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Best and Worst Moments From the 2023 Oscars

Michelle Yeoh made history, Ke Huy Quan made us tear up and Cocaine Bear made us cringe. These were just some of the highs and lows.

What will go wrong? After several years of missteps and controversies, that was the question hanging over the Oscar telecast on Sunday night. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pulled off a largely controversy-free ceremony that seemed to keep everything on track, or at least didn’t go off the rails. It came in close to on time, featured several emotional moments and even set some records. Here are the highs and lows as we saw them.

In the 95-year history of the Oscars, an Asian performer had never taken home the best actress statuette — until Sunday, when Michelle Yeoh won the Academy Award for her lead performance as a beleaguered laundromat owner in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Her win — also the first for a Malaysian performer — was one of many breakthroughs for Asian artists on Sunday. Her co-star Ke Huy Quan became the first Vietnamese-born performer to win an Oscar, and their combined victories marked the first time more than one performer of Asian descent had won an Oscar in a single year.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh said, adding, “This is proof that dreams — dream big, and dreams do come true.” 

Quickest Pivot: Jimmy Kimmel Jokes About the Slap

Jimmy Kimmel wasted little time acknowledging recent snafus at the Oscars

Long before the telecast, academy executives made it clear: they did not want the Slap — the shocking moment when Will Smith struck Chris Rock onstage last year — to be mentioned on the telecast this year, not even in joke form. They took great pains to make sure something like that would not happen again, going so far as to set up a crisis team and run through different scenarios. They even chose a veteran host, Jimmy Kimmel, for his ability to handle anything live television could throw at him. What they didn’t count on was the host bringing up the subject they most wanted to avoid.


Jimmy Kimmel mocks ‘assailant’ Will Smith’s slap in Oscars 2023 monologue

“If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during the show, you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech,” he joked near the top of the show, starting a string of jokes related to the Slap. Since it was the subject many of us at home were most interested in, the academy’s loss was our gain. 

Most Heartfelt Acceptance: Ke Huy Quan

Ke Huy Quan accepting the Oscar for best supporting actor

The Oscars can often vacillate between insidery navel-gazing and a ho-hum march toward best picture, but occasionally an acceptance speech cuts through the noise with authenticity. On Sunday, those emotional words came from a teary-eyed Ke Huy Quan, 51, whose supporting actor Oscar was the stuff of dreams.


Oscars 2023: the full list of winners

After childhood success in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” his career had stalled for two long decades until he won the role of a supportive but neglected husband in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the part that brought him to the Dolby Theater.

Putting in perspective the long road some performers tread to achieve film’s highest honor, the Vietnamese-born Quan thanked his 84-year-old mother, who was at home watching, for the sacrifices she made to bring their family to the United States. “My journey started on a boat,” he said. “I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This, this is the American dream.”

Biggest Feel-Good Win: Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis savoring her victory on Sunday

It was fitting, probably, that Jamie Lee Curtis won the supporting actress Oscar just a few minutes after her “Everything Everywhere All at Once” co-star Ke Huy Quan took supporting actor.

Quan’s win bookended a pretty epic career comeback; Curtis is Hollywood royalty, a daughter of two actors who got her start in “Halloween” in the 1970s. Neither of the pair’s similarly long but very different journeys had included winning an Academy Award — until Sunday. Their back-to-back wins got the ceremony off to a rousing start, filling it with warmth, nostalgia and good feelings.

Curtis, 64, made sure to spread all that love, saying that she shared her honor with the many people who had helped her along the way. And that included, she made sure to note, all the fans of the “Halloween” franchise, “True Lies” and the many, many other movies she has been made over the decades.

“To all of the people who have supported the genre movies that I have made for all these years, the thousands and hundreds of thousands of people,” she said, adding pauses for emphasis, “we just won an Oscar together!”

Most Metaphoric Speech: Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser with his Academy Award for “The Whale.”

An incomplete accounting of all the nautical references in Brendan Fraser’s acceptance speech after he won best actor for “The Whale”: “throwing me a creative lifeline,” “hauling me aboard,” “the good ship ‘The Whale,’” “our lighthouse,” “whale-sized hearts,” “only whales can swim at the depth of the talent of Hong Chau” and “like a bit of a diving expedition on the bottom of the ocean.”

Metaphors aside, Fraser’s acceptance was certainly heartfelt. The first-time nominee had been considered a front-runner for the Oscar since the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival at the end of the summer, and his win was the grace note on a lovely comeback story. But in the emotion of the moment, it all came out a bit waterlogged.

