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Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis win as Oscars get underway

By Associated Press
Published: March 12, 2023, 5:11pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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, Ke Huy Quan, the former child star, 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 its most moving moments. The audience — including his “Temple of Doom” director, Steven Spielberg — gave him a standing ovation as Quan fought back tears.

“Mom, I just won an Oscar!” said Quan, 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.”

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,” Ke Huy 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 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.

After several days of rain in and around Los Angeles, the sun is 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.

Kimmel, the show’s first solo emcee in five years, is hosting for the third time. He last hosted in 2018.

“Nobody got hit when I hosted the show,” Kimmel bragged tongue in cheek Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “Everybody was well-behaved at my Oscars.”

Kimmel presides over a ceremony that could see big wins for the best-picture favorite, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s action-comedy indie hit comes in with a leading 11 nominations, including nods for Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan.

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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.

Some big names weren’t in attendance, though. 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.

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.

But 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.”

The awards will also have some star wattage in the musical performances. Fresh off her Super Bowl performance, Rihanna will perform her Oscar-nominated song, “Lift Me Up,” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” “This Is Life,” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will be sung by David Byrne and supporting actress nominee Stephanie Hsu with the band Son Lux. Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava will perform “Naatu Naatu” from the Indian action epic “RRR.” Lenny Kravitz will perform during the In Memoriam tribute.

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.

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