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Go figure: The ugliest Oscars ceremony ever was followed a year later by perhaps the warmest celebration ever.
The 95th edition — which was held Sunday night, at a perilous moment for the motion picture industry and the Academy, the latter now under the new management team of CEO Bill Kramer and President Janet Yang — was dominated by Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that certainly isn’t for everyone, but apparently is for enough of the 10,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to prevail over formidable competition on the preferential (read: weighted/ranked-choice) ballot that the organization uses to determine its best picture.
This film from the warped minds of the Daniels — as in, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, colorful characters who were previously best known for “the farting corpse movie,” 2016’s Swiss Army Man — was made by a diverse and lovable company of artists; is essentially a hybrid of the superhero movies that the public increasingly loves and the art house fare toward which the Academy increasingly gravitates; and, when one looks beyond the “multiverse” of it all, is really about the importance of tolerance, acceptance and kindness.
Those are things also embodied by and echoed in the acceptance speeches of Everything Everywhere’s Oscar winners: the Daniels, who shared best picture (with Jonathan Wang), best director (making them only the third duo to win, 61 years after Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise won for West Side Story and 15 years after brothers Ethan Coen and Joel Coen won for No Country for Old Men) and best original screenplay honors; Michelle Yeoh, the veteran action star who became the first Asian best actress winner; Ke Huy Quan, a former child star who returned to acting after a decades-long hiatus and won best supporting actor; Jamie Lee Curtis, scion of Hollywood royalty and a beloved industry veteran; and Paul Rogers, who won best film editing for only his second feature film.
Everything Everywhere — which has grossed $106.7 million, the most of any release of A24 Films ever — also exemplifies the strides that the Academy has made over the seven years since the second consecutive installment of #OscarsSoWhite. While there was disappointment this year in some quarters that two films by Black artists, Till and The Woman King, received zero Oscar nominations, it cannot be overlooked that the film with the year’s most nominations (11) and wins (7) by far had an Asian co-director and featured a cast that was almost entirely Asian and that nonwhite people accounted for half of the acting wins.
International viewership was almost certainly boosted by the Academy’s embrace of work by Asians — not just Team Everything Everywhere, but also the folks behind a trio of projects from India: RRR’s showstopping musical number “Naatu Naatu” won best original song; All That Breathes was nominated for best documentary feature; and The Elephant Whisperers won best documentary short. People in Ireland had plenty of reason to care about this year’s ceremony, too, given that five of the 20 acting nominees — four from The Banshees of Inisherin and one from Aftersun — and the team behind the eventual winner of best live-action short, An Irish Goodbye, all hail from the Emerald Isle.
The positive and supportive vibe of this year’s telecast was unmistakable — the results of all major categories were met with standing ovations — and I imagine this might have something to do with the fact that 16 of the 20 acting finalists, including the four eventual winners (the Everything Everywhere trio plus Brendan Fraser, whose return to prominence in The Whale brought him the best actor statuette), were first-time nominees and visibly happy and excited to be there.
It was further propelled by the deft hosting of Jimmy Kimmel, who was, as advertised, “unflappable (and unslappable),” and was never particularly mean-spirited about anything; enjoyable but not excessive musical performances from the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz; and acceptance speeches that were almost all brief and gracious, with only one, for best documentary feature winner Navalny, even touching on politics, and appropriately so.
Congratulations and respect must be paid to the edgy indie A24, which achieved something unprecedented in the history of the Oscars: all six top Oscars — picture, director and all four acting categories — recognized contributions to films it distributed.
It’s especially remarkable that A24 — which previously backed one other film that went on to win best picture, Moonlight — managed to keep Everything Everywhere in the conversation for more than a year. The film premiered at SXSW on March 11, 2022, and was then released in the U.S. on April 8, 2022; no eventual best picture winner had that early of a theatrical release since The Silence of the Lambs came out Feb. 14, 1991. And A24 appears to have spent less on Everything Everywhere’s awards campaign than was spent on any recent best picture winner.
(Given that champions in the media helped A24 to overcome these challenges, it would have been nice if A24 had included press at its large post-Oscars celebration, but it, like Apple last year with CODA, did not, which was a topic of discussion among my colleagues and competitors Sunday.)
While the 95th Oscars was dominated by an indie distributor — out of 23 categories, A24 films won nine — it wasn’t a bad night for the streamers that are increasingly central to the business. Netflix can claim responsibility for six wins — best international feature, cinematography, original score and production design for its German-language film All Quiet on the Western Front; best animated feature for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; and best documentary short for the aforementioned Elephant Whisperers — while Apple bagged the one award for which it campaigned heavily, best animated short, for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.
Inevitably, though, other companies and films left disappointed. A full half of the best picture nominees were completely shut out: Searchlight’s Banshees went 0-for-9; Warners’ Elvis went 0-for-8 (with lead actor Austin Butler’s loss probably partly the result of voters assuming that he will have more chances in the future than Fraser); Universal’s The Fabelmans went 0-for-7 (Steven Spielberg probably would have won his third directing Oscar and first in 24 years but for the Daniels); Focus’ Tár went 0-for-6 (lead actress Cate Blanchett was not helped by the fact that she already has two Oscars on her mantelpiece); and Neon’s Triangle of Sadness went 0-for-3.
Three other best picture nominees were dispatched with one win each: MGM-UAR’s Women Talking (Sarah Polley was awarded best adapted screenplay); Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick (just best sound); and Avatar: The Way of Water (only best visual effects). Top Gun’s Tom Cruise and Avatar’s James Cameron apparently saw the writing on the wall and opted to skip the ceremony altogether — not the nicest thing to do when one’s studio has spent a fortune campaigning for one’s movie, when one’s colleagues are up for many awards, and when the Academy is desperate for big names to help draw viewers to the Oscars.
Historically, Oscar telecast ratings have been tied to the popularity of the top contenders — for instance, the ceremony a quarter-century ago at which Titanic was expected to dominate, and did, was and remains the most-watched ever, whereas the last two ceremonies, held during the darkest days of the pandemic, when moviegoing was decimated, attracted the two lowest figures ever. Given the real-world popularity of this year’s top contenders — Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar, Elvis and yes, Everything Everywhere — I would be very surprised and, frankly, concerned, if this year’s ratings don’t tick up quite a bit from the last two. We’ll find out in just a few hours.
In the meantime, though, as we bid adieu to another Oscar season, I’d like to offer a few thank-yous of my own: to my family, friends and colleagues for their patience and support; to the contenders, particularly those who have been guests on my Awards Chatter podcast, as well as their representatives who facilitate my coverage of them; and especially to you — I get to cover this stuff, which I still love, because you take the time to consume it, and for that I am grateful.
Until next season (which has arguably already started), all my very best.
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