Best Speech by a Director Not Up for Best Director: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley with her Oscar for adapted screenplay

Sarah Polley, the writer and director of “Women Talking,” wasn’t nominated in the best directing category, despite the film being nominated for best picture. After rare wins for women in the last two years — Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland” and Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog” — no female directors were recognized at this year’s ceremony. At least not officially: Polley ended up still having her moment onstage when she won best adapted screenplay. Wearing a spiffy black tux and glasses, she referred to both the title of her acclaimed film and the steep hill she had just climbed by thanking the academy for “not being too mortally offended by the words ‘women’ and ‘talking’ put so close together like that.” 

Best Pop Superstar Performance, Tie: Rihanna and Lady Gaga

Rihanna performing “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

The queens didn’t disappoint.

Two divas with soaring voices and impeccable stage presence took two very different approaches to performing on Sunday night, both to great success. Lady Gaga chose to strip it all down, removing the gothic makeup she wore on the red carpet and opting for black jeans and a black T-shirt. The unexpected approach worked, giving her track “Hold My Hand” from the blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick” more gravitas than originally perceived.

Equally successful was Rihanna’s homage to Chadwick Boseman in “Lift Me Up,” with her band and backup singers ensconced in designs that resembled thatched roofs and the singer on a movable riser. The soaring ballad benefited from the deft stage design and Rihanna’s vocals brought down the house. 

Smartest Fashion Choice: Recycled Couture

There were lots of trends on the Oscar champagne carpet — white dresses, black dresses, princess dresses, orange dresses (orange dresses? believe it), increasingly important jewels — but the best one by far was the trend of actors shopping, if not their closets, then the closets of the brands that dressed them. Winnie Harlow wore a bright yellow Armani dress from 2005; Vanessa Hudgens wore black-and-white vintage Chanel; and Cate Blanchett wore a strong-shouldered sapphire velvet Louis Vuitton from the archive.


Oscars (not red) carpet: The best fashion looks

If the awards-show circuit has become in part a piece of fashion marketing content, this was as good an ad as any for the idea that new is not always better, and that the attention paid to what everyone wears can actually be used for a higher purpose than just promoting new stuff. Unlike the decision to swap the red carpet for a champagne-colored version, which was supposed to make the arrival segment feel contemporary but instead mostly made a lot of the dresses disappear, the reworn looks came closest to making the carpet seem relevant. 

Worst Production Design: The Not-Red Carpet

Cara Delevingne poses on that carpet

Was this the Oscars or an Ashley HomeStore showroom? Sure, the beige — sorry, champagne — carpet may have worked out well for Cara Delevingne, whose dramatic red Elie Saab gown popped against the decidedly unremarkable rug before it picked up some mud stains and began prompting dirty martini comparisons. And it made a chameleon of Jamie Lee Curtis, clad in a beige beaded gown. But 99 percent of the time, we just wanted Michelle Yeoh to verse-jump us to the alternate Oscars with the classic red rug.

Worst Tie-in: ‘The Little Mermaid’ Trailer

The “Little Mermaid” stars Melissa McCarthy, left, and Halle Bailey seemed like they were on hand to present an award

The actors Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey were introduced the same way presenters were. So you might have thought they were there to hand out an award. Yes, the two are stars of the live-action “Little Mermaid,” with Bailey in the lead role, and the ceremony has often had actors in coming projects announce winners. But it hasn’t generally been in the habit of introducing trailer premieres. With the exception of Sunday night.

The Oscars are broadcast on the Disney-owned network ABC and plenty of people are certainly excited to see the trailer for that studio’s upcoming “Little Mermaid.” But weaving that trailer into the actual ceremony (rather than running it as part of an ad bloc) just feels like a shameless use of the Oscar telecast’s running time, especially when winners (including Judy Chin, an honoree for best makeup for “The Whale,”) were played off during their acceptance speeches.

Weirdest Scheduling Decision: Big Wins, Then a Dull Song

Sofia Carson performing “Applause.

Typically the Oscars like to space out the supporting-actor and supporting-actress wins, which are often the night’s most emotional and talked about. So why did this broadcast have Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis shoved so close together, and then a wan original-song performance right after? (That would be Sofia Carson with “Applause,” from the little known anthology film “Tell It Like a Woman.”) Either of those acceptance speeches could have powered us through an entire commercial break. Let these jubilant winners have their moment, and give the audience the room to take it all in! 

