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20 Best, Worst, and Most WTF Moments of the 2020 Oscars

Upsets and white guys and vegans, oh my! This year’s ceremony was all over the map — and we’ve got the list to prove it

Bong Joon Ho, Jane Fonda, Kang-Ho Song, Kwak Sin Ae. Bong Joon Ho, right, reacts as he is presented with the award for best picture for "Parasite" from presenter Jane Fonda at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Looking on from left are Kang-Ho Song and Kwak Sin Ae92nd Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Chaos was the name of the game at the 2020 Oscars. Hostless for its second year running, the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony was a dizzying hodgepodge of false starts, unexpected musical numbers, bonkers speeches, and jumbled aesthetics. Who co-signed on those Cats costumes? Why is Joaquin Phoenix so into cows? And what the hell is Eminem even doing here?

At the center of the whirlwind, Bong Joon Ho’s masterful Parasite emerged victorious, making history as the first foreign-language film to ever win Best Picture, while also nabbing statuettes in the Directing, Original Screenplay, and newly-rechristened International Film categories. The night’s big acting awards went to Phoenix for Joker and Renée Zellweger for Judy, while Golden Globe winner 1917 won in many of the technical categories, and Jojo Rabbit scored Best Adapted Screenplay.

But Parasite’s much-deserved surprise sweep aside, this year’s ceremony was a night of shiny baubles that seemed designed to distract us from the Academy’s continued, glaring diversity problem. No women were nominated for Best Director in a year that gave us Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet. (You can read all about it on Natalie Portman’s custom-embroidered cape.) Meanwhile, few people of color were up for any major awards (in all the acting categories, the only non-white contender was Cynthia Erivo for Best Actress in Harriet). Maybe next year, they’ll address this issue in earnest. Until then, here are our picks for the most sublime, terrible, and just downright strange moments of the 2020 Oscars.

Idina Menzel (C) and Elsas from around the world performs during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

WTF: Piling on the Elsas for That ‘Frozen II’ Song

You know Broadway veteran Idina Menzel is going to deliver when she takes the Academy stage, even if Frozen II’s Best Song nominee, “Into the Unknown,” sounds like a less-catchy retread of its predecessor “Let It Go” (which won in 2014). Belt she did, with Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA backing her up… as well as a surprise assemblage of nine women from around the world, who joined them onstage to sing segments of the song in various languages. At first blush, the move came off as a nifty (if also somewhat cynical) nod to Hollywood’s increasingly global audience. But a closer look at the singers present revealed the Academy’s limited definition of “around the world”: of the nine performers, seven were from European countries. Those ice crystals hanging behind them weren’t the only parts of this number that were very, very white. JS

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 09: (L-R) Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves speak onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best: Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves Take Us Back to Rom-Com Heaven

As always, Diane Keaton walks that fine line between not quite knowing the protocol and not giving a shit about it. Keaton and Keanu Reeves reunited onstage, nominally because they starred together in the 2003 rom-com Something’s Gotta Give, but maybe just so Keaton could lightly shade co-star Jack Nicholson, whose character she ends up choosing over Reeves’ character in the film. “I wouldn’t go that far,” she deadpanned after Reeves raved, “Good times, you and Jack!” Keaton’s nervous energy nearly caused her to announce a winner before listing the nominees, a snafu she gamely recovered from thanks to some charming guidance by her fellow presenter. For many, the delightful pairing was a corrective 17 years in the making: the preferred ending to that movie. PR

Laura Dern accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role for "Marriage Story" at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles92nd Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

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Best: Laura Dern Wins One for the Whole Family

Laura Dern has been killing it for a long time, but it’s been especially fun to see her bring increasingly electric and complex characters to life so deep into her career. Her divorce attorney character in Marriage Story could have easily been a vindictive caricature, but Dern managed to make her simultaneously shrewd, sensitive, and bloodthirsty, just as she did with Renata “I will not not be rich!” Klein from Big Little Lies. Her win for Best Supporting Actress was doubly gratifying to witness, because she’s the first in her family to receive the honor: Dern is Hollywood royalty whose father, Bruce Dern, and mother, Diane Ladd, have been nominated multiple times, but have never won. PR

Renee Zellweger - Lead Actress - Judy92nd Annual Academy Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

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Worst: Renée Zellweger Gives a Speech From Another Planet

Accepting her award for Best Actress for Judy, Zellweger worked it like a pro at first, acknowledging her fellow nominees before the necessary, if yawn-inducing, rundown of names — her team, her co-stars, etc. But stars who win for biopics can reasonably be expected to speak coherently about the person they portrayed. Perhaps Zellweger didn’t feel comfortable addressing Judy Garland’s legacy, since Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, has publicly dismissed the film. But what do Neil Armstrong and Serena Williams, whom Zellweger mentioned, have to do with a movie that focused on the tragic last months of Garland’s life? From there, she invoked teachers and first responders — worthy professions, but of baffling relevance. Watching her try to bring it back to the iconic actress at the film’s heart was almost as excruciating as watching her Garland falter onstage in Judy. Given the abuse and neglect Garland faced within the industry, it was a missed opportunity to confront bigger issues. PR

Hildur Gudnadottir reacts after winning the Oscar for Achievement in Music written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Best: ‘Joker’ Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir Beats Out Four Lions of the Craft

The superhero banter among presenters Gal Gadot, Sigourney Weaver, and Brie Larson nicely underscored (ahem) Hildur Gudnadottir’s historic win. The Icelandic composer took home the trophy for Joker, and in doing so triumphed over legends like John Williams and Randy Newman to become the first woman to win Best Original Score since 1997, and the first ever to win for a drama. (The musical/comedy and drama distinctions in this category were combined in 2000.) Her music in the film is memorably unnerving and yet beautifully moody, which has become something of her signature (see also: her haunting score for Sicario: Day of the Soldado). And she sounded the best note of all in her acceptance speech, when she said, “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up­­ — we need to hear your voices.” PR

Maya Rudolph (L) and Kristen Wiig present the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Best: Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig Can Do No Wrong

Every year, some pairing of funny ladies gets up to present a below-the-line award, and it turns out to be one of the most delightful moments of the evening. Last night was no exception. When Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig took the stage to present the awards for Production and Costume Design, respectively, they turned the moment into a faux audition for the directors in the room. Dressed in flashy red dresses, they fought, they cried, they got “steamed,” they made excellent use of their beautifully expressive faces, and they savored every minute. Their medley of songs brilliantly combined “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” “Vogue,” and “Lady in Red” (among others), and didn’t miss a beat. It was a few minutes of talent- and chemistry-soaked bliss. Perhaps the Oscars don’t need a host, but the ceremony sure would benefit if Rudolph and Wiig handed out most of the awards. PR

Utkarsh Ambudkar performs during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

WTF: That Mid-Show Recap Rap

The 2020 Oscars were truly a night for people to break out into rap performances for no reason. See, after Eminem, the appearance of Utkarsh Ambudkar, a hip-hop performer and actor who was in last year’s Brittany Runs a Marathon. “You don’t know me,” he began, backed by beats from Roots drummer Questlove. Yep — we don’t. “I’m here to recap the show and emcee for a bunch of nominees that don’t look like me,” he rapped, going back over the winners thus far with a focus on the few honorees of color (including Best Adapted Screenplay winner Taika Waititi and Matthew A. Cherry’s Best Animated Short winner, Hair Love). “Been a long time trying to be colorblind/What you see right in front of you’s a sign of the times,” he continued. On one hand, it’s good to call this stuff out; on the other, it doesn’t stand in for actual, y’know, progress. Mostly, did we really need a recap of what just happened in an already overstuffed ceremony? JS

Beanie Feldstein during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Worst: Presenters Presenting Presenters

Celebrities love to make an entrance, but just how many Inception-esque layers of introduction do we need? Thanks to the 2020 ceremony’s lack of host, there was no one person to present the people presenting the awards, which led to a whole lot of hilariously brief walk-ons. For example, Beanie Feldstein came onstage to introduce Mindy Kaling, so that she could then introduce Best Animated Feature; Anthony Ramos introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda, who then introduced Eminem; and so forth. (Meanwhile, Elton John got no introduction at all before his performance of “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”.) The layers of heraldry gave the ceremony the air of a French farce. We’re surprised no one tripped over each other on their way on and offstage. JS

Cynthia Erivo performs during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Best: Cynthia Erivo Brings Down the House With ‘Stand Up’

The Harriet star came thisclose to becoming the youngest EGOT winner in history at last night’s Oscars, with an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony already under her belt for The Color Purple. Still, though she didn’t win for Best Actress or Best Original Song, she absolutely stopped the show with her performance of “Stand Up,” which she co-wrote with Joshuah Brian Campbell about titular abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Resembling an Oscar herself in a shimmering golden gown, the Broadway veteran belted through the highs and lows of the gospel-inflected anthem, backed by a swaying choir. Elton John and Bernie Taupin may have won the category with “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman, but it was only Erivo who earned a standing ovation. JS

Joaquin Phoenix accepts his Oscar for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for 'Joker' during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Ceremony - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

WTF: Joaquin Phoenix Has a Cow, Man

A week ago, Joaquin Phoenix took home a BAFTA, and used his time onstage to acknowledge how “conflicted” he was about his “privilege.” He tackled the lack of diversity in his industry with an awkward eloquence, and we assumed he’d do the same last night. Instead, he veered from gender inequality, racism, and queer rights into… the artificial insemination of cows. Wait, what? His point about the evils of factory farming is certainly valid, and, as a committed vegan, Phoenix clearly keeps this cause close to his heart. But he clumsily conflated various forms of injustice, and walked us all too vividly through a strange scenario about milk consumption. When he regained his footing, Phoenix admitted to being “a scoundrel” and “hard to work with,” before quoting his beloved late brother, River. It would have been far more compelling if he’d organized his thoughts around his own mistakes — or organized his thoughts in general — particularly when accepting an award for a movie that seemed like a veiled defense of white male rage. PR

