Oscars 2023: Beyond the Screen #31

With Jimmy Kimmel returning to host the 95th Academy Awards, the ceremony carved itself out as an attempt at business as usual, a return to a time before every Oscars ceremony involved embarrassments beyond human comprehension. From the opening montage, incorporating behind the scenes materials and beyond, this year’s ceremony had a little more love to give for the art of moviemaking than usual. Speeches were, for the most part, allowed to let fly, and in fact the dreaded walk-off music was barely invited. It seems the Academy felt good about giving out most of these awards, especially to the ragtag congregation from Everything Everywhere All At Once.

The night started off (excluding a tepid but tolerable monologue from Kimmel) with the Animated Feature category, for which Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio was deservedly awarded, despite a late surge in support for Puss in Boots: The Last Wish from outside the academy. The stop-motion fairytale had one of the strongest locks of the evening, behind the near-guaranteed Actor in a Supporting Role honour going to Ke Huy Quan, which is precisely what happened next, for his unbelievable comeback turn in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Since the Academy weren’t cruel enough to stop Ke’s climb, that frees us from any dream-crushing qualms, so we’re safe to say that Barry Keoghan deserved this award just as much. Much of the night wasn’t only about excellence in craft, but rewarding personal narratives as well.

Such was the case for long-time-coming Actress in a Supporting Role winner Jaime Lee Curtis, an unfortunate result for the great Angela Basset who to this day finds herself without a single win. Still, just a look at Jaime Lee getting choked up at the thought of her AMPAS-decorated parents and it’s clear how much this meant to her personally.

Documentary Feature for once went to the frontrunner (perhaps because it’s stiffest competition in Moonage Daydream didn’t make it as far as the nominees) in Navalny, a more potent choice over the poetic and beautiful Fire of Love (especially since the award was accepted by the political prisoner’s own wife), though an upset occurred in Live Action Short Film: the favoured Le Pupille from Alfonso Cuarón couldn’t overcome the charm of An Irish Goodbye, a quality which rolled over into the acceptance-speech-turned-sing-along to commemorate its star’s birthday. Moments like these are only possible when every category is aired live, and when you allow the winners time enough to communicate the vast importance of this moment, or just their revelry.

If we count the nominees alone, then All Quiet on the Western Front’s International Feature win is… acceptable. And, if we count the nominees alone, then All Quiet on the Western Front’s Cinematography win is… acceptable. If we open it up then there’s been some serious competition from blockbusters the likes of Top Gun: Maverick and The Batman, to foreign talent in Decision to Leave or Eo and the superb Janusz Kaminski’s The Fabelmans. The Cinematography category is starting to feel like a scale competition, and though All Quiet certainly is a remarkable feat, this win is an anti-climax to a great year of photography. So too for The Whale and its bodily transformation’s Best Makeup and Hairstyling victory, The Batman, which so subtly integrates stylish accents of gothic and comic origins, again seemingly goes overlooked. Comic-book origins did not curtail the chances of Ruth Carter, who claimed another Academy award for her work on the Black Panther series for Wakanda Forever.

Rihanna (still pregnant) did indeed perform her hit contribution to that film, as did Lady Gaga with Hold My Hand in a stripped back, dramatically staged last minute addition to the show. It was great to see what David Byrne came up with for a performance of Everything Everywhere All At Once’s This is a Life (Hot dog fingers and Raccaccoonie), and yet, RRR’s Naatu Naatu was always going to run off with this portion of the show (mostly on behalf of its unbelievable choreography), just as it did with the Oscar for Best Original Song, before composer M. M. Keeravani recited little victory hymn.

Streaming conglomerates walked off with two short-subject awards: Netflix’s The Elephant Whisperers for Documentary short, and Apple TV+’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse for Animated short. This was an act of My Year of Dicks slander.

By claiming both its Production Design and Original Score nominations, All Quiet On the Western Front trampled the last vestiges of Babylon’s awards hopes. It’s clear the Academy really hated it (Kimmel gave it one of the evening’s only jabs aimed specifically at a movie). John Williams absolutely could have taken it for his delicate, sparse and blissfully emotional work this year, but instead, All Quiet’s harsh blares made for a unique but underwhelming choice.

The ‘Best Visual Effects made for another multi-billion-dollar James Cameron movie’ award went to Avatar: The Way of Water, while Sarah Polley’s Women Talking’s only win deservedly cleared Best Adapted Screenplay. Original Screenplay went to the most original screenplay of the year: Daniels took to the stage for their work on Everything Everywhere All At Once, thanking teachers and parents and the like.

The next two awards (Best Sound to Top Gun: Maverick and Original Song to RRR) went precisely where they were meant to, before, sandwiched amongst a huge EEAAO-sweep, Brendan Fraser at last held the Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role for the otherwise excluded The Whale in his hands, pairing nicely with the classic comeback story of Encino Man co-star Ke Huy Quan.

The Everything Everywhere All At Once sweep mentioned above included the categories of Best Editing (for once the most gymnastic editing of the year fully deserved this award), Best Director (or, more accurately, Directors), and the award for the nail-biter of the night: Actress in a Leading Role. Cate Blanchett’s masterful work in Tár didn’t quite beat out that of now only the second person of colour to ever win this award. Michelle Yeoh is officially the queen of the world; it was her time. And a Best Picture as forward-thinking and unprecedented as this has been long overdue. Everything Everywhere All At Once capped its 7 wins with the big one.

If a low point had to be singled out, it’d probably be the audience interaction skit (“Cocaine Bear, leave Malala alone!”), and some may protest the Best Supporting Actress results, but in all, Everything Everywhere All At Once walking off with an impressive 7 little gold men in tow will likely be the takeaway of the evening (plus petty arguments about appropriate seat place attire). Studio A24 notably amassed nine awards in total once all was said and done. This spread is a result of the company’s involvement in both Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Whale, while All Quiet on the Western Front alone tallied four, leaving all other winners with a single statuette to their name, including: Top Gun: Maverick, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Avatar: The Way of Water, Women Talking, RRR, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Navalny. The rest; nada, zilch, the same amount of Oscars they walked in with. That means incredible films like The Fabelmans, Tár, The Banshees of Inisherin, Triangle of Sadness all walked away empty-handed.

Still, the night ended quietly, with the ship righted and Captain Kimmel retiring backstage, but not before adjusting the “Oscars without incident tally” to 1.