The 94th Academy Awards will forever be known for one, did-that-just-happen moment: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about his wife. That was probably not on anyone’s Oscars bingo card. Instead, going into the evening, there was mostly uncertainty: What would the ceremony do to acknowledge the Russian invasion of Ukraine? How would three hosts work, especially after going without even one since 2018? And would the telecast be more entertaining — possibly even shorter — if several awards were moved to a preshow? Here are the highs and lows as we saw them. — Stephanie Goodman
Worst Unscripted Moment: That Slap
The slap seen round the world left all of us confused. What just happened? Why did our TVs suddenly go haywire? Did Will Smith actually just hit Chris Rock?
Rock, onstage to present the best documentary award, was delivering a mini-monologue when he joked about Will Smith’s wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, looking as if she should be in “G.I. Jane 2.” It was seemingly a reference to her short-cropped hair, but Pinkett Smith has said she has alopecia, a condition that leads to hair loss.
Smith got out of his seat, strode up to Rock onstage and slapped him. Then Smith returned to his seat, where he demanded — with expletives — that Rock not speak about his wife.
In the United States, the telecast froze and went silent. Rock’s reaction — noting with an expletive that Smith had just smacked him — along with Smith’s teary acceptance speech for best actor made it clear that the confrontation was no stunt.
The entire episode cast a pall over the ceremony and overshadowed the awards. “There’s like a different vibe in here,” Amy Schumer, one of the hosts, said when she got the microphone back later in the evening. She was joking. People laughed. But none of it was funny. — Matt Stevens
Quickest Pivot: Apologizing for That Slap
Just minutes after he slapped Rock, Smith won his first Oscar, best actor, for playing the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in “King Richard.” Smith’s teary, heartfelt speech included apologies to the academy and his fellow nominees, though none directed at Chris Rock. “Art imitates life,” Smith said in his speech. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.” Smith probably faces much more reckoning and reflection, but it was a start. — Nancy Coleman
First Somewhat Normal Red Carpet in Forever
One of the weirder aspects of the return of the non-socially distanced red carpet was the swirling melee of maskless celebrities once again air-kissing and otherwise schmoozing their way down the red carpet to the Dolby Theater. It was almost as though the last two years of acceptance speeches at home in pajamas hadn’t happened, down to the reappearance of giant, frothing, princess dresses. Had there been no dressing lessons taken from that complicated, hibernating experience?
Actually, maybe there had. The hint that maybe this wasn’t a red carpet just like it used to be started with Timothée Chalamet’s entrance — shirtless, in an embroidered Louis Vuitton tuxedo, trousers and zip-up ankle boots — sped up with Zendaya’s appearance in a cropped white shirt and sweeping silver-sequined skirt, and really took wing with Kristen Stewart in Chanel hot pants, white shirt unbuttoned to her navel and (after she walked the red carpet,) flat loafers. Not to mention Ariana DeBose in red trousers with matching cape. It was as if they were shrugging off the old Hollywood clichés about fairy tale dressing along with the acres of cloth that usually goes with them.
It’s about time, and a promising hint that things really may be a-changin’. Though you’d also think that this particular time might likewise have inspired some acknowledgment of what was going on in the world outside the celluloid bubble.
