2023 Oscars on the Scene, from Guillermo del Toro in the Wings to a Donkey Misfire

A few observations from inside the 2023 Academy Awards, which unfolded predictably but offered some memorable moments.
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 12: Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Jimmy Kimmel
Getty Images

Another year, another eight months of dogged campaigning, and another Oscars season is over. Last night’s 95th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood unfolded in a mostly predictable fashion, with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” dominating the affair and walking off with seven prizes. And that included Jamie Lee Curtis’s last-minute win over Angela Bassett in a moment now viral for just how palpably disappointed Bassett’s reaction was: she hardly smiled and did not clap or stand for her fellow nominee.

Yet there was plenty to celebrate, what with historic, record-shattering wins for Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan and a huge comeback moment for Brendan Fraser, triumphing for “The Whale” over Austin Butler who underwent an “ego death” to play The King. There was also much to celebrate with the fact that the ceremony avoided any kind of Slap-happy moment, eschewing controversy altogether. That’s a win for the Academy for sure.

What was palpable if you were in the audience, whether in the orchestra or one of the Dolby’s three mezzanine levels including 3,400 seats, was the sense of enthusiasm for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (whose wins were met with glees and shrieks from the crowd, preordained-seeming as they were) and even for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which won four Oscars and for a minute seemed like it could’ve gone all the way.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 12: (L-R) Brendan Fraser, winner of Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Adrien Morot, winner of Best Makeup and Hairstyling, both for "The Whale," attend the Governors Ball during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
Brendan FraserGetty Images

The moments that seemed intimate, from Lady Gaga’s makeup-less rendition of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” to the impassioned standing ovation Rihanna received for her performance of “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” actually were — even if the grandeur of the ceremony might not quite be as fully conveyed on small screen at home. One thing to note was the wobbliness of key moments, from a cold-ridden Elizabeth Banks getting nearly tripped onstage by a jaunty man in a bear costume (nodding to her new movie “Cocaine Bear”) to Jimmy Kimmel toting a sad-faced donkey inspired by “The Banshees of Inisherin” out onstage in a moment that did not play well in the room. Another moment that incited some confusion was Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey presenting a trailer for “The Little Mermaid” (from Disney, the studio that ultimately also brought you the Oscars) in a fashion that was most unusual for the Oscars.

Another highlight that also came with an asterisk? Folks at home may not have noticed how quickly Guillermo del Toro, very early in the ceremony, was ushered onstage to accept his award. Again, his film “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” was obviously going to win, but it’s unusual for a winner to be so quickly whisked up onto the stage. As I gleaned from conversations with insiders, the Academy knew that del Toro was a bit beaten down tired out by the whole months-long campaigning process, and so they did their best to make the night as easy as possible for him: by installing him in the wings prior to his award being called. This is now the third Academy Award on del Toro’s mantel.

Kimmel’s emcee duties — for which he was not paid — seemed to be well-embraced in the room. A couple of his digs, like at “Babylon” for sinking at Paramount Pictures to the “L. Ron Hubba Hubba” of it all remark at Tom Cruise and Scientology, were revered by a crowd that always loves to laugh at itself. Overall, this felt like the most joyous Oscars in years, or at least in the two years since the ceremony briefly relocated to Union Station downtown.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 12: Paul Mescal attends the Governors Ball after the 95th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Paul MescalLos Angeles Times via Getty Imag

When the ceremony ended, attendees headed upstairs in the Hollywood and Highland complex to the Governors Ball, where winners got their statuettes inscribed, and guests enjoyed burgers and fries and freely flowing champagne. Brendan Fraser basked in his win with Marlee Matlin (and later mingled with his “Blast from the Past” co-star Alicia Silverstone). “The White Lotus” cast (continuing to demonstrate just how close they really became over that summer filming in Italy) turned out for a relaxed night off from their own campaigning. Paul Mescal, possibly relieved to be at the very end of his own long season of campaigning, chowed down on pizza. Former Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs danced with her old Oscars team, clearly having a good day over a successful ceremony.

And there’s much to look forward to for some of the winners and nominees and what they have coming up next. Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner Sarah Polley says she’s already at work on ideas for another movie featuring her “Women Talking” ensemble (who were some of the MVPs of this year’s awards season), Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan should advance to some compelling new heights now buoyed by their record-breaking Oscar wins, and “Tár” will likely be one of the main movies to endure beyond all of this even despite not winning a single award. This wasn’t an especially memorable Oscars, but after last year, that’s probably a good thing.

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