The 95th Academy Awards aired Sunday, March 12, 2023, and there’s a lot to discuss from the winners, losers, musical performances and the occasional Hollywood drama viewers have now come to expect. It would be nearly impossible to cover every single thing that went down, because as we all know, the Oscars always has its fair share of upsets, disappointments, and even slaps. But in this piece, I hope I cover the moments that were collectively seen as the most important.
Everywhere earns Every Win
Going into the 95th Oscars as the frontrunner – and the film I have the most to talk about – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (EEAAO) was nominated 11 total times and took home seven of them. The categories EEAAO won were Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay. In my opinion, the film more than deserved all of them. Ke Huy Quan won Best Supporting Actor, while Michelle Yeoh won Best Actress, becoming the first actress of Asian descent to win the award. The two carried the film and gave some of the most heartfelt, realistic, and even wacky performances of the year. At one moment they could be wearing hot dog fingers or fighting with a fanny pack and in the next, they’d be breaking hearts in sob scenes.
Quan especially deserves his props after he had been seemingly missing from Hollywood since his roles in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies.” To come back only recently to acting and secure not only a nomination, but a win, was impressive.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the directing duo known as “The Daniels,” also deserve some credit going up against directing legends like Steven Spielberg, Martin McDonagh, and Ruben Östlund. With only a few directing credits under their belt, including “Swiss Army Man” and a number of music videos, they created the most groundbreaking film of the year. I love that the duo provided some of the more delightful and wacky parts of the Oscars, including the acceptance speech where one Daniel said “Let’s put my mom in the Matrix.”
Superheroes Can’t Win
The only contention that could be found in the array of wins for EEAAO would be for Best Supporting Actress, won by Jamie Lee Curtis. This was her first Oscar win, which is exciting because Curtis is, in many regards, an acting legend. Yet many people have voiced their opinions that fellow acting legend Angela Bassett deserved the win for her role in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” A category that even Bassett may have thought was hers, as videos of her reaction during the announcement for Best Supporting Actress were not cheerful. She did not appear to congratulate fellow nominee Curtis and was described as "Kinda Shady" by the New York Post.
Going into the Oscars, I thought this was going to be a narrow race between Curtis and Bassett. Both had layered, powerful performances. The only reason I believe Curtis won is the Academy’s opinion of types of movies and the time and influence on screen.
The first argument I find unfortunate yet still a constant: the Academy doesn’t care for superhero movies. Within the past decade, “comic book” films have been released with little to no Oscar recognition. For instance, “Avengers: Endgame” lost to “1917” for Best Visual Effects, and Oscar-worthy performances from Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Steward received no attention for the film “Logan.” Even this year, “The Batman,” which in my opinion should have won the award for Cinematography or Best Original Score, did not take home a single award. Unless you’re a Joker (Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal in “The Dark Knight” and Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for his portrayal in “Joker”) it’s unlikely to win an award for a superhero film.
The second argument that could be leveled against Bassett would be time and influence on screen. Spoiler alert: in the film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,'' Bassett’s character, Queen Ramonda, dies just a little over the halfway mark. Curtis, on the other hand, was on screen in EEAAO right up until the end and was a pivotal character for the progression of the film, having multiple moments that led Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, to her self-realization. That is not to say shorter performances don’t garner Academy love; look at Anthony Hopkins’ 16 minutes of screen time in “The Silence of the Lambs” that won him the Best Actor award, or even Judd Hirsch’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor for roughly eight minutes of screen time in “The Fabelmans.” Add the lack of superhero love, and the probability that Bassett was going to win for her performance unfortunately diminished.
Best Actor Was a Tight Race
With EEAAO out of the way, let's move onto everything else, starting off with the only acting category not won by EEAAO: Best Actor.
In my opinion, all the actors in this category deserved the nomination and were worthy contenders. There was Austin Butler and his near-perfect embodiment of Elvis Presely in “Elvis,” Brendan Fraser and his comeback of the century bid with his disturbingly emotional role in “The “Whale,” Colin Farrell and his balanced comedic-dramatic character in “The Banshees of “Inisherin,” and Paul Mescal’s role in “Aftersun,” where he carried the emotion of a father attempting to connect with his daughter. I haven’t gotten the chance to see Bill Nighy in “Living” yet, but seeing as Nighy is an acting legend, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the night, it was Fraser who secured the win and gave a powerful acceptance speech to round out one of the greatest comeback stories. Fun fact: None of these actors have ever been nominated for the award, something that hasn’t occurred since 1934.
Animation, Sound, and Music, oh my!
Animation Feature is always a fun category but has been hotly debated in recent years. Some argue that animation is for kids, while others say powerful stories can be translated through animation, whether it be for kids or for adults. I think Guillermo Del Toro said it best in his acceptance speech for his version of “Pinocchio,” which utilized stop motion animation: “Animation is cinema, animation is not a genre, and animation is ready for the next step.” I agree with Del Toro, but I also believe “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” should've won Best Animated Feature.
For music and sound, “Top Gun: Maverick” rightly won the Oscar. Say what you will about pro-military propaganda, the sound design, sound editing and sound mixing was crafted so well I would credit it with the reason the film was cohesive. I disagree with “All Quiet on the Western Front” winning for Original Score over “Babylon,” which had sounds to capture a hectic, extravagant, heart-racing tone.
In possibly one of the biggest upsets of the night, Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up,” which was the prominent song in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'' and was noted as the return of Rihanna, lost to “Naatu Naatu” from international film “RRR”. I love “Naatu Naatu” for being upbeat, catchy and refreshing, and I loved the fact that an international song was nominated for an Oscar. But “Lift Me Up” had a level of emotional depth and relevance that can’t be matched, especially after the passing of Chadwick Boseman. It set the tone for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” whereas the incorporation of “Naatu Naatu” in “RRR” felt more of a quick diversion from the film.
Rounding it Out
The 95th Academy Awards was an exciting night and had some of the greatest lineup of actresses, actors, directors, music and films that has been seen in recent years, and it’s even more impressive that no one got slapped. It feels like movies have stepped up and reclaimed prevalence after a 2020 year of movies that were released exclusively on streaming services. Now is a fitting time for my early prediction for the 96th Academy Awards Best Motion Picture: Cocaine Bear.