LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Kimmel promised “no nonsense” at the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday as Hollywood reconvened for a ceremony that will try to move past one of the most infamous moments in Oscar history.
In one of the night's first awards, former child star Ke Huy Quan capped his extraordinary comeback with the Oscar for best supporting actor. Quan, beloved for his roles as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “Goonies,” had all but given up acting before being cast in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
His win, among the most expected of the night, was nevertheless one of the ceremony's most moving moments. The audience — including his “Temple of Doom” director, Steven Spielberg — gave Quan a standing ovation as he fought back tears.
“Mom, I just won an Oscar!” said Quan, 51, whose family fled Vietnam in the war when he was a child.
“They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I can't believe it's happening,” said Quan. "This is the American dream."
Minutes later, Quan's castmate Jamie Lee Curtis won for best supporting actress. Her win, in one of the most competitive categories this year, denied a victory for comic-book fans. Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) would have been the first performer to win an Oscar for a Marvel movie.
It also made history for Curtis, a first-time winner who alluded to herself as “a Nepo baby” during her win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. She's the rare Oscar winner whose parents were both Oscar nominees, something she emotionally referenced in her speech. Tony Curtis was nominated for “The Defiant Ones” in 1959 and Janet Leigh was nominated in 1961 for “Psycho.” Curtis thanked “hundreds” of people who put her in that position.
The early back-to-back wins for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was perhaps a sign of things to come. The film, up for a leading 11 awards, is the clear best-picture favorite.
The telecast, airing live on ABC, opened traditionally: with a montage of the year's films (with Kimmel edited into a cockpit in “Top Gun: Maverick") and a lengthy monologue. Kimmel, hosting for the third time, didn't dive right into revisiting Will Smith's slap of Chris Rock at last year's ceremony.
But after a number of jokes — including one that noted two stars of “Encino Man,” Quan and Brendan Fraser are nominated — Kimmel noted that there are numerous Irish actors up for Oscars, “which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.”
The late-night comedian struggled to find lessons from last year's incident, which was followed by Smith winning best actor. If anyone tried any violence this year, he said, “You will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech.”
But Kimmel, hosting for the third time, said anyone who wanted to “get jiggy with it” this year will have to come through a fearsome battalion of bodyguards, including Michael B. Jordan, Michelle Yeoh, Steven Spielberg and his show's “security guard” Guillermo Rodriguez.
The night's first award went to another Guillermo: “Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio” for best animated film. That handed Netflix its first Oscar in the category.
Later, Daniel Roher.'s “Navalny," about the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took best documentary. The film's win came with clear overtones to Navalny's ongoing imprisonment and Vladimir Putin's continued war in Ukraine. Yulia Navalnaya joined the filmmakers on the stage.
“My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” said Navalnaya. “Stay strong my love.”
Some big names weren't in attendance for other reasons. Neither Tom Cruise, whose “Top Gun: Maverick” is up for best picture, nor James Cameron, director of best-picture nominee “Avatar: The Way of Water," appeared to be at the ceremony. Both have been forefront in Hollywood's efforts to get moviegoers back after years of pandemic.
"The two guys who asked us to go back to theater aren't in the theater," Kimmel said, who added that Cruise without his shirt on in “Top Gun: Maverick” was “L. Ron Hubba Hubba."
And presenter Glenn Close told The Associated Press that she would no longer present at the show because she had tested positive for COVID-19.
The German-language WWI epic “All Quiet on the Western Front" took best cinematography for James Friend — potentially one of several awards to come for Netflix's top contender.
After several days of rain in and around Los Angeles, the sun was out again for a ceremony the film academy is hoping will be less stormy than last year. The usually red carpet, as part of the make-over, was champagned colored. There were surprises before the show even got started.
Just days after producers had said Lady Gaga wouldn’t be performing her nominated song “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” a person close to the production with knowledge of the performance confirmed Sunday afternoon that the pop superstar would perform, after all.
The academy, still trying to find its footing after several years of pandemic and ratings struggles, is also hoping for a smoother ride than last year. A crisis management team has been created to help better respond to surprises. The academy has called its response to Smith’s actions last year “inadequate.” Neither Rock, who recently made his most forceful statement about the incident in a live special, nor Smith, who’s been banned by the academy for 10 years, are expected to attend.
The Academy Awards is attempting to recapture some of its old luster. One thing working in its favor: This year’s best picture field is stacked with blockbusters. Ratings usually go up when the nominees are more popular, which certainly goes for “Top Gun: Maverick," “Avatar: The Way of Water" and, to a lesser extent, “Elvis" and “Everything Everywhere All at Once." Performances from Rihanna and Lady Gaga were sure to help, too.
Last year, Apple TV’s “CODA” became the first streaming movie to win best picture. But this year, nine of the 10 best picture nominees were theatrical releases. After the movie business cratered during the pandemic, moviegoing recovered to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels. But it was an up and down year, full of smash hits and anxiety-inducing lulls in theaters.
At the same time, the rush to streaming encountered new setbacks as studios questioned long-term profitability and reexamined their release strategies. This year, ticket sales have been strong thanks to releases like “Creed III” and “Cocaine Bear.” But there remain storm clouds on the horizon. The Writers Guild and the major studios are set to begin contract negotiations March 20, a looming battle that has much of the industry girding for the possibility of a work stoppage throughout film and television.
The Oscars, meanwhile, are trying to reestablish their position as the premier award show. Last year's telecast drew 16.6 million viewers, a 58% increase from the scaled-down 2021 edition, watched by a record low 10.5 million.
Usually, the previous year's acting winners present the awards for best actor and best actress. But that won't be the case this time. Who'll replace Smith in presenting best actress is just one of the questions heading into the ceremony.