While far from the nightmare that was last year’s Academy Awards, this year’s telecast faced a familiar existential question: What exactly are the Oscars supposed to be? Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, who seems to be the only person willing to do the job at this point, the show tried to go back to its more by-the-books format of years past, with mixed chaotic results.
The main story of the night would have to be the dominant awards performance of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Beyond the big prize of Best Picture, the film also left the Dolby Theatre with Best Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor and Editing. At seven wins, this is the most awards for a single film since “Gravity” at the 2014 Oscars. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” also broke the record for most above-the-line wins, meaning awards in acting, directing, writing or picture, with six. “All Quiet on the Western Front” came second in the total tally with four awards for the night.
Looking at the broader picture, these wins feel good for the art of film as a whole. Besides maybe “Parasite,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is easily the most creatively ambitious film to take home the top award in recent memory. Yet the film is more than just imaginative zaniness, possessing a touching and complex underlying story of familial relationships that clearly resonated with the more stereotypically traditional voter base of the Academy. Even if this film wasn’t exactly your cup of tea, knowing that diverse voices outside of legacy film institutions are able to receive the industry’s highest honor should feel comforting.
It may have been nice to spread the wealth around to other films deserving of recognition such as “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Tár,” though the success of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is not something that should be bemoaned.
Despite these positive outcomes and awards, the show itself fell flat. The Academy Awards don’t seem to quite know their purpose, as the show cares far more about being cynical about itself and the current state of the film industry than it does about recognizing artistic accomplishments. Kimmel was unable to open his mouth without lamenting the length of the show or last year’s slap incident. It’s not that the Oscars shouldn’t be funny or that everyone involved in the film industry should be put on a high pedestal and shielded from any ribbing, but that humor shouldn’t overtake the purpose of these awards in the first place, especially with humor as abysmal as what was presented. This issue was most painfully illustrated when Kimmel jokingly asked Malala Yousafzai whether Harry Styles spat on Chris Pine during the rumor-ridden “Don’t Worry Darling” press tour. Along with being out of place and in poor taste, this joke just took up too much time with zero success.
This was immediately followed by an appearance of a man in a bear suit, referencing the movie “Cocaine Bear” while presenting another glaring issue with the Oscars: They will try to milk any recent pop culture trend as much as they possibly can without fully understanding what makes that trend work in the first place. All of these moments felt like irrelevant asides from what the ceremony ought to be. The love of cinema that the Oscars supposedly celebrates is nowhere to be found. Hardly any of the presenters, and certainly not the host, seemed to actually care about movies at all. This is especially unfortunate when the show’s biggest winner was as groundbreaking and artistically complex as it was.
The only time in the broadcast where it felt like the Oscars were actually trying to celebrate the art of cinema came in two tributes to major film studios: Disney and Warner Brothers. While the historical significance of these two companies can not be overstated, the tributes felt more like corporate propaganda than commendations of their creativity. This was most prevalent when a trailer for the upcoming live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” was embedded into the proceedings of the ceremony.
The simple truth is, as things stand, Oscars are the most valued prize among the industry and general audiences alike. And while it may be a cinephile’s dream to have this many eyes upon the Palme d’Or instead, that isn’t something anyone should be holding out hope for. So it’s far from beneficial to film as a whole to just throw the Academy Awards away entirely. They have the potential to be the best platform to show that the art of cinema is thriving and full of new voices making daring statements year after year — something that should not be achieved through hackneyed jokes and cynicism.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.