LOS ANGELES (AP) – As Daniel Kwan accepted one of the many awards for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at Sunday night’s Academy Awardshe took a moment to assure his young son that what was happening was indeed strange.
“This is not normal,” said Kwan, who directed the film with his creative partner, Daniel