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The ‘Top Gun’ Oscars: Too Little Too Late

Oscars 2023
Image CreditFDRLST / Canva

It’s unclear whether Hollywood is capable of recapturing the monocultural magic of ‘Top Gun’ ever again, but Sunday’s Oscars was more proof the industry realizes there’s money on the table.


AN EMPTY COUCH — None of the fun awards went to “Top Gun: Maverick” on Sunday night, but the film’s presence loomed large. You’d be forgiven for thinking the broadcast, much like an 8-year-old’s birthday party, had some sort of airplane theme. The junkies in Hollywood C-suites got a taste of monoculture again, and they’re hankering for more.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” cleaned up with seven wins, including Best Picture and Best Actress. Brendan Fraser won Best Actor for his role in “The Whale.” “Tár,” an extended rumination on cancel culture, went home with nothing, although that kind of makes sense if you buy into the premise.

In a word, Sunday’s show was agreeable. It was fine, really. Nobody got punched, except for the viewers who were battered repeatedly with jokes about it. Politics were sprinkled, not spooned. There was a moment of contrived sanctimony about drag, a barb at Tucker Carlson, and something about people who “identify as women.” Jessica Chastain wore a mask.

And you know what they say, as goes Jimmy Kimmel, so goes the nation. This is good news, I promise. Kimmel, Resistance boomers’ affable jester, is back to being very OK. (That might be a little kind.) From his milquetoast hosting to the milquetoast presenters, Sunday’s production was relatively apolitical and designed in the great American spirit of mass consumption.

With falling ratings, the Academy could decide to become a niche product that does well with a smaller pool of the public or go for Super Bowl gold and try to appeal to everyone. It’s unclear whether Hollywood is capable of recapturing the monocultural magic of “Top Gun,” young Tom Cruise, “Top Gun: Maverick,” and old Tom Cruise ever again, but Sunday’s show was more proof the industry realizes there’s money on the table.

Lady Gaga did a stripped-down performance of the “Maverick” theme. The entire theater sang Happy Birthday to James Martin, an actor with Down syndrome. Data from “The Goonies” gave the best acceptance speech of the night.

“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,” said Ke Huy Quan, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” “They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This is the American dream.”

There was lots of talk about Steven Spielberg, John Williams, and Elvis. Marvel film “Wakanda Forever” got plenty of love too, including a performance of “Lift Me Up” from Rihanna. (Like Gaga, Rihanna is a star from the aughts, perhaps the last real decade that made real celebrities.)

At the end of the day, it’s always been true that whatever reactionary “vibe shift” sent the Brooklyn bloggers into a panic last year will be superficial at most. That’s not for lack of trying. There are people in Hollywood who want to stop making sequels and pandering to Oberlin grads. They know what’s been lost and worry it will not come back. There are people in Washington who fear the same, and regular Americans all over the country who wish they hadn’t posted the black box.

The death of monoculture is an inevitable one. We never could keep movies on a big screen or TV in a box. But we fractured alongside our technology, and even as a handful of powerful people and their customers flail to dress the wounds with aging singers and Jimmy Kimmel, the cuts may prove to be too deep sooner rather than later.

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