case. It’s possible Rock did know about Jada’s alopecia, I do find that doubtful, but it’s possible. Either way Rock was either being a bit rude or a rather mean spirited, in the end it doesn’t matter which because Smith went out of his way to hand Rock the higher ground, if indeed Rock went low, the Smith went lower.
Celebrity beef is a wildly unimportant topic comparative to other current world events and in light of that Smith would have been far better served by not showing the world, at a time like this, that violence is, as he sees it, before any other action, the correct immediate answer to such a perceived slight. If Will, or more pertinently Jada, were so aghast at this joke they would have had ample opportunity to voice it to the press on the night, either via Will’s speech which we all, including Will, knew was coming. Or indeed they could have complained to the assembled press core who would have been all over this like a rash. In fact Will or Jada could have just protested verbally at the time, or better yet taken the time later to privately speak to Rock explain why that was so hurtful and see what came out of that… y’know, like grown ups would? Instead Will immediately reacted with violence before anything else.
The frankly bizarre behaviour of Will seems to be a boiling over of a pattern of increasingly detached behaviour coming out of The Smith household over the last decade which I won’t fully go into here. Other award show hosts have seen fit to mock this strangeness with female hosts recently alluding to the public declaration from the couple that they can now sleep with whomever they want, they are in an ‘open’ relationship, although for whatever reason, Jada seems to be the one who is most committed to this idea. I am not square enough to think that this is a totally unworkable relationship ideology (many would disagree), the oddness comes less from the actual decision, but more the way in which this has been paraded in public and draped in an odd set of reasonings. This strange state of affairs caused Rebel Wilson to jibe at The Baftas “I thought (Will Smith’s) best performance over the past year was being OK with all his wife’s boyfriends.” (Wilson made several much more controversial jokes during the evening that the BBC happily defended) and indeed it was alluded to earlier in the night at The Oscars by a host. Smith laughed heartily but notably didn’t seem to want to play along with the gag as others in the theatre gamely did (see the ‘full body search’ on Brolin and Momoa by host Regina Call). This and the sort of inane self help platitudes that come from The Smith’s online presence have served to make them seem detached from reality even by Hollywood standards. Long suspected to be Scientologists (who by the way actually teach this behaviour of hitting others) it seems the Smith’s have gone beyond this to develop their own unique almost cult like personal code of conduct even more bizarre than the Tom Cruise’s or John Travolta’s of this world.
The whole incident is a shameful episode not least because we now see a parade of people reaching to justify, or more worryingly condone violence. It’s a sad day when people think violence is justified simply because it supports their ideological aims. It also overshadowed, the long struggled for achievements of all the other artists awarded at the Oscars, a real insult to Will’s fellow creators far worse than any insult Rock might have offered to Jada. Questlove’s powerful acceptance speech for his Summer of Soul doc (a film of some real importance) was all but ignored as people were still reeling. A room full of people celebrating a lifetime of efforts whose achievements will largely not be discussed or recognised because of an act of someone with an over inflated ego, or deep seated insecurities or both. Smith’s frankly pathetic best actor acceptance speech in which he blubbed his way through a non apology claiming that ‘love’ and ‘god’ made him do it only compounded the situation, and indeed Smith looked like a man who was deeply deluded but also potentially on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Elder statesmen Denzel Washington, seated nearby, had seemingly both chastised and comforted Will after the incident (during commercial break) and seemed to have a stern word for Smith during his speech which prompted Smith to recite Washington’s advice offered up only moments before… “Be careful at your highest moment… that’s when the devil comes for you.” Sage advice indeed. Had Washington not been on hand who knows what Smith might have done or said next. It seemed for the eyes of the world that Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa, (two gentleman of decidely beefy proportions) had been seated front and centre after the incident as some sort of de facto celebrity security unit. Suffice to say it was a strange night, but more on that later.
