Moments after “Everything Everywhere All at Once” swept to victory at the ninety-fifth Academy Awards—a result that landed like a love bomb at the Dolby Theatre, where I’d been sitting in the nosebleeds—I was at the Governors Ball, the Academy’s on-site after-party, contemplating a ceremony that had been full of feel-good moments but lacking the special brand of chaos that we’ve come to expect at the Oscars, with such high-profile debacles as the Best Picture envelope mixup and the Slap. At the party, a French pastry chef gave me a chocolate cigar, with caramelized popcorn on one end, which had been dipped in liquid nitrogen to make it smoke. As I bit into it, I felt a pang of uncertainty. What was this feeling?
That’s when I ran into the producer Donna Gigliotti, an Oscar winner (for “Shakespeare in Love,” in 1999) and onetime producer of the ceremony, who said that the show had been nice, but a little boring. “It’s the Joe Biden of Oscars,” she said, encapsulating the evening precisely. After the turbulence and sheer bizarreness of the Slap, this year restored a sense of normalcy to the awards: warm, relatively uneventful, familiar in its rhythms, reassuring in its dullness. The speeches had been sweet and aspirational, and the expected triumph of “Everything Everywhere,” produced from the right envelope, had given the evening a soft landing. Oh, right, I thought. This is what the Oscars usually feel like.
By the sushi bar, I saw Jimmy Kimmel, who had done an admirable hosting job—one year after the Slap and six years after he had presided over Envelopegate. I asked him if he had gone into tonight expecting something insane to happen. “No,” he told me. “We could go another forty years and not have anything else like that. The only thing I can compare it to in my lifetime is Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off.”
Without a major incident, the 2023 Oscars could be appreciated for their cozier milestones. Though “Everything Everywhere” has its detractors, its rolling wins went over nice and easy at the Dolby, with heart-melting speeches by its three acting winners. Ke Huy Quan, who won for Best Supporting Actor, probably had the happiest arc of this year’s awards season, and his win capped a remarkable comeback after he’d left the business following his “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” child-actor years. Jamie Lee Curtis (Best Supporting Actress) choked up in her speech while talking about her famous parents—Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, both Oscar nominees—framing her win as a kind of family promise fulfilled. And Michelle Yeoh (Best Actress), who won a tight race with Cate Blanchett (“Tár”), accepted her Oscar from the co-presenter Halle Berry—notably, the last woman of color to win in the category. After Yeoh’s triumph, they are a party of two. The Best Picture win for “Everything Everywhere,” this year’s Oscar unicorn, was a victory for Asian representation and for weird, non-franchise, genre-busting crowd-pleasers that can make more than a hundred million dollars and soar to Oscar heights.
I had started my evening with the gang from “My Year of Dicks,” a nominee for Best Animated Short Film, whose title had reduced the nomination announcement to giggles. At midday, I arrived at the home of the writer, Pamela Ribon, who based the film on her quest, at fifteen, to lose her virginity to the right boy. When I got to her place, in Atwater Village, the house was overflowing with parents, kids, and stylists. Ribon came down in a whirling red gown, and Team Dicks, as they called themselves, posed for photos on the front lawn. “What do you think, Mom?” Ribon said, twirling in the breeze. “People weren’t this excited for either of my weddings.” Team Dicks piled into two black S.U.V.s, and Ribon reflected on the trajectory that had brought her from teen-age longing to the Academy Awards. “I had always had imaginary boyfriends, starting with Grover,” she said. Growing up outside of Houston, she’d watched the Oscars on TV. “I remember fighting with my dad the year that ‘Out of Africa’ was up for Best Picture instead of ‘Ghostbusters.’ I was really mad that Bill Murray wasn’t nominated, and my dad was, like, ‘Those aren’t the movies that get nominated.’ ” If she could travel back to 1991 and tell her fifteen-year-old self that she’d be riding to the Oscars, how would she respond? “She would say, ‘Is Johnny Depp there?’ ” Ribon said, grimacing. “I’d have to break her heart. ‘He is not who you thought he’d grow up to be.’ ”
The car turned onto North Highland Avenue, where security men checked beneath the car for bombs, and we passed a protester with a sign reading “THE WICKED STRUT ABOUT ON EVERY SIDE WHEN VILENESS IS EXALTED AMONG THE PEOPLE.” “Terrible actors rolling by!” he screamed. Ribon laughed. “He’s not wrong.” She reached into her bag and handed me a tiny crystal in the shape of male genitalia, officially welcoming me to Team Dicks. “It’s for healing and culminating,” she told me. The car slowed. We were at the Oscars.
I made my way to the red carpet, which—shocker!—wasn’t red but “champagne,” a color that the Academy had said was meant to be calming, like a beach sunset, perhaps to ward off another slap. The carpet was split into two lanes: one for Very Important People, the other for Relatively Unimportant People, where I passed the backside of a bleacher filled with screaming fans. Making my way around a jumbo Oscar statue, I saw a lot of sequins—sparkly was in—and an Epcot-like blend of fashions from around the world: saris, a kimono, a yarmulke, a Native American war bonnet. At the base of the grand staircase leading up to the theatre, I met Emile Hertling Péronard, a producer of the nominated short film “Ivalu,” wearing sunglasses and what looked like a white hoodie. He told me that he was from Greenland, and his hoodie was in fact a traditional garment called an annoraaq. “Greenland is huge, but there are almost no people there. The Oscars are huge, but they’re filled with people,” he observed. Was there anyone he was hoping to meet? “Not really,” he said. “I just want people to meet Greenland.”
Opinions on the champagne carpet were mixed. At the top of the stairs, I saw Carrie Brownstein, the riot-grrrl rocker and “Portlandia” star, with her partner, Karen Murphy, who was nominated for production design, for “Elvis.” The performance artist Miranda July, who narrated the nominated documentary “Fire of Love,” joined them. “I love that color,” July said, of the carpet. Brownstein found it soothing. “Red makes you feel agitated,” she said. “Maybe they studied it for a year and were, like, ‘The problem was the carpet.’ ” Minutes later, I saw the artist Nan Goldin, the subject of the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” who pronounced the carpet hue “horrible.” “What happened to the red carpet? I don’t think the champagne’s working, do you?” she asked. We headed into the hall, where an announcer said, “Please take your seats. This year’s Oscars will begin in thirty-five minutes.”
I took my seat, in Row G, up in the highest balcony. My young seatmate, a first-timer at the ceremony, regarded the set and said, “I’m enjoying seeing the apparatus from the inside.” The lights dimmed, and out came Kimmel. His opening monologue pleased the live crowd—though a jab at “Babylon” ’s box-office belly flop drew gasps. Quan’s early, expected win seemed to unite the audience in euphoria. Then came Best Supporting Actress. On my right was an executive from Marvel Studios, who tensed up—Angela Bassett was Marvel’s first-ever acting nominee, for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” When she lost, to Jamie Lee Curtis, the executive clapped politely, then slipped out during the next commercial break.