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A Review of The 2023 Oscars

by Maggie McAteer and Lily Peavey

The self-proclaimed time of “Hollywood’s biggest night” has come and passed again. After the previous year’s disastrous incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock, the Oscars are, well, trying. Recent Oscars ceremonies have fallen flat due to removal of awards from broadcasts, prompting outrage from viewers, but with the return of a singular host and characteristic anticipatory drama, this year’s ceremony was a slight return to normalcy. Movie fans were met with an undeniably interesting myriad of moments, including an award presentation by the titular character from the Cocaine Bear, an unexpected guest in the form of Jenny the donkey from The Banshees of Inisherin, and a powerful statement from Alexei Navalny’s wife Yulia. This year’s Academy Awards took a step back from their usual state of disaster, but still left viewers with a mediocre event that can easily be forgotten.

The two movies that completely swept the 95th Academy Awards were A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once and Netflix’s All Quiet On the Western Front. All Quiet dominated the technical awards, winning four Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best International Feature. Everything Everywhere won seven awards, for acting, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, as well as the coveted Best Picture. The Whale also took home two Oscars, including that of Best Actor, allowing A24 to become the first studio to capture all four acting awards, directing, and Best Picture in the same year. The usual art film dominators, Searchlight Pictures and Focus Features, left empty handed despite being nominated for fifteen awards between their two movies, The Banshees of Inisherin and Tár.

Despite many deserving wins, it felt as if this year’s Academy Awards were focused more on the stories of the actors and actresses than was necessary. Michelle Yeoh’s performance in Everything Everywhere was excellent, but was arguably not as deserving as what many claim to be eight-time Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett’s career best as the titular character in Tár, from a technical standpoint. Yeoh’s story, which she detailed in her moving acceptance speech, could easily have made the difference to Academy voters, but this also shouldn’t take away from the fact that Yeoh’s overdue recognition makes her the first Asian woman to win the award (and only the second woman of color to do so). In a much more shocking twist of events, Everything Everywhere’s Jamie Lee Curtis took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress against an array of talented nominees which included actresses with far more complex and impressive roles - particularly Kerry Condon of Banshees of Inisherin, Angela Bassett of Black Panther, and Hong Chau of The Whale. Her win seemed to be based more off of her extensive career rather than her actual role, which certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy. After another, more deserving, Everything Everywhere win for Best Supporting Actor, Ke Huy Quan emotionally explained his rise from a child actor in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and his welcome back to Hollywood. This incredibly touching story and his pure excitement to simply be there made it a satisfying and heartwarming victory. However, on the other end of the spectrum, is one of the more ambiguous storylines of the evening: Brendan Fraser’s win over Austin Butler for the award for Best Actor. A24’s The Whale did feature a critically acclaimed performance on Fraser’s account, but Butler’s transformative job of playing Elvis from a young man up until the icon’s death was undeniably a role in which he dedicated his whole self to, and one that successfully held the rest of the movie at a higher level than it would have been at otherwise. A potential reason that Fraser ended up taking the award - one that led to disappointment for many - was his long struggle of getting back into Hollywood, a struggle that opposed the less compelling story behind Butler’s breakout role.

As for further awards, Avatar: The Way of Water scored a deserving Oscar for Best Visual Effects while Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Top Gun: Maverick won for Best Costume Design and Best Sound, respectively. Unfortunately, The Whale again snubbed other more deserving movies with its win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Many were upset by the win, with one Twitter user even writing, “The Whale winning for best makeup is so upsetting to me because like ... you just won an award for making a skinny guy fat? Neat,” with others arguing that such roles should go to actors with the natural body type. There’s also the point to be made that the category is Makeup and Hairstyling, with little to no hairstyling presented in The Whale, or at least not on the scale of movies such as Elvis, The Batman, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Even with a number of controversial award wins, the musical performances had a lineup that promised excellence and relief from the repetitive routine of the rest of the ceremony. However, it started off with a dreary tune from the movie Tell It Like A Woman and the song “Applause,” from musical artist and Academy Award sweetheart Diane Warren. Nominated fourteen times, Warren seemed to be nominated simply because she wrote it. Certainly, it was not for the piece itself, as the unfamiliarity of the piece and the overall bland tone bored many viewers. In addition, Tell It Like A Woman is difficult for anyone to watch, given that it is unavailable on large streaming services such as HBO, Hulu, and Netflix, and only obtainable through purchase. Following that was the song “This is a Life” from Everything Everywhere, featuring a performance from Supporting Actress nominee and a star of the movie, Stephanie Hsu. During the performance, scenes from the film played, leaving those who had not seen it confused as to why a giant raccoon was being featured.

