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The Oscars: Safe, traditional, and old-fashioned, made perfect

Just as Coca-Cola, after sullying a perfect product in 1985 with New Coke, remade it and renamed it Coca-Cola Classic, the 95th Academy Awards telecast made a game-changing attempt to correct the mishaps of the past few years—fluctuations in ratings, release 2021 that looks like a skeleton in a train station, The Slap debacle – by bringing back something we might call an Oscar classic. It was safe, it was familiar, it was delicious, it was reassuring. It didn’t rock the boat, it didn’t go beyond welcoming (in fact, it’s kind of a break from the Oscar classic), it made you feel like the world’s most prestigious awards show, it all tells of doom on the contrary, it’s still, overall, a very good thing.

It was clear the evening would be ruled by a certain traditional spirit once you heard Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, which included a mild reference to The Slap and one joke that had the audience goosebumps (a line about how much money “Babylon” lost). But aside from Kimmel’s cute ribbing (on Tom Cruise and James Cameron skipping the ceremony: “The two men who insisted on going to the stage never went to the stage”), Kimmel ruffled a few feathers and avoided all the edges. It often sounded as if his material was written by a chatbot version of Bruce Vilanch.

Kimmel’s catchphrases flowed pleasantly enough, though, and the rest of the show was engaging and understated, thanks to smart decisions like giving pairs of presenters multiple awards in a row, including best actor and actress. There were no long boring stunts. The stage set used video footage but folded them into a design of silver-coloured sculpted columns that has the elegance of a futuristic cinema and theater. The musical performances stood out, whether it was Lady Gaga performing “Hold My Hand” with “Hold My Hand”, Rihanna burning down the house with “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” or Indian dancers killing it with “Naatu”. Naatu” from “RRR”, a number matched to the jubilation of songwriter MM Keeravani, receiving the Best Song award with his vocals. Thanks to the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” tune.

It was a poignant moment — and it was apparently one of about a dozen telecasts that must have featured more creative, throat-inspiring acceptance speeches than any Oscars packaged in years. Listening to the deeply grateful Ke Huy Quan (“This is the American Dream!” he declared, and he was right), the soulful and elegant Jamie Lee Curtis (“We…just…won…an Oscar…together!” ), or Michelle Yeoh’s massive, all three from Everything Everywhere at Once, or Brendan Fraser taking his languid sincerity to new heights after winning Best Actor for The Whale, or listening to Alexei Navalny’s wife Yulia, a Russian fighter For freedom on world television, “Stay Strong, Baby” (a line poignant over 10 Hollywood political message speeches combined), one felt, in every case, that the winners knew how extraordinary they were there, and that they wanted us to feel it too.

Another significant way the show was Oscar Classic. For years, more often than not, the Oscars have been dominated by one film. But in recent years, that has not been the case. It split Academy tastes—not in a Let’s Spread the Love way, but in a studio-test-old-guard-versus-indie-upstart-avant-garde fashion. If you’re looking for the last time there was a real Oscar, you’ll probably have to go back to “Slumdog Millionaire,” which took home eight Academy Awards at the 2009 ceremony. “Everything Everywhere at Once” won seven, and since the movie “All Quiet on the Western Front” won the lion’s share of technical awards, which means that every EEAAO award win was significant: picture, director, original screenplay, film editing, and acting fame all three. (It’s the only film in 95 years to win seven Academy Awards top of the line, and only the third film in Academy history to win three acting awards, after “Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network.”) Rare emotional loneliness.

A couple of months ago, when it was starting to look like Everything Everywhere could be a serious contender for Best Picture, it was treated, on the face of it, as a radical possibility: a choice that reflects the sensibilities of a new generation. However, when it was revealed how many people — and not just young people — fell for Everything Everywhere, it became clear why the film won and even swept.

“EEAAO” was a new Oscar movie, which was also, under it, an old Oscar movie. By giving a cast of mostly Asian actors the opportunity to create the kind of universally rich multi-layered characters that Asian actors, for so long in mainstream Hollywood, have been denied the opportunity to play, the film seemed to rediscover something fundamental about how to play. Movies call us. At the same time, Everything Everywhere would never have become the Oscar phenomenon it was if it weren’t for an indie smash that grossed $75 million, proving that the magic of indie DIY, in Steven Spielberg’s words, can also be part of what saves. Hollywood ass.

Indeed, the Academy Awards periodically honor the bold and the new. “The Sound of Music”, “Gandhi”, “Rocky”, “Dances with Wolves”, “A Man for All Seasons”, “Braveheart” – these are the traditional Oscars. But “Midnight Cowboy,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Annie Hall,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Moonlight”—these are films that, even though we now consider them classics, all took radical chances, broke the rules. and shifting shapes, and taught moviegoers a new way of seeing. And that’s part of what the Academy Awards can do, in their slightly shoddy way: bestow respect on popular films that are a groundbreaking achievement. Everything Everywhere at Once was supposed to be an Oscar contender that was uniquely divisive many Academy voters would vote over their dead bodies — yet it ended up sweeping the guild’s most prominent awards (DGA and WGA And the PGA), you wonder: Where were all the people who weren’t supposed to vote for her?

When watching the Academy Awards, all night long you can hear the “EEAAO” love echo through the Dolby Theatre. You can hear the excitement embodied in the film—an openness to a kind of structural play unimaginable before the age of computer consciousness, and also a demonstration of what diversity, in American films, really means: the glory of life through on-screen experiences, in a less inclusive world, that was may remain far away. Michelle Yeoh’s speech, which dedicated her Oscar to mothers everywhere, was the most heartwarming of the night, and what made it hit home were the family traditions and respect she drew from her own culture to make that statement. What also made it stick was that (quoting Daniels’ formative line in their movie) she won an award for playing “a mom stuck in The Matrix.” In the year 2023, though, that’s no stranger. It’s classic.

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