Tom Cruise may have been the man who saved Hollywood’s ass, according to Steven Spielberg, but the Top Gun: Maverick star wasn’t in the Dolby Theatre tonight to save the Academy Awards.
Turned out that while Cruise was missed, as was Avatar kingpin James Cameron, their star power wasn’t necessary to fuel one of the more watchable if not conventional Oscars of the 21st century. In that sense, this was an Academy Awards with few surprises where almost everyone stuck to the script.
It might not have been magic, but it didn’t need to be.
The Oscars just needed to turn the page.
Along with barrier-shattering wins by Michelle Yeoh and others, the ceremony perhaps was captured in many ways by the playful face that the esteemed Spielberg made in the audience near the beginning when host Jimmy Kimmel claimed the “Fabel Man” director was one of the dignitaries who could protect him if necessary from a repeat of last year’s slap heard around the world.
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Scarred by two years of pandemic-shuttered cinemas, industry anxiety, questionable relevance and then deeply stained by that “little skirmish,” as Kimmel put it, of Will Smith whacking Chris Rock live onstage last year, the 95th Academy Awards had a simple mission statement of cinema celebration and escapism.
The show was way too long, as usual, and certainly started to wane once it passed the three-hour point. In a show more visually deft than usual, the producers and organizers of this year’s Oscars succeed for the most part by embracing Hollywood itself.
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In addition to the love of movies on offer, Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Yeoh became the first Asian to win Best Actress. Her co-star Ke Huy Quan is just the second Asian to get the Supporting Actor award and the first Oscar winner of Vietnamese descent. History also was made when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the only Black woman with two career Oscars with a win Sunday and in 2019. Also, anti-colonialism epic RRR scored the first Original Song victory for a film from India with the unbelievably catchy “Naatu Naatu.”
Overall, relatively smaller films took the most of the big prizes, but blockbusters like Maverick were upfront, glamour was on parade, and — a January 6 quip or two notwithstanding — partisan politics mainly were sidelined, and the exuberance of “Naatu Naatu” onstage was in the Oscar air tonight at Hollywood & Highland. Steering the on-air ship and doing what needed to be done, Kimmel was back for the third time as host in what’s becoming a metamorphosis into the ultimate non-contentious host Billy Crystal — who has fronted the Academy Awards nine times.
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Things got positively family friendly as longtime odds-on favorite Yeoh followed a path laid down by her Everything directors and gave a shout-out to moms everywhere from the stage when she won. In that vein, the PG-rated Oscars had the entire venue singing “Happy Birthday” to the star of Best Live Action Short Film An Irish Goodbye.
Yes, there was ABC-owner Disney’s crass cross-promotion with an in-show sneak peek at the live-action version of The Little Mermaid. Yes, there was the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros tribute laying it on a bit too thick and the shameless plug for the Academy Museum. Kimmel’s needling of Malala with dumb supposed viewer questions in the last hour also fell flat, as did resurrecting his Matt Damon shtick.
Still, beyond an In-N-Out Burger drive-thru, you’d be hard pressed to get cheerier on a Sunday night in L.A. than tonight’s Oscars.
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Despite the seemingly endless shortcoming of so many awards shows, including many a recent Oscars, it shouldn’t be that hard, right? A bit of fun and some self-deprecation. Throw in a powerhouse Best Song performance or two from the likes of RRR’s Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, wall-to-wall stars and paired presenters handling multiple categories, a Banshees of Inisherin donkey, a Morgan Freeman voiceover and short-ish speeches and that should do it, right?
Clocking in at over three and a half hours in total, tonight’s Oscars saw big victories for Everything Everywhere All at Once for Best Picture, plus directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and cast members Yeoh (who was handed her Best Actress Oscar by Halle Berry, the first woman of color to win the award), Tinseltown royalty Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan. There also was a classic Hollywood comeback tale in Brendon Fraser’s Best Actor win for The Whale. The German-language version of All Quiet on the Western Front, the powerful documentary Navalny about the Russian opposition leader, Women Talking’s director and writer Sarah Polley, RRR’s Carpenters-singing songwriters M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose snared some top prizes too.
Attempting a reset after years of falling viewership, dipping ad rates and then that slap and the fiasco that followed, the ABC-aired ceremony went for the steady hands of seasoned expertise with Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss executive producing the shindig. Although tonight was multiple Emmy winner Kirshner’s first stint running the Oscars, the vet has run more than a dozen Super Bowl halftime shows, the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, the 2021 presidential inaugural celebration, the Tonys and the Emmys, among others. Along with Weiss, who also directed the Academy Awards again Sunday, Peabody Award winner Kirshner is the top gun you hire to stick the landing, not to reinvent the wheel.
Certainly, with its close-ups, hero shots and push-ins of nominees and winners and more, the fluid dexterity and aesthetic of tonight’s broadcast established an empathic intimacy earlier on. Add to that, the multiple marquees onstage and the brisk, clean graphics onscreen proudly bellowed, “We love movies.”
The same sentiment was strong in another context in the roars and standing ovation that greeted Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s Carter when the now-two-time Costume Design award winner spoke of “the hero that is a Black woman.” With her name etched in the Oscar history books, Carter also praised director Ryan Coogler and others on the Marvel franchise for “reshaping how culture is represented.”
Opening with a montage of the top movies of the year, a sprinkling of behind-the-scenes footage, some Top Gun: Maverick, plus some real-life jet fighters whipping over the ceremony and a nod to the 2012 Summer Olympics with host Jimmy Kimmel parachuting in, the 2023 Oscars tried cut to the chase in its opening minutes. There were then shout-outs to most of the top category nominees by Kimmel and a Hunter Biden crack at Seth Rogen that the few Red Staters watching will love and a swipe at Scientology kicked off a monologue that clearly was barreling toward an acknowledgement of last year’s blow to Rock by eventual King Richard Oscar winner Smith.
“We have strict policies in place,” Kimmel finally said over 10 minutes into the show, in what would be the first of several slap references. “Anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during the show, you will be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech,” he added, gettingthe first huge laugh of the evening. “There will be no nonsense tonight. We have no time for shenanigans, this is a celebration of everyone here,” the host insisted, reiterating what has become the AMPAS party line the past couple of months.
And that’s exactly what tonight’s Oscars did, with a smile on its face.
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