OSCARS 2023 recap
For movie lovers, the Academy Awards ceremony is usually a fun night designed as a celebration of the art form, with recognition for some of the best work released the previous year. This year’s presentation marked the 95th ceremony, and as always, provided cynics ample opportunity to cast aspersions, while for the rest of us, there were many moments to treasure – some even falling into the category of ‘history-making.’
An opening faux trailer, with a superimposed Jimmy Kimmel sharing the cockpit in a fighter jet with Tom Cruise in TOP GUN: MAVERICK, concluded with the show’s host ‘parachuting’ onto the stage. Kimmel’s opening monologue was entertaining and didn’t shy away from last year’s stunning moment known as “the slap.” Noted in the monologue was a tip of the cap to composer John Williams, who at age 91, received his 53rd Oscar nomination, second all-time to Walt Disney’s 59. It’s also of interest to note that Mr. Williams has scored 25 of director Steven Spielberg’s 27 films.
The only things I’ll mention from the pre-show are that the carpet was “champagne” colored instead of the traditional red, Hugh Grant was an immense jerk during his arrival interview, and the odds-on favorite to have a huge night of awards was EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (EEAAO), a film with co-directors and featuring many Asian actors in a bizarre story that breaks the mold for traditional Oscar-type films. If you’ve read my “Best of 2022” post, you know that my personal favorite was THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, which garnered nine nominations, the same as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (AQOTWF), with both just behind the eleven nominations of EEAAO. Yes, this year lends itself to abbreviated initials for two long-titled films!
Although I’m not one to buy into the idea of “snubs” since I believe such a label is an insult to others that are honored with a nomination and/or win, it is always fun to see which categories produce surprise winners. Kimmel pointed out that there were 16 first-time nominees and 5 Irish actors nominated – setting up a pretty good punchline. He also noted the absence of James Cameron and Tom Cruise … both A-listers rumored to have had their feathers ruffled due to a lack of nomination for directing (Cameron) and acting (Cruise), although both were producers on films up for Best Picture.
The first award went to the creative genius behind GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (the actual title to differentiate it from other versions). This award was presented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who was sporting a form-fitting pink silk sports coat. Not to be outdressed, Troy Kotsur sported a purple velvet suit as he and joined Ariana DeBose in presenting the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both were highlights and an early indication of the success that lay in store for EEAAO. Ke Huy Quan was emotional and inspirational as he reminded us of what the American Dream really means to those who value it, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ win is a testament to perseverance and support, as she thanked her many collaborators over the years, including her famous parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
Each of the five nominated songs were performed live throughout the evening. 14-time nominee Diane Warren was first, soon to be followed by David Byrne and Stephanie Hsu (EEAAO). One of the evening’s true highlights was a rousing song and dance performance of the song, “Naatu, Naatu” from India’s RRR, the eventual winner. Also impressive were a no-make-up and torn-jeans performance from Lady Gaga (TOP GUN: MAVERICK), for some reason filmed almost entirely in extreme close-up; and a pregnant Rhianna (fresh off the Super Bowl) singing “Lift Me Up” from BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.
Best Documentary Feature was awarded to NAVALNY, and Alexei Navalny’s wife sent a message from the stage. This powerful moment was followed by an audience participation version of “Happy Birthday” during the speech for Best Live Action Short film (AN IRISH GOODBYE). Although I found that moment a bit odd, it was the follow-up that hit me as truly bizarre … a no-holds barred, live from the stage promo for Disney’s upcoming live action, THE LITTLE MERMAID, followed by the first full trailer. I don’t recall such unadulterated marketing schemes every being a part of the ceremony in previous year. Later we did receive a tribute to Warner Brothers for their 100th anniversary of motion pictures – much different than a promo for an upcoming film.
James Friend winning for Best Cinematography for AQOTWF became the first of enough wins that some began to question if the film might pull off a Best Picture surprise to end the night. Best Make-up and Hairstyling went to THE WHALE, the first film to use digital prosthetics in order to allow an actors’ true features to flow through. All the donkey lovers were thrilled to see ‘Jenny the donkey’ led on stage by Kimmel. Unfortunately, this became one of the few nods to my favorite film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Best Costume went to BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and AQOTWF won Best International Feature Film (Germany). Next up were awards for Documentary Short (THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER) and Animated Short (THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX, AND THE HORSE). What was notable was that the first winner was cut off from their acceptance speech, while the second was allowed to babble on.
The award for Production Design became my first “miss” of the night, as AQOTWF took the award over the visually stunning BABYLON. This was quickly followed by another AQOTWF win for Best Score – a straight-to-the-gut musical punch composed by Volker Bertelmann. Best Visual Effects went to AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, an award presented by Elizabeth Banks and a ‘fake’ Cocaine Bear (her recent movie) as she explained the importance of visual effects. Another odd moment occurred as amazing actress Florence Pugh purposefully held her slit dress open as she presented awards for Original Screenplay (EEAAO) and Adapted Screenplay (WOMEN TALKING). As strange as the spandex undergarment sighting was, I was so excited for Sarah Polley’s win … hopefully this talented writer and filmmaker will be inspired to share more of her work.
Best Sound went to TOP GUN: MAVERICK, and it was the speech given by the RRR winners for Best Song, MM Keeravani and Chandrabose that stole the moment, as Keeravani sang his speech, adapted to “Top of the World” by The Carpenters, a pop group he says influenced him as he grew up. Lenny Kravitz performed during the “In Memoriam” segment … a segment that the Academy seems to botch with omissions every year (this year being no exception). EEAAO won for Best Editing, though it wasn’t until ‘Daniels’, co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, won for Best Director that we sensed EEAAO would hold off AQOTWF for the big prize.
A humble and grateful Brendan Fraser (THE WHALE) was nearly overcome with emotions during his speech for Best Actor, and making history as the first Asian actress to win was Michelle Yeoh for EEAAO, an award presented to her by Halle Barry, the first woman of color to win Best Actress. At this point, we felt pretty certain of the film title Harrison Ford would read for the final award of the evening, and sure enough it became a night of history for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE as it was named Best Picture. The film totaled 7 wins out of 11 nominations, and only two other films took home more than one award: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (4) and THE WHALE (2). EEAAO also joined A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) and NETWORK (1976) with winners in three of the four acting categories. It was also a record-breaking night for cutting edge studio A24 as it won 6 of the 7 ‘above-the-line’ awards (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress).
Leaving empty-handed were ELVIS, THE FABELMANS, and THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, each coming in with multiple nominations. And though we got a bit tired of Kimmel’s running jabs at Matt Damon (who wasn’t attending), it was very cool to see him point out the legendary 94 year old James Hong, who has nearly 500 credits on IMDb dating back to the mid-1950’s … his latest, of course, being the night’s big winner, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. And I’m certain Mr. Hong was relieved to not be seated behind actress and presenter Danai Gurira, whose unique hairstyle stood up about 2 feet from the top of her head. Imagine being seated behind that for 3.5 hours! TV viewership for the ceremony was up 12% over last year’s program, though we can’t help but wonder if some tuned in to see if the Hollywood tradition included a sequel to “The Slap.”