The Best and Worst Moments from the 2023 Oscars
From miniature donkeys and cocaine bears to Florence Pugh and Andrew Garfield, the 2023 Oscars ceremony saw its share of highs and lows.
It’s been one year since the infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock debacle known as The Slap, and the industry-wide mission for a smooth, if uneventful Oscars night in 2023 seems to have been a success.
Whether it was Ke Huy Quan honoring his mom or Charlie Mackesy missing his dog, the 95th Academy Awards were generally pleasant. Host Jimmy Kimmel marked the occasion at the show’s end by updating a sign backstage to read “Number of Oscar Telecasts Without Incident: 1.” (Notably, Kimmel has hosted three times, first in 2017 when “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as Best Picture over “Moonlight” by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.)
But just because no one got smacked doesn’t mean the biggest night in Hollywood went off without a hitch. The drama of last year inevitably impacted how audiences perceived Sunday’s ceremony, as IndieWire’s Ben Travers explains in his review of ABC’s telecast.
“In 2023, with plenty of feel-good winners predicted to win (many of whom did, in fact, take the stage), it makes some degree of sense for producers to go all-in on an average telecast; for a night meant to honor artistic achievement to simply honor artistic achievements,” Travers said.
“Mainly, they pulled it off. Scanning Twitter during the telecast and thinking back on the events now, it’s nice to get back to nit-picking choices, rather than breaking down an unexpected act of violence. The 2023 Academy Awards did a lot right (they awarded all the categories, live!), and it got plenty of things wrong.”
Travers praised Kimmel for creating a “relaxed vibe from the outset,” but criticized the ceremony’s awkward direction, uneven pacing, and strange digital displays, which “provided cool frameworks for some speeches” but “haunting choices” for others. (See Frances McDormand’s disapproving face glowering behind “Women Talking” writer/director Sarah Polley, and the meme that quickly became.)
Listed in no particular order, the following highlight the best, worst, and otherwise memorable moments from the 2023 Oscars. From miniature donkeys and cocaine bears to Florence Pugh and Andrew Garfield to “Everything Everywhere All at Once” snagging Best Picture, this is what you did — and didn’t — miss at the 95th Academy Awards.
See all of the 2023 Oscar winners.
Ke Huy Quan Wins Best Supporting Actor
40 years since his heyday as a 1980s child star and 20 years after his last onscreen role, Ke Huy Quan cemented his comeback by winning Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Quan has been one of the most consistently joyful presences on the award season circuit (which, to be fair, is rather easy when you win at every single show), and his final acceptance speech saw him moved to tears with gratitude. He kept his speech tasteful and restrained, heaping praise on all of his family members that made sacrifices to allow him to pursue his dreams. “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here: on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” Quan said. “They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I can’t believe this is happening to me. This is the American Dream.” —CZ
Charley Mackesy Accidentally Talks About His Dog
Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud accepted Best Animated Short Film for “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse” — an adaptation of Mackesy’s illustrated book of the same name — and stumbled on one of the night’s more adorable moments. Freud joked, “I know the protocol is to say thank you a lot, but I’m British so I’m more comfortable saying sorry,” before shouting out the countless people he felt should be on stage accepting the statuette with them.
During his remarks, Mackesy reflected on the bravery of filmmakers and thanked his collaborators, family, and miniature dachshund Barney (h/t Entertainment Weekly). “Thank you to my mom and my family and my dog, who I’ve left behind, who is actually in a hotel,” he blurted out. “I hate to say that. I’m sorry. I wasn’t really meant to say that. I’m sorry. Anyway, thank you so so much for this.” —AF
Charlbi Dean Is Left Off The Oscars’ In Memoriam
Best Picture nominee “Triangle of Sadness” lost one of its leads last summer when Charlbi Dean died unexpectedly from bacterial sepsis: a complication from a surgery the South African model-actress had more than a decade prior. She was 32. In a shocking bit of oversight, Dean was left off the Academy’s in memoriam segment: a musical tribute performed by Lenny Kravitz and introduced by John Travolta. Other notable Hollywood artists not honored during the telecast include Anne Heche, Paul Sorvino, Tom Sizemore, and Leslie Jordan. —AF
Jimmy Kimmel Quips About Robert Blake
After last year’s convoluted brouhaha, the guiding principle behind this year’s Oscars telecast appeared to be “don’t screw anything up.” Jimmy Kimmel was a consummate professional, presiding over a back-to-basics show that largely eschewed gimmicks. He found plenty of opportunities to trade good-natured barbs with the A-listers in the room, but generally steered clear of controversial material. Except for one moment, when he cracked an awkward joke about recently-deceased actor Robert Blake, who was the subject of a highly public trial that ultimately saw him acquitted for the murder of his wife. Kimmel jokingly asked fans to vote on whether Blake should be included in the In Memoriam segment, provoking a mix of grimaces and guilty laughter from the room. —CZ
Elizabeth Banks Presents with Cocaine Bear
“Cocaine Bear” director Elizabeth Banks made for a memorable presenter of the Best Visual Effects category, appearing alongside a problematically clumsy bear mascot. Banks tripped twice on her way to the microphone, reportedly because her co-presenter couldn’t see in their costume and accidentally stepped on the train of her dress. The actress also revealed on Twitter that she woke up with “no voice” on Sunday, and spoke raspily while presenting, at one point clearing her throat to say, “Sorry, my voice.” —AF
Cocaine Bear Harasses Malala Yousafzai
The “Cocaine Bear” antics continued in the audience, when Kimmel and the mascot singled out activist Malala Yousafzai for a bit about Chris Pine and Harry Styles. (The Pakistani education advocate executive produced the short film “The Stranger at the Gate.”) Asking questions submitted by so-called fans, Kimmel asked Yousafzai, “As the youngest Nobel Prize winner in history, I was wondering, do you think Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine?”
