Oscar Night 2023


For us fans of Everything Everywhere All at Once, it was an embarrassment of riches. Even those of us who love Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t expect her to prevail over Angela Bassett, yet there she was, posing with her trophy alongside co-star Ke Huy Quan and then Michelle Yeoh and then “the Daniels,” who won for writing, directing, and producing the multiversal comedy-drama-whatsit. The fecund playfulness of the night’s most-honored film was about the only bright spot in an otherwise bland, dignified, somewhat tight-spirited ceremony. Ironically, for haters of EEAAO, the show will live in infamy; for the rest of us, we were glad it won, but little of the show itself is likely to stick with us.

Hosting for the third time, Jimmy Kimmel presided over a sober-sided, respectable evening. The subtext was, We’re not going to let The Slap happen this year. And it didn’t. But the Oscars need that underlying buzz of this-is-live anxiety to thrive and to draw viewers. Every few years, something unanticipatable and awful needs to happen, to keep people hooked. Kimmel didn’t host last year, but the first year he hosted, 2017, was also the year the wrong Best Picture winner was read out. Oddly — perhaps not, because nobody blames the host for mishaps like that — Kimmel was asked back the following year, then stayed home for a few seasons. Anyway, Kimmel acquitted himself solidly, his jokes neither sharp enough to invite wayward palms nor bad enough to stink up the joint. He set the tone, and the tone was, Let’s go easy this year.

I ended up seeing seven out of the ten Best Picture nominees (how’d you do?). Most of the movies in which I had a rooting interest got something to take home, though The Banshees of Inisherin now has the same number of Oscars as Elvis (zero, sadly). I was happy to see Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser win, though in terms of Oscar-season narrative they were sort of the same story: comeback kids after years in the wilderness, pointing out the comeback and the wilderness whenever feasible, until one got tired of hearing their eager, grateful, tremulous voices and wondered if they would burst into tears if denied the Oscars they so clearly wanted. They got verklempt anyway. Jamie Lee Curtis, who looked genuinely surprised to win, was more affecting. She’s having a hell of a third act.

I wasn’t a fan of the new All Quiet on the Western Front, and though I rejoiced that it lost Best Adapted Screenplay to Sarah Polley and Women Talking — how are you gonna give Best Adapted to a movie that so widely misses the mark set by Erich Maria Remarque’s classic? — I kept grumbling as it picked up various other prizes, including one for Best Score. The most memorable part of that score is that “whonk whonk whonnnk” thing it does whenever war things are about to happen, sounding like Hans Zimmer’s pet goose. But Sarah Polley, once the tiny little girl Terry Gilliam almost got killed on Baron Munchausen, now has an Oscar for writing one of the year’s quiet triumphs. Women Talking is fine drama, maybe not great cinema, but good theater. Polley is intelligent and emotionally attentive, and she will make more good-to-great films; that future, with her win, got more likely on Oscar night.

Do I have to watch Elvis or Avatar 2 or the prestigious vomit-fest that is Triangle of Sadness? Nobody’s telling me I have to, so I’m gonna pass. The low-key shocker of the night, though, is that Spielberg’s The Fabelmans went home with bupkis. Once upon a time, an autumnal Tribute to the Magic of Movies by perhaps Hollywood’s most successful director/producer in history, with sentimental nods for Judd Hirsch and John Williams as well as for Spielberg, might have cleaned up. Not this time. The Oscars — I don’t mean to sound ageist — may be becoming a youngster’s game. Were they ever gonna make the 91-year-old Williams, the 87-year-old Hirsch, or the 76-year-old Spielberg creak their way up to the stage one last time? 

The downbeat tone of this year’s Oscars might owe to Hollywood’s essential insecurity, now more than ever. As Kimmel pointed out, 2022’s top ten box-office winners were all sequels or franchise movies. Something as stubbornly original as EEAAO seemed like the thing to reward, even though Hollywood doesn’t really understand it. Spielberg is out, the Daniels are in. And though it’s easy to cave to cynicism and say the Oscars are more about rewarding a campaign narrative than a work’s given qualities, it does appear that the good guys mostly won this year — even All Quiet makes war look grim and not fun, unlike Top Gun 2, with its invisible enemy from Somewhere, Planet Earth. That sequel, incidentally, lost Best Song, apparently composed by Lady Gaga in the highest anguish in her basement. I dig Gaga, but man, couldn’t she just have said “Here’s a song I wrote for the money”? (I for one would’ve respected that more.) When Gaga gets all dolled up to sit in the audience but then dials it way down to take the stage, something’s off. Bring back the Oscars where Gaga comes out looking like beef or a Blaupunkt car stereo. Give us back our ridiculous, our Monday-morning water-cooler gossip, our Oscar legends. 

Explore posts in the same categories: oscars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: