Oscar 2023: “Slap to Hollywood”

At the end of the Oscars, the host of the ceremony, Jimmy Kimmel, took to the wings and held up a number on the board that read: “Number of Oscar telecasts without events.” It was only natural that Kimmel joked so much about last year’s Incident, but even if he had somehow forgotten Will Smith’s slap and swearing at Chris Rock, this closing gag would still have made sense. In years past, the Oscars have often been debacle, whether due to the envelope shuffle of 2017 or the socially distanced obscurity of 2021, but this time the event was slick and competent enough to convince you that the producers and directors actually knew what they were doing.

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Kimmel was calm and in control, even finishing by mentioning that he would be back on his talk show the next night, as if to suggest that this was just another evening job for him. No one made any embarrassing mispronunciations or taunts. The opening speeches weren’t too painful and the jokes weren’t bad either. The In Memoriam set was touching, with John Travolta’s well-judged tearful introduction and Lenny Kravitz’s piano ballad. The dresses were glittering, and the gold and silver art-deco stage decorations evoked the glamorous hotels and ocean liners of Hollywood’s golden age. Everything made him imagine that the turmoil of the past few years was just a bad dream.

It’s true that long stretches of the three-and-a-half-hour bash were boring and repetitive, but that’s almost always the case with awards shows, and there were only a few glaring mistakes. (The practice of starting the music before the recipients have finished their welcome speech is as infuriating and offensive as ever.) And the winners of each category seemed to be chosen based on which one made them feel the warmest and most comfortable. They all seemed like decent human beings who were grateful for the awards while stressing that filmmaking, like life, is a team effort. None of them are in danger of being deleted. The director of An Irish Goodbye, which won best live-action short film, used his allotted time to sing “Happy Birthday” to the film’s star, James Martin. And no one slapped anyone. Even if you didn’t think the best man or woman won in every category, there weren’t many results that would have caused a sane person to throw a shoe at the TV screen and shout, “How dare you?”

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That fuzzy feeling started with Jamie Lee Curtis winning Best Supporting Actress and Ke Huy Quan winning Best Supporting Actor, both for their roles in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Granted, Angela Bassett didn’t seem too pleased that she didn’t win Best Supporting Actress, but Curtis is a trooper who went on without much recognition, so most could hardly protest his triumph. Quan, meanwhile, retired from acting after childhood roles in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and The Goonies, so his win was a celebration of second chances. (An emotional highlight of the ceremony was when he hugged Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford, when Everything Everywhere All at Once won best picture.) Another beloved star who returned was Brendan Fraser, who was named best actor for The Whale. like a decade ago, when he was far from Hollywood’s A-list. It was hard to make out exactly what the rambling talk was about, but he was clearly overwhelmed, as was anyone excited by the ‘brenaissance’. And Michelle Yeoh’s Best Actress award, also for Everywhere All at Once, was a celebration of her long career, a thank you to the “ladies” who were said to have “beyond Best Actress” and a sign that Hollywood was finally ready to honoring Asian and Asian-American talent. “For all the little girls and boys who look like me,” she said, “this is a ray of hope.

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This was the central theme of the evening. The big winner with seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, was Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film not only co-directed by Asian-American Daniel Kwan, but also about an Asian immigrant. . family. (Well, that, and universe-hopping supervillains.) But there was also RRR’s Naatu Naatu, the first time a song from an Indian production had won the Oscar for Best Original Song: composer MM Keeravani sang his acceptance speech at Carpenters’ Top of the World tune. And the best documentary winner, Elephant Whispers, was also Indian. This meant that while the ceremony seemed on one level to be a mild, old-fashioned affair, with little to be shocked or outraged about, it was nonetheless radical in its own quiet way.

The absence of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Tom Cruise and James Cameron, suggested that the certainties of the American film industry were crumbling. The big, historical studios had to settle for Top Gun: Maverick’s sound design award, Avatar: The Way of Water’s visual effects award, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s costume design award. It’s an independent studio called A24, behind Everything Everywhere All at Once, a heady sci-fi martial arts comedy that wouldn’t have been nominated for an Oscar a decade ago. A24 was also behind The Whale. The night’s other big winner, All Quiet on the Western Front, was a German production financed by Netflix, the same streaming service that won the Oscar for animation, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. The entire evening reads like Hollywood’s confession that it no longer makes the best movies — or at least movies that win Oscars. So maybe Kimmel was wrong when he joked that the telecast was uneventful. It was a smooth, happy affair, but a slap in the face to Hollywood.

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