Monday Movie: Reflections on Oscars 2023

  • Oscars 2023: A solid but unremarkable show. A safe host. Predictable, often sentimental winners. A crisis team ready to spring into action should any nominee feel the urge to slap a presenter.

Lots of angry, “ I’m never going to watch the Oscars again” post ceremony discussion on social media alongside celebration depending on how a favourite fared.

Television ratings were up on last year’s dismal numbers, so some relief for the Academy there but what did they get right and what went a bit Pete Tong?

Like most awards shows, the Oscars are a matter of personal taste, there is no objective yardstick by which to measure a ‘best’ prize. So, on that subjective basis and in the sore loser spirit of Angela Bassett when she didn’t hear her name called out for Best supporting actress, I’ll say that my choices and those of the Academy did not align last night. 

Of course, there is no reason why they should . One man’s Best Picture is another man’s two hours of cinematic torture. Even so, was a sci-fi, visuals heavy film really such a powerhouse of acting that it deserved three of the four acting awards when not one of the many powerful performances in Women Talking even received a nomination?

There’s no doubt the acting categories were very competitive this year. Best actor could easily have gone one of three ways. Best Actress was so close it could have been a tie – there is precedent for that – in 1969 Barbra Streisand and Katherine Hepburn received the same number of votes and therefore, both won. Best Supporting Actress could, arguably, have gone any one of five ways. Best Supporting Actor, equally, could have moved in, at least two directions, possibly three.

As such the acting wins have been a cause for both jubilation and fury on apps like Twitter. For my part, I’ll say, it’s possible to recognise the impressive work of Brendan Fraser and Michelle Yeoh and simultaneously acknowledge that, the Academy may, in future years, come to regret sending Austin Butler and Cate Blanchett home empty handed. 

I’ve championed both all year and so it’s only right I comment now. When all the hype is over, I still believe that it will be Blanchett’s turn as Lydia Tar which will be studied in drama classes for years to come. I still believe that the only two films from 2022 that people will still be watching and loving in ten years time are Top Gun:Maverick and Elvis. And people will look at how Butler sings, talks, moves, swaggers like Elvis Presley, embodies his sexual magnetism and extraordinary stage presence from ages 19-42 and assume he won the Oscar. As Elvis might say; That’s the way it is.

The thing is, the broadcast could have been a fabulous show this year that left everyone with something to cheer. For the first time in about five years there was a genuine buzz about the Oscars. Film goers were excited about the awards. Not just those who follow film avidly but more casual fans too; everyone from those who only go to see, maybe one or two movies a year to those for whom a trip to the cinema is a regular weekend night out. In 2022, after three years of lockdowns and masks they had gone out to see  the likes of Top Gun:Maverick, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once and they had views about what should win. 

For the first time, in a  long time, too, they were emotionally invested  in who they wanted to win. This was especially so with the acting categories. All five Best Actor contenders were first time nominees and there was a sense of a changing of the guard from established stars like Di Caprio, Pitt, Washington and others who often make up these lists. It didn’t harm the show that three of the nominees are heartthrobs with passionate fan bases (Butler, Farrell and Mescal), one is a veteran stalwart of film (Nighy) and the fifth had a great come back story (Fraser). 

On the actress front the likes of Cate Blanchett, Florence Pugh, Michelle Yeoh have large fan bases too. 

So, after all the recent talk of Hollywood no longer having any stars, here was an opportunity for the Oscars to flex its star power. Instead the television broadcast seemed strangely muted in this regard. The red carpet segment (actually on a champagne coloured carpet this year) was more cluttered, frantic and chaotic than usual and offered few opportunities to see or hear from the big names. 

Once inside the Dolby theatre, the cameras rarely panned to the nominees to catch them laughing at the host’s jokes, singing along to the musical numbers or surreptitiously applying lipstick; the sorts of moments that viewers look for and remember. Instead, the only way many viewers knew if their favourite was even there was via social media, especially Twitter.

Then came the award giving. After all the excitement of the multiple nominations for popular films like Elvis, The Banshees of Inisherin, Tar and The Fabelmans which although not a big hit, had the most famous director in the world at the helm, the movies actually received a big, fat total of zero Oscars between them. Catherine Martin’s stunning costumes for Elvis, Mandy Walker’s cinematography for the film, the hair and makeup, all got nothing. It didn’t bode well for Butler to win Best Actor and his enormous fan base began to flag on social media. Banshees couldn’t even pick up a screenplay award. Spielberg was only good as a punchline for host, Jimmy Kimmel’s game jokes. Award after award went elsewhere. 

After all the build up it began to turn into a a bit of a damp squib for everything save EEAAO which is a polarising film in itself.

Jenny the donkey from The Banshees of Inisherin appearing on stage, in her red bow tie was an unexpected and cute moment. She was easily the best dressed star of the night. The always impeccably dressed Jessica Chastain and Michelle Yeoh in all white, an elegant second. In fact, the gown and tuxedos were generally top notch.

One outfit which didn’t go down well was the elaborate, bridal number with a huge and very high collar/headdress part which blocked the view of everyone sitting behind her. It may have been beautiful on the catwalk but in theatre style seating was a big no, no.

Colin Farrell’s young son pumping his fist when his father’s name was read out as a nominee for Best actor was another sweet moment.

Jamie Lee Curtis’ sheer joy at being part of the conversation during this awards season and then doing the seeming impossible; nabbing the Oscar when she had seemed an also ran all season was classic Oscars theatre. Whether you agreed with her win or not you couldn’t help but smile when she got up on that stage. Expanding her arms as if to embrace the entire world, she named all her family and friends and colleagues over the years and for each group said “WE just won an Oscar!” Then clapping a quivering hand to her mouth she looked heavenward and told her parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who had each been nominees themselves decades ago, “I just won an Oscar!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The In memoriam segment was respectful and tasteful in the hands of the multi talented Lenny Kravitz.

The song nominees were all watchable, for a change, with Lady Gaga and Rihanna bringing the star power and the RRR troupe bringing the house down with their infuriatingly catchy Naatu, Naatu number.

Less successful were some of Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes and skits, notably his ambush of a startled Malala, Nobel peace winner, whom he asked whether Harry Styles had actually spit on Chris Pine. It could’ve worked with an entertainer in on the joke but here it was just cringeworthy. Kimmel was better at keeping the show going with an on point jibe here and there. “James Cameron isn’t nominated for Best Director, did the Academy think he was a woman?!”

As usual, the technical category and animated documentary shorts type awards, during which most viewers go make a cup of tea, brought forth whole teams onto the stage, all of them thanking dozens of other unknown people. Of course they’re super talented and deserve their moment but the truth is few viewers watch for their categories. With all the thank yous, before you know it a lengthy hour has been added to the proceedings.

No one loves a good Oscars meltdown more than me. Weeping winners. Emotional shout-outs to family, old teachers, children- yes to all that. but spare me the sob stories. The Oscars is in danger of becoming the cinematic equivalent of the X Factor. Hollywood doesn’t owe anyone an Oscar for anything other than exceptional work. This year, too much exceptional work played second fiddle to the sob stories.

Overall verdict: A little lack lustre but a big improvement on the past few years.

(Best Picture nominees illustrations by Ollie Gibbs)