Hollywood had, pre-Covid lockdown, started to show a propensity for wearing some of its beliefs on its lapels, which might have suggested at least a united showing of yellow and blue ribbons in support of Ukraine during Oscar evening. But with a few exceptions (Benedict Cumberbatch’s pin, Jason Momoa’s pocket square), the political fashion statement-making was disappointingly neutral. It’s too bad. Bring back the substance with the style! — Vanessa Friedman
Best Show Opening, Part 1: Venus and Serena Williams Get the First Word
Venus and Serena Williams got the first words at this year’s Oscars. After a controversy earlier this month at the Critics Choice Awards, where the director Jane Campion celebrated, then diminished, then later apologized to the tennis titans, the Williams sisters were rightly positioned in the top spot in the ceremony — even before Beyoncé. It gave them the early spotlight, unhindered by any jokes from the hosts or comments from any presenters. They just got the chance to shine. — Mekado Murphy
Best Show Opening, Part 2: Beyoncé Gets the First Performance
Who needs a host, or three, when you have Beyoncé at the top of the show? The singer’s opening performance of “Be Alive,” her Oscar-nominated song from “King Richard,” was a study in monochromatic extravagance, from dozens of key-lime-clad dancers, musicians and instruments to the setting itself, an equally bright tennis court in Compton, Calif., where Venus and Serena Williams got their start. The number itself was no less vibrant, serving as a much-needed adrenaline boost right away, especially in a time when viewers’ enthusiasm for award shows is dwindling. Neon, tennis-ball yellow-green has never looked so good. — Nancy Coleman
Most Triumphant Return of a Host (or Three)
The triple-threat hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes had the Dolby Theater buzzing with witty snipes, rapid-fire roasts and a “gay, gay, gay” nod to the Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in their opening monologue. One of the night’s best bits was a costumed bonanza that featured Schumer-as-Spider-Man descending from the Dolby’s rafters, Hall dressed as Tammy Faye Bakker with over-the-top makeup à la Jessica Chastain, and Sykes cavorting in a pair of white short-shorts that poked fun at Will Smith’s from “King Richard.” The bits didn’t always work: After Hall lined up Simu Liu, Timothée Chalamet and Jason Momoa for some “random Covid testing” and “Covid pat-downs,” she drew a barrage of tweets criticizing her for objectifying men (and questioning whether it was too soon for a Covid joke). But Schumer provided a moment that was universally adored: She gave a shout-out to “CODA” by signing, “I love ‘CODA.’ It’s my favorite movie.” — Sarah Bahr
Quietest Way to Address a World Crisis
Before the ceremony, one Oscar host pitched the idea of having the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, “satellite in” to speak at the show. Another Oscar host gently dismissed the idea, saying he might be “very busy right now.” Zelensky’s own aides lobbied the academy for an Oscar night show of support.
In the end the telecast took a more low-key route: calling for a moment of silence via three cards of gold text on black backgrounds. “While film is an important avenue for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water and emergency services,” read one of the texts expressing solidarity with the country. “Resources are scarce, and we — collectively and as a global community — can do more.”
If the visuals satisfied the academy, they were widely panned on the internet as tokenizing, minimizing or insulting to other countries — often in the global south — that have not received the same attention from the West. — Laura Zornosa
Trickiest Seemingly Live Awards
Much has been written and tweeted about the decision this year to announce the wins of eight categories — the short films plus production design, score, editing, makeup and hairstyling and sound — in a small ceremony before the live telecast. The move was made as part of an effort to improve the telecast’s ratings, which hit a record low last year. But many in Hollywood were unhappy, arguing that those categories honored professionals who are essential to filmmaking.
Yet if you hadn’t read about the controversy, you might never know watching the show. The producers merely pretended that all the categories were being announced live, without ever acknowledging otherwise, the “live” logo never disappearing from the screen.
Quick-on-their-feet editors worked in the acceptance speeches, replete with celebrity cutaways, as if they’d just happened within the broadcast. Did this seamless trickery work? Kind of? Did it save any time? Perhaps a bit? Was it worth it? Audiences can decide. But not acknowledging even once that these awards weren’t live seemed to be ignoring the golden elephant in the room. — Mekado Murphy
Most Emotional Acceptance Speech: Troy Kotsur Wins Best Supporting Actor
How appropriate that last year’s supporting-actress winner, Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”), was the one to present the “CODA” star Troy Kotsur with his supporting-actor Oscar. Both performers utterly charmed their respective awards seasons by giving heartfelt and funny acceptance speeches. You knew you were in for the moment of the night when Youn announced Kotsur’s name in sign language she had learned for the moment. Then Kotsur took the stage and delivered such an emotional speech — with a heartbreaking dedication to his father, who lost his ability to sign after being paralyzed in an accident — that even his translator’s voice cracked with feeling. “Dad, I learned so much from you,” the actor signed. “I’ll always love you. You are my hero.” — Kyle Buchanan
Most Inspiring Acceptance Speech: Ariana DeBose Wins Best Supporting Actress
Ariana DeBose became only the second Latina to win an Academy Award, when she took best supporting actress for her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” Rita Moreno, who was the first Latina to win an Oscar, for the same role in 1962, could be seen in the audience clasping her hands, undoubtedly proud of her protégé as DeBose accepted the honor onstage.
