The best and worst moments of the 2023 Oscars

The best and worst moments of the 2023 Oscars

All the highs, lows, and hot-dog-fingered whoas.

Donkeys, fighter jets, Lady Gaga in a T-shirt: Welcome to the 2023 Oscars. There was no sure thing at this year’s ceremony (well, other than Ke Huy Quan), but the evening promised and duly delivered three-plus hours of chaos, tears, and Cocaine Bears. Below, we’ve compiled the evening’s most memorable moments, for better or worse:

Low: The rug that didn’t tie the room together

The Academy decided not to roll out the red carpet this year: Breaking with 62 years of tradition, the classic scarlet was swapped for a new “champagne” color. (Though as editor Oliver Gettell noted, “It’s only champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it’s just a sparkling rug.”) The result was… underwhelming: Gorgeous white gowns (so many white gowns!) looked dull without contrast, the Pantone shade read less champagne than Severance beige, and the whole thing just seems like a nightmare to keep clean. Sometimes, tradition is tradition for a reason.

High: A solid cold open

He came in on a Top Gun: Maverick wing and a prayer and got danced off by the “Naatu Naauu” crew. In between, third-time host Jimmy Kimmel did the thing — moving nimbly through a mélange of topical one-liners (T-minus two minutes till we got an Ozempic reference), sincere acknowledgments (a pointed name-check of the conspicuously un-nominated Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis), and good-dumb dad jokes (“My banshees are caught in my Inisherin!”). As for the Will Smith question, hanging over it all like a slappy pall? Asked and answered, pretty well.

High: Ke Huy Quan, king of hearts

Even after sweeping every possible precursor, the Everything Everywhere All At Once star somehow managed to mine fresh feeling (who’s chopping onions over here again?) with his season-capping win — from the moment presenter Ariana DeBose broke down announcing his name to his emotional recollection of his journey from child refugee to the Oscars stage: “This, this is the American dream.” In the best kind of multiverse, yes. 

Low: The Little Mermaid butts in

Nothing says “Corporate overlord don’t care” like ABC parent company Disney brazenly inserting a free ad — sorry, preview — for their latest live-action project in the midst of the year’s biggest awards show, along with two of its stars. Pay the going ad rate like everybody else, Mickey Mouse. 

High: The good mule

Justice for Jenny! Despite The Banshees of Inisherin’s many nominations, Jenny the donkey was rudely shut out of the Best Supporting Actress category (probably because she’s an ass). She still got her time on stage though, joining host Kimmel in an Emotional Support Animal vest. The whole room clapped and cheered as she trotted out, but no one was more psyched than Best Actor nominee Colin Farrell, whose face lit up when he saw his four-legged costar. Sadly, EW later confirmed that the donkey on stage was not the real Jenny but a local ringer. Hopefully she was celebrating somewhere back home in Ireland — ideally with a basket of carrots (sans Brendan Gleeson’s fingers).  

High: You say it’s your birthday

Some people get cake for their birthday. Others get an Oscar. After An Irish Goodbye won Best Live-Action Short, producers Tom Berkeley and Ross White used their acceptance speech time to lead the crowd in a sing-along celebrating their star James Martin on his 31st birthday. The only downside is that every subsequent birthday might feel like a letdown once you’ve been serenaded on a global stage by the likes of Colin Farrell, Cate Blanchett, and Janelle Monae.

Whoa: A brutal In Memoriam callout

Less than three days after Robert Blake’s death, Kimmel spared no allusions to the actor’s 2001 murder charge for killing his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. In poor taste? Absolutely. But also savagely funny, especially in an evening of mostly anodyne  patter. Less clear: Why the Academy left out significant names like Anne Heche, Tom Sizemore, Paul Sorvino, and Triangle of Sadness star Charlbi Dean.

High: A Best Song serenade

Given the dearth of other nominations for such a widely celebrated film, RRR‘s big shot at taking home a trophy tonight came with Best Song, a category it was widely tipped to win. But who knew composer M.M. Keeravani’s speech would come so joyfully a cappella? “I grew up listening to the Carpenters and now here I am with the Oscars,” he confessed, and then began singing-slash-paraphrasing the brother-sister duo’s 1972 soft-pop smash “Top of the World”: “There was only one wish on my mind…. RRR has to win, pride of every Indian, and must put me on the top of the world.”

Meh: The other musical notes

Lady Gaga stripped down, Rihanna stepped regally onto a shower puff, and David Byrne waggled his delightful wiener hands. But even Lenny Kravitz’s perfectly serviceable rendition of “Calling All Angels” for the In Memoriam segment felt oddly anticlimactic; “Naatu” spectacular aside, can anyone honestly say that they’ll ever be discussing these performances again after, say, Tuesday? 

Hmmm: Where in the world is Tom Cruise?

The man who saved movies could not save the date, apparently: While he appeared in person at other high-profile pre-season events, Monsieur Maverick didn’t RSVP for the industry’s biggest night. Just hours before the broadcast, a rep for the actor told the press that his absence was due to scheduling obligations for Mission Impossible 8. (But isn’t he kinda like, the boss of that?) Ah well. At least with Harrison Ford‘s Best Picture presentation, we got to bask in the presence of another rugged American icon and famed aviation enthusiast. And it felt like poetry, or at least sweet Hollywood symmetry, to watch Indiana Jones give his old friend Short Round‘s film the final prize of the night.

High: The bear necessities

The Oscars see your Imposter Donkey, and raise you a Cocaine Bear: Actress-turned-director Elizabeth Banks was joined on stage by her titular muse for one of the night’s better bits honoring Best Visual Effects. As Banks explained the magic of CGI vs. reality by running down the year’s nominees,  the movie’s four-legged Scarface did its bit in furry pantomime, and got the answer we all knew was true: “Wakanda? Wakanda is totally real.”

Related content:

Read More