Cast and crew of Coda, accepting the Academy Award for Best Picture. Photo credit Brian Snyder, Reuters

JARED HERR ‘22 (HE/HIM)

As a movie fan with an at most passive interest in professional football, the Oscars are truly my Super Bowl: one night dedicated to celebrating the movies. While putting together a strong, three-hour awards show once a year does not seem like an incredibly challenging task, year after year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proves differently, delivering a mixed bag of inspiring speeches, misguided decisions, and the kind of outright bizarre moments that only live television can provide. This year was far from an exception. Grab your popcorn! Here are some highs and lows we should be talking about from the 94th Academy Awards. 

High: CODA

While Netflix’s The Power of the Dog had been a long-time front-runner to take home the night’s top prize, CODA emerged as a last-minute favorite to take the top prize. The film follows Ruby, a hearing person in an otherwise deaf family, as she struggles to decide if she should leave her home and her family. The title CODA holds a double meaning for the film: an abbreviation for “child of deaf adults” and as a musical term. The protagonist hopes to pursue music, which serves as a disconnect between Ruby and her parents. CODA’s win was a powerful statement and an incredibly well-deserved honor that will hopefully usher in a new wave of inclusive and groundbreaking cinematic storytelling. 

Also of note: Apple TV+, having just emerged on the streaming scene in late 2019 became the first streaming service to win a best picture Oscar, an inevitable marker of an evolving industry. With CODA’s win, and after having swept up at last year’s Emmys with Ted Lasso, the streamer has announced itself as a major awards contender. 

Low: The Shafted Categories

In an ill-advised move, the producers of the Oscars telecast made the decision to relegate some of the technical awards to be given out prior to the broadcasts. This completely disregards a major reason for the Oscars: highlighting people in the industry who do not often publicially receive the recognition they deserve. Major celebrities get honored all the time. The Oscars allows for those in the industry with the often-thankless jobs in Hollywood to be recognized in front of an audience of millions 

For Will Smith to get five uninterrupted minutes for a speech, and for the sound engineers and production designers to barely get recognized, something feels out of whack. There were plenty of moments to cut, like the strange decision to use twitter polls or bad humor from the hosts. The actual awards should not be the place. The Academy had tried to make this move a few years ago and caved to the backlash. Hopefully, the categories are reinstated as part of the broadcast next year. 

High: The Supporting Actors Speeches

Two of the greatest speeches of the night came from the historic winners in the supporting actor categories: Ariana DeBose (Anita, West Side Story) and Troy Kotser (Frank, CODA). Both speeches were filled with passion and inspiration, with each discussing the way that the arts helped them to belong when they may otherwise have felt like they did not, paving the way for others to know they also belong. These are the moments that make the Oscars special. 

Low: Fine, I’ll Talk About ‘The Slap’…

… but not for very long. There has already been plenty of slap commentary. It became the headline story on what should have been CODA’s time in the spotlight, as well as taking attention away from Questlove who won the Oscar for his documentary, Summer of Soul, immediately after the incident. In the battle between Team Will or Team Chris, I am team Questlove. 

High: Liza Minnelli and Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga had been previously announced to be the presenter for the Best Picture category, but everyone was given a very special treat when living legend and Academy Award winner Liza Minelli joined her. Lady Gaga had played the role in 2018’s A Star is Born that Minnelli’s mom, Judy Garland, had played in the 1954 version of the film. Perhaps the highlight of the night occurred when Minnelli began to get lost in her words, at which Lady Gaga leaned over to comfort her and whisper “I gotcha,” Minelli replied softly, “I know, thank you.” My most sincere thanks to the sound engineer that left the microphones on to catch that moment of beautiful, unscripted humanity. We needed it. 

Mentioned:

CODA (Available on AppleTV+), Summer of Soul (Available on Disney+), West Side Story (Available on Disney+ and HBO Max)

Jared Herr ‘22 (he/him) is a film and media studies major from Gettysburg, PA and can be reached for comment at jaherr@davidson.edu.