Oscars 2023 best bits: Slap jokes, an onstage trip and ‘Jenny’ the donkey – Nine stand out Academy Awards moments
Everything Everywhere All At Once has swept this year’s Oscars, taking seven of the eleven awards it was up for, including three acting gongs, best directing and best picture.
First World War epic All Quiet On The Western Front won four awards, including best cinematography and original score.
And while it was a good night for the sci-fi indie, it was less positive for UK stars, with only four British filmmakers taking home a prize, the lowest tally since 2017, when we came away with just a single award.
But never fear, with so many stars in one place, and speeches and photo opportunities aplenty, there’s always more to Hollywood’s biggest night than just good films and category wins.
Oscars live: The ceremony and post-event Vanity Fair red carpet as it happened
Everything Everywhere makes Oscars history
Below we pick out nine of the talking points from the 95th annual Academy Awards.
First up, let’s deal with the slap
Jimmy Kimmel didn’t disappoint, parachuting into the ceremony in a nod to best picture nominee Top Gun: Maverick and almost immediately launching into jokes referencing Will Smith.
Hosting the event for the third time, the comedian told the audience of A-listers: “Five Irish actors are nominated tonight, which meant the odds of another fight onstage just went way up.”
He went on: “We want you to have fun, we want you to be safe and we want me to be safe.
“If any person in this theatre commits an act of violence, you will be awarded best actor and be allowed to give a 19-minute speech.
“No, but seriously the Academy have a crisis team in place, if anything unpredictable or violent happens during the ceremony, just do what you did last year – nothing. Maybe even give the assailant a hug.”
He then went on to say that if anyone attempted to “get jiggy with it” and make their way onto the stage to get to him, they would have to get through stars and superheroes including Creed’s Michael B Jordan, The Last Of Us star Pedro Pascal, Spider-Man’s Andrew Garfield and Everything Everywhere All At Once’s multiverse actress Michelle Yeoh.
Two hours into the telecast, Kimmel quipped: “At this point in the show, it kind of makes you miss the slapping a little bit, right?”
With a running time of more than three-and-a-half hours, his joke likely resonated with the majority of the audience, both at home and in the stadium.
‘Ma – I just won an Oscar’
Michelle Yeoh made Oscars history, becoming the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best actress, for her role as overworked launderette worker Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
The 60-year-old actress told the audience: “I have to dedicate this to my mum and all the mums in the world because they are really the superheroes and without them none of us would be here tonight.
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility.
“This is proof that dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re past your prime.”
Oscars fashion: All the best looks from the champagne carpet
From sausage fingers to blockbusters – this year’s big films
Her co-star, Jamie Lee Curtis, 64, who earlier in the evening took the best supporting actress gong, signed a heart with her hands from the audience.
The daughter of Hollywood veterans Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, during her own acceptance speech she looked to the sky and paid tribute to her parents, saying: “My mother and father were both nominated for Oscars in different categories, I just won an Oscar.”
In probably the most dead cert win of the night, Everything Everywhere star Ke Huy Quan took home the best supporting actor statuette.
An emotional Quan made his way to the stage to accept his award from last year’s best supporting actor and actress winners Troy Kotsur and Ariana de Bose.
The 51-year-old actor, a childhood star who had come close to quitting acting as an adult due to the scarcity of parts for Asian actors in Hollywood, told the audience: “My mum is 84 years old and she is at home watching. Ma I just won an Oscar!”
The Vietnam-born American star continued: “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.
“They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe this is happening to me – this is the American dream.”
He added: “Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive. Thank you so much for welcoming me back.”
In another Oscars first, Quan is the first person from an Asian background to win the category.
Brendan Fraser has a Whale of a time
Brendan Fraser took best actor for his role as an obese teacher in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale – completing what has been dubbed the “Bren-aissance” due to his return to Hollywood after nearly 20 years out of the limelight.
The transformations behind this year’s Oscar nominees
From Goonies to the Oscars: Ke Huy Quan’s ‘wild ride’ of a comeback
Accepting his award with tears in his eyes, the 54-year-old Mummy star said: “So this is what the multiverse looks like.
“I thank the academy for this honour… Darren Aronofsky for throwing me a creative lifeline and hauling me aboard the good ship The Whale.”
He went on to thank his family and sons, as well as his co-star in The Whale, Hong Chau.
“I want to tell you that only whales can swim at the depths of the talent of Hong Chau,” he said.
The film also won best makeup and hairstyling. Fraser’s transformation for the movie took five-hours every day, and his suit weighed around 300lbs.
Lady Gaga, who organisers had previously said wouldn’t be performing due to filming commitments (she’s been busy working on Joker: Folie a deux), surprised everyone by performing Hold My Hand, from Top Gun: Maverick.
Wearing no make-up, a plain black T-shirt and ripped black jeans, she cut a low-key figure with her hair scraped back into a French plait.
Introducing the song, she said: “It is deeply personal for me, and I think we all need each other, we need a lot of love to walk through this life.
“And we all need a hero sometimes. There are heroes all around us in unassuming places, but you might find that you can be your own hero even if you feel broken inside.”
Just two hours before she had dazzled on the champagne carpet in a Valentino gown and full makeup, presenting a very different aesthetic.
A pregnant Rihanna performed Lift Me Up from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in a sheer black and silver jumpsuit.