Carol Dysinger (R) and Elena Andreicheva, winners of the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for 'Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl),' poses in the press room during the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, USA, 09 February 2020. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories.Press Room - 92nd Academy Awards, Hollywood, USA - 09 Feb 2020

David SwansonN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Best: Documentary Winners Make It Count

Award ceremonies are never light on sociopolitical commentary, but the winners for both Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short made impassioned speeches that resonated with the focus of their work. Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert won for their compelling feature American Factory (produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s film company), which looks at the human toll of globalization and economic change. Reichert used the platform for a Marxist call to action: “We believe that things will get better when the workers of the world unite.” Director Carol Dysinger (above, right), who won for the magnificently titled short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), was similarly inspiring, as she commended the fearlessness of women in patriarchal Afghanistan. In general, the documentary categories did a better job of representation than their scripted peers — the rest of the industry should pay attention. PR

James Corden, Rebel Wilson. James Corden, left, and Rebel Wilson present the award for best visual effects at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles92nd Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

WTF: James Corden and Rebel Wilson Make Us Relive ‘Cats’

To present the award for Best Visual Effects (which went to Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy for 1917), the Oscars ceremony threw some notable shade at the movie with arguably the worst VFX of 2019: Tom Hooper’s Cats, which journeyed into the Uncanny Valley and set up permanent residence. (Why do the cats have fingers? Why??) Game-for-whatever presenters Rebel Wilson and James Corden (a.k.a. Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones) shuffled onstage clad in decidedly non-CGI feline costumes with the caveat: “Nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.” We feel kind of bad for the 1917 blokes who accepted the honor of a lifetime from two weirdos in fur suits, but we couldn’t help but laugh when Wilson and Corden paused to bat the mic stand with their, er, paws. JS

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 09: Irish composer Eímear Noone attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Worst: Tokenism Stands In for Diversity

We were initially excited to see Captain Marvel, Ellen Ripley, and Wonder Woman sharing the stage when Brie Larson, Sigourney Weaver, and Gal Gadot came up as presenters. The feeling vanished, however, once Weaver awkwardly pronounced “all” women “superheroes,” and brought on Irish conductor-composer Eímear Noone to lead excerpts from the Best Original Score nominees — the first woman to conduct at an Oscars ceremony — before she was forced to return the baton to the ceremony’s male conductor. The Academy might as well have announced, “Women can have a little orchestra directing, as a treat!” It was the most overt but by no means the only example from an evening that made frequent references to how women and people of color should be celebrated and included, while failing to actually honor them in any meaningful way. JS

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 09: Billie Eilish performs onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best: Billie Eilish’s Haunting ‘Yesterday’

Recent Grammy winner and teen pop-goth icon Billie Eilish brought two very important things to the Oscars this year: her complete lack of poker face, and a moving rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” delivered as the annual In Memoriam segment played, backed by her brother Finneas on piano. Over images of the recently departed that included Kobe Bryant, Barbara Hammer, Agnès Varda, Doris Day, Peter Fonda, and Kirk Douglas, Eilish crooned a downbeat Paul McCartney cover that was infused with genuine pathos — a feat that’s tricky to accomplish with one of the most-covered songs in history. We know she’s only 18, but when she sings, Eilish radiates the uncanny gravitas of an eldritch god. JS

Bong Joon Ho, Jane Fonda, Kang-Ho Song, Kwak Sin Ae. Bong Joon Ho, right, reacts as he is presented with the award for best picture for "Parasite" from presenter Jane Fonda at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Looking on from left are Kang-Ho Song and Kwak Sin Ae92nd Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Best: ‘Parasite’ Wins Big

In nearly a century of Academy Awards, no foreign-language film has ever won in the coveted Best Picture category — until now. And we can’t think of a more deserving film to break the barrier than South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho’s brilliant, razor-sharp class satire. There’s seldom been a purer moment on the Oscars stage than when Bong gazed in awe at what would prove to be his first statuette of the night, for Best Original Screenplay. But the accolades kept coming, as Parasite won for Director, International Film, and, finally, the biggest one of all. A visibly thrilled audience chanted for the lights to come back up after co-producer Kwak Sin Ae accepted Parasite’s Best Picture award, at which point Miky Lee, vice chair of media conglomerate CJ Entertainment, stepped up to thank Bong (“I like everything about him. His smile, his crazy hair. The way he talks. The way he walks. And especially the way he directs”) and Korean film audiences who saw the movie first. Parasite’s win could mark the start of a new era for the Oscars — one where more than just the usual suspects have a seat at Hollywood’s highest table. JS

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