Now this was a damn good Oscar Night.
The 95th Academy Awards show sure helped dispel the bad odor of the past few years. Watching the In Memoriam interlude last year, as a cheerleader squad honored dead people by singing “Spirit in the Sky,” I said aloud, “This show can’t possibly get any worse.” But saying this on Oscar Night is like a Mel Brooks movie where someone says, “At least it’s not raining.” Reader, it got worse. But this year was the zippiest, most fun Oscar bash in ages.
Host Jimmy Kimmel set the tone with his superbly salty monologue, giving targets like James Cameron, Babylon and Tom Cruise all the shade everywhere at once. He mocked the Academy for not nominating women, and to the surprise of nobody, roasted both Will Smith and the producers for last year’s fiasco. Kimmell warned the crowd, “If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during the show…you will be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor and permitted to give a 19-minute long speech.”
Usually, the most beaten-to-death word on Oscar Night is “storytelling,” but this year, it was “theaters,” as everyone from Harrison Ford to Halle Bailey reminded you to support your local multiplex. Top Gun: Maverick and the Avatar sequel got saluted for saving the movies, although Kimmel wasn’t exactly reverent. “Everybody loved Top Gun,” he said. “Tom Cruise with his shirt off in that beach-volleyball scene? L. Ron Hubba-Hubba!”
Everything Everywhere All At Once became one of the biggest winners in Oscar history, taking three out of the four acting awards along with Best Picture. The Daniels won Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, with Daniel Kwan giving it up to his immigrant parents and Daniel Scheinert putting in a dig at people offended by drag queens. Always the Final Girl, Jamie Lee Curtis won Best Supporting Actress, and gave it up to the horror-movie fans who made her a star. “To all the people who have supported the genre movies that I’ve made for these years,” she said, “the thousands and hundreds of thousands of people, we just won an Oscar together!” She also saluted her husband Christopher Guest — always a treat to see Nigel Tufnel in the house.
Ke Huy Quan gave everyone their first crying fit of the night with one of the all-time great Best Supporting Actor speeches. He became the first Goonie to win an Oscar. (So far, that is — rooting for you, Kerri Green.) “My journey started on a boat,” he said through tears. “I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage…This is the American dream!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he pointed right into the camera and said, “To all of you out there, please keep your dream alive!”
Michelle Yeoh’s historic win for Best Actress felt like a cultural watershed, as the category’s first Asian winner. “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” she said. “Dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are past your prime. Never!”
Brendan Fraser won Best Actor for The Whale, and whatever your problems with the movie, anyone would have to feel happy for Fraser. If you’re a longtime fan, you might remember the 1999 Oscars where he was there for the pioneering queer drama Gods and Monsters, snuggling with castmates Ian McKellen and Lynn Redgrave. This was a touching comeback.
Which meant that no, Colin Farrell didn’t win Best Actor. But he was a welcome presence in the crowd all night, giving Fraser a hug of congratulations on his way to the podium. He also gave a hearty cheer when the lads from An Irish Goodbye won Best Live Action Short. Slainte, Colin: you will always be breakfast, lunch, and feckin’ dinner.
Costume designer Ruth E. Carter won for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, becoming the first Black woman to win two Oscars. She gave one of the night’s most powerful speeches, saying, “Thank you to the Academy for recognizing the superhero that is a Black woman. She endures, she loves, she overcomes. She is every woman in this film. She is my mother.” Carter dedicated the award to her 101-year-old mom, who just passed away. “This past week, Mabel Carter became an ancestor,” she said, and it was a heartwrenching moment when she added, “Chadwick, please take care of Mom.”
There was also a powerful speech from Yulia Navalnaya, wife of imprisoned Russian oppposition leader Alexey Navalny, subject of the Best Dpcumentary winner Navalny. “Alexey, I’m dreaming of the day when you will be free and our country will be free,” she said. “Stay strong, my love.”
Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors were the coolest presenter duo, beginning with a touching salute to Angela Bassett, who was nominated for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever but didn’t win. Jordan said, “Hey, Auntie,” as Majors added, “We love you.” A classy and gallant gesture, leading into a cinematography lesson that was also a master-class in comic timing. Could these two guys please host the Oscars next year?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus presented in the dress she wore in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, back in the pre-Seinfeld Eighties, when she was the fifth-most famous star in Soul Man. Now that’s a flex. Elizabeth Banks led out an actor in a Cocaine Bear suit, while Kimmel brought out an actual donkey, Jenny from The Banshees of of Inisheren, who stole the show. (No, not the same donkey who was in the movie — you don’t fly a feckin’ donkey from Ireland to feckin’ Hollywood.) Ana De Armas didn’t win for Blonde, but honestly, the movie she really should have won for is Knock Knock. (Happy Father’s Day, Keanu!)
Hugh Grant had a bad night, coming off as the ceremony’s unchallenged bitch queen. He did a red-carpet interview with Ashley Graham, rolling his eyes and complaining about not having enough screen time in Glass Onion. Graham: “What are you wearing?” Grant: “Just my suit.” Graham deserved a Best Actress nomination just for the way she said, “It was nice to talk to you.” But that sounded nearly sincere compared to Andie McDowell’s “Lovely to be here,” when she had to stand next to him while presenting. She visibly bristled, asking him, “What are you doing?” For such a charm-dependent actor, Hugh sure picked a dumb time to waltz off with the I Don’t Like Ya No More trophy.
Lady Gaga did an astounding stripped-down performance of “Hold My Hand,” her power ballad from Top Gun: Maverick, in black jeans and no makeup. “It’s deeply personal for me,” she said as an introduction, in an extreme close-up. “I think that we all need each other. We need a lot of love to walk through this life, and we all need a hero sometimes. There’s heroes all around us, in unassuming places. But you might find that you can be your own hero, even if you feel broken inside.”
Gaga dedicated her great performance dedicaed to Tony Scott, who directed the original Top Gun back in the Eighies. Given how Gaga was all gothed out tonight, she might have been thinking of The Hunger, his classic 1983 blood-sucking thriller with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve having vampire sex with Susan Sarandon.
Son Lux and David Byrne performed “This Is A Life,” from Everything Everywhere All At Once, alongside Stephanie Hsu. It was a gorgeously weird and emotional performance. Byrne rocked the film’s “hot dog fingers” in a white suit, evoking flashbacks of Stop Making Sense. Rihanna belted “Lift Me Up” from Wakanda Forever, proving she’s the only star who could look cool standing on a hay bale in couture. Just a few weeks after her triumph at the Super Bowl, Rihanna is having one of the coolest pregnancies in music history.
But the prize for Best Song went to “Naatu Naatu,” from RRR, after Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava gave a breathtaking, acrobatic performance. M.M. Keeravani sang his acceptance speech to the tune of the Carpenters’ 1970s oldie “Top of the World,” telling the crowd, “I grew up listening to the Carpenters, and now here I am with the Oscars!” Somewhere, Karen Carpenter was smiling.
Tar got shut out of the awards, sadly. Less surprisingly, so did Elvis, which is what happens when your Elvis movie is dumber than any actual Elvis movie. Jimmy Kimmel gave it up to a certain Nineties stoner comedy, noting the weird fact that “two actors from Encino Man are nominated tonight.” Both of them — Fraser and Ke Huy Quan — ended up winning. As he joked, “A difficult night for Pauly Shore.” But don’t worry, Pauly. History will vindicate Son-In-Law, the true masterpiece of le cinéma du Weasel.
One of the night’s biggest ovations went to the legend James Hong, looking fine at 94, an actor who has shone from Blade Runner to Chinatown to Dallas to Seinfeld to Wayne’s World II. You can connect any two movies via Six Degrees of James Hong — and there he was at the end of the night, standing proudly with his crew from Everything Everywhere All At Once, after winning Best Picture. What a moment.
The In Memoriam tribute was genuinely moving, with Lenny Kravitz on piano singing “Calling All Angels.” The Applause-O-Meter was muted, but to the naked ear, it sounded like the warmest applause went to Angela Lansbury, James Caan, and Raquel Welch. (Some of us are still in denial about the Fathom queen.) Ray Liotta was honored, but — bizarrely and indefensibly — his capo Paul Sorvino was left out, the equivalent of not cutting Paulie in on the Lufthansa heist. Jean-Luc Godard got a few claps too, which would have amused him. John Travolta introduced and got weepy alluding to his old Grease collaborator Olivia Newton-John, speaking of “dear friends who we will always remain hopelessly devoted to.” R.I.P., Olivia. We will always honestly love you. And as the late great Godard might have signed off: End of Oscars. End of Cinema.