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As the credits began to roll at the end of the 2023 Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel walked to the side of the stage, where somebody had placed an industrial workplace sign reading “Number of Oscars Telecasts Without an Incident,” and he triumphantly flipped the “00” to “01.”
That pretty much sums up the night.
Maybe you’re a person who loves chaos, in which case the Oscars telecast was doubtlessly a large disappointment. Maybe you’re a person who hates Everything Everywhere All at Once, in which case the Oscars telecast was doubtlessly infuriating. Maybe you hate Hollywood folks and think it’s inappropriate for the recipient of a professional honor to get emotional, in which case the Oscars telecast gave you plenty to be snide about.
I’m going to complain about things in the Oscars telecast. It’s what I do, and the telecast was hardly without flaws. But those flaws were mitigated more gracefully than just about any Oscars telecast I can remember.
“No incidents” is a low bar, but if you ask me to list the most memorable Oscar moments in the past decade, The Slap and The Envelope Gaffe would be the top two, along with the blunder of closing the show with best actor two years ago. A different way to put it would be, “Did the Oscars leave you with a bad taste in your mouth?” And since 2017, the answer was “Yes” three times.
Sunday’s telecast left me generally elated. Everything Everywhere All at Once was not my favorite film of the year, but I truly love what it represents. It’s a movie about family, a specific kind of family that has rarely been the focus of any movie, much less a best picture winner. It’s a work of bonkers audacity and the sort of film that no rational person would ever call “Oscar bait.” Imagine going back to 1983, after Gandhi won best picture, and saying, “In 40 years, this is an Oscar movie,” showing folks Everything Everywhere All at Once and watching their heads explode. That makes me happy.
Some damn fine movies were shut out on Sunday night, and as much as I might have liked to see John Williams get his standing ovation for the Fabelmans score and I might have preferred a couple of victories for The Banshees of Inisherin — best actor and original screenplay in particular — I liked the winners we got and I liked how they won.
There were several stretches in the telecast in which every single winner seemed to be in tears, starting with Pinocchio helmer Guillermo del Toro getting choked up paying tribute to his late parents. Ke Huy Quan’s win had even presenter Ariana DeBose in tears. You might say, “Surely he’s won enough awards this season that he couldn’t have been surprised,” but try being written off by your chosen profession for three decades and going from, “Ha, wasn’t that Short Round?” to, “Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan!” in the course of a year. Try being Jamie Lee Curtis and settling into a stage of your career in which you’re generally adored, but also have to keep talking about yogurt that makes you poop, and then finding yourself accepting an award that both your iconic parents were nominated for but didn’t win and see if you don’t cry.
Michelle Yeoh is 60 and once she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, how could she have imagined this moment 20 years later? Brendan Fraser had become practically a forgotten man, and he allegedly experienced a trauma related to the industry’s other gold standard awards show. You know who’s entitled to cry? Them.
It wasn’t just actors getting carried away by the emotion of the night. Ruth E. Carter just lost her 101-year-old mother, and as she accepted her second Oscar for costuming in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, she issued the saddest/most hopeful line of the night: “Chadwick, please take care of mom.” And what a night it was for moms, with both Yeoh and Quan referencing their respective 84-year-old mothers.
The speeches weren’t only lachrymose. Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, took the stage for the documentary about her husband and declared, “Stay strong, my love.” M.M. Keeravani, part of the team behind RRR‘s “Naatu Naatu,” sang an acceptance speech to the tune of The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” The Daniels, the creative forces behind Everything Everywhere, made multiple very good speeches thanking, among other people, the public school teachers who believed in them.
The show’s director generally let people talk. Though not always. Despite Adrien Morot giving a very short speech on behalf of the hair and makeup team for The Whale, the music started before Judy Chin could say a word. The directors of animated short The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse got to babble forever but the directors of documentary short The Elephant Whisperers were played off rapidly. Mostly, though, people got to say what they wanted to say, which fairly easily explains why a telecast scheduled to go until 11:02 in my channel guide ran nearly 30 minutes over.
There was also a lot of time given to performances from all five nominated original songs. I loved the energy of the dancing ensemble doing “Naatu Naatu” and felt like Stephanie Hsu and David Byrne’s rendition of “This Is a Life” was chaotic in all the same ways as Everything Everywhere as a film, plus Byrne had hot dog fingers. Lady Gaga’s introduction to “Hold My Hand,” her closing-credits song from Top Gun: Maverick, was a bit self-serious, but she sang the heck out of a so-so song, as did Rihanna on “Lift Me Up.” I could have done without Diane Warren’s latest piece of well-meaning treacle, but it filled a need, I’m sure.
You’re never going to make a three-hour running time if you’re showing extended clip packages for 10 best picture nominees, but isn’t part of the point of Oscar night to showcase those movies? I truly enjoyed how, after last year’s pointless alienation of the crafts community, each of the wonkier below-the-line categories this year was accompanied by clips that — heaven forbid — showed the contributions of the various artisans to the films for which they were nominated. The clips were presented on HD screens stretching across the Dolby stage, which made for a much livelier presentation than some years.
If I’m talking about clips, I can’t ignore the thorough embarrassment of ABC/Disney weaving a commercial for The Little Mermaid into the telecast, complete with stars brought onstage just to present the commercial. That was gross. The tribute to 100 years of Warner Bros. was lackluster and the commercial for the Academy Museum and its various exhibits and events? Well, it’s their party!
My complaint about the necrology was the same as always: Mute the crowd noise. I don’t need to know who’s getting the most applause from the audience. Oh, and putting up a QR code afterward for stars who didn’t make the cut was strange, as were the QR codes going into each commercial break. Did anybody use those QR codes?
I’ve made it this far into my review without mentioning the host. And you know what? That’s OK. Kimmel was mostly just fine, which I’m sure he’d take as faint praise, but … why? I’ve grown to appreciate Kimmel’s professionalism in moving shows like this along — a professionalism that was lacking in our recent run of host-less telecasts.
His monologue was OK. There was an L. Ron Hubbard joke, a joke about the lack of nominations for female directors — Sarah Polley did better later in the telecast — and a run of punchlines about The Slap. There were some teeth to his mockery of the lack of direct response during the show last year — either from the producers or from anybody in the room — but he did it in a way that was amiable enough that I doubt anybody was offended. If you wanted him to be scathing, he was not. But he put the room at ease.
From there, Kimmel was in a transitional role, delivering a line or two before kicking it to the next presenters or whatever. Probably the worst part of the show came the one time he had to actually kill more than a few minutes. Malala Yousafzai, Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain gave him nothing in a limp crowd-work segment, though everybody was tickled by the guy in the giant bear suit, who’d joined Cocaine Bear director Elizabeth Banks minutes earlier.
If my biggest complaints about an Oscars telecast are one bad piece of comic business, a soft monologue, an icky piece of Disney/ABC synergy and the sort of overrun that’s close to inevitable in the awards show space? That’s a good show.
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