The 95th Academy Awards were mercifully low on drama, but high on emotion

Jimmy Kimmel hosted a scandal-free Oscars telecast dominated by tear-filled acceptance speeches, emotional personal journeys, and multiple triumphs for ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’

At the conclusion of the 2023 Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel walked to the side of the stage and triumphantly changed the “00” to a “01” on an industrial workplace sign that read, “Number of Oscars Telecasts Without an Incident.”

That essentially sums up the evening.

Maybe you enjoy chaos, in which case the Oscars telecast was unquestionably a major letdown. If you’re someone who despises Everything Everywhere All at Once, the Oscars telecast was undoubtedly upsetting for you. The Oscars telecast provided you with plenty of material for snark if you despise people from Hollywood and believe it is inappropriate for someone receiving a professional honor to become emotional.

mmy Kimmel

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.

I was generally thrilled with Sunday’s broadcast. Even though Everything Everywhere All at Once wasn’t my favourite movie of the year, I adore what it stands for. It’s a film about a particular kind of family, one that hasn’t frequently been the subject of a movie, much less one that won the best picture award. It is an absurdly audacious work, and no sane person would ever refer to it as “Oscar bait.” Imagine showing Everyone Everywhere All At Once to people in 1983, after Gandhi won best picture, and telling them, “In 40 years, this is an Oscar movie.” Watch as their jaws drop. That gives me pleasure.

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.

Every single winner appeared to be in tears at various points during the telecast, beginning with Pinocchio director Guillermo del Toro’s emotional tribute to his late parents. Even host Ariana DeBose broke down in tears over Ke Huy Quan’s victory. You might argue that he has won so many accolades this year that he shouldn’t have been surprised, but try being written off by your line of work for thirty years and going from being referred to as “Ha, wasn’t that Short Round?” to “Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan!” in the span of a single year. Try being Jamie Lee Curtis and settling into a stage of your career where you are generally well-liked but also have to keep talking about yoghurt that makes you poop, then discovering that you are no longer in that stage of your career.

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.

The emotion of the evening affected more than just the actors. The night’s saddest/hopiest line came from Ruth E. Carter as she accepted her second Oscar for costume design for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: “Chadwick, please take care of mom.” Ruth E. Carter had recently lost her 101-year-old mother. What a night it was for mothers, with references to their respective 84-year-old mothers from Yeoh and Quan.

The speeches weren’t just gloomy. Yulia Navalny, the wife of Alexei Navalny, entered the film about her husband and remarked, “Stay strong, my love.” M.M. Keeravani, a member of the “Naatu Naatu” production team for RRR, sang an acceptance speech to the tune of “Top of the World” by The Carpenters. The Daniels, the minds behind Everything Everywhere, gave several excellent speeches in which they thanked various people, including the teachers in public schools who had faith in them.

In general, the show’s director encouraged conversation. even so, not always. The music began before Judy Chin could speak, in spite of Adrien Morot’s brief speech on behalf of The Whale’s hair and makeup team. The directors of the animated short The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse got to babble forever but the directors of the documentary short The Elephant Whisperers 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. 

If you show extended clip packages for each of the 10 best picture nominees, you’ll never be able to complete a three-hour running time, but isn’t that what Oscar night is all about—showcasing those films? I really liked how each of the wonkier below-the-line categories this year was accompanied by clips that, heaven forbid, showed the contributions of the various craftspeople to the films for which they were nominated, in contrast to last year’s pointless alienation of the crafts community. The HD screens that stretched across the Dolby stage were used to show the clips, which made for a much livelier presentation than in previous 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! 

Kimmel then played a stepping-stone role, saying one or two lines before handing off to the following presenters or whatever. The only time he had to actually kill more than a few minutes was probably the worst part of the show. In a lackluster crowd-work segment, Malala Yousafzai, Colin Farrell, and Jessica Chastain offered him nothing, but everyone was amused by the man in the giant bear suit who had just joined Cocaine Bear director Elizabeth Banks moments earlier.

If my biggest gripes with an Oscars telecast are one bad comic performance, a soft monologue, a repulsive Disney/ABC synergy, and the kind of overrun that’s practically required in the awards show industry? It’s a great show.