The Bests, Worsts, Mosts, and Leasts of the Oscars
Plus a deeply scientific poll.
Friends, our Season of Seasons officially concluded last night with an Oscars ceremony that, as is tradition, dragged a bit in the middle and ran long by about half an hour. But it also did a bang-up job of being, well, Oscars-y, in the right ways, after a few years of deviations.
We had no folks at weird banks of cocktail tables or in overlarge armchairs, as with last year. No one accepting via Zoom, a la 2020, and no steeply pared-down guests in an echo-y room that felt repurposed, because it was, like 2021 (although the pandemic venue, Los Angeles’s Union Station, looked gorgeous; shout-out to a landmark!). Jimmy Kimmel was relaxed and congenial, making assured jokes about Matt Damon in front of an audience of people in regular old amphitheater you-can’t-slap-anyone-without-clambering-over-Michelle-Yeoh-first-style seating. No one said anything markedly terrible, and one of the winners sang his acceptance speech to the tune of a Carpenters song. There was a wee donkey on stage, and some interpretive dance. The show made a real effort with some of the technical awards, such as their neat explanation for us plebs of what cinematographers do, using a shot from Malcolm X, and an almost-successful ode to the costumes (memo to the director: When your presenter is scripted to say, “Now that we’ve seen them up close,” perhaps you should show them up close?). Elizabeth Banks even managed to present professionally next to a Cocaine Bear (although they really should have kept that thing out of Malala’s air space; the gag was over by then).
All told, it was more or less squeaky clean, every category was televised (as it should be), and — as you can tell from yesterday’s very diverting open thread from both the red carpet and the ceremony — people mostly just had a good time, with hardly enough to be mad about for the hot-take artists to work overtime today. Well, except for us: Here are our Oscars superlatives.
BEST AWARD SHOW: With apologies to the Oscars, which as we noted were quite decent, the SAGs — marooned on Netflix’s YouTube channel — were zippy and emotional and fun and came in at two hours, while still finding ways to work in bathroom breaks via some fun montages. Granted, it’s easier to make a shorter show when you don’t hand out statues to anyone other than actors, but the BAFTAs showed that can be done efficiently, too. And the Oscars’ decision to hand out all its categories on TV made the show feel full of the right stuff, at least, rather than fluffy filler. But the fact remains that “quite decent” may be the highest the Oscars bar can go; it’s too bad that the SAGs, pound-for-pound the most successful show of the season — other than Mark Wahlberg’s unwelcome participation in handing out Best Cast — was also the least widely broadcast.
WORST AWARD SHOW: Everyone gets credit for not being as simultaneously boring and obnoxious as the Independent Spirit Awards.
WORST-PREPARED TV HOST: Ashley Graham co-hosted the red carpet for ABC, and we don’t know if she simply didn’t get enough producer assistance, didn’t rehearse, or was nervous, but it was awkward. Her demeanor was at least relaxed, but she flubbed names (“Kerry Codon”), casually tossed off that she didn’t think Rihanna would be performing (she did, and had long been scheduled to; ABC won’t like that flub), and -- as one of the fashion experts -- couldn’t hazard a guess as to whom Ana de Armas, known Louis Vuitton regular, might be wearing. (She also incomprehensibly said of Ana’s look, “I like how the dress just sort of goes away.”) And she did it all in a sheer mesh skirt, for reasons known only to her and her stylist. It was a pretty disastrous outing, especially when her cohorts Lilly Singh and Vanessa Hudgens did a fairly skilled job. That said...
