Five CNN Opinion culture critics share their takeaways from the 95th Academy Awards. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.
Jeff Yang: It was an evening I’ll remember for a lifetime
I’m writing this having just left an Oscars watch party in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles thrown by the cast and crew of “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
There, the film’s crucial supporting players – the behind-the-scenes teams and extended cinematic family – gathered to see something none of them could possibly have expected: The film’s sweep of the major Academy Awards.
Along with Best Picture, it won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for “the Daniels” (Scheinert and Kwan), Best Supporting Actor for eternally humble and happy-just-to-be-here Ke Huy Quan and Best Supporting Actress for ever-authentic-and-original Jamie Lee Curtis. And of course, the long-awaited and much-deserved Best Actress award presented to queen Michelle Yeoh.
It was an evening I’ll remember for a lifetime, surrounded by a crowd ecstatically celebrating as history was repeatedly made, not just with the very deserved wins for this very special film, but by others as well. Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga for their documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers,” Judy Chin as part of the Oscar-winning makeup and hair team for “The Whale,” and M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose for their “RRR” dance-off earworm “Naatu Naatu.” It didn’t matter to anyone there that the latter two beat out “EEAAO” in their categories. There was celebration all the same, because we were, for the first time, truly reflected and truly represented, in all of our wild and sometimes weird diversity.
For the first time, I found myself posting a twist on April Reign’s famous hashtag and feeling it in my bones: #OscarsSoAsian.
Jeff Yang is a research director for the Institute for the Future and the head of its Digital Intelligence Lab. A frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, he co-hosts the podcast “They Call Us Bruce,” and is co-author of the book “RISE: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now.”
Holly Thomas: The casualties of these Oscars are telling
Last year’s Oscars — the year of The Slap — was the overwrought, sugar-hyped kid who threw its dinner at the wall. This year’s Oscars had spent some time in its room thinking about what it’d done and resolved to do better. It was a necessary factory reset, but it cost a few snubs and more than a little heartache.
The first and most important casualty was the fat acceptance movement. Brendan Fraser is clearly one of the nicest men in Hollywood, and the quality of his performance in “The Whale” merited the glowing comeback his Best Actor win represents, but the source material is bleakly fatphobic. As fat activist Aubrey Gordon has noted, filmmakers ought by now to be capable of “humanizing” fat people without resorting to the most humiliating portrayals. Still, actors take note — apparently playing characters on the extreme ends of the weight spectrum in Darren Aronofsky films is Academy catnip (see also: Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”).
The second is “Elvis,” which perhaps fell victim to the undeserved success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” back in 2019. Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic is far superior to Bryan Singer’s, which picked up a leading four awards, including Best Actor for Rami Malek. A chastened Academy appears to have course-corrected at The King’s expense.
Finally, “Banshees of Inisherin.” Where “Everything Everywhere All At Once” dialed up the volume, “Banshees” turned it down, delivering a rare portrayal of male frailty that for once, didn’t idealize or venerate its subjects. And while Jamie Lee Curtis, who picked up Best Supporting Actress for “Everything Everywhere” may deserve an Oscar by now, Kerry Condon deserved to win this year for her sublime performance in “Banshees.”
Holly Thomas is a writer and editor based in London. She is morning editor at Katie Couric Media. She tweets @HolstaT.
Gene Seymour: For better and for worse, the Oscars went back to basics
After spending most of the last decade tinkering with the format, trying to make the show faster, hipper (even hip-hoppier), and more diverse, the 95th Annual Academy Awards ceremony seemed to throw up its hands and say, “Forget it! Let’s just go with what’s worked in the past and let the chips fall where they may!”
For the most part, that’s what happened Sunday night. No surprises, pleasant or otherwise, were in view. (Maybe that was the surprise.) The show went on too long, but…oddly, not too long. The patter was contrived…but not too contrived. The whole thing felt as old-shoe comfortable as a vintage episode of “The Tonight Show.”
And speaking of talk shows, Jimmy Kimmel, the prototypical Gen-Xer’s Gen-Xer, seems by now to have morphed into one of those perennial go-to Oscar hosts like Bob Hope, Billy Crystal and (even) Johnny Carson.
Even the still-raw-to-the-touch matter of last year’s attack on Chris Rock by Will Smith was navigated cleanly and tautly by Kimmel, who mock-warned the audience at the outset of the consequences of any similar dustups at this ceremony.
