Oscars review 2023 Academy Awards

Donkeys and dad jokes at the Oscars — still cringe, but a big step up from last year

“Everything Everywhere All at Once wouldn’t be my Best Picture pick, but it’s hard to be bitter about it winning. Once you accept that the best movies will likely never win, you can only hope the worst ones don’t. By that measure, last night was a success.”

Infamous slap aside, last year’s Oscars were among the worst in history. The writers and directors bought into the idea that the general public had no interest in the event. More than self-deprecating, they channelled the worst impulses of an awkward teen as they ran through all the reasons why the movies were dying. It felt like a death knell for Hollywood: a bitter eulogy for a once great art form. With a film like Coda, which has had negative cultural resonance winning Best Picture, it was easy to understand the contempt.

Recovering from that trainwreck felt like a tall order, but all things considered, the Academy managed to pull things back. The lineup of nominees was a good starting point: they were interesting and diverse, and more than a few were actually good. The show’s tone was mostly upbeat, with Jimmy Kimmel delivering donkeys and dad jokes on the stage. At the same time, the audience was treated to brief “educational” moments on the inner workings of editing and cinematography. There was a predictable amount of embarrassing moments, including the strange extreme close-up on Lady Gaga’s face and the Malala/Cocaine Bear/Spitgate incident, but that’s par for the course. Any awards show, on a base level, is cringe. 

Suppose the Oscars represent a barometer for the industry. In that case, the two big winners of the night, Everything Everywhere All at Once and All Quiet on the Western Front, effectively represent the pressures of the current cinematic atmosphere. On the one hand, we have a small independent film driven by the incredible branding of A24 — which has seemingly achieved the impossible, capturing the hearts and minds of young people. On the other hand, you have a film from a streaming giant (Netflix) that few people have seen, despite being more widely accessible than nearly every other nominee. 

As a critic, EEAAO wouldn’t necessarily be my choice for best film of the year (that would be TÁR), but it’s hard to be too bitter about it taking the big award. On the other hand, if a film like All Quiet had won, I’d be apprehensive about the direction of the “movies.” Like Coda, it’s a film that feels shoehorned into a competition it doesn’t belong to. Artistically, it represents an old-fashioned idea of an Oscar-winning film: a movie about the last “good” war to illustrate the evils of the military-industrial complex that won’t ruffle too many feathers. It’s a movie that feels important but has contributed nothing to the conversation. Not that being part of the “discourse” is a good thing these days, but it’s a film that has failed to inspire an audience. 

With the little infotainment segments explaining the different facets and evolution of technology within the industry, it would be great if we could see more of that year-round from the industry. Based on what’s popular on YouTube, it’s clear that an audience is hungry for that kind of information. It could serve the awards better if more people, even within the industry, understood what was going on behind the scenes for technical categories. Luckily we have resources like Roger Deakins’ podcast (nominated this year for his cinematography for the beautiful but inert Empire of Light), Team Deakins, that provide informed and in-depth discussions from industry leaders doing just that. 

The Oscars only work if you don’t take them too seriously. The sort of passive okayness of last night’s show is precisely what is needed; it gives space to the artists to talk and for the audience to revel (perhaps in a self-satisfied way) in the magic of the movies. Once you accept that the best movies will likely never win, you can only hope the worst ones don’t. And by that measure, last night was a success. ■

Jimmy Kimmel closes out the 2023 Oscars ceremony

For the complete list of winners from the 2023 Oscars ceremony, please visit the Academy Awards website.

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