WORST SPORT: ...Hugh Grant was a dick to her. Listen, we know that being a curmudgeon is kind of his thing now, but Ashley wasn’t doing a TMZ routine where she grabbed him at Heathrow’s baggage claim to ask about a scandal. His moment with her was scrupulously scheduled by ABC and his PR and this is the Oscars. Ashley’s questions were congenial softballs, if not searingly incisive. Hugh sneering at her not understanding his Vanity Fair joke (he meant it in the 19th century Thackery sense; she thought he was referencing the famous magazine party) just made him look like a snotty jerk; he followed this up by rolling his eyes at the end of the interview, and gave one or two word answers to questions that he surely knew were coming -- like saying “My suit” in response to “What are you wearing?” Hugh, if you think these things are dumb, that is fair, but also you do not have to do them. (This all feels particularly irksome to those of us who’ve seen Hugh Grant go full Floppy Hair Crooked Smile Charmsville in interviews that are designed to yank his own ass out of the fire.) Not even his Four Weddings and a Funeral reunion with Andie MacDowell could win us back.
BEST DECISION: We were definitely all rooting for Vanessa Hudgens to interview her ex Austin Butler about the role that she, as his girlfriend at the time, encouraged him to land. But ABC, and probably Vanessa and maybe even Austin, wisely knew that might not be fair or kind to either of them, and sent him Ashley Graham’s way. We get it. We do. It was the right thing. But…
WORST DECISION: … COME ON THOUGH. They’ve cancelled almost all the daytime soaps. Don’t take these moments from us too.
WEIRDEST TRANSITION: Good ol’ Laverne Cox, over on E!, got Harvey Guillen and said to him, “You’re in Puss in Boots, and he’s a fearless character. When was the last time you were fearless?” We can’t believe we’re saying this, but... Laverne may have been overprepared in that moment.
HOST WE MOST WANT TO POACH FOR “DRINKS WITH BROADS” EXCEPT WE CAN’T AFFORD HIM: Christian Siriano was the only person on E!’s fashion roundtable who made any effort to be critical at all. (Someone could show up on the red carpet wearing a barrel and that crew would be like, “UGH I DIE. ARTISANAL WOOD!”) He noted that he wished Ariana DeBose was wearing a color, and also said this timeless phrase when appraising her look: “My face is trying to figure this out.” He was in the midst of questioning whether Louis Vuitton really needed 1000 hours to make Ana de Armas’s gown, as they claimed, when E! frantically cut away from him to address the emergency that was… Laverne Cox interviewing Jennifer Connelly. Which is a bummer! Constructive conversation about red carpet fashion from experts on the scene would be enjoyable for the audience, and it can be done without being mean. E!, however, now creates awards season television with the view of not losing access to celebrities, rather than entertaining or educating its viewers. Whether that’s a sustainable model of programming remains to be seen.
MOST INTERESTING ACCESSORY: We have no idea how we didn’t notice this until just now, but apparently Jonathan Majors always carries a cup, including on the Oscars red carpet. He told GQ, “It just became a thing for me to always have my own vessel...to kind of move through the world with.” We also love ceramics, and it is nice to always have something beautiful to drink from! You know that somewhere Lady Gaga is like, “This was MY IDEA!”
WORST DOUBLING-DOWN: Mindy Kaling’s white Vera Wang was, as they say, Not It -- to our eyes, it was a cheap-looking D&G knockoff. We were delighted to see in the crowd shots that she had changed for the telecast, until she came out to present and it was revealed to be what seemed like THE EXACT SAME DRESS, but in black. Not to be too wordy about it, but ????????. We live in a time when stylists are digging out archival and vintage with welcome frequency, and one of the biggest actresses of the moment -- Cate Blanchett -- spent 95 percent of awards season in reworn outfits or repurposed materials, yet here is Mindy with two identical new custom dresses in different colors? As Olivia Pope would say, the optics are bad. (As bad as the dress. ZING.)
MOST UNEXPECTEDLY DAZZLING: It’s not that we’re surprised Malala looked lovely; she always does. But we can’t recall seeing her in FULL SEQUINS before. Her Ralph Lauren look was zingy and delightful. And while we know this is absolutely beside the point when it comes to Malala’s cultural impact, we have to say it: What an absolute babe. (Ditto her husband.)
MOST UNEXPECTEDLY AWAKE: Jessica Chastain is performing in A Doll’s House on Broadway right now, and was reportedly on-stage Saturday night in New York City. Even assuming she flew private, it’s an exhausting haul to go from that to Sunday afternoon on the red carpet. Yet there she was, also looking stunning in silver and like nary a time zone had passed.
