It was the strangest Oscars in recent memory. Was it also the least Jewish?
The slap heard round the world stole the thunder of an evening that ended with an iconic moment of silent applause. And yet, it is the Flash’s shattering of the sound barrier that stays with me.
The 94th Academy Awards featured, for the first time, an audience-polled segment ranking iconic sequences in film. As picked by Twitter users, the most cheer-worthy moment was not Rocky’s summiting of those steps in Philly, nor was it the explosion of either the first or second Death Star. No, unaccountably the top prize went to Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, the world’s fastest man, entering “the Speed Force.”
I don’t even know what that means. I don’t think that Liza Minnelli, who presented Best Picture with Lady Gaga, knows what it means, nor, it stands to reason, do most Academy members.
Perhaps that’s a commentary on the distance between A-listers and movie fans — though I suspect the poll only really represents a certain very online fan who demanded the release of the Snyder Cut and gets upset when movies decide to change the race of fictional super people. But, from a Jewish perspective, the Flash’s election was not the only odd occasion for Oscar history on Sunday. If “Rocky” and “Star Wars” were snubbed for their cheer-worthiness, they were not alone.
• James Caan wasn’t at the ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of “The Godfather” – Robert DeNiro was and he was only in Part II.
• Elaine May wasn’t with the other Governors Award winners (possibly by her own choice).
• Hans Zimmer, winning one of the categories awarded before the big show, also pulled an Elijah.
• Zelenskyy did not get to make his grand appeal, in a move that, on the plus side, may get Sean Penn to smelt his Oscar.
• Other Jewish absences include Timothee Chalamet’s shirt and Bob Saget in the In Memoriam. (Adding insult to injury, Norm Macdonald, the star of Saget’s “Dirty Work” was also nowhere to be seen.) During the tributes, a resonant account of Ivan Reitman’s escape from Czechoslovakia as a child was trounced by a chorus singing Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” a tune by a Jew that namedrops Jesus.
The Oscars, but for an instantly-infamous altercation (and the inclusion of Miller, who has one of their own), might be remembered for some historic firsts. Troy Kotsur became the second deaf actor, and first male deaf actor, to win an Oscar, thanking his Jewish costar Marlee Matlin (who was first) in his speech. Kutsur also gave shouted out a book by Steven Spielberg. (One of these maybe?)
Ariana DeBose, the first openly queer woman of color, won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” and got to thank her costar Rita Moreno, who won the award for the same character 60 years before. She also thanked Spielberg saying “you’re stuck with me.”
But in a reversal of history, Jane Campion, who lost out to Spielberg for Best Director in 1994 (she won for her screenplay for “The Piano;” he for helming “Schindler’s List”), took home Oscar this time around, making history by following Chloe Zhao’s win the year before.
Diane Warren was shut out for the 14th time, a record, for Best Song, and one could tell it hurt to be upstaged by a 20-year-old Billie Eilish, now one half of the way to an EGOT.
None of this is to say that the winners didn’t deserve their accolades, but all of those present – especially Questlove and producer David Dinerstein, whose “Summer of Soul” win will forever be linked to Will Smith assaulting a presenter – deserved better after two years of bizarre pomp and circumstance.
I wish that The Flash would use his super speed to wind back the clock and give Rock a bit more time to consider the joke or Smith 10 seconds to take a deep breath. That would be something worth cheering for.