Everything Wins Everywhere: Thoughts on the 95th Academy Awards

by Ken Bakely

For quite a few years now, those of us who follow the Oscars have concluded that the era of the big sweep is over; that, like so many other major cultural events in the last decade, things are too stratified and media coverage is too heavy and omnipresent to let one title run away as the undisputed champion. Everything Everywhere All at Once has firmly disabused us of that notion. On Sunday night, it walked away from the Dolby Theater with seven Oscars, more than any movie since 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and three of the four acting honors. Unlike many awards season frontrunners, which fall victim to a backlash which can sometimes topple them entirely, Everything Everywhere’s stature only grew the longer it led the pack. By the time that we arrived at the ceremony, it was simply untouchable.

The reasons why are easy to tell. Its stars have been charismatic and compelling campaigners. It’s a movie which expands the Academy’s horizons of what a Best Picture can be like and feel like and look like, which inspired great excitement. But it also has a soulful sincerity which proved very effective across the board, even winning over voters with more conservative dispositions that might have been turned off by the movie’s surrealist style. I’ll admit to not exactly loving the movie – alas, I always found myself more an admirer of the scope of its ideas than being all that impressed by how it executed them – but I’m always happy when the Academy takes a real swing for the fences and embraces something outside of its stodgy comfort zone. I would also be remiss not to note the progress the Oscars made in their choices of winner, particularly Michelle Yeoh’s distinction as the first Asian winner of the Best Actress award. She, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis led the film’s victories on the acting front. While I had predicted them all to win, I was hardly confident about Yeoh and Curtis, who were both in highly competitive categories. But in the end, the undeniable love for Everything Everywhere across the industry was too much for anyone to overtake.

Consulting my full predictions, which you can read in detail over at Film Pulse, I scored 19 out of 23 categories correctly, for an accuracy rate of 83 percent. It’s honestly higher than I expected to be this year, with so many categories feeling more or less in flux. But my quick readings of the chatter in the short film categories turned out to be well-advised, padding my score while I played mostly to the odds-on victories elsewhere. My main stumble was overestimating the strength of Elvis, which I predicted would win three Oscars; it ended up going home empty-handed. As it cratered in the craft categories early in the night, I knew that my prediction of Austin Butler winning Best Actor could be written off before the envelope was opened. And sure enough, Brendan Fraser took the trophy for The Whale.

Even if you disliked the individual performances that won the acting prizes tonight, it was hard to feel badly about the winners, who all delivered impassioned and enthusiastic speeches. They were the star moments of a show that was dutifully enjoyable. Jimmy Kimmel’s third stint as host repeated the same accomplished (if unspectacular) performance of his turns in 2017 and 2018. On one hand, his monologue was a pretty good balance of breezy and pointed jokes, as were many of his quips between segments. On the other hand, his (thankfully sparse) attempts at more elaborate bits were disastrous: a moment in which he traipsed down into the audience to pose inane questions to famous attendees – with the Cocaine Bear in tow, for whatever reason – was absolutely excruciating.

But these moments of true collapse were graciously few and far between. The speeches were solid, the performances were rousing – though Lady Gaga’s rendition of “Hold My Hand” was framed in an awkward, extreme close-up – and the show generally moved along at a steady clip. A common theme expressed throughout the evening was relief that, after years of disruption from the pandemic, we finally had a year where most of the major films enjoyed long theatrical releases, and the moviegoing experience was emulating something close to normal again. The show was comforting in a similar way, with seating and venue arrangements that returned the ceremony to what it was before COVID. There will always be some innate shortcomings with how big, lumbering awards shows like these work – and there were also moments when the show seemed unable to embrace movies and moviemaking without either stumbling into lazy cliché on one extreme, or overcompensating and feeling embarrassed by real sincerity and passion for the art form on the other – but for the most part, what we had on Sunday was capable and graceful entertainment.