2022 Oscars: Welcome to Will Smith's Evening of Punch-Drunk Love - Rolling Stone
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2022 Oscars: Welcome to Will Smith’s Evening of Punch-Drunk Love

Rob Sheffield weighs in on what may be the most jaw-dropping, what-the-fuck-just-happened Academy Awards broadcast ever

US actor Will Smith accepts the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for "King Richard" onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)US actor Will Smith accepts the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for "King Richard" onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Will Smith, accepting the award for Best Actor at the 94th annual Academy Awards.

Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images

Okay, let’s try to find something positive to say about this disastrous Oscar Night, shall we? Ashton and Mila are still together! Awesome, right? Drive My Car and Ryusuke Hamaguchi won. Troy Kotsur from CODA made a memorable signed acceptance alongside Youn Yuh-jung. Ariana DeBose was a historic winner for West Side Story, thanking her inspiration and mentor (and Oscar winner for the exact same role six decades ago), Rita Moreno. Jane Campion became the third female filmmaker to win Best Director. Questlove is an Oscar winner! And remember how six or seven years ago Beyoncé kicked off the show with a song? In a saner world, that’s what we’d all be talking about right now.

But in one of the weirdest moments in Oscar history, Will Smith snapped and went up onstage to attack a presenter, Chris Rock. And then — the really weird part — he just went back to his seat to watch the show like nothing happened. At first, it looked like Rock and Smith were doing a bit. Smith’s tantrum, however, was for real.

It was the weirdest fisticuffs at a live TV award show since Tommy Lee and Kid Rock got into a bitchslap tango over Pam Anderson at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. Back then, Sean “Puffy” Combs immediately reacted on the air, joking, “We gotta stop the violence in rock & roll!” History repeated itself, since Diddy had to go on right after Smith’s outburst and make awkward quips. And maybe, just maybe, Diddy also remembered the jokes Rock made about “Mo Money Mo Problems” in 1997: “‘I’m comin’ out”? What does Puff mean? ‘Suge’s in jail, now I can leave my house?'”

Historical context: There’s some bad blood in the combination of Rock, Smith, and the Oscars. The last time the comedian hosted the Oscars, in 2016, he said, “Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties — I wasn’t invited!”

Chris had a lot of fun that night with those two, as he usually does with celebrities at award shows. (Can you imagine Tobey Maguire or Jude Law or Tim Robbins attacking him mid-ceremony? He was a lot meaner to them.) In 2016, he quipped, “Jada’s mad her man Will was not nominated for Concussion…She said, ‘It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated!’ You’re right! It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West, okay?”

When Smith won Best Actor for King Richard, as was expected, he made a speech about how he was just doing God’s work, along with a few of the usual clichés that men say after violent tantrums. It was a far cry from his famous 1999 VMAs speech where he boasted about he didn’t use profanity or rap about killing people on his records — a moment so iconic at the time, Eminem made fun of it in “The Real Slim Shady.”

But the whole night was a buffet of Hollywood crazy. I thought this Oscars had already set an all-time record for mind-blowingly tasteless decisions until they had a cheerleading squad sing “Spirit in the Sky” for the In Memoriam montage. Right, what better way to honor Lina Wertmüller or Stephen Sondheim or Jean-Paul Belmondo than jazz dancers chirping about Jesus? Why bring on poor Jamie Lee Curtis to make her recite lines like “Betty White was more than a Golden Girl — she was a legend!”

Timothée Chalamet showed up in a sparkly ensemble with no shirt, and admirably kept his smile going all through the soul-numbing depths of the show. He managed to give sincere-looking enthusiasm — maybe the first person ever to earn a Best Actor award during the actual ceremony.

Megan Thee Stallion made a glorious appearance during the all-star “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” performance. Billie Eilish sang the Bond theme “No Time To Die,” which in no way explained that goofy 60 Years of Bond montage earlier in the evening. Amy Schumer had a clever joke about the fact that Don’t Look Up was nominated: “I guess Academy members Don’t Look Up reviews!” Also there was a beautiful moment on the red carpet where Chloe and Halle were holding hands, as the interviewer asked what celebrity they were most excited to see. Chloe said, “Halle!”

The night’s most touching moment came at the end: Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, a shocking reminder that celebrities can also be kind, empathetic, generous human beings. When Liza fumbled briefly with the envelope, Gaga simply said “I got you” — what a real and powerful moment. On an Oscar night like this one, it couldn’t have felt more out of place.

In This Article: Chris Rock, Oscars, Will Smith


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