The Oscars Got This One Right

Everything Everywhere All at Once got its fairy-tale ending.

Jonathan Wang accepting the Best Picture Oscar for "Everything Everywhere All at Once," with the rest of the cast and crew behind him
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty

There was a moment in the middle of tonight’s Oscar ceremony when I started getting concerned text messages from friends. Their line of inquiry was the same: Was All Quiet on the Western Front about to pull a big upset for Best Picture? The German World War I film, distributed by Netflix, had racked up a slew of technical wins, and a ceremony that had begun with a burst of joyous energy seemed headed in a more fusty, old-fashioned direction. Fear not, I assured every anxious pal: Everything Everywhere All at Once would be winning big.

Indeed, a riotous, baroque sci-fi action film stuffed with martial arts, crude humor, and ruminations on the multiverse dominated the 95th Academy Awards, capturing seven trophies—the most for a Best Picture winner since Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. Everything Everywhere All at Once secured the top prize, capping a wild awards season for a film that came out almost a year ago and defied most of the usual formulas for an Oscar campaign. But the movie had built steam off the back of its heartfelt storytelling and box-office success at a time when cinemas were still struggling to rebound from COVID closures. It also made for milestone moments, most notably the Best Actress in a Leading Role win for Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian performer to win in that category and only the second woman of color.

The first, Halle Berry, handed Yeoh the trophy in a satisfying TV moment that the Oscar producers had likely hoped for when they arranged for Berry to replace Will Smith as a presenter (the prior year’s acting winners traditionally present those categories, but Smith is banned from attending the Oscars for 10 years). In general, the show went smoothly, avoiding the surrealism of 2021’s COVID-affected, small-scale ceremony, and the dizzying chaos of 2022’s, which was overshadowed by Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage. This year, the producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner swerved toward traditionalism, bringing back a single host and, unlike last time, airing every award live.

The ensuing ceremony was long, but not unusually so, and the pageantry was familiar. Audiences witnessed many hosannas for the power of cinema and the thrill of the collective viewing experience. Jimmy Kimmel, in his third go-round as host, was his reliable self, keeping the patter light with just a couple of acidic jabs; more important, he lent a sense of structure that the past few years sorely lacked. Though Kimmel’s monologue lamented the absence of Tom Cruise (his film Top Gun: Maverick was a Best Picture nominee, but he’s reportedly busy filming), Everything Everywhere quickly emerged as the story of the night—no surprise given how it swept the precursor film awards.

The evening started off with two major wins for the movie: The endlessly gleeful and open-hearted Ke Huy Quan, a former child star who had mostly retired from acting in the early ’90s, because of a lack of opportunity, won Best Supporting Actor and gave a joyous speech. His co-star Jamie Lee Curtis, industry royalty who had received her first nomination only this year, followed by winning Best Supporting Actress.

But then the ceremony bounced between technical awards, song performances, and montages (including a particularly egregious bit of spon-con for Disney’s upcoming Little Mermaid remake), and the energy began to dwindle. All Quiet on the Western Front won four awards, mostly in categories that Everything Everywhere wasn’t competing in, conveying the impression of momentum for a bleak work with a familiar title (another All Quiet won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1931). But just as my interest was flagging, things picked back up, partly thanks to song performances from Lady Gaga (singing “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun) and Kaala Bhairava and Rahul Sipligunj (performing RRR’s “Naatu Naatu”).

RRR won Best Song, the first Indian film to do so, and Sarah Polley’s Women Talking mildly surprised All Quiet in the Adapted Screenplay category. Then it was a buzzy rush to the end, with Everything Everywhere winning Best Directing (going to Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan), Lead Actress, and Picture, after also picking up the Original Screenplay award. The Whale was the only other multiple winner of the night, collecting a Makeup and Hairstyling award along with a Lead Actor trophy for Brendan Fraser, who seemed deeply overwhelmed by the moment. His was another comeback story following years in the Hollywood wilderness, and the crowd’s enthusiasm was palpable.

The strangeness of Everything Everywhere’s march to victory has been much remarked upon already. Its March 2022 premiere makes it the earliest-in-the-year release to win Best Picture since The Silence of the Lambs in 1992, bucking the idea that a movie has to come out in the fall or later to get Oscar attention. It is a dense and challenging bit of genre storytelling for an awards body that has long been resistant to handing major trophies to such works. And it’s a breakthrough for Asian and Asian American performers, who have been under-recognized throughout Oscars history. But the Academy Awards reflect how the industry changes, even if the speed with which that happens can feel painfully slow, and the sight of Yeoh, Quan, and the Daniels collecting their trophies clearly signaled a thunderous, triumphant shift.