I was naive enough to be hopeful for this year’s Oscars. Although Nope and Babylon were grossly overlooked in nominations, the best picture slate was one of the most exciting in recent memory, boasting several of my favorite movies of the year. How often do we get a stylistically inspired musical biopic, two immaculately crafted blockbusters, and multi-layered dramas all nominated for Best Picture? It seemed too good to be true; unfortunately, it was.
Perhaps I’m to blame here. Nearly a year ago to the day, I walked into a movie theater and watched a movie called Everything Everywhere All At Once. I didn’t know what to expect: it was the film’s opening weekend in Los Angeles, weeks before it would get a wide release and, subsequently, garner a cult following beyond anybody’s wildest predictions. Nevertheless, I found myself having a really fun time, marveling at the film’s ambition and energy, even if I was skeptical whether all its moving parts came together in a satisfying way.
Walking out of the theater, I complained that a movie like this would be shunned from Oscars conversation – let alone nominations — in favor of a generic movie like Coda, which seemed destined for Oscar glory later that weekend. Well… at least I was right about Coda. If somebody told me Everything Everywhere would go on to win seven Oscars – most impressively, a record-breaking number of above-the-line wins – I would have laughed in disbelief. But the multiverse had other plans for us: we live in a universe where Everything Everywhere swept the Oscars, and I have some very mixed feelings about it.
I love this historic sweep far more on paper than I do in practice. All the things Coda is – safe, disposable, uninspiring – are what Everything Everywhere is decidedly not. Say what you will about Everything Everywhere, but every minute of it is bursting at the seams with ideas, always unafraid to wear the heart of its creators on its sleeve. It also couldn’t lie more outside the realm of Oscar bait that receives obligatory awards. Everything Everywhere is an immigrant story that’s a blend of sci-fi, martial arts, and comedy – three genres the Academy wrongly neglects – and it was released in March, a typical no-go for awards films. The film was propelled this far purely because of the passion it generated among audiences. Although I’m not as high on Everything Everywhere as most, it is undeniably a positive for the Oscars to disregard genre biases and release date politics to simply reward their favorite movies.
As groundbreaking as all this is, it doesn’t change the fact that Everything Everywhere won seven (!) Oscars in a year with a wide variety of competitors – almost all of which were far superior in their respective categories. I’m generally opposed to sweeps, but if you’re as good as Titanic or Parasite, I’ll allow it. However, Titanic and Parasite aren’t thirty minutes too long, and they don’t barrage you with an endless number of throwaway gags, existential ramblings, and expository dialogue, only to then arrive at a rather simple and underwhelming conclusion. Again, I truly commend some of Everything Everywhere’s interesting ideas; it’s just that when you throw a million things at the wall — many of which don’t work – it’s only inevitable that some will stick. Even then, the movie too often doesn’t commit to or take advantage of the spurts of greatness scattered throughout its runtime.
Although the Ke Huy Quan win is indisputably deserved, Everything Everywhere’s other wins are less so. Some stem from conflating ‘best’ with ‘most’ – see: Editing and Original Screenplay — as well as rewarding talented actresses for the Oscars’ past mistakes instead of how those actresses compared to their fellow nominees this year. The Jamie Lee Curtis win is simply a joke; I understand legacy Oscars are a thing, but her role in Everything Everywhere wouldn’t be within a mile of the awards conversation if not for her name.
As for Michelle Yeoh, she is indeed fantastic in the movie; I even made her my runner-up on my own awards. Ever since I watched Crouching Tiger, I have been a major fan of her work, and it is incredible that we can now call her an Oscar-winner. However, you cannot tell me that any performance this year – or perhaps even from the last couple years – comes close to Cate Blanchett’s performance in TÁR. I’m sure there are some who prefer Yeoh’s performance, but I overwhelmingly disagree with the calculus too many people make in assuming that an actor is guaranteed to win another Oscar, and then factoring that into their selections. You should simply pick the best performance and let the rest sort itself out. If the Oscars did this, then Michelle Yeoh would already be an Oscar winner for her previous work, and there would be no need to make any predictions about Blanchett’s career trajectory.
For all my issues with Everything Everywhere, it’s a movie I still enjoy and respect on many levels; the same could not be said of The Whale and All Quiet on the Western Front. I, too, grew up with Brendan Fraser and am ecstatic for his comeback after being wronged by Hollywood. However, remove this narrative and there is zero chance he takes this Oscar over Colin Farrell or Austin Butler. In The Whale, he’s a great actor in need of much better material. As for All Quiet, it’s treading completely familiar war movie ground that has been done much better in both 1917 and Dunkirk – and I don’t even love either of those movies. It’s just a hollow, derivative tech showcase and little more; I’m confident nobody will remember that movie’s score or cinematography years from now, and everybody will remember Nope and The Batman’s – neither of which were even nominated.
But isn’t that just how the Oscars go? As I said at the beginning of this article, perhaps it’s stupid of me to be disappointed in an awards show that so rarely gets it right. I watch the Oscars because I want to see great work get recognition, but often, it’s the movies that go home empty-handed which will stand the test of time more than those with a statuette. Everything Everywhere won’t necessarily be looked back on as the best movie of the year; it will be looked back on as the most influential movie of the year for inspiring an army of movies that imitate its Gen Z quirkiness and sensibilities. In having an impact – good or bad – and reflecting the cultural zeitgeist of its year, it will be a better Best Picture win than most, but its sweep will surely be looked back on as excessive. I’m quite confident that some other nominees will age better: years from now audiences will still be rewatching Top Gun: Maverick, arguing over TÁR, and they will apologize to Steven Spielberg for initially mistaking The Fabelmans as an indulgent movie about the magic of movies. Is that a fate even better than winning every Oscar, everywhere, all at once?