Well, they did their jobs. Everyone had their metaphorical seat belts on. The result was a frictionless if enjoyable evening that half the audience probably forgot the moment they queued the finale to HBO’s ratings juggernaut “The Last of Us,” which aired during the ceremony.
If you can believe it, the most notable thing about the night was the winners.
Coming into the night, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” with its fairly breathtaking 11 nominations, was a resounding favorite to win, well, everything — a general favorite, a Vegas odds favorite and, one can surmise from beige-carpet interviews, a celebrity favorite. Those odds were right on: It swept most of the major categories, including best original screenplay, editing, both supporting acting categories, actress, director and — perhaps most importantly — best picture.
This was already a landmark year for Asian representation, and Sunday night continued the streak — most notably when Michelle Yeoh triumphed over early favorite Cate Blanchett and became the first Asian performer to win best actress. “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” she said in her acceptance speech. “This is proof that dreams do come true.”
“This is the American Dream!” shouted Ke Huy Quan after winning best supporting actor. Because, sorry F. Scott Fitzgerald, but Quan proved that some get that coveted second act. The 51-year-old actor, who appeared as a kid in the 1980s blockbusters “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” took about two decades off from acting before winning a role in EEAAO. With tears, Quan reflected in his speech how he fled Vietnam, spent a year in a refugee camp and “somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.”
Best supporting actress went to Quan’s co-star Jamie Lee Curtis. “I just won an Oscar,” the first-time winner said through tears, eventually calling out her late parents (Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh), mirroring Quan moments before, who exclaimed “Mom, I won an Oscar!”
An emotional Brendan Fraser accepted his first best actor award for “The Whale,” joking, “So this is what the multiverse looks like,” before giving a more serious speech. “I started in the business 30 years ago and things — they didn’t come easy to me — but there was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time, until it stopped,” he said while holding back tears.
Germany’s Netflix-backed “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the third adaptation of the 1929 novel, performed surprisingly well, sweeping many of the technical categories and winning best international feature film. Meanwhile, Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman with two statues after winning best costume design for her work on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
The rest of the show ran like, well, clockwork. After a few years of strange emcee experiments — forgoing a host from 2019 to 2021 and employing Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall as a trio of co-hosts last year — Jimmy Kimmel returned for the third time as the single, solitary host.
He didn’t shy away from last year’s shadow, but he didn’t linger in it either. During a fairly safe (that word again) but serviceable monologue filled with the usual jokes about the year’s nominated movies, the ceremony’s infamously overlong runtime and Tom Cruise’s relationship with Scientology, he joked, “Five Irish actors are nominated tonight. Which means the odds of another fight onstage just went way up.” A few minutes later, he said if anyone commits violence, “you will be given the Oscar for best actor” and suggested that should history repeat, the crowd should do what it did last year: “Nothing.”
Of course, no one committed any acts of violence as the show dragged on to a finish — or did anything out of the ordinary, for that matter. The whole night, down to Rihanna’s eloquent performance of “Lift Me Up” from “Wakanda Forever,” felt well oiled but entirely preprogrammed because, of course, it was. In fact, if Kimmel hadn’t made so many jokes about how long the telecast was, it would have ended on time.
That’s the issue with live television. If nothing unexpected happens, it feels like an unfulfilled promise.
As the whoa, what?! moments have piled up in recent years, a smoothly run show can’t help but produce shrugs. We can’t take our eyes off a car crash, but no one watches cars zip down a well-maintained highway.
Tonight’s biggest car crash came when the telecast, which is already basically a multihour advertisement for the movies, decided to include actual advertisements for the movies.
Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey took the stage moments after a truly touching moment — the filmmakers behind live-action short winner “An Irish Goodbye” singing “Happy Birthday” to the film’s star — to busk for their upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid,” announcing (and showing!) a new trailer for it, as if the ceremony wasn’t already long enough. Leave it to Disney, ABC’s parent company, to push the outer limits of decent synergy.
The built-in advertisement for Warner Bros.’s 100th anniversary, introduced by Morgan Freeman and Margot Robbie a bit later, felt like another fender bender.
Clocking in at just over 3½ hours, the show included some standout moments: Jenny the Donkey from “The Banshees of Inisherin” (or a donkey playing Jenny) showed up onstage wearing an “emotional support animal” vest. Lady Gaga appeared to have left the audience to wipe the makeup off her face before giving an emotional performance of “Hold My Hand” from ” Top Gun: Maverick,” dressed in a black t-shirt and ripped black jeans. “Cocaine Bear” director Elizabeth Banks presented “best visual affects” accompanied by a person in a bear suit.
And you may ask yourself: Why does David Byrne always show up in everything? On Sunday, he performed “This Is a Life” from EEAAO with hot dog fingers. (If you don’t understand what that means, we suggest watching EEAAO.)
Was all that enough to attract a new audience? The Academy likely hopes so. The Oscars have been in crisis mode for a long time, as its ratings continue to pale in comparison to those of yesteryear, and all the slaps, snafus, Twitter polls (remember last year’s disastrous experiments?) and random hosting arrangements couldn’t save it.
Maybe this back-the-the-basics, almost comedically overlong ceremony can. But in a world where everyone’s attention is usually pulled by everything, everywhere, all at once, it seems unlikely.