Looking uncomfortable, Yousafzai responded, “I only talk about peace.” Kimmel then turned his attention to other celebrities in nearby seats, before the bear mascot crawled to Yousafzai on all fours while the host cried, “Cocaine Bear, leave Malala alone!” The exchange drew ire on Twitter. Yousafzai retweeted ABC News’ recording of the interaction, and wrote, “Treat people with kindness.” —AF
Yulia Navalnaya Speaks to Her Husband
Daniel Roher’s “Navalny” — a thriller-like political documentary about Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption fighter Alexei Navalny — won the Oscar for Best Documentary Film. On stage to accept the award was Yulia Navalnaya, the political prisoner’s wife. An outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Navalny is currently imprisoned in Russia, and was sentenced to an additional nine years on dubious fraud charges last year.
“My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” Navalnaya said. “My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I am dreaming of the day when you will be free and our country will be free. Stay strong, my love.” —AF
Jimmy Kimmel and Presenters Waste Time Joking About Wasting Time
The Oscars ceremony is long but for good reason: there are dozens of films and hundreds of artists worth celebrating, and giving every winner their moment at the mic takes time. If last year’s experiment in non-televised categories taught us anything, it’s that inviting everyone to the main stage celebration is important. Kimmel joked at the top of the 2023 show that blowback meant no one could complain about the evening’s length going forward. Then, a half dozen presenters made variations on the same joke (Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson were the worst offenders) in an exhausting loop of time-wasting made even more annoying by the countless winners still cut off mid-acceptance speech. —AF
Guneet Monga Finishes Her Speech Sans Mic
The Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film was accepted by “The Elephant Whisperers” director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga, but their speech was abruptly cut off in one of the night’s many orchestral mishaps. (Winners were repeatedly cut off after one speaker, seemingly regardless of how much time they were allotted in total.)
“I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world,” Gonsalves began in a moving but concise speech about the Earth and coexistence. The orchestra began as soon as Gonsalves stepped back. Despite the swelling music and lack of a microphone, Monga spoke to the crowd proudly and hoisted her Oscar in the air to uproarious applause. —AF
Eric Saindon Gets Cut Off Accepting Best Visual Effects
A similar debacle played out in the Best Visual Effects category, with “Avatar: The Way of Water” winner Eric Saindon getting cut off mid-sentence. “We need to thank our families,” Saindon barely got out before he and fellow recipients Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, and Daniel Barrett were played off the stage. Saindon went into surgery for severe pains a few hours later. —AF
ABC Promotes “Little Mermaid” On The Oscars Stage
The most egregious mismanagement of time, however, came during scripted promotion for Disney’s upcoming “Little Mermaid” remake that actually took place on stage.
“‘Little Mermaid’ stars Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey took to the stage to present a trailer for the live-action remake, essentially eliminating the line between the Academy and its network partner,” Ben Travers said in his review of the ceremony for IndieWire. “Utilizing the Oscars as a launching pad for upcoming movies is a great idea, but promotional tools that blunt have to be kept to the actual commercials.” —AF
Lady Gaga Pays Tribute to Late “Top Gun” Director Tony Scott
2022 was the year of “Top Gun: Maverick,” and Tom Cruise and Joseph Kosinski enjoyed a well-earned victory lap for their updated take on the long dormant franchise. But amid all the excitement, it can be easy to forget that “Maverick” could have never existed without the people who made the original film possible. Lady Gaga offered a fitting tribute to “Top Gun” director Tony Scott on Sunday, dedicating her performance of “Hold My Hand” to the late filmmaker. She also spoke about her personal reasons for writing the song, and her words captured what so many people loved about the aspirational blockbuster.
