ABOVE PHOTO: The cast and crew of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” accepts the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
By Jake Coyle
LOS ANGELES — The metaphysical multiverse comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once” wrapped its hot dog fingers around Hollywood’s top prize Sunday, winning best picture at the 95th Academy Awards, along with awards for Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Though worlds away from Oscar bait, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s anarchic ballet of everything bagels, googly-eyed rocks and one messy tax audit emerged as an improbable Academy Awards heavyweight. The indie hit, A24’s second best picture winner following “Moonlight,” won seven Oscars in all. Only two other films in Oscar history — “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network” — won three acting Academy Awards.
Fifty years after “The Godfather” won at the Oscars, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” triumphed with a much different immigrant experience. Its eccentric tale about a Chinese immigrant family — just the second feature by the Daniels, as the filmmaking duo is known — blended science fiction and alternate realities in the story of an ordinary woman and laundromat owner.
“The world is changing rapidly and I fear our stories are not keeping that pace,” said Kwan, who shared best director and best original screenplay with Scheinert. “Sometimes it’s a little scary knowing that movies move at the rate of years and the world on the internet is moving at the rate of milliseconds. But I have great faith in our stories.”
Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win best actress, taking the award for her lauded performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The 60-year-old Malaysian-born Yeoh won her first Oscar for a performance that relied as much on her comic and dramatic chops as it did her kung fu skills. It’s the first best actress win for a non-white actress in 20 years.
“Ladies, don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re past your prime,” said Yeoh, who received a raucous standing ovation.
“Everything Everywhere,” released all the way back in March 2022, helped revive arthouse cinemas after two years of pandemic, racking up more than $100 million in ticket sales with scant initial expectations of Oscar glory. In winning best director, the Daniels — both 35 years old — are just the third directing pair to win the award, following Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”) and Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”). Scheinert dedicated the award “to the moms of the world.”
Best actor went to Brendan Fraser, culminating the former action star’s return to center stage for his physical transformation as a 600-lb. reclusive professor in “The Whale.” The best-actor race had been one of the closest contests of the night, but Fraser in the end edged out Austin Butler.
“So this is what the multiverse looks like,” said a clearly moved Fraser, pointing to the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” crew.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a shock of freshness in a movie industry awash in sequels and reboots, helped Hollywood turn the page from one of the most infamous moments in Oscar history: The Slap. Jimmy Kimmel, hosting for the third time, pledged a ceremony with “no nonsense.” He said anyone who wanted to “get jiggy with it” this year would have to come through a fearsome battalion of bodyguards, including Yeoh, Steven Spielberg and his show’s “security guard” Guillermo Rodriguez.
The former child star Quan capped his own extraordinary comeback with the Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance in the indie hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Quan, beloved for his roles as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “Goonies,” had all but given up acting before being cast in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
His win, among the most expected of the night, was nevertheless one of the ceremony’s most moving moments. The audience — including his “Temple of Doom” director, Steven Spielberg — gave Quan a standing ovation as he fought back tears.
“Mom, I just won an Oscar!” said Quan, 51, whose family fled Vietnam in the war when he was a child.
“They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I can’t believe it’s happening,” said Quan. “This is the American dream.”
Minutes later, Quan’s castmate Jamie Lee Curtis won for best supporting actress. Her win, in one of the most competitive categories this year, denied a victory for comic-book fans. Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) would have been the first performer to win an Oscar for a Marvel movie. Curtis is the rare Oscar winner whose parents were both Oscar nominees: Tony Curtis was nominated for “The Defiant Ones” in 1959 and Janet Leigh was nominated in 1961 for “Psycho.”
The German-language WWI epic “All Quiet on the Western Front” — Netflix’s top contender this year — took four awards as the academy heaped honors on the craft of the harrowing anti-war film. It won for cinematography, production design, score and best international film.
Though Bassett missed on supporting actress, Ruth E. Carter won for the costume design of “Wakanda Forever,” four years after becoming the first Black designer to win an Oscar, for “Black Panther.” This one makes Carter the first Black woman to win two Oscars.
“Thank you to the Academy for recognizing the superhero that is a Black woman,” said Carter. “She endures, she loves, she overcomes, she is every woman in this film.”
ABC’s telecast opened traditionally: with a montage of the year’s films (with Kimmel edited into a cockpit in “Top Gun: Maverick”) and a lengthy monologue. Kimmel struggled to find lessons from the year’s prior scandal when Will Smith smacked presenter Chris Rock, and went on to win best actor. If anyone tried any violence this year, Kimmel said, “you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech.”
After landmark wins for Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), no women were nominated for best director. Sarah Polley, though, won best adapted screenplay for the metaphor-rich Mennonite drama “Women Talking.”
“Thank you to the academy for not being mortally offended by the words ‘women’ and ‘talking,’” said Polley.
Daniel Roher’s “Navalny,” about the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took best documentary. The film’s win came with clear overtones to Navalny’s ongoing imprisonment and Vladimir Putin’s continued war in Ukraine. Yulia Navalnaya joined the filmmakers on the stage.
“My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” said Navalnaya. “Stay strong, my love.”
Some big names weren’t in attendance for other reasons. Neither Tom Cruise, whose “Top Gun: Maverick” was up for best picture, nor James Cameron, director of best-picture nominee “Avatar: The Way of Water,” were at the ceremony. Both have been forefront in Hollywood’s efforts to get moviegoers back after years of pandemic.
“The two guys who asked us to go back to theater aren’t in the theater,” said Kimmel, who added that Cruise without his shirt on in “Top Gun: Maverick” was “L. Ron Hubba Hubba.”
Blockbuster nominees typically help boost Oscar ratings. Neither “Maverick” or “Avatar” — with some $3.7 billion in combined box office — took home much, though. “The Way of Water” won for visual effects; “Maverick” took best sound.
After last year’s Oscars, which had stripped some categories from being handed out in the live telecast, the academy restored all awards to the show and leaned on traditional song and and dance numbers. That meant some show-stopping numbers, including the elastic suspenders dance of “Naatu Naatu” from the Telugu action-film sensation “RRR,” an intimate, impassioned performance by Lady Gaga of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” and an Super Bowl follow-up by Rihanna. Best song went to “Naatu Naatu ” from “RRR.”
It also meant a long show. “This kind of makes you miss the slapping a little bit, right?” Kimmel said midway.
After last year’s slap, the academy created a crisis management team to better respond to surprises. Neither Rock, who recently made his most forceful statement about the incident in a live special, nor Smith, who was banned by the academy for 10 years, attended.
Last year, Apple TV’s “CODA” became the first streaming movie to win best picture. But this year, nine of the 10 best picture nominees were theatrical releases. After the movie business cratered during the pandemic, moviegoing recovered to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels. But it was an up and down year, with smash hits and anxiety-inducing lulls.
This year, ticket sales have been strong thanks to releases like “Creed III” and “Cocaine Bear” — which made not one but two cameos at Sunday’s show. Meanwhile, the Writers Guild and the major studios are set to begin contract negotiations March 20, a looming battle that has much of the industry girding for a possible work stoppage.
The Oscars, too, are seeking steadiness. Last year’s telecast drew 16.6 million viewers, a 58% increase from the scaled-down 2021 edition, watched by a record-low 10.5 million.
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