Update: the newer numbers from Nielson show the Oscars (when combined with “not at home viewing”) rose to 18 million, up two million from last year. So that’s pretty good!
Earlier: The Oscars managed to mostly hold onto roughly the same ratings from last year, perhaps dropping a little but not in any catastrophic way. The show was well-produced, ran smoothly and was mercifully low on political content. Jimmy Kimmel did a much better job than I thought he would. He kept the political jokes to a minimum — although he did make a Scientology joke and a Jan. 6 joke (ish), just to show the audience which side he is really on and to remind Hollywood outsiders they’re still not welcome unless they are ideologically compliant. But I was relieved to see those eggs were laid later on in the broadcast. Most of the time, the show was welcoming to all — which is how the Oscars should be.
Michelle Yeoh’s win was a big moment for the Academy and for her. She’s been acting in Hollywood for decades and this win was well overdue and much deserved. All four of the acting winners felt like miraculous comeback stories of character actors who mostly hovered on the fringe, did great work, and finally were rewarded for that. Ke Huy Quan’s speech was the best of the night by far and left not a dry eye in the house. It already has one million views on YouTube:
Brendan Fraser’s speech was also very moving, and it has 2 million views already. So we can add these to the ratings and conclude that more people are interested in these speeches than sitting down and watching the whole show:
The production was a classy affair, top to bottom. Gone were the COVID tables out front, which just makes the whole thing feel more formal and less casual (I always thought the casual nature of the seating made it easier for Will Smith to approach Chris Rock, which would not have been possible if there was the formal stage).
It felt like a return to Hollywood glamour and kind of the way the Oscars used to be before they tried to reinvent the wheel. It was something to be proud of for the show’s producers and the director.
It’s hard to have sat through last night’s sweep of Everything Everywhere All at Once and not feel like something significant has shifted in terms of the purpose of the Oscars, their place in the country and the industry. It was a winner that met the moment like probably no other film has since politics married the Oscars when Obama won in 2008. Movies that have met the moment in the past include films like Gone With the Wind in 1939, Casablanca in 1943, perhaps The Godfather in 1972, Forrest Gump in 1994, Titanic in 1997. You get the idea.
Meeting the moment means it’s the exact right film that says the exact right thing at the exact right time. The difference between all of those years and now is that we’re talking about a very insular community by now. This win needs an explanation because the majority of the public, and plenty of people in the world, might scratch their heads at a movie like this sweeping. Why that movie?
Why not, say, the Toronto People’s Choice Award winner that also won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, The Fabelmans? Why not the film that beat Everything Everywhere at the Globes in Best Comedy, the Banshees of Inisherin? Why not All Quiet on the Western Front, which dominated the BAFTAs to a history-making degree? There are mitigating factors at play, like disappointing box office returns, a plot people felt disconnected from, and perhaps an aversion — still — to Netflix taking the top prize even though Apple did last year.
But the real reason I think they didn’t move the needle, along with TAR and Elvis and not to mention Top Gun: Maverick, is quite simply this: they were too white and too male. The way our culture is shifting isn’t that we’re divided between Left and Right so much as it is that we’re dividing between the “outside” and the “inside,” as our entire civilization begins to migrate online. Two whole generations have come of age online and that world drove the buzz and heat for Everything Everywhere, even if “outside” of that, Top Gun: Maverick was easily the Movie of the Year.
A24 was essentially holding back on campaigning and instead let the internet hive mind do all of the work because award wins and speeches all seem to be content for the daily churn. How these moments define online users seems to be what keeps it all humming along, leading to the inevitable moment we saw last night, where history was made with the same film winning three acting awards AND Best Picture for the first time in 95 years.
I have divided up the wins in the era of the preferential ballot and this is what it looks like:
Even if it had won two acting awards, EEAAO would have still made history in the current preferential ballot era, as no film has won more than one acting award with Best Picture.
When you see that and you think about history, that is why it’s necessary to understand just what this movie means to this community right now and why they would have lost their minds over it the way they did. It was, I think, almost a religious rapture for them to see one movie be exactly what they wanted and needed. Not only was it daring and inventive, not only did it play in movie theaters and make money, not only did it revolve around an older Asian mother and her family, but on top of all of that it was intersectional.
This is the moment when politics, activism, and art have fused into one everything bagel. Even the winners speeches: my favorite of them was Daniel Kwan saying “I have imposter syndrome right now.” They were all young and hip and cool and saying things about drag shows and being seen. It was truly everything, everywhere all at once, unfolding right before our eyes.
EEAAO has always been the perfect time capsule movie to represent Hollywood in 2023. A film like Top Gun: Maverick, even if it was the best-reviewed, the best audience reviewed, the highest-grossing film of the year, was never going to SAY the right thing for Hollywood right now. They are 100% married to political ideology at the moment. Films must push the right message and check all of the boxes to win.
One thing we know about the Oscars, and have always known, is that they have to be “important” to win. The criteria of what defines “important” has changed over time, but the song remains the same. They have to FEEL something when they vote and that something is usually about how much they love and identify with the characters on screen. And without fail, year after year, it is always about Miss Right Now rather than Miss Right.
How well this film holds its place in time is not yet known. I guess we’ll have to wait and see on this. To many, this is the best film they’ve ever seen, particularly young people who were raised on branded franchise films that might not recognize original storytelling like this. Maybe it births a movement. Maybe it doesn’t. That isn’t something we can determine right now.
For the first time in many decades, the winner of the Globe Drama and the Toronto People’s Choice Award went home empty-handed, along with TAR, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Elvis. For that, I do not think history will be kind. But as we’ve always known, the Oscars are usually about a time capsule that tells us exactly who people were at a given point in time. They still serve that purpose — it’s just that they represent an increasingly niche community.
I have much more to say about our shifting culture, but I think I’ll save that for another time. The Academy did right by its fans last night and produced what I think was an elegant, entertaining, smoothly run Oscar ceremony. It reminded me of the good old days — and that’s a good thing.
Did I hope the ratings would be higher? Yes. But perhaps now audiences will feel like it’s safe to go back into the water.