“Now you see why that Anita says ‘I want to be in America,’ because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true,” DeBose said. She thanked Moreno, calling her a “divine inspiration” and adding, “I’m so grateful your Anita paved the way for tons of Anitas like me and I love you so much.”
But what made the acceptance especially moving came next. DeBose took a moment to reference being the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar — and to inspire others like her:
“To anybody who has ever questioned your identity — ever, ever, ever — or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.”
As someone who has lived in those gray spaces, I couldn’t help but tear up. — Maira Garcia
Worst-Timed Performance: ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’
Just before 10 p.m., we did, in fact, talk about Bruno, in the first live performance of the Lin-Manuel Miranda-penned TikTok bop that’s haunted the dreams of parents everywhere since the November release of “Encanto.” The only problem? The hit’s biggest fans, the 7-year-olds who’ve been wailing, “BRUNO SAYS IT LOOKS LIKE RAAAAIN” with the gusto of Beyoncé stans, had already gone to bed. Perhaps some parents bribed the showrunners? — Sarah Bahr
Best Surprise Performance: Megan Thee Stallion Rapping on ‘Bruno’
For a minute, the live performance of “Bruno” started off as standard, with snippet performances by Adassa, who plays Dolores, Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), Mauro Castillo (Félix), Carolina Gaitan (Pepa) and Diane Guerrero (Isabela). Then, out of nowhere, a triumphant Megan Thee Stallion emerged. Guest stars Becky G and Luis Fonsi, who appeared later, were expected to share the stage; Meg was not.
“Every day, all the kids wanna hear is ‘Bruno.’ Bruno this, Bruno that, it’s the new ‘Let It Go,’” Megan Thee Stallion rapped. “Oh my God, Lin, you see what you have done? On Hollywood’s biggest night, best in all of cinema.”
“Magic in the air, stars everywhere, I need to see Oscars, Zendaya’s over there,” continued the rapper, who goes by the alter ego Tina Snow. “Oh, no, we got three hosts, these women are the best and they’re killing all the jokes.
“Believe I’m up next, I’m coming for that gold. You can add it to my shelf: Academy Award. Oh, no, it’s time for the show. Young Tina Snow don’t talk about Bruno!” — Laura Zornosa
Sweetest Presenting Pair: Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli
After a dramatic night, a sweet moment between two musical luminaries of different generations was just what we needed. Presenting best picture were Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, whose role in “Cabaret” won her an Oscar for best actress nearly 50 years ago. When Minnelli, 76, started to struggle with her part of the segment, Gaga swiftly took over, grabbing Minnelli’s hand and allowing her to bask in the crowd’s adulation. Right as the best picture nominees started to roll across the screen, Gaga leaned down to Minnelli and said, “I got you.” Minnelli replied, “I know.” It felt unscripted, but in a good way. — Julia Jacobs
Biggest Challenge: Trying to Shorten the Show
The night was supposed to be streamlined. The demotion of eight below-the-line categories to a ceremony before the show, with clips edited into the live broadcast, would cut the running time! Provide a more engaging show! Raise flagging ratings! Yet when the final award was given out — a triumphant best picture win for “CODA” — the ceremony had stretched to around three hours and 40 minutes. Though the successive announcements about the “final hour” started to feel like “Groundhog Day,” we’d have gladly sat through another speech by Troy Kotsur. — Sarah Bahr
Most Inclusive Oscars in Memory
An inclusive Oscars ceremony is still startling to some of us who have been watching for decades (four in my case), and so it was terrific to behold so many different people — Black, white, Latina, queer, deaf, Asian — accepting awards. But watching audience members applaud in sign language for “CODA” was a moment I never thought I’d see. — Brooks Barnes