Smith, Rock confrontation shocks Oscar audience, Canadian production designer wins for ‘Dune’

"CODA" won Best Picture and two other big awards, but the big moment was Best Actor Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.

By The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

After a movie year often light on crowds, the Academy Awards named an unabashed crowd-pleaser, the deaf family drama “CODA,” best picture Sunday, handing Hollywood’s top award to a streaming service for the first time.

Sian Heder’s “CODA,” which first premiered at a virtual Sundance Film Festival in winter 2021, started out as an underdog but gradually emerged as the Oscars’ feel-good favorite. It also had one very deep-pocketed backer in Apple TV+, which scored its first best picture Academy Award on Sunday, less than three years after launching the service.

It also handed another near-miss defeat to Netflix, the veteran streamer that for years has tried vainly to score best picture. Its best chance, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” came in with a leading 12 nominations.

But “CODA” rode a wave of goodwill driven by its cast including Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant. It’s the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. “CODA” managed that despite being one of the least-nominated films with only three coming into Sunday. Not since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” has a movie won best picture with fewer than four nods.

The Fresh Prince became a king and finally won his first Oscar.

Will Smith took home his first Academy Award on Sunday night for playing Richard Williams, father and tennis mentor to Venus and Serena Williams, in “King Richard.”

Smith spoke shortly after an onstage confrontation with comedian Chris Rock, who made a crack at his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Smith marched on stage and appeared to smack presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about the appearance of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

The crowd at the Dolby Theatre hushed as Smith twice shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”

Rock took aim at Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying, “Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”

Pinkett Smith revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia. She has often discussed the challenge of hair loss on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Smith, before winning for his role in “King Richard,” walked onto the stage and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a “GI Jane” joke — and Smith yelled back at him a second time.

“That was the greatest night in the history of television,” Rock said, then resumed his role as presenter.

A few minutes later, rapper Sean Combs, on stage to introduce a tribute to “The Godfather,” tried to play peacemaker and suggested Smith and Rock settle their differences at an Oscars afterparty.

“Will and Chris, we’re going to solve that like family at the Gold party,” Combs said.

Pinkett Smith was also the subject of jokes from Rock when he hosted the Oscars in 2016. She did not attend the Oscars that year, saying at the time her decision stemmed from a lack of diversity among award nominees and how Black artists were not properly represented.

On stage during his speech, Smith noted, in tears, that Richard Williams was also fiercely protective of his family. “I want to be a vessel for love,” he said.

He also apologized to the academy and his fellow nominees. “This is a beautiful moment,” he said. “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father. But love will make you do crazy things.”

The win comes for his third nomination. He was previously nominated for “Ali” in 2002 and “The Pursuit of Happyness” in 2007.

Smith beat out fellow nominees Javier Bardem, Andrew Garfield, Benedict Cumberbatch and Denzel Washington, who trumped Smith for the 2002 best actor Oscar with his win for “Training Day.”

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Jessica Chastain won the Academy Award for best actress on Sunday night for playing televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

It’s the first Oscar for Chastain in three nominations. She was previously nominated for “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2013 and “The Help” in 2012.

Chastain beat out fellow nominees Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman and Kristen Stewart. Chastain thanked each of her nominees, her co-tsar Andrew Garfield and her makeup team.

Chastain noted that suicide was a leading cause of death for the LGBTQ community and violence against minorities, saying she was inspired by Bakker’s compassion.

Canadians made a strong showing at the Oscars on Sunday night, with early wins going to director Ben Proudfoot and production designer Patrice Vermette, who called the evening “a dream” come true.

Vermette won the best production design trophy for his work on Montreal director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” which headed into the bash with the second most nominations at 10.

Like Proudfoot, Vermette claimed the trophy at an hour-long ceremony immediately before Sunday’s star-studded broadcast where Villeneuve was one of several Canadians chasing hardware for best picture nominees “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog” and “Nightmare Alley.”

“I still can’t believe it,” Vermette said in a phone call from Los Angeles during the bash.

“We’ve been working so hard on this. (This movie) was Denis’s dream since he was 13 years old, and to see everybody from ‘Dune’ getting recognition right now, it’s all in Denis’s honour and due to how he led the ship.

“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a kid and was watching the Oscars with my family and we were allowed to to stay up late at night, on Sunday. We were only ever allowed to stay up that late on Christmas or New Years. So it’s incredible.”

Vermette shared his win with Hungarian set decorator Zsuzsanna Sipos, and was previously nominated for 2010’s “The Young Victoria” and 2017’s “Arrival,” also directed by Villeneuve.

“Dune” won four categories in the pre-telecast and two more within the first hour of the live show, where cinematographer Greig Fraser and visual effects artist Paul Lambert also thanked Villeneuve in their acceptance speeches for including them in his ambitious project.

Meanwhile, Halifax’s Proudfoot picked up a win for best documentary short subject with his film “The Queen of Basketball,” about Lucy Harris, the only woman to be drafted by the NBA.

“This proves that Lucy Harris’ story, after 45 years of being ignored, does indeed mean something profound to America and the world,” Proudfoot, previously nominated in 2021 for “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” told The Canadian Press when reached by text at the early bash.

In a taped acceptance speech that aired later in the broadcast, Proudfoot saluted the late Harris who passed away before the film was nominated, and noted her family was in attendance.

“If there is anyone out there that still doubts whether there is an audience for female athletes, let this Academy Award be the answer,” he said before also calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to bring home detained Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner from Russia.

She’s been held since February when local authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the early wins on Twitter, but footage of the presentations and acceptance speeches were held for an edited version that aired as part of the live ABC/CTV telecast.

The new format saw early trophies handed out in eight categories, half of them including Canadians: documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live action short, and sound.

In the live portion, Villeneuve came up empty-handed for his nomination in the best adapted screenplay category, which went to “CODA.” He was also nominated in the best picture category, alongside “Dune” producers Mary Parent and Cale Boyter.

Montreal-based producer Roger Frappier was also up for best picture alongside director Jane Campion and the team for “The Power of the Dog,” which led overall with 12 nominations.

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The top race also included Toronto producer J. Miles Dale as part of the team behind “Nightmare Alley,” along with Mexican director Guillermo del Toro and actor/producer Bradley Cooper. Toronto costume designer Luis Sequeira had been nominated for his work on the period noir but lost to “Cruella.”

Other Canadian contenders who lost out in the pre-telecast included Saskatoon’s Tamara Deverell and Halifax’s Shane Vieau, who shared a nomination for best production design on “Nightmare Alley,” and “Dune” makeup artist Donald Mowat of Montreal. Toronto producer Geoff McLean lost to Proudfoot in the documentary short category while the National Film Board’s Canada/U.K. co-production “Affairs of the Art” lost out in the animated short category.

In a statement in the days leading up to the revamped show, the NFB had strong words for the format change, predicting it “will serve to further marginalize short films, which already struggle to find large audiences.”

The academy has said the change was meant to keep the three-hour broadcast “tighter and more electric” for viewers, but it drew intense criticism from many in the film community, including Proudfoot who has said the move “debases certain categories.”

Co-hosts Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes were the ceremony’s first hosts in three years, and opened the show with jabs at industry sexism, the non-televised categories and the Golden Globes.

Other moments included a moment of silence for the people of Ukraine, and Troy Kotsur of “CODA” becoming the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting.

Homegrown stars to take part in the show included “Shang-Chi” star Simu Liu, who shone bright in a red tuxedo to present an award and take part in a COVID-themed comedy skit with Hall, and Elliot Page, who appeared alongside “Juno” co-stars J.K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner to mark the 15th anniversary of the teen pregnancy comedy.

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