The 82nd Academy Awards was an okay display of Hollywood’s biggest night, with co-hosts Alex Baldwin and Steve Martin doing an amiable, charming job. Yet the night didn’t take the leap forward that many would envision for a program battling the specter of dwindling ratings in an increasingly fragmented media age. Little in the aesthetics of the show’s production felt forward thinking, or that it acknowledged the tastes of a new generation of moviegoers.

Still, winners of the award reminded us that those moments onstage accepting their trophies were often bigger than they were. Mo’Nique epitomized this idea, as she closed her eyes and made her way onstage after being announced as best supporting actress for Precious.

“I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to,” Mo’Nique said, referring to the first Black woman who won an Oscar for a role in a film that’s often been highlighted as a stalwart of appalling African-American stereotypes. She also thanked Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for promoting Precious and her husband Sidney for encouraging her to “forgoe doing what’s popular in order to do what’s right.” In a few lines, a raunchy, off-the-cuff comedian showed reverence, gratitude, tenacity and historical awareness, much in the same way that she turned audience assumptions about her film character completely around in concluding scenes.

WATCH MO’NIQUE DISCUSS HER OSCAR WIN HERE:
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Precious took home another award during the evening for Writing (Adapted Screenplay) by Geoffrey Fletcher, who was shocked and ended up at a loss for words. Yet he still managed to call out to the “Precious boys and girls” who inspired him and who he is, in turn, inspiring.

And Sandra Bullock, who won best actress for The Blind Side, stepped around the controversy surrounding the race and class politics of the film by thanking “the moms that take care of the babies and the children no matter where they come from….” She then remembered her own mother, an opera singer, who taught her that, regardless of race, sexual orientation or social status, everyone deserves to be loved. She also managed to do that rare feat of moving the audience to tears while getting us to laugh seconds later.

It’s an irony then that an awards show not invested in moving forward stylistically still had moments that took us forward, i.e. with a deeply moved Katheryn Bigelow being the first woman to win a directing award for the male-ensemble war film The Hurt Locker.

The most captivating presenter on the show was Oprah Winfrey, who is simply living walking presence. During her speech for best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe, she spoke of the young performer’s go-getter abilities off-screen and bravery as an artist onscreen. Winfrey’s charisma and ability to pay it forward again and again while honoring herself can serve as a reminder to a long-in-the-tooth Hollywood institution of how to play the game when the time comes next year to roll out the red carpet.