BIGGEST HEAD-SCRATCHER: Florence Pugh stars in The Dishwater Duvet: A Knives Out Mystery, coming to Netflix… whenever Rian Johnson can figure out how to make us feel about that wacky abomination the way we did about Chris Evans in a cable-knit sweater.
MOST PSYCHIC TIMING: Everyone made a huge deal out of how the red carpet was actually “the Champagne carpet,” and not, sadly, because everyone was guzzling bubbly and spilling all over it. What’s interesting is that they made this change in a year when white, cream, and other shades of a non-shade were unusually popular, making the entire experience all more monochrome than we expected. Jamie Lee Curtis, in particular, was dismayed by this deviation from the norm!
The New York Times had a FASCINATING piece about this decision, and on red carpet logistics in general. Apparently this year’s Carpet Consultant, Lisa Love (the former West Coast Director of Vogue, who currently does the Met Gala’s carpet, and whom you probably remember as Lauren Conrad’s boss who was SUPER DISAPPOINTED when LC, that idiot, decided not to go to Paris), felt champagne “evok[ed] calm and peacefulness,” but had also considered chocolate brown. Did no one consider that a cream-colored carpet was going to get absolutely filthy in about ten minutes? LA has been wet this year. Variety reported that everyone hated it, including someone literally PROTESTING IT ON THE STREET.
MOST IN NEED OF A REDESIGN: Speaking of Jamie Lee Curtis, she amped up the sequins and brought her husband, the elusive Right Honorable Lord Christopher Haden-Guest, suggesting she really thought -- correctly, as it happens -- that this might be her year. So why, oh why, did she pick a dress that didn’t play well with the mid-shot camera angle afforded to all the winners? All you could see was half of the boning poking up at her boobs. (It was also, unfortunately, D&G.)
BEST REUNION: As mentioned, we were delighted to see Hugh Grant and Andie “Is It Raining? I Hadn’t Noticed” MacDowell together again, and of course Elizabeth Banks and Cocaine Bear are a couple for the ages. But for those of us of a certain age, seeing Indiana Jones joyfully embrace Short Round -- while Stephen Spielberg looked on benevolently from the audience, next to Kate Capshaw, who is also in Temple of Doom -- scratched a very nostalgic itch.
BEST ARGUMENT THAT WE ARE CRANKS AND THEY SHOULD KEEP “BEST SONG”: “Naatu Naatu” is a joy and a delight and a banger, provided one of the most energetic moments of the night, and wholly deserved its win because it played a pivotal role in its movie. In case you missed it:
BIG FUN. It’s a huge reason why people fell for RRR in the first place, and that performance will drive a whole new crew of people who might not otherwise bother -- and/or the ones who aren’t on quite so Online -- to Netflix to check it out, which can only be a good thing. Honorable mention: Stephanie Hsu and David Byrne sounded off-key and off-putting in their performance of “This Is a Life,” but... maybe that was... part of it? The performance art was at least… memorable?!?!?
BEST ARGUMENT THAT WE WERE CORRECT AND THEY SHOULD NIX “BEST SONG”: Diane Warren is a legend, yes, but even she seems to have given up on the idea of winning a competitive statue -- and if she does, it’ll be for a watered-down version of her best work, because that’s basically what she’s doing these days. The baked-in earnestness of “Applause” was made even cringier by Sofia Carson doing a preachy spoken-word thing that MAY have been her going rogue?!? It was not a good opening argument for keeping the category. Honorable mention: USA Today defined “This Is a Life” thusly: “a series of phrases absent a fully-formed melody.” That... does not sound like a song?
MOST... INTIMATE: The camera got so close to Lady Gaga’s face during her performance -- in which she was in excellent voice, and for which she washed off all her makeup -- that we felt like Tom Hooper briefly stepped into the director’s chair. Niche joke for everyone who remembers how much of Les Miserables was up Eddie Redmayne’s nostrils!
