Why are we still here?

The 91st Academy Awards

The funny thing about the Oscars is that they’re about film but they are television—in fact, an older, more modest breed of television than all the things we call TV today, like a football game. To watch the Oscars on ABC, you had to have access to a live TV feed—either through signing in on the ABC website through a cable provider or starting a soon-to-be-canceled trial at any number of streaming TV options. Or better yet, you just had an honest-to-goodness television set, plugged into the wall like a dog on a leash.

It went fine without a host, but it was also just kind of boring without a free agent to shake things up—not that I want to see Ellen deliver pizza or Jimmy Kimmel rush people across the street, but the things that make the Oscars a good awards show (brisk pacing, short and clever bits) are not necessarily the things that make the Oscars good television, which craves drama and error and friction. In that sense, the worst thing that could ever happen to the Oscars is for it to go well.

Things I remember from last night:

  • Willem Dafoe on the red carpet, looking for all the world like a fiftysomething lesbian woman. Bless her.

  • Ruth Carter, who accepted the award for Best Costume Design for Black Panther with gracious self-assurance, but also unconcealed irritation at just how long it had taken the Academy to recognize her work.

  • Chris Evans, helping Regina King up the steps of the stage like a Ken doll come to life, executing the only acceptable function to which a white man may be put: hot silence.

  • Viggo Mortensen, looking for all the world like a Danish Ralph Cifaretto. (In Green Book he played the man who in real life played Carmine Lupertazzi Sr. on The Sopranos.)

  • Mahershala Ali, serving the same infinite dignity and poise that Green Book’s white director (proud penis-owner Peter Farrelly) had harnessed to make his racism slick and sentimental. “Look at his pants,” my girlfriend sighed, marveling at how finely tailored to his leg they were. If you leaned in to your screen, you could see that his black suit jacket was in fact covered in delicate paisley whorls, as if a tiny, sartorial emblem of the black dimensionality another director would have found in Don Shirley’s story had he only bothered to look.

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, a gorgeous, wildly delightful film that makes an indisputable argument for the animation of all superhero movies and in all of whose multiple universes, one hopes, Green Book was never even nominated.

  • Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performing intercourse on each other instead of singing the former’s Oscar-winning anthem. (But actually, Bradley was super pitchy.)

  • Olivia Colman, who gave an adorable acceptance speech, babbling and crying and easily distracted, like a beautiful anxious bird. Coleman had brought a winsome childishness to Queen Anne in The Favourite, as monstrous as she also was; it turned out this was not far from her own self, not childish but childlike, full of awe and wonder and shock at the grandeur of the world’s being the world.

  • Rachel Weisz, plowing us all.

  • Julia Roberts, this time in classic long blonde hair, though it is a truth universally acknowledged that Julia Roberts can wear her hair any length and any color and you will believe that this is how her hair was always supposed to look. When her eyes found their way into that hallowed red envelope that held the Best Picture winner, why couldn’t she just lie?

  • The extremely white Green Book producers, standing floppily onstage like a colony of sea lions on an unfamiliar beach, thanking Viggo Mortensen and for some reason Carrie Fisher, who deserved better.

  • Awkwafina, extra quirky, asking an extra dandified John Mulaney, “Why are we still here?” In that moment she was all of us.