“We all need a hero sometimes,” she said before beginning the song. “There are heroes all around us in unassuming places. But you might find that you could be your own hero, even if you feel broken inside.” —CZ
Danai Gurira Introduces Rihanna for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
Fresh off a triumphant halftime show for Super Bowl LVII, Rihanna appeared at the Oscars to to perform her Best Original Song nominee “Lift Me Up” on behalf of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Danai Gurira gave the ballad a perfect introduction, explaining its origins as a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman.
“Chadwick’s artistry, his magnetism, and incomparable humanity left an indelible mark on our hearts,” Gurira said, before describing Boseman as a “king” and welcoming Rihanna as “royalty in her own right.” —AF
“RRR” Wins, But “Naatu Naatu” Performance Misses the Mark
Fans of S. S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” can rejoice knowing the film’s viral hit “Naatu Naatu” took home Best Original Song. But viewers who saw the number onstage at the Oscars should know the performance’s disappointing reality.
“When it came to the televised performance, the Oscars opted to work with non-Indian choreographers Napoleon & Tabitha Dumo, who have an existing relationship with the show, and dancers they had prior experience with — none of whom are believed to be of South Asian descent,” reports IndieWire’s Proma Khosla.
“The day before the telecast, videos surfaced online from dancer Lauren Gottlieb, an American dancer who has worked in India for years but is not of South Asian descent. Gottlieb has since deleted the photos and videos of her rehearsing ‘Naatu Naatu’ for the Academy Awards, an opportunity that should have been nothing short of gift-wrapped for South Asian choreographers and performers (she also incorrectly referred to the song as Bollywood). The decision sent waves of backlash through the South Asian-American arts community, where many had believed that cultural representation was all but guaranteed on the Oscars stage.” —AF
“An Irish Goodbye” Leads The Academy in Singing Happy Birthday
Winning an Oscar is often the biggest day of a filmmaker’s life, but that doesn’t mean the world stops turning while you’re in the Dolby Theatre. When “An Irish Goodbye” filmmakers Tom Berkeley and Ross White accepted their trophy for Best Live Action Short, they made it clear that they still had other priorities on Oscar Sunday. “This is the second most important thing going on today,” Berkeley quipped before revealing that it was their star James Martin’s birthday. In a moment of collaborative spirit, the two filmmakers decided to share their big moment and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” from the podium. —CZ
A Miniature “Emotional Support” Donkey Co-Hosts
Between “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “EO,” donkeys played an essential role in this year’s slate of Oscar nominees. But they probably deserved a much better tribute than they got. One of Kimmel’s weirdest bits of the night came when he trotted the mule from “The Banshees of Inisherin” onto the stage as his “emotional support animal.” His 45 seconds of weird jokes about taking the donkey on a plane were met with politely forced laughter from a crowd that was otherwise very receptive to his comedy throughout the night. It was a disappointing conclusion to the most donkey-centric year in cinematic history. —CZ
Bizarre Direction Gifts Viewers This Frances McDormand Meme
This year’s Oscars telecast had nowhere to go but up after The Slap, and most fans and critics seemed to agree that the production team was able to stop the Oscars’ reputational bleeding by delivering a competent broadcast. But while host Jimmy Kimmel and the Art Deco set design earned high marks, many were disappointed by director Glen Weiss’ gratuitous zooming, uneven editing, and odd digital display choices — including one instance of a gigantic, glaring Frances McDormand appearing behind Sarah Polley during her Best Adapted Screenplay acceptance speech. In an ironic twist, the film industry’s biggest night just couldn’t translate its solid in-person staging into great moving images. —CZ
Jamie Lee Curtis Wins Best Supporting Actress
Jamie Lee Curtis’ win for Best Supporting Actress surprised everyone, including those predicting an “Everything Everywhere All at Once” sweep. When she took the stage to accept the first Oscar of the night, she seemed to understand that the award was as much of an acknowledgement of her 40-year career as her actual performance in the Daniels’ film. Her speech paid tribute to everyone who has supported her throughout the years, and she singled out the horror fans that refused to see her work in the “Halloween” movies as less important than her more highbrow films.