Best Scheduling Decision: The Return of the Shorts Categories

James Martin, center, listens as the filmmakers and the Dolby Theater audience sing “Happy Birthday.”

The decision to hand out the short film Oscars before the telecast last year was controversial. Some observers (cough, me, cough) thought it was a good idea; academy members were largely opposed. I’m here to admit I was wrong. After a new executive team promised to restore them to the telecast this year, the shorts provided some wonderful moments on Sunday.

Who can resist a speech that begins, “I know the protocol is to say thank you a lot, but I’m British, so I’m more comfortable saying sorry”? That’s what one of the animated short filmmakers, Matthew Freud (“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”), said as he apologized to all those who helped but couldn’t be onstage with him. And without the winning live-action short “An Irish Goodbye,” starring James Martin as a man with Down syndrome, would we have had the entire Dolby Theater serenading him with a round of “Happy Birthday”? I’m not crying; you’re crying. 

Most Unexpected Comic: Malala

As Jimmy Kimmel filled the space between awards by asking audience members questions supposedly from fans, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for girls’ education and the youngest recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, was suddenly confronted by one of last year’s pop culture fixations: “Do you think Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine?” Yousafzai — who was an executive producer of “Stranger at the Gate,” a nominee for best short documentary — did not miss a beat. “I only talk about peace,” she replied. The response swiftly ended the banter, but it wasn’t long before she was wrapped up in a second middling joke, when a costumed Cocaine Bear crawled over to her. Malala, on behalf of all Americans, I apologize for these bits.

Best Dressed, Animal Division: Jenny the Donkey

Jimmy Kimmel paused the proceedings to bring out a friend

A shining red bow and bedazzled emotional-support animal vest has never looked better. A donkey who looked a lot like Jenny, the undisputed star of best picture nominee “The Banshees of Inisherin,” joined Kimmel onstage halfway through the broadcast, looking fairly confused about her surroundings but otherwise content.

“Not only is Jenny an actor,” Kimmel said, “she’s a certified emotional support donkey — or at least that’s what we told the airline to get her on the plane from Ireland.” (Full disclosure: As The Los Angeles Times reported, that was not the real Jenny.) If the Tonys can tote a goat through the audience, it’s about time the Oscars hopped on the furry bandwagon … or, at the very least, time they honored the true darling of the season.

Worst Dressed, Animal Division: The Person in the Cocaine Bear Suit

The director Elizabeth Banks and the purported star of her movie, Cocaine Bear

Not all furry bandwagons need to be hopped on. Also, please leave Malala alone. 

Best Musical Number With Dancing: ‘Naatu Naatu’

Dancers performing an electrifying version of “Naatu Naatu.”

“Do you know Naatu?” the Indian actress Deepika Padukone asked about an hour and a half into Sunday night’s ceremony. Music to our ears. The showstopping number from the Indian action spectacular was recreated on the Dolby Theater stage, complete with suspenders popping, manic high-stepping and frenetic nodding. Chandrabose and M.M. Keeravani’s syncopated tune would go on to win the Oscar for best original song. If something had to follow Jenny the donkey’s cameo, this would be it.

Worst Musical Number With Dancing: ‘This Is a Life’

Stephanie Hsu, left, and David Byrne holding hot-dog-fingered hands

A lot could be said about the David Byrne and company’s performance of the best original song nominee “This Is a Life,” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” But an exchange between two of our writers sums it up best:

Wesley Morris: Byrne’s hot dog fingers are as long and round as the singing is flat.

Kyle Buchanan: At least this number has returned inscrutable modern dance to the Oscars, where it belongs!

Most Welcome Repeat Winner: Costume Designer Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter back onstage for her second Oscar win

It was so refreshing to see Ruth Carter, the costume designer behind “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” win her second Oscar. She’s the first Black woman to win two Academy Awards — she also won for the original “Black Panther” — so she’s been on this stage before. “Nice to see you again,” she told the crowd on Sunday, and thanked the academy for recognizing the supernatural skills that every Black woman has, not just in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

She also paid tribute to her late mother who died in early March, at 101. She said “Wakanda Forever,” which begins with a funeral procession after the death of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), had prepared her for her mother’s passing, and in her speech asked Boseman to watch over the matriarch. Though Carter, who got her start designing outfits for Spike Lee in the ’80s, was the only winner among the film’s five nominations, she said she was grateful to reshape culture through film.

Something tells me this won’t be her last time on the Oscar stage.

Most Welcome First-Timer: James Hong

James Hong, center right and holding an Oscar, has been in more than 650 films and TV shows

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