Over the last few years, the Emmy Awards have fallen into a predictable pattern: one where only a few series tend to dominate within a given year. Among the small but vocal group of people who concern themselves with the health of award shows, this trend is widely considered a troubling one. Part of the fun of these things, the thinking goes, is the potential for upsets and other forms of surprises; that’s the power of live TV and why viewers should tune in rather than just wait for the highlights to hit social media.
For the Academy Awards, though, everything going according to plan is a welcome reprieve. After the good kind of surprise struck in early 2020, when Parasite won not just Best Picture, but also accolades like Best Original Screenplay, the next few years had much bumpier rides. The pandemic forced the Oscars to pivot to a smaller venue and a more unorthodox format, an experiment with dismal results in the ratings. Attempts to play into supposed sure bets, like a posthumous Best Actor win for Chadwick Boseman, blew up in the producers’ faces, with an awkward win for an absent Anthony Hopkins ending the whole affair on an off note. In 2022, the award show attempted to embrace the idea of a must-watch moment—only for Will Smith to slap Chris Rock onstage, catching the Academy flat-footed.
Sunday night’s ceremony found the Oscars on much firmer, and more familiar, ground. In Jimmy Kimmel, the man who helped shepherd the audience through the biggest Oscar fiasco before the slap, the show had a single, traditional host for the first time since 2018. (That host was also Jimmy Kimmel, clearly a safe and reliable choice.) The show itself went off without a hitch, or at least without a need for the much-hyped crisis team the Academy assembled after last year’s events. And the winners were, for the most part, exactly whom even casual observers assumed they would be. Compare rearranging the entire show to culminate in the Boseman win that didn’t happen to having Harrison Ford present Best Picture to make it easier to engineer an on-air reunion with Ke Huy Quan. The former called attention to blatant manipulation, as well as the ceremony’s futility; the latter just led to a touching moment between Indiana Jones and Short Round, or at least the actors who played them.
The dominance of Everything Everywhere All at Once—as presaged by victories at the WGA, PGA, DGA, and SAG Awards—could be seen as anticlimactic, especially when paired with a strong showing by German war epic All Quiet on the Western Front. Together, the two films won 11 of the telecast’s 23 awards, winning in almost every category they were eligible for. This isn’t to say the projects aren’t exciting based on their own merits. Everything Everywhere All at Once is an independent, mid-budget, original idea with an almost entirely Asian cast and butt plug gags galore. All Quiet on the Western Front helps cement the expanded presence of international productions outside their designated fields. It’s just that the success of Everything Everywhere All at Once felt secure long before Oscar night, making the Best Picture prize a cherry on top rather than a sudden coronation.
But even if it were possible for a movie starring Michelle Yeoh and an interdimensional everything bagel to be boring, “boring” doesn’t sound so bad in the context of the contemporary Oscars. The wealth was spread around just enough—with one-off wins for the likes of Top Gun: Maverick, RRR, Avatar: The Way of Water, and Women Talking—for the clear victors not to feel overexposed. And having the inevitable come to pass allowed the Academy to put its recent past behind it.
The slap loomed large over Sunday’s proceedings, with plenty of jokes by Kimmel at his current client’s expense. (If anyone tried to assault him, Kimmel warned, they’d be handed an Oscar and allowed to make an extended speech.) Thanks to some programming choices, though, it didn’t feel distracting. After various presenter duos handed out pairs of awards over the course of the evening, for example, Will Smith’s absence during the Best Actress award didn’t feel conspicuous. Halle Berry simply joined Jessica Chastain while presenting Best Actor, then stuck around for the subsequent honor.
There were feel-good moments aplenty at the 95th Academy Awards, many of them from the Everything Everywhere All at Once contingent as it collected trophy after trophy. Daniel Scheinert thanked his public school teachers by name; Ke Huy Quan thanked his mom watching at home. There were not any shocking, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-did-you-just-see-that moments—a description that could read like an indictment but for harried Academy members may induce sighs of relief. (Imagine the fury if Andrea Riseborough’s unorthodox campaign tactics won her more than just a nomination.) For once, the Oscars went according to plan. Maybe that’s more than enough.