The 2020 Academy Awards were loaded with drama: the top prize winner was something of a shock, the night’s biggest performance was a total surprise, and a few of the acceptance speeches were more moving than anyone could have expected. Of course, music played a major factor in the festivities, with performances for each of the five best original song nominees, as well as a touching tribute from the voice that ruled the 2020 Grammy Awards just two weeks prior.
While it’s difficult to narrow down the best moments from a sprawling awards ceremony, the 2020 Oscars had some obvious standouts. Here are 13 of our favorites.
Janelle Monae’s May Queen
“Tonight, we celebrate the art of storytelling!” Monae crowed to open the Academy Awards, welcoming the stars to the ceremony while giving Tom Hanks a bowler hat, singing in front of dancers wearing Joker face-paint and eventually being joined by Billy Porter. The best part, though? Monae ended up in a flower gown, an out-of-nowhere homage to the folk-horror film Midsommar (whose star, Florence Pugh, was nominated tonight, but for Little Women). Pity whichever poor A-list actor had to end up in a bear costume!
Brad Pitt’s Political Quip
While accepting the best supporting actor award for Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, Pitt mentioned that he had 45 seconds to finish, which was 45 seconds more than the U.S. Senate gave John Bolton to testify. He then suggested that Quentin Tarantino direct an alternate-reality version of the Senate impeachment trial: “In the end, maybe the adults do the right thing.” During an evening in which politics were subtly in the mix, Pitt’s remark was the evening’s most biting by far — worthy of Cliff Booth, some would say.
Josh Gad’s Anti-“Adele Dazeem”
While introducing his Frozen II co-star’s rendition of “Into The Unknown,” the comedian clarified that the performance would be led by “Idina Menzel, pronounced EXACTLY like it is spelled.” Remember six years ago, when John Travolta butchered Menzel’s name while introducing her performance of “Let It Go,” which ended up winning the Oscar? Here’s the thing, though: “Into The Unknown” didn’t win. Therefore, Idina Menzel conclusively has better luck at the Academy Awards when performing as Ms. Dazeem. Facts are facts.
Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s Live Audition
Before presenting best production design, the SNL vets pretended that they were furious about something… only to drop the act and reveal that they were trying to showcase their ranges. “We just know there are a lot of directors here tonight,” Wiig exclaimed. Gotta hope that Martin Scorsese was paying attention to their ensuing dramatic spectacle, which culminated in a bizarre singing competition that made Billie Eilish make this face — and that was BEFORE their a cappella medley rolled into “The Thong Song.”
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) February 10, 2020
Chrissy Metz’s Live Vocal Showcase
The singer-actress, best known as a costar on This Is Us, has emerged as a soaring vocalist over the past year, and her film Breakthrough’s musical centerpiece “I’m Standing With You” was given the showy Oscars performance it deserves. Hearing Metz nail every note with a sprawling choir was one thing, but when the camera cut to a choked-up “I’m Standing With You” songwriter Diane Warren — an 11-time Oscar nominee, who has yet to win a trophy — the performance got its fitting climax.
Eminem’s Latest Surprise
A few weeks after Marshall Mathers shocked fans by unexpectedly releasing new album Music To Be Murdered By (and hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart once again), he once again got the drop on the world by showing up at the Oscars, performing “Lose Yourself” as part of an unannounced appearance that ended a movie-song montage. Fun fact: when his 8 Mile anthem won the Oscar in 2003, Eminem was a no-show. Nearly two decades later, he crashed the Oscars stage and earned a standing ovation.
Idina Menzel’s Reaction To Eminem’s Surprise
Here is a shot of the Frozen star, seemingly gazing into the unknown:
— morgan — (@morganmcevoy) February 10, 2020
Cynthia Erivo’s Commanding Solo
Although the two-time nominee was eventually joined by a choir that barged into the audience to perform the climax of her nominated song, the beginning of Erivo’s performance of “Stand Up” from Harriet, in which she stood alone in the spotlight while surrounded by lanterns, offered a moment of simplicity during a hectic telecast. To call Erivo multi-talented is an understatement; next up, she’ll be playing Aretha Franklin in a National Geographic limited series.
James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s Meow-erful Presentation
Look, did the recent film adaptation of Cats set the box office ablaze? Nope, not even close. But at least a few of its costars are willing to dress up as their characters, set foot on the Oscars stage and lightly make fun of how Cats looked. (“Nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects,” Corden quipped). After the one-liner, Corden and Wilson batted the microphone around, as cats. Then they had to give people an actual Academy Award! Which led to this:
The honor of a lifetime pic.twitter.com/E0yfivoizb
— Mallory Rubin (@MalloryRubin) February 10, 2020
Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Words of Empowerment
The Icelandic Joker composer became the first woman in 23 years to win the best original score Oscar — an occasion that the deserving victor did not let go unnoticed, and made for one of the evening’s most cathartic wins. ”To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within,” she said to applause, “please speak up.”
Elton John’s Sky-High Energy
As the fifth and final best original song performer, the pop legend made up for the slower tempos of his fellow nominees with a rollicking version of “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” from the biopic Rocketman. Seated at a candy-red grand piano and in front of a pair of oversized stars that recalled his famous specks, John gave the full-band treatment to his hopeful anthem, and a few minutes later, scored his second career Oscar.
Billie Eilish’s Beatles Rendition
For days, music fans were wondering: what would Eilish, fresh off a Grammys sweep, be doing at the Oscars? Instead of dominating another awards ceremony, the pop superstar and her older brother Finneas offered a tastefully understated performance of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” during the In Memoriam segment, Eilish’s voice gracefully catching as the faces of Kirk Douglas, Doris Day, Peter Fonda and several other screen giants flashed behind her on the big screen. Another smart touch: Kobe Bryant, an Oscar winner, was the first face that appeared during the segment.
With most Hollywood prognosticators expecting a big night for 1917, Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant class commentary not only became the first film from South Korea to win an Academy Award, but the first non-English best picture recipient; meanwhile, Bong walked away with best director, best international film and best original screenplay. He stated during his second acceptance speech that he was ready to drink, but he still had another hour of winning, as film Twitter rose up in celebration, like a family trapped too long in a shadowy basement.