“To all of the people who have supported the genre movies that I have made for hundreds and hundreds of thousands, we just won an Oscar together,” she said. —CZ
Andrew Garfield Appears as The Night’s Designated Spider-Man
It was a good night for Andrew Garfield fans, with the two-time Oscar nominee appearing as the ceremony’s designated Spider-Man in a bit for Kimmel’s opening monologue. Kimmel joked about the myriad action stars anyone would have to get past if they wanted to fight him on stage, cutting to bonafide badass Michelle Yeoh among others before identifying a cringing Garfield as New York City’s web-slinging avenger. —AF
Florence Pugh and Andrew Garfield Present Together
The fun continued for Garfield fans when the “Tick, Tick, Boom!” star joined Florence Pugh in presenting the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. The performers’ immediately apparent chemistry (look at that arm placement!) quickly inspired cries from the internet that they either sign onto a rom-com, start dating, or both. —AF
Brendan Fraser Wins Best Actor
Few films released in 2022 divided audiences more than “The Whale,” with some seeing it as a moving piece of melodrama and others being offended by its use of fat suits to depict Brendan Fraser as a morbidly obese man. But praise for Fraser’s performance and the good vibes emitting from his comeback story were enough to propel him to a Best Actor win. Fraser’s speech was full of emotion — and, weirdly, even fuller of increasingly mixed nautical metaphors. Fraser won the room over by reflecting on the long journey back into Hollywood’s good graces and thanking everyone who stayed by his side during his career low points. He also heaped praise on his “Whale” makeup team and singled out director Darren Aronofsky for “throwing me a creative lifeline.” —CZ
Paul Rogers Accepts Best Editing
The Academy responded to anyone who said below-the-line awards make for bad television by giving Best Editing to Paul Rogers, who the internet instantly deemed the handsomest editor of all time. Rogers seemed to be in disbelief that he won an Oscar for his second film, and his joyful speech singled out his friendship with his “Everything Everywhere” directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
“Dan and Daniel, I hope you know your friends, we’re people who care about you,” Rogers said. “We’re not here because of the incredible, wonderful, strange beautiful movies that you make, we’re here because you guys are incredible, kind, generous, strange, sexy people and if all this goes away we’re still here with you.” —CZ
Michelle Yeoh Wins Best Actress
Michelle Yeoh’s seemingly-inevitable Best Actress win was one of the night’s most anticipated moments for a variety of reasons. A combination of excitement about Yeoh being the first Asian woman to win the award, appreciation for her decade-spanning Hollywood career, and our collective acknowledgement that she was probably the best-dressed person at every single award show made this the moment everyone was waiting for. When Yeoh’s name was called out, she met her moment with characteristic elegance, expressing gratitude for the opportunities she has received while calling for more diversity and asking Hollywood to do away with the ridiculous and sexist practice of saying middle aged women are “past their prime.” —CZ
Sarah Polley Wins Best Adapted Screenplay and Calls Out The Academy
Women were shut out of Best Directing again this year, despite Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” getting a nod for Best Picture. The snub was widely criticized as a sexist byproduct of Hollywood and the Academy’s patriarchal system. The writer/director’s nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay would have proved little consolation — had she not won. Thankfully, Polley snagged the Oscar and took the stage to comment on her situation directly.
“First of all, I just want to thank the Academy for not being mortally offended by the words ‘women’ and ‘talking’ being put so close together like that, cheers!” Polley jabbed. “Miriam Toews wrote an essential novel about a radical democracy in which people who don’t agree on every single issue managed to sit together in a room and carve out a way forward together free of violence. They do so not just by talking but also by listening.” —AF
The Daniels Win Best Directing
When Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert made their second of three trips to the podium to accept the Oscar for Best Director, they aimed their gratitude at the many parents and teachers who believed in them along the way and took steps that allowed their creativity to flourish. Scheinert got a cheer when he thanked his parents for “not squashing my creativity when I was making really disturbing horror films, or really perverted comedy films, or dressing in drag— which is a threat to nobody.” —CZ
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” Wins Best Picture
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” winning Best Picture was never going to be a surprising moment, but after seeing the film win virtually every other prize last night, its final win was even less surprising than we expected. Still, the Daniels and producer Jonathan Wang brought their typical brand of inclusive positivity to their acceptance speech as they called for more weird stories that make us feel less alone. “One of the best things we can do for each other is shelter each other from the chaos of this crazy world we live in,” Daniel Kwan said. “Thank you to the storytellers here who did that for me.” —CZ
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