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Oscars 2023 preview: Slap jokes, another big Rihanna performance and predictions in every category

Jimmy Kimmel returns to host the Academy Awards for a third time Sunday.

THE OSCARS(r) - The 90th Oscars(r)  broadcasts live on Oscar(r) SUNDAY, MARCH 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, on the Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images Television Network. (Ed Herrera via Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL
Jimmy Kimmel, seen here hosting the Oscars in 2018, returns to the gig again on Sunday. (Photo: Ed Herrera via Getty Images)

It is a very safe bet that the 2023 Oscars will not be anywhere near as eventful as the 2022 edition. To put it another way, let’s hope the 2023 Oscars are not anywhere near as eventful as the 2022 edition.

A year ago, Will Smith wrote his name into infinite Oscars infamy when he charged the stage and slapped Chris Rock after the host made a crack about the rapper-turned-actor’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, shocking television audiences across the world (not to mention poor Lupita Nyong’o).

“The Slap” will surely be the dinosaur-sized elephant in the room when Sunday’s 95th Academy Awards unfold live on ABC. Jimmy Kimmel will make the short stroll directly across the street from his Hollywood Blvd. studios to the Dolby Theater, where he’ll handle emceeing duties for the third time. “Nobody got hit when I hosted the show,” Kimmel cracked during a pre-show interview with Good Morning America this week. That’s true, but the late night staple was front and center during 2017’s “Envelopegate” incident, which somehow only held its stature as the craziest thing ever to happen at the Oscars for just five years.

The fact that Kimmel is already working out material about the Smith-Rock fiasco is surely a sign that it’ll be open season for jokes on Sunday, especially with Rock reigniting the flames with a conspicuously timed, blistering takedown of Smith during his live-aired Netflix comedy special Selective Outrage. Hopefully Kimmel can tackle it with some nuance, or at least originality: If we had $5 for every variation of the Twitter joke we’ve seen about the Oscars making “Who will get slapped?” a yearly bit, we’d have at least $100 by now.

After admitting it mishandled the situation the night of (presumably by allowing Smith to remain in the audience to still collect his Best Actor Oscar for King Richard after assaulting Rock), the Academy has prepared for Sunday by hiring a crisis team to be onsite. (You can read more about what exactly that entails here.)

HOLLYWOOD, CA - March 27, 2022.    Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the show  at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022.  (Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the show at the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Photo: Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The good news for the Academy? It’s hard to imagine last year’s kerfuffle won’t give this year’s telecast a ratings boost, which is really needed. Award show audiences have been in steep decline for years. And while last year’s ratings (16.6 million viewers) were up 58 percent from 2021’s record low (10.5 million), they were the second worst ever. Last year’s numbers swelled by more than half-a-million people after the slap, according to the New York Times.

The show’s musical performances could also give the telecast a (baby) bump. One month to the day after her buzzy Super Bowl halftime show slash pregnancy reveal, Rihanna will perform “Lift Me Up,” her emotional ballad from Marvel’s emotional sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Other Best Original Song performances included will be David Byrne, Son Lux and Stephanie Hsu’s “This Is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All At Once; Sofia Carson and Diane Warren’s “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman; and Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava’s projected favorite, “Naatu Naatu,” from the Bollywood-flavored Netflix smash RRR, which could help draw a hefty number of the film’s passionate Indian fanbase.

According to Oscars executive producer and showrunner Glenn Weiss, Lady Gaga will not be in attendance. The pop star, who won the category in 2019 for A Star Is Born’s “Shallow,” is nominated for Top Gun: Maverick’s “Hold My Hand,” but is currently in production on the DC Comics sequel Joker: Folie à Deux. (On Sunday, Variety reported that Gaga would make the ceremony after all, per "several insiders.")

Lenny Kravitz, meanwhile, will accompany the Oscars’ annual In Memoriam segment, which will likely pay tribute to Angela Lansbury, James Caan, Olivia Newton-John, Ray Liotta, Raquel Welch, Kirstie Alley, Anne Heche, Tom Sizemore and Triangle of Sadness actress Charlbi Dean, among other actors and industry professionals who’ve died in the past year.

The Oscars can always be relied upon for hordes of A-list presenters, and this year is no different. In the lineup for Sunday: Harrison Ford, Halle Berry, Dwayne Johnson, Nicole Kidman, Salma Hayek Pinault, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Sigourney Weaver, Andrew Garfield, Emily Blunt, Pedro Pascal, Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Mindy Kaling, Melissa McCarthy, Ariana DeBose and more. On Sunday, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Glenn Close would be dropping out as a presenter after testing positive for COVID-19.

'Everything Everywhere All At Once' (A24)
A scene from Best Picture contender Everything Everywhere All At Once. (Photo: A24)

And let us not forget the awards themselves. The Daniels’ trippy multiverse action-comedy sleeper hit Everything Everywhere All At Once has been winning everything everywhere all through awards season, including big W’s recently from the Producers Guilds, Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild. It’s got all the momentum right now and then some, and should take Best Picture, Best Director (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) and at least a couple of the acting categories. In terms of cultural significance, an EEAAO Best Picture win would mark the second time in four years an Asian-led film has won the top prize (after Parasite in 2020), and the third time in four years Best Director goes to at least one Asian filmmaker (Kwan following Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao in 2021 and Parasite’s Bong Joon-ho in 2020).