Click to subscribe to Backstage wherever you get your podcasts
The weirdest performance of the night was courtesy of US experimental band Son Lux, singer-songwriter David Byrne and actress Stephanie Hsu, singing This Is A Life from Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Their rendition came complete with sausage fingers, a raccoon and somersaulting dancers. As anyone who’s watched the joyful madness that is Everything Everywhere will appreciate, nothing can be too weird when it comes to an existential exploration of relationships and love via a launderette, taxes and the multiverse.
Also on stage on the night, Sofia Carson and Diane Warren performed Applause, from Tell It Like A Woman, and Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava performed a high-energy rendition of Naatu Naatu from RRR, which received a standing ovation and went on to win best song.
A host of stars wore blue ribbons made by refugees on the champagne carpet.
Cate Blanchett, who is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), wore a #WithRefugees ribbon, as did Bill Nighy and director of All Quiet On The Western Front Edward Berger.
The ribbons, which were described as an “emblem of compassion and solidarity for those who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict and persecution”, were made by refugees at the company Knotty Tie, which helps refugees resettle in Denver, Colorado.
Everything Everywhere All At Once directors on this year’s craziest film
The making of anti-war epic All Quiet On The Western Front
Speaking on the red carpet, Nighy, who was a first-time Oscar nominee at 73, said he had worn the ribbon at the request of Blanchett.
Asked by Sky News about the Oscars reportedly wanting to avoid politics this year, he said: “120 million people being displaced and children being in terrible distress, I don’t think that is politics. And that is what this commemorates. It is a UN initiative.”
In another political moment, the award for best documentary feature film went to Navalny, about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the events related to his 2020 poisoning.
Director Daniel Roher dedicated the award to Navalny and political prisoners around the world, saying: “Alexei, the world has not forgotten your vital message to the world.”
Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, added: “Alexei, I am dreaming of the day you will be free and our country will be free, stay strong my love.”
And on winning best director, Everything Everywhere co-director Daniel Scheinert made reference to the latest battleground in the culture wars, thanking his parents for not squashing his creativity or stopping him from dressing in drag as a child, adding, “which is a threat to nobody”.
Tears for Olivia Newton-John
Lenny Kravitz accompanied the roll call of film industry stalwarts lost in the last year in the In Memoriam segment of the night.
Introducing the images of the film industry legends, John Travolta became visibly upset as he told the audience: “These are the people the Academy remains hopelessly devoted to.”
His line was of course a reference to his Grease co-star Olivia Newton-John, who died in August.
Travolta, 69, also lost his actress wife of nearly 30 years, Kelly Preston, in 2020.
Exit, pursued by a bear
Actress Elizabeth Banks had the most unusual co-presenter of the night, in the form of a person dressed in a bear suit.
The big grizzly was in reference to her recent directing credit for Cocaine Bear, a movie about a rampaging bear high on cocaine, somewhat surprisingly based on a true story.
Possibly distracted by her furry partner, Banks narrowly avoided disaster as she walked onto the stage to present the award for best visual effects, styling out a trip before pointing at the bear and joking: “Oh my God. He tripped me.”
She also apologised for her husky voice, appearing to be suffering from a cold or some kind of vocal strain, but carried on valiantly nevertheless.
Avatar: The Way Of Water went on to take the prize, thirteen years after winning the same category for the first Avatar movie, which is also the highest-grossing film ever made.
Malala gets hassled
Malala Yousafzai found herself on the receiving end of one of Jimmy Kimmel’s gags mid-way through the evening but coped with aplomb.
The comedian asked the Nobel laureate and Stranger at the Gate producer to weigh in on whether Harry Styles really did spit on Chris Pine during the Venice Film Festival screening of their film, Don’t Worry Darling last September.
Sparkling in a silver-sequinned gown with an incorporated head scarf, Malala swiftly replied: “I only talk about peace.”
Fans on social media were quick to praise her swift response.
However, the 25-year-old then had to contend with a large bear (see previous post) pestering her in her seat.
Kimmel eventually encouraged the interloper to desist, saying: “Cocaine bear, leave Malala alone!”
Malala fans on social media were quick to defend the 25-year-old, praising her for her swift and calm response to such provocation.
And ‘Jenny’ the donkey
All in all, it was quite an animal-themed night, what with a bear and a raccoon featured in the show, and Brendan Fraser banging on about Whales.
Only one animal truly stole the show, though.
An unexpected guest appearance from a donkey, introduced as “Jenny” from Banshees Of Inisherin, drew plenty of smiles, with co-stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson blowing kisses and waving from the audience.
Kimmel said the miniature donkey – who was wearing a sequinned emotional support jacket – had been flown over “from Ireland” especially for the awards.
However, many on social media questioned whether the donkey in question was really Jenny, who is understood to have retired following her Banshees performance, and is said to be living with several other donkeys at a location somewhere in the Irish midlands.
Donkey fans carried out a swift analysis of images of Jenny against the donkey on stage – but the jury remained out as to whether Jenny was really in the building, or simply a miniature donkey masquerading as her.
With a flight between Ireland and LA taking over a day, it seemed unlikely that Jenny the donkey would have been put through such an arduous trip.
Banshees Of Inisherin director Martin McDonagh later confirmed as much backstage, telling a reporter: “It wasn’t Jenny. We never would have allowed that to happen.”
Great news for Jenny, who was likely tucked up in her bed throughout the whole event.
Get all the intel from our Oscars special Backstage podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, from Monday morning.