WORST SEGMENT: We know the networks airing awards shows like to use presenters from their own programming, but it felt extra overt to have Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey come out early on and do a full ad for The Little Mermaid (here’s hoping her pipes at least shut up the racist naysayers). The real puzzler, though, was the extended tribute to Warner Bros., not in any way affiliated with ABC/Disney except that they’re all near each other in Burbank. Yes, WB is a big deal in movies, and is turning a century old. But the tribute itself, jammed up against a commercial break, felt both rushed and uninspired — honestly, we just did the studio tour, and we are not entirely convinced it wasn’t the same montage they play for you at the beginning of that. If you’re going to do it, make it feel special.
BEST OUTCOMES: Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh were emotional and correct wins. You could tell from Cate Blanchett’s face, when they called out the Best Actress nominees, that she knew this one had already gotten away. (And we suspect Andrea Riseborough lit candles at every religious house in Los Angeles that her name would not get called, not this time, not now, please no.) But tied for our favorite of the night: Sarah Polley taking home the Oscar for her Women Talking script. It’s thrilling to see Sarah, her film, and by association its important subject matter, be recognized by an Academy that still forgets women actually direct, too.
MOST MIDDLING OUTCOMES: Jamie Lee Curtis is great, but Stephanie Hsu should’ve had the heat from that movie -- and we’re still not convinced Angela Bassett shouldn’t have the Oscar. (Judging by her classy-yet-honest facial reaction, she might not be convinced either.) And while Brendan Fraser seems like a wonderful person who is universally beloved, it’s a downer that he won for The Whale. No way around it. Especially when Colin Farrell made such a rich text out of Pádraic in Banshees of Inisherin.
MOST FEROCIOUS MIC DROP: The incomparable Lindy West wrote a piece for The Guardian over the weekend about The Whale, and how hurtful it is. Please read it, as it’s studded with wit and wisdom, but we will leave you with her kicker as ours: “To the film-makers: You are not on the gallows with us; you are the hangman. You are not noble, long-suffering Liz trying to save Charlie, or Charlie’s inexplicable, glowing benevolence in an unjust world; you are the dirty apartment, closing in. Fat people are already trapped, suffocating, inside the stories the rest of you tell yourselves about us. We have plenty of your stories. What we don’t have is the space to forge untainted relationships with food and our bodies, to speak honestly about our lives without being abused, to explore our full potential without having it stolen by a world that thinks of us as Charlie – if it thinks of us at all.”
This is an important question in the name of science: Do you call it “award season,” much the way we would say “football season” or “hockey season” or “curling season” (ahem)? Or do you call it Awards Season, because of the plural awards being handed out? The latter makes logical sense, but because those Ss run together, we’ve seen it and done it every which way and you could probably argue it in both directions. Let’s make it FINAL:
— The Hollywood Reporter had a really interesting piece this week: Academy Adds Red Carpet ASL Interpreters, Accessibility Guide and More for 2023 Show. It gets really specific about choices and changes the Oscars have made in the name of inclusion; it’s a good read, even if the various camerapeople struggled at times to keep the interpreters in frame.
— The always-brilliant Jada Yuan had a column at The Washington Post on Sunday where she declared that “the real winners of this year’s Oscars are Asian American weirdos.” It’s well worth your time.
— The NYT talked to all the short film nominees about how they decided what to wear. Including our friend Pamela Ribon! (Who, when she was nominated, did text me, “What am I going to wear?!?” Relatable!) -J
— Speaking of people we know from TWoP, this Twitter thread was clever and fun, so click through and take a look:
The chat was as fun as Mindy Kaling’s dress(es) were terrible!
I was so uninvested this year and I felt FREE. But I also knew you two would be here to sum it all up for me so brilliantly! I will say, however, that one of the few looks I woke up thinking about (in a good way) was Paul Mescal's and how phenomenal he looked in those pants. Also, I really need a break from Jamie Lee Curtis, which I realize may be an unpopular opinion...