Oscars 2023: Ireland wins two Academy Awards – and delivers one of the great Oscar moments

Everything Everywhere All at Once has an extraordinary night at the 95th Academy Awards, winning seven Oscars

James Martin (leopard print jacket) with An Irish Goodbye’s Academy Awards for best live-action short and Richard Baneham who won the Academy Award for best visual effects for Avatar: The Way of Water who received the award along with with Eric Saindon, Daniel Barrett and Joe Letteri. Photographs: EPA

Everything Everywhere All at Once, the science-fiction comedy from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, has had an extraordinary night at the 95th Academy Awards. The film won seven Oscars, including those for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress and best supporting actor.

There was success for Irish talent with Ross White and Tom Berkeley’s An Irish Goodbye winning best live-action short and Richard Baneham, from Tallaght, taking a second visual-effects Oscar for his work on Avatar: The Way of Water. But the record haul of 14 nominations for Irish personnel and Irish films did not deliver the hoped-for haul of statuettes. Baneham and An Irish Goodbye were the only domestic wins.

The victory for An Irish Goodbye did, however, deliver one of the great Oscar moments. “Thank you to everybody back home in Northern Ireland who helped us make this film,” Ross White, who is from Belfast, told the audience at the Dolby Theatre. “There’s something very important I’d like to speak about as well. This award is actually the second-most-important thing about today, because it’s this man’s birthday.” He then gestured towards the film’s star James Martin, who has Down syndrome, and the whole auditorium joined in a rendition of Happy Birthday to You.

As he had at the Baftas, Baneham began his acceptance speech with a snippet of Irish. “Go raibh maith agat,” he said. “To James Cameron, whose thumbprint is on every frame of this movie.”

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Colm Bairéad’s An Cailín Ciúin has been on an extraordinary journey since its premiere at Berlin Film Festival last year. It was a great achievement to secure a nomination in best international picture, but it was always going to be a challenge to get past All Quiet on the Western Front, a best-picture nominee, in that race. No film up for the top prize and the international gong has ever failed to win in the latter category. Sure enough the German film romped home.

The An Cailín Ciúin team remained positive. “This is a historic day for Irish film,” Bairéad said on the “champagne carpet” (no, not a red one this year). “It’s the first time an Irish-language feature film has ever been nominated for the Academy Awards. We are all Irish speakers ourselves. It means a great deal to us that we’re here making history today.”

Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, up for nine prizes, somehow walked away with none. It looked in competition for best original screenplay but was crushed by the hurtling train that is Everything Everywhere All at Once. Kerry Condon had a good chance in best supporting actress but lost to the ebullient Jamie Lee Curtis.

In one of the better stunts at an efficient ceremony, Jimmy Kimmel, an old-school host in the Bob Hope vein, led Jenny the donkey onstage. If Colin Farrell, star of Banshees, was expecting the arrival of his four-legged costar, he did a very good job of looking surprised. Early in his monologue, Kimmel had acknowledged the astonishing nomination tally of Irish actors. Fully a quarter of those competing were from these shores. “It was some year for diversity. We have nominees from every corner of Dublin,” he said (not entirely accurately). “Five Irish actors are nominated tonight, which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.”

That slightly uncomfortable gag was one of the fewer-than-expected references to Will Smith thumping Chris Rock at last year’s ceremony. The 2023 gala was an altogether more relaxed – if less eventful – affair. Highlights included a stirring performance of Naatu Naatu, winner of best original song, from the Indian epic RRR.

Brendan Fraser, up against Farrell and, for Aftersun, Kildare’s Paul Mescal, beat off a challenge from his close rival Austin Butler, electric in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, to take the prize for best actor. Fraser, a former matinee idol whose career has been quieter of late, won for his role as a 42-stone man in Darren Aronofsky’s divisive The Whale. “I started in this business 30 years ago,” he said from the podium. “Things didn’t come easily to me, but there was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time – until it stopped. And I just want to say thank you for this acknowledgment.”

The acting wins for Everything Everywhere All at Once provided some emotional moments. Ke Huy Quan, whom audiences first saw as a juvenile performer in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, nearly 40 years ago, took the best-supporting-actor prize to tumultuous applause. “My mom is 84 years old and she’s at home. Mom, I just won an Oscar,” the Vietnamese-American actor said from the podium. “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 it’s happening to me. This is the American dream.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, genuine Hollywood royalty, bounced on stage to accept best supporting actress. She inevitably nodded towards her late parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. “To all of the people who have supported the genre movies that I’ve made for all these years, the thousands and hundreds and thousands of people, we just won an Oscar together,” she said. “And my mother and my father were both nominated for Oscars in different categories. I just won an Oscar.”

The real emotional surge came, however, when Michelle Yeoh, the veteran Malaysian-born star of Hong Kong cinema, slipped past Cate Blanchett, once regarded as unstoppable favourite for Tár, to the prize for best actress. She becomes only the second woman of colour to win in this category. The first, Halle Berry, was there to hand the statuette to her. “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” she said. “This is proof that ... dreams do come true. And, ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime.”

The list of Everything Everywhere All at Once’s achievements here is a long one. No film has won more Oscars since Slumdog Millionaire took eight, 14 years ago. No best-picture winner has opened earlier in the year since The Silence of the Lambs, which won in 1992. Perhaps most impressively, it becomes only the third film, after Network and A Streetcar Named Desire, to take three acting prizes. Nobody would have dreamed this would happen when the quirky, martial-arts-heavy picture premiered at the South by Southwest festival, in Texas, just over a year ago.

The Irish industry will console themselves with that still scarcely believable nomination record. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will breathe a sigh of relief that nobody got thumped. Kimmel’s best joke referenced the body’s unsatisfactory handling of the slap last year. “If anyone in this theatre commits an act of violence at any point during the show, you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech,” he said.

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