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95th Academy Awards - Show
Photograph: Myung J. Chun

The seven stand out moments from the 2023 Academy Awards

The teariest speech, the best joke and the most excruciating interview

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

This year the Oscars were playing for pride – or at least, the restoration of pride to a ceremony that was left in the mud by The Slap last year. Perhaps it was the recent rich tapestry of envelope mix-ups, surprise A-lister assaults and ceremonies held in train stations, but the sheer smoothness of this year’s Academy Awards felt a bit… well, ‘disappointing’ is putting it too strongly, but certainly unusual.

There was no fighting, no confusion over winners and even the surprising donkey cameo went off without it so much as pooing on stage, the kind of thing that would definitely have happened in 2022. Cocaine Bear even ambushed Malala at one point but that surreal incident passed by without comment. Which, on reflection, was for the best.

For the majority of the show, that left the spotlight blissfully free to rove from one deserving winner to another, while the orchestra largely – but not entirely – held off playing winners off midway through remembering a recently deceased loved one. However, there were, as there always are, questions arising from the night’s events – starting with one of the most fantastically awful red carpet interviews since records began…

What happened with that Hugh Grant interview?

Sure, the Englishman’s boyish on-screen charm does not, historically, extend to his public persona. Still, watching the bemused Brit navigating the red carpet like he’d been put up to it as a joke by his publicist was a sight to behold. Unfortunately for CBS interviewer Ashley Graham, it was in front of her mic that he washed up. ‘Who are you most excited to see win tonight?’ came the gentle opener. ‘No one in particular,’ huffed Grant. And somehow it only got more excruciating from there. ‘Arsehole’ and ‘D bag’ were two of the kinder epithets soon flying about the Twittersphere, from viewers whose appetite for fluffy celeb content was left unsatisfied by Grant’s handling the obligatory ‘Who are you wearing?’ question with a gruff reply of: ‘My suit’. Rudeness aside, we kinda loved it. 

Does the Academy love a comeback story too much?

Prognosticators will do battle over the respective merits of the winners, but this was without question the most heartfelt Academy Awards in many moons. The changing make-up of Academy voters in recent times has quickly been reflected in the kinds of films that are winning the big prizes – Everything Everywhere All At Once as a prime example – but doesn’t explain how mushy voters have got when faced with a stirring story. Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis all had comeback arcs that proved irresistible, arguably squeezing out stronger performances in one or two of the categories.

Yeoh’s acceptance speech was an emotional highpoint for the night. ‘For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight,’ she said, ‘this is proof that dreams do come true,’ says Yeoh. ‘And ladies, don’t let anyone tell you that you are past your prime.’ It was a stand-up-and-cheer moment in a night full of them.

How did Jimmy Kimmel do?

Major props are due to the TV host for restoring order and a good measure of charm to the show. He oversaw a polished telecast and delivered some zingers along the way. His Best Editing gag was a winner: ‘Anyone who’s ever received a text message from their father knows how important editing is.’ He even added donkey husbandry to his skillset this year. He’s now a three-times host and absolutely no one would bet against him doing it again very soon.

How many Will Smith jokes were there?

There was, of course, an elephant in the room in the shape of last year’s Will Smith slap on Chris Rock. Perhaps surprisingly, Jimmy Kimmel kept it fed and watered and in peanuts for the duration of the show with frequent callbacks. ‘If anyone in this theatre commits an act of violence during the show, you will be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor and permitted to give a 19 minute long speech,’ he deadpanned in his opening monologue. 

The Academy had suggested that the incident would be addressed and then dropped, but Kimmel remained Slap happy into the later reaches of the notoriously long ceremony. ‘This point in the show kinda makes you miss the slapping a little bit, doesn’t it?’ he noted during a lull about three hours in. Once or twice was probably enough, but it felt like the Oscars was reclaiming itself from that tarnishing moment and it probably deserves a pass for that. 

Did ‘RRR’ steal the show?

The winner of best song – RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ – also provided a high-energy highlight that seemed to invigorate the entire night. The performance was a blur of non-stop motion that had the audience on its feet and capped a special year for the Telugu-language film that won the hearts of Hollywood this year.

Cate Blanchett
Photograph: Arturo Holmes/GettyCate Blanchett on the Oscars red carpet

Why was everyone wearing blue ribbons? 

Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett and a few other attendees came adorned with blue ribbons in support of the UN Refugee Agency. It felt timely on a night where immigrant stories were never far from the surface. ‘My journey started on a boat,’ remembered Everything Everything All At Once’s Ke Huy Quan in his Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech. ‘I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow, I ended up on Hollywood’s biggest stage. This is the American dream.’

Jimmy Kimmel
Photograph: Myung J. Chun

Was that really Jenny the donkey?

The Banshees of Inisherin four-legged star was as close as Martin McDonagh’s terrific black comedy got to the Oscars stage – and even that involved some sleight of hand. Investigative entertainment journalists took no time to uncover a mulish plot: Jenny was actually ‘just a random donkey’ shipped in for the night. Which, on balance, probably makes more sense that shipping the real donkey over from Ireland to resume kicking Colin Farrell

All the winners (and losers) at the 95th Academy Awards.

The 35 best films of the past year.

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