In the acting races, a remarkable 16 of the 20 contenders are first-time nominees, including all five men up for Best Actor. Brendan Fraser has been the presumed frontrunner there for his comeback vehicle The Whale, but Elvis star Austin Butler may have gained on him after a surprise win at the BAFTA Awards, and we’re not counting out upset pick Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin). Everything Everywhere’s Michelle Yeoh is a slight favorite over Tár’s Cate Blanchett for Best Actress; if Yeoh wins, she’d be the category’s first-ever Asian winner, while Blanchett would net her third statue after wins for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator. (Though Andrea Riseborough’s controversial nomination for the little-seen To Leslie made plenty of headlines, don’t expect her to shock the world again.)

In the wider open Best Supporting Actress, second-time nominee Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), who became the first performer ever nominated from a Marvel movie, was the early favorite — though first-time nominee Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere) scored a surprise win at the SAG Awards that surely bolstered her chances. Best Supporting Actor is your easiest call of the night, though: There is no doubt Hollywood wants to see the grand finale of ecstatic acceptance speeches from former child star Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies, Indiana Jones), who became one of the year’s best success stories with his valiant return in Everything Everywhere.

See our occasionally bold predictions in all 24 categories below, and full list of nominees here.

Best Picture

Our prediction: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Dark horses: All Quiet on the Western Front, Top Gun: Maverick or The Banshees of Inisherin

Best Director

Our prediction: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Dark horse: Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

Best Actress

Our prediction: Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Don’t be surprised by: Cate Blanchett, Tár

Best Actor

Our prediction: Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Don’t be surprised by: Austin Butler (Elvis) or Brendan Fraser (The Whale)

Angela Bassett in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' (Disney/Marvel)
Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Photo: Disney/Marvel)

Best Supporting Actress

Our prediction: Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Don’t be surprised by: Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Dark horse: Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin

Best Supporting Actor

Our prediction: Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Don’t be surprised by: Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Dark horse: Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Best Original Screenplay

Our prediction: Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Don’t be surprised by: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Best Adapted Screenplay

Our prediction: Sarah Polley, Women Talking
Don’t be surprised by: Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell, All Quiet on the Western Front
Dark horse: Rian Johnson, Glass Onion

'Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio' (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. (Photo: Netflix)

Best Animated Feature

Our prediction: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Dark horse: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On or Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Best Documentary

Our prediction: Navalny
Don’t be surprised by: Fire of Love
Dark horse: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Best International Film

Our prediction: All Quiet on the Western Front
Dark horse: The Quiet Girl

Best Cinematography

Our prediction: James Friend, All Quiet on the Western Front
Dark horse: Mandy Walker, Elvis

Best Editing

Our prediction: Paul Rogers, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Don’t be surprised by: Eddie Hamilton, Top Gun: Maverick

Best Visual Effects

Our prediction: Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon, and Daniel Barrett, Avatar: The Way of Water
Dark horse: Ryan Tudhope, Seth Hill, Bryan Litson, and Scott R. Fisher, Top Gun: Maverick

Best Production Design

Our prediction: Florencia Martin and Anthony Carlino, Babylon
Don’t be surprised by: Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy, and Bev Dunn, Elvis
Dark horse: Dylan Cole, Ben Procter, and Vanessa Cole, Avatar: The Way of Water

Best Costume Design

Our prediction: Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Don’t be surprised by: Catherine Martin, Elvis

Brendan Fraser in 'The Whale' (A24)
Brendan Fraser in The Whale. (Photo: A24)

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Our prediction: Adrien Morot, Judy Chin and Anne Marie Bradley, The Whale
Don’t be surprised by: Mark Coulier, Jason Baird and Aldo Signoretti, Elvis

Best Music (Original Score)

Our prediction: Justin Hurwitz, Babylon
Don’t be surprised by: Volker Bertelmann, All Quiet on the Western Front
Dark horse: John Williams, The Fabelmans

Best Music (Original Song)

Our prediction: "Naatu Naatu" from RRR, music by M.M. Keeravaani, lyrics by Chandrabose
Dark horse: "Lift Me Up" from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, music and lyrics by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson or "Hold My Hand" from Top Gun: Maverick, music and lyrics by Lady Gaga and BloodPop

Best Sound

Our prediction: Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor, Top Gun: Maverick
Dark horse: Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte, All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Live Action Short

Our prediction: The Red Suitcase
Don’t be surprised by: An Irish Goodbye or Le Pupille

Best Animated Short

Our prediction: My Year of Dicks
Don’t be surprised by: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Dark horse: The Ice Merchants

Best Documentary Short

Our prediction: The Elephant Whisperer
Don’t be surprised by: Stranger at the Gate

The Oscars air live Sunday, March 12 at 8 p.m ET / 5 p.m. PT on ABC.