Finally, things began to pick up with a lively Bollywood number that ended up winning the award: “Naatu Naatu” from RRR. The vibrant hit featured a catchy song and an exciting dance number, and was awarded both the Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Award for the same category. Fans celebrated, after having clamored for an Oscars performance ever since the movie was released. In a sharp contrast to Naatu Naatu’s bright and cheery atmosphere, Lady Gaga took the stage in ripped jeans and no makeup to sing an emotionally vulnerable and moving version of the song “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick. The performance, despite odd camera angles at times, was undeniably rich and powerful and one of the best moments of the night. Finally, a mediocre performance came from superstar Rihanna singing the song “Lift me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which the actress Danai Guirra dedicated beforehand to the late star of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman. The moving piece paled in comparison to Lady Gaga’s earlier performance, but remained a beautiful song dedicated to a beloved actor.

There were a number of good moments of the ceremony itself, though they remained scattered throughout the evening. The monologue was a bit safe considering the chaos of last year’s Oscars, but notably did make sure that Andrew Garfield once again became a viral meme within the first fifteen minutes of the show. The cast of An Irish Goodbye, which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, dedicated the last moments of their speech to sing “Happy Birthday” to actor James Martin, one of the two main characters of the short film, prompting the whole theater to join in. But by far the most touching moment of the night was Everything Everywhere’s winning of Best Picture. The award was presented by Harrison Ford, a co-star of Ke Huy Quan’s in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The pair shared a heartwarming embrace on stage, and the smile on Quan’s face was undeniably a heartwarming moment.

Unfortunately, there were also some annoying and useless moments which plagued the event, some of which came across as downright stupid. For example, despite already having an advertisement during the broadcast celebrating its centennial anniversary, Disney found it necessary to include two of its stars for its upcoming adaptation of the animated classic The Little Mermaid in the live ceremony. Surely, Disney could have afforded to put its new trailer into the lineup of commercials that evening, but instead placed Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel, and Melissa McCarthy, who plays Ursula, up on stage to speak a bit about their upcoming film - and play a preview for the entire audience. But why? Since when did the Oscars become an advertisement for a movie that is probably not going to be nominated for any Academy Award? In a ceremony that usually goes long, there shouldn’t be time allotted for a trailer that is available online and ends up taking away from the nominated movies. Another controversial decision that the Academy made for this year’s ceremony was the choice to change the iconic red carpet to a dull “champagne,” supposedly setting the mood as more mellow and relaxed. However, many of the attendees wore pale dresses, such as Blonde’s Ana de Armas and Everything Everywhere’s Jamie Lee Curtis. The result of this “champagne carpet” were distressing outfits that clashed in front of cameras but would have shined inside a venue that had darker shades.

After a year of film that generated so much expectation, it’s hard not to feel like this year’s Oscars were just a bit underwhelming. The Academy Awards have recently tried to become more commercial and more appealing to a wider range of viewers. They removed categories that seemed too “boring,” and added in fan awards. However, these features only drove dedicated viewers away while still not bringing in the desired amount of new watchers. This year’s Oscars will hopefully mark the start of a new era for the awards, and a sign that we’re moving away from the more awkward shows of the past. The Oscars must return to their original ideal of recognizing the work and brilliance of less-watched films and underappreciated cinema instead of appealing to a broader audience and focusing too much on popularity. Everything Everywhere’s numerous wins shows how a movie that is weird, creative, and playful, but still popular, can triumph at the Oscars regardless of its fame or content. It’s true that the golden statues themselves were dominated by two studios this year, but it doesn’t change the fact that a wide variety of films and stories were recognized, from spiraling folk musicians to multiverse agents to a fighter pilot back for one last ride. With the welcome readdition of many technical awards, viewers were able to see the talent behind the screen once again. Such actions leave us hopeful for the future of the event and hopeful that next year’s ceremony may result in continued variety among nominations and wins. Hopeful that maybe the Oscars will be able to steer back to what they once were about: the movies.

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