CODA & BEST PICTURE/BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Regarding the films, the big award of Best Picture went to ‘indie darling’ CODA, a remake of a recent commercial French film (La Famille Bélier) about a deaf family in a coastal fishing community with a hearing daughter who wants nothing more than to sing her little heart out. Undeniably an advancement for the representation of deaf people in cinema which should be celebrated, the film itself is sadly an uninspired, boringly predictable, often cringe inducing cheese fest that would be more at home as a made for TV movie as part of the afternoon schedule on the ‘Lifetime’ channel than as an Oscar contender. It’s easily one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, beating out even the likes of Crash and The King’s Speech in it’s almost total lack of genuine artistry. The one bright spot is the part of the father played by deaf actor Troy Kotsur, who rightfully won the academy award for Best Supporting Actor at the ceremony. Without his passion for this role the film would be totally devoid of authenticity from start to finish. It’s Disney channel style brand of emotional porn with a hint of ‘hilarious real world’ crudity (you know… because… it’s like so surprising that a deaf person could be crude) is something that will satisfy audiences and bring tears to eyes world wide, but the total absence of jeopardy, mind numbingly bland plotting and dialogue, and sometimes toe curling moments of emotion and / or singing just made me feel a bit sick. In the end though maybe the best picture award is right to go to something purely on the basis of it’s representation credentials, because they can’t be offering it to the film’s content in this case.
BELFAST & BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Overall the field was a bit weak this year in truth, evidenced by Kenneth Branagh’s Best Picture nominee Belfast which instead won him Best Original Screenplay for his semi autobiographical tale. A well intentioned piece that attempts to pay tribute to those that lived through the ‘troubles’ of the late 60s, it features the odd decent performance (Ciarán Hinds, Judi Dench both who lost out in their respective categories) but is ultimately a horribly uneven, thin and often nonsensical movie. It tries to romanticise or dramatise events into a cinematic childhood view, however a few nice but entirely predictable anecdotes, and the desaturating of uninspired cinematography into black and white is not enough to create a lasting piece of art, rather than the lightweight sentimental mess the film actually is complete with it’s bizarre High Noon homage street gun standoff.
THE POWER OF THE DOG & BEST DIRECTOR
Jane Campion scooped up the Best Director statuette for The Power Of The Dog. Established as this year’s ‘masterpiece’ it was seemingly the favourite until Campion made a few ill advised remarks relating to the William’s sisters, Venus and Serena (the subject of Will Smith fronted best picture nominee King Richard) during her critics choice award ceremony acceptance speech. Having benefitted from the internet’s favour after actor Sam Elliot made some questionable remarks about her film only 24 hours earlier, she then put her foot in it to became the object of Twitter’s scorn. Such is life in 2022, it paved the way for the cuddlier CODA to win. CODA being the first ever film to win best picture for a ‘streamer’, the academy may have offered it to Apple TV as a bit of fuck you to the shitty evil overlords of the streaming world Netflix. However in the end, despite handsome production design, the brilliant Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons duo, and stunning cinematography, The Power of the Dog doesn’t amount to much. There is no doubt it is helmed by a director of talent hence Campion’s award, but the award had to go to her because the Academy is (rightfully) looking to recognise female directors, but also because the academy knows that Campion losing out on awards for The Piano back in 1993 (albeit to Spielberg and Schindler’s List) is one those great unfortunate ‘any other year’ situations. Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit McPhee come across as cartoon characters, and the general themes of the movie are both miraculously devoid of drama and overblown at the same time. It’s a melodramatic journey to nowhere in particular and for that to work the journey itself has to be more interesting than it is in this case, it’s just not surprising enough or thought provoking enough despite it being finely crafted in a number of ways it just doesn’t fire on enough cylinders at once to make a Best Picture nominee that will echo through the years.
DON’T LOOK UP
With Adam McKay once again treading familiar territory with Don’t Look Up, he continues his politically charged comedic path that previously travelled through his somewhat overrated The Big Short and his somewhat underrated Vice. Don’t Look Up treads the same tonality as his other offerings, but despite a few nifty touches and eerily accurate moments, broadly it’s suffers from being too silly or indeed just not funny enough to hit the notes to make it worthy of the label ‘satire’ any more than in occasional flashes. DiCaprio is predictably good, and Mark Rylance is a ton of fun as a sort Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk hybrid but overall it’s just too on the nose.
Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a curious one. Only a few years after his masterful The Shape Of Water which took Toro’s genre movie obsessions and made them accessible for general audiences without scrimping on style Toro has now made a star studded picture (Cooper, Mara, Blanchett, Dafoe and more) that is a puzzle. Both in it’s twisty noir script (it is of course a remake of a 1947 film from a 1946 novel) and in it’s overall odd tone. It’s a fine picture in many ways, features only the usual annoyances in terms of Guillermo’s trademark flourishes of style, worldbuilding and hyper violence, but somehow it’s still not quite right in a number of other ways too that you can’t always put your finger on. My guess is, it seems essentially to be too drawn out. I am, for full disclosure, a fan of expansive cinema. I would rather a director delved into their story and world for three hours instead of two wherever they possibly can, but here it feels like a pulpy noir that should have literally rocketed along in a fatalistic out of control death spiral of bad deeds, but instead it’s been stretched out so thinly you stop caring. Everything about the film is carefully considered and that works beautifully for everything except the plot. Toro wants to revel in his exquisite world building, and who can blame him for work like this, but in the end it deprives the film of it’s central drive and that’s a big shame. Perhaps repeat viewings might work so you can factor in this jarring pacing.
So with all this doom and gloom, what was good this year?
DUNE & TECHNICAL AWARDS
Another best picture nominee Dune rightly cleaned up on technical awards like sound, editing, cinematography, production design, and best visual effects. Intelligent big budget box office fayre has become Denis Villeneuve’s forte. Dune is the definition of event cinema and one of the only films that truly understands and exploits the IMAX format. With 40% more image in this format only available on IMAX screens (not 40% bigger but actually 40% more happening on screen) Villeneuve’s Dune offers a vertical and not horizontal vision of the desert which one will never fully understand unless seen in IMAX ratio. So rare is a proper IMAX film it’s 100% worth the trip to proper venue.
DRIVE MY CAR & BEST INTERNATIONAL PICTURE
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is essentially an unorthodox Japanese take on the road movie. In some ways not much happens across it’s 179 minute running time. In it theatre actor and director Yūsuke suffers the unexpected death of his wife in the early stages of the film, and then we see him some time later in the process of dealing with the fallout whilst directing a version of Checkov’s Uncle Vanya for a theatre residency in Hiroshima. He is provided with a driver (who becomes a significant figure in the tale) and takes on a curious choice on for the lead actor in the play ( I won’t spoil it). An epic meditation on grief drawn from a Haruki Murakami short story, it shouldn’t really work, but it does. It’s strangely compelling despite it’s long running time and lack of ‘action’ and the film’s direction is as smoothly driven as the film’s now oddly iconic 1987 Saab 900 Turbo. Winner of Best International Picture it’s not transcendent enough to be a Best Picture winner, but a nomination was wise move given this year’s field.
WEST SIDE STORY & BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Steven Spielberg’s rather odd and seemingly pointless choice to remake West Side Story has paid off in spades. An undeniable cinematic classic the original 1961 version was a tour de force, brilliant in countless ways but somehow, against the odds perhaps, Spielberg has been able to add to the originals legacy, and create a dazzling portrait of his own with a directing job of such astonishing virtuosity it often beggars belief. Every single element is a showcase of true brilliance of craft from the cinematography, to the dancing, to the sets there isn’t a single moment that isn’t masterful. It’s downfall is that it’s a musical full of young people, which to me, on paper, is a horrifyingly intolerable prospect. But the film is so well cast, performed, and realized that this irritation barely registers. Immense street scenes with astonishing depth of field stand alongside studio sets that ooze quality production design. Resisting the temptation to be too overly polished Spielberg’s juxtaposes the slick with the gritty and it works. Ariana DeBose won best supporting actress in a well deserved win, fighting off competition from Jesse Buckley (in the lamentable Maggie Gyllenhall directed Oliva Colman drama The Lost Daughter), Judi Dench (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (Power of the Dog) and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard). DeBose is the power house that pushes forward this massive film (more than the leads) much like her predecessor Rita Moreno was (who was the standout in the ’61 original) who appears here too in a different role in which she also shines. It’s also worth noting that DeBose is the first first openly gay woman to win an Academy Award for acting and also the first openly gay woman of color and the first Afro-Latina to win an Oscar for acting in a double barrier breaking moment. Spielberg has taken care to keep what worked about the original, adapt what needs to be changed (i.e. a proper Latino cast) or create an alternative approach where it’s not necessarily needed but will add some interest, value or comment. It’s brilliant, but it wouldn’t be my choice for Best Picture, that would be…
Never one to produce Oscar bait Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest piece of brilliance is Licorice Pizza. Ok so maybe it’s not his best work (also maybe it is?), but PTA on his worst day is better than almost everyone else on their best day. That the film got no wins is par for the course, ultimately it’s just too interesting, unusual, nuanced and brilliant to be a film that wins Best Picture but it gets nominated because a conversation about film for the 2021/2022 crop simply isn’t a conversation worth having if you dont include Licorice Pizza. Anderson’s themes are wide ranging and work (as usual) in inconvenient and unexpected ways. A lighter touch than some of his other films, extreme darkness is replaced with a sense of folly, and ennui that at turns confuses, confounds, excites, amuses and peaks curiosity. It’s not so much what the characters do, which is essentially hang out and take seemingly unconnected paths and detours on the real world random roads of life. Sometimes the character’s actions drive events sometimes events drive their actions, but really it’s the character’s inner lives that matter. Even in the film’s more bizarre tangents the character’s reactions, and more importantly their inner motivations are meticulously conceived and whilst never being obvious (or whilst even being purposefully contradictory) they are never less than always entirely authentic. Throw in Michael Bauman and PTA’s wonderful images, a bunch of cracking needle drops (Wings, Bowie, Chuck Berry), some clever playing with modern sensibilities through the unforgiving prism of 70s ethics, and the feeling of truth that runs through all of these semi real life settings and situations and you have one of the years most endlessly fascinating pictures that will stand up to repeated viewings to mine for it subtleties and rhythms for years to come. Anderson is the finest director of the last 25 years and he shows no signs of slowing. For Alana Haim not be nominated for her astonishing debut is bizarre but then we did have something special in the Best Actress category which trumped all the others…
JESSICA CHASTAIN & BEST ACTRESS
‘We’re blessed. we’re blessed, we’re blessed, we are blessed. We don’t deserve it but we are blessed’ sings Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Baker on her way to winning the Best Actress Oscar in a powerhouse performance for the bizarre story of TV evangelist turned unlikely LGBTQ icon in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Chastain a long overlooked figure now on her third Oscar nomination has blessed us (we don’t deserve it) with a wild performance almost matched by Andrew Garfield’s genius turn as Tammy’s husband and crooked televangelist Jim Baker. A ludicrous story, the film is by no means a masterpiece but it’s a spirited romp through the pairs crazy lives that is anchored by it’s two leads and Chastain’s exceptional skill. In the past Chastain has filled some pretty serious shoes in character terms, Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game, The Tree Of Life etc and is always excellent, but here Chastain finds a moment she has clearly been waiting for, a chance to visit a character who is outrageously quirky but never inauthentic. A pet project for ten years for Chastain she has finally gotten the chance to unleash her inner weird. If you aren’t familiar with Tammy Faye (most widely seen in a year 2000 RuPaul narrated documentary) you would be forgiven for thinking Chastain was performing a caricature, but in actual fact her performance is so eerily accurate it’s almost bizarre. That’s not to say it’s just an impression, it isn’t, it’s also not to say she has done a deep dive into Tammy Faye’s psyche and re-invented her, the film doesn’t really allow for that, but what Chastain has done is capture perfectly the spirit of Tammy Faye in all her bespangled, intensely excitable, forlorn and loving naivety. It’s a performance not to be missed and my god it absolutely wipes the floor with (fellow Best Actress nominee Nicole Kidman’s Lucille Ball. Being The Ricardos falls into a similar movie bracket and shows how differently you can make these type of biopics even when the style is superficially the same. At the end of the day neither film is a masterpiece, biopics rarely if ever are, but they rise and fall on the central performance. Kidman kills her movie off (even with the great Aarron Sorkin dialogue), Chastain on the other hand, just kills it.
KING RICHARD & BEST ACTOR
Finally we sort of come full circle to King Richard and Will bloody Smith. I will say this much, I had been all for Smith winning best actor in this category despite some seriously hefty competition. Let’s just say Denzel Washington’s work in Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is extraordinary. It’s a very strong film and Denzel proves once again why he is one of the finest actors of his (or indeed any other) generation. But Smith avoids his worst acting excesses in King Richard, the story of champion tennis players Venus and Serena Williams and their dad Richard. Covering mostly the girl’s early training years and with a sharp focus on their dad’s determination to make them a success, again a passion project for it’s star, Smith has been trying to deliver this film and role for some time. It was bizarre to see some of the sentiments expressed in the film aired during the Oscar ceremony as clips against the backdrop of what happened between Smith and Rock. Indeed Smith’s acceptance speech marred by the incident somehow tried to use the obsessive and questionable parenting of Richard Williams as cover for Smith’s own now exposed disposition of wanting to ‘protect’ his family (Williams himself has now condemned Smith’s behaviour). When placed in this light one has to reconsider Smith’s entire motivation for wanting to portray this character and tell this story in the first place, especially given some of the scenes of threat and violence. The film takes an interesting enough angle to keep you entertained throughout but is ultimately a lightweight crowd pleaser that audiences will enjoy, geared entirely around a Will Smith Oscar grab. I don’t begrudge it that, in the end this is as good a performance as you will ever get from Will Smith, and though the other nominees are capable of much better than Smith (Javier Bardem, Andrew Garfield, Benededict Cumberbatch, and of course Denzel) this felt like Smith’s moment.
And it was. Until he ruined it for himself and everyone else.
There might be good reasons why Smith behaved the way he did, but there is simply no excuse for it. I am not afraid to say that if I was running the Oscars (I can dream can’t I?) then I would have perhaps had a word with Chris Rock about what he said if I knew the full context, which I am not even sure Rock himself did. A seemingly harmless remark comparing haircuts and saying now you (Jada) have an excuse to play this badass role that another woman had shaved her head for is potentially hurtful if you are not completely comfortable with the condition you have. It’s easy to see why someone might be sensitive or annoyed about it, and easy to see why Chris Rock might have thought it was a pretty harmless gag especially given there is good chance he just thought it was a fashion choice. Indeed it was (rightly or wrongly) well below the high watermark of offensiveness for the usual gags at these events and one could make an argument that if the Smiths don’t agree with the ethics of the environment they could have stayed away, they have taken such a decision before. Ultimately it’s just a bit of a passé gag because, well… women do shave their heads, it’s no so incredibly unique in 2022. But if I was running the event, in fact if I was running any event and one person took it upon themselves to physically strike, attack, assault another person, I would immediately, once ascertaining the facts i.e. that this wasn’t just an elaborate prank but something done with malice, have asked Smith to leave auditorium. No ifs, ands or buts. One strike and you are out so to speak. You couldn’t get away with that in a local nightclub let alone at the Oscars. If it was me, we would have temporarily suspended the category and made it clear that in light of what happened we felt it necessary to ask Mr Smith to leave the theatre. If Will Smith can get up on international television and physically assault a man in front of what he must know will eventually be billions of viewers and indeed a theatre full of his peers as well as perhaps his heroes and mentors, there’s no telling what else he might be capable of.
Of course I will say this is unprecedented for the Oscars, they really won’t have had protocols for this, as dealing with violence actually during the awards from a high profile nominee is completely unexpected, and with good reason! But experience tells me, if he can do something as audacious as that he might well be a loose cannon and it’s just not worth leaving him in situ if, like at a big event such as the Oscars, you can physically remove someone in a proportionate way if they refuse to leave. Halt the broadcast if you have to, it’s only going to get you good publicity in the end. No one, surely no one, can disagree that being asked to leave is a fair consequence of physical violence towards another person? Ill advised jokes are up for debate and social consequences, physically attacking someone isn’t. The fact that he was able to accept his Oscar, make a TERRIBLE set of excuses without properly apologising, and then spend the night giddily laughing at other jokes by the hosts about the scenario was pretty disconcerting.
For all the great moments at the Oscars… the Coppola, DeNiro, Pacino, Godfather re-union, the Snipes, Perez, Harrelson White Men Can’t Jump re-union, Gaga and Minelli, take your pick… for all the award nominees for after years of hard work and the achievement of the cinema I spoke of above, in the end almost the only thing most people will know about this Oscars is this stupid incident. Not only did the nominees who didn’t win, lose, but the winners lost. Chris Rock lost, Jada and Will Smith lost, the Academy lost and the audience lost. We are all losers on this one. I give my respect to those that tried bring back a message of calm, love and respect, as well as the privilege of being able to make movies. I am looking at you Jessica Chastain, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Costner, Denzel Washington and others. But this usually joyous celebration was in the end ruined.
It might not be the most important thing in the world, it’s certainly not the worst thing that ever happened either, it’s not even the worst thing that has ever happened at the Oscars, but this is 2022 and we should have higher standards now. Maybe Chris Rock should have higher standards, the context of that joke could, is and should be debated. but violence towards another human that isn’t physically provoked has considerably less debate room in it. Again, this was not the worst or most important thing that ever happened in the world, but with so many eyes on THE top night in all of movie making, to paraphrase the great Fran Lebowitz, it’s not nothing either. In summation, I hope Will gets the help he needs, because they can’t invite this version of him back.
Since I wrote the above Will Smith has issued a full apology statement which can be read here.