An Oscars Ceremony That Wasn't Terrible
Reflections on the 95th annual Academy Awards.
For years, the Academy Awards have felt adrift. They’ve gone without a host. They’ve pulled awards out of the ceremony (then put them back in). They’ve tried to pander to Zack Snyder fans. They haven’t nominated enough songs to have song performances in the ceremony. They’ve avoided nominating movies that people actually watch. And that’s when they haven’t been accidentally handing out awards to the wrong movie or involuntarily hosting Will Smith boxing practice.
The reward for their insouciance? Record low ratings and a viewing public that doesn’t seem to give a crap.
So after a seemingly endless series of mortal wounds — many self-inflicted — it was refreshing to actually watch a ceremony that was…just fine? Actually, scratch that: it was pretty good and occasionally great! Host Jimmy Kimmel delivered an opening monologue that was right down the middle, a mostly anodyne set that had some digs just edgy enough to feel risky but safe enough to be Academy-approved. He then made himself scarce throughout the evening (a good move, imho), commenting only to help transition from one segment to the next, though there was the occasional cringe-inducing bit (leave Malala and the Cocaine Bear alone please). He also had the best gag of the night as he put a “1” on the “Number of Oscars Without Incident” sign while stepping off the stage for the last time.
Beyond this, the Academy got most things right. A lot of excellent movies received Oscars with only a rare upset here or there. There were few technical issues throughout the evening and only a handful of times when a winner was played off the stage (a phenomenon that still makes me want to curl up into the fetal position). Many of the speeches were bangers, with winners using their time in the spotlight to highlight their passions as opposed to just reading off a list of names. And there were actual huge stars performing the Oscar-nominated songs throughout (Rihanna!).
As of this writing, I have no idea if all this will translate to actual ratings. But the night felt like a throwback to Oscar ceremonies of yesteryear, when the Academy rewarded great movies that were actually at the center of the cultural conversation in a decently entertaining broadcast. If people can’t care about the Oscars anymore when it’s firing on pretty much all cylinders, then the whole concept of a movies-based awards ceremony probably needs a ground-up rethink.
Below, I’ve shared some of my favorite moments from the ceremony. You can view a complete list of the winners here. And if you want to see my wife and I react to the ceremony in real time, check out this video (you’ll have to fast forward past when we’re actually watching the ceremony to get to the parts where we’re commenting). It gets emotional towards the end. A big thanks to my Patrons for their support for both this newsletter and my video work in general.
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Here are a few of my favorite highlights
Ke Huy Quan wins Best Supporting Actor — Quan has had an incredible season but what’s impressive is how despite winning a boatload of awards, he has continued to show up with a different and novel speech each time. He’s been carefully parceling out his story in a way that feels fresh and maximally impactful with every outing. This time was no different, with a level of emotion that reminded me of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s legendary acceptance speech in 1997. And with this Best Supporting Actor win, Quan’s inspiring story has finally come full circle. Truly a win we can all feel great about.
Michelle Yeoh wins Best Actress - Michelle Yeoh has been a legend for decades but it’s really only been with the release of Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All At Once that a critical mass of Americans has finally realized how incredible and badass she is. One of the things that resonated most with me about Everything Everywhere All At Once was her performance as Evelyn — an Asian-American immigrant mother trying to grapple with her disappointing life in the new world and knowledge of the life she left behind. It means so much to know that her story resonated with so many people in the industry.
Daniels win Best Screenplay - The Daniels would take the stage multiple times throughout the course of the evening but their first appearance was my favorite. They delivered a speech that was short, heartfelt, and sweet. And this win for Best Screenplay was the first harbinger that Everything Everywhere would dominate the rest of the evening — an electrifying feeling!
RRR wins for Best Original Song - After a rip-roaring live rendition of “Naatu Naatu” that seemed to energize the entire ceremony, it felt only proper to watch Chandrabose and M.M. Keeravani accept the award for Best Original Song. Not only that — they wrote an original song for the acceptance speech. It was an adorable bit that brought a smile to my face, and it feels great to be able to say the words “the Academy-Award winning film RRR” as a result.
Lady Gaga performs a stripped down version of ‘Hold My Hand’ - When I first heard that Gaga wasn’t going to be perform at the Oscars, my reaction was the same as many of you: Hasn’t the Joker franchise taken enough from us? But I was delighted to see her show up and deliver a low-key version of ‘Hold My Hand.’ Gaga is one of the most talented vocalists alive and it’s actually rare these days to hear her voice unadulterated so I welcome every opportunity.
Question: What did you think of last night’s Oscars telecast? Let me know in the comments.
Other Assorted Observations
For a good 30 minutes or so, it felt like All Quiet on the Western Front might pull a massive upset and take home some of the bigger awards. It was on a tear, eventually taking home four Oscars (Best Score, Best Production Design, Best International Feature, Best Sound). But then Everything Everywhere started taking over and the rest is history.
A24 dominated the evening, taking home nine Oscars including every major acting award. Not bad for a company that didn’t exist 12 years ago.
Some great movies that didn’t receive many awards: Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water only won one award each (Top Gun for Best Sound, Avatar for Best Visual Effects). Tár, The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin and Elvis were all completely shut out, despite racking up dozens of nominations.
Jimmy Kimmel did not actually bring the donkey from The Banshees of Inisherin out onto the stage. It was just a random donkey. How can my heart ever trust again?
Bonus: This red carpet interview with Hugh Grant was excruciating. Thoughts and prayers for all parties involved.