“If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during this show you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech,” said Kimmel, who was rewarded for his cheekiness with laughter that sounded almost…grateful.
Once everybody exhaled, they seemed to be giddy throughout, especially as “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the flamboyantly “meta” action comedy about a Chinese American family’s adventures in the multiverse, fulfilled advance expectations by sweeping of most the major awards, including Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan, who set the tone for the night with his tearful, passionate account of his arrival in the US as a refugee from Vietnam, his success as a child actor and the career ups and downs that followed. “They say stories like this only happen in movies,” he said.
Sometimes, they still happen at the Oscars. And this year’s ceremony left everybody happy, though there will be – and, on social media, already are – complaints about the results.
That, too, is familiar. Maybe the more things change…well you know.
Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour.
Sara Stewart: For once, the speeches really said something
The juggernaut of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” wins reflected the vibe of the film itself, in which a million possibilities all come down to the enduring importance of love and loved ones.
First “EEAAO” winner, Best Supporting Actor Ke Huy Quan, had presenter Ariana DeBose choked up as she announced his name, and gave a tearfully joyful speech thanking his parents, touting the American dream – and throwing a special thank you to his “Goonies” castmate Jeff Cohen (who, it turns out, is now his lawyer). Having just rewatched “The Goonies,” I’m thoroughly charmed these two are still tight.
Best Supporting Actress winner Jamie Lee Curtis gave a big shout-out to her colleagues and fans in her genre (read: horror) work. And you know horror always gets short shrift at awards time. Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh, also a giant of genre (read: martial arts) film, made sure to mention her friends in Hong Kong cinema, where she got her start.
And perhaps most movingly, Daniel Scheinert – one half of the “EEAAO” directing duo “The Daniels” – took up most of his time during his half of the acceptance speech for Best Directing (or was it Best Original Screenplay? Seriously, this movie won so many Oscars) to thank, by name, the public school teachers who changed his life. “You guys educated me, you inspired me, you taught me to be less of a butthead,” he said.
In an evening that’s historically featured speeches heavy on dutiful lists of executive names, the overall impression you got from all the “EEAAO” crew was a profound appreciation for the people who really make us who we are.
Sara Stewart is a film and culture writer who lives in western Pennsylvania.
Clay Cane: Oscars are cause for celebration, with an asterisk
Days before the 95th Annual Academy Awards, an “anonymous” voter and self-described “fervent liberal” ranted to Entertainment Weekly about “wokeness” in Hollywood. Yes, “wokeness,” a favorite word co-opted by right-wing politicians and pseudo-liberal pundits who see striving for fairness as an assassination on the good old days of the past.
That voter’s words rang in my ears while watching the Academy Awards on Sunday night, because for all the headway toward inclusiveness and representation in Hollywood, such perspectives are too close to the mainstream. There’s been progress, but it’s been slow-moving and complicated, which is what I saw at the Oscars. There’s reason to celebrate, with an asterisk.
As writer Mark Hughes pointed out, this year, out of the 29 nominated producers, there were six White women nominees and two Asian-American nominees. Michelle Yeoh won Best Actress, but the leading actor categories were still overwhelmingly White.
The night’s biggest winner was “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which racked up seven Oscars, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Ke Huy Quan, most known for the 1985 classic “The Goonies,” won Best Supporting Actor. While I salute veteran actress Jamie Lee Curtis for winning in the Best Supporting Actress category for “Everything” – let’s also recognize that the Academy’s dismissiveness of Angela Bassett’s decades of outstanding performances is egregious.
Michelle Yeoh is the first Asian-identified woman to win Best Actress. Poetically, Yeoh received the award from Halle Berry, who made history 21 years ago as the first Black woman to win Best Actress – it took 21 years for another woman of color to win the Best Actress category.
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Other notable wins include Ruth E. Carter winning her second Academy Award for costume design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” making her the first Black woman to win multiple Oscars. “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR” became the first song from an Indian film to earn an Oscar. But, according to the anonymous Academy voter, there is clearly anti-“woke” resistance and there always will be.
From Hattie McDaniel becoming the first Black woman – and first person of color, period – to win an Oscar over 80 years ago to Michelle Yeoh making history, we only have progress because of demands for change, regardless of how uncomfortable those demands make the “fervent liberal.”
Clay Cane is a Sirius XM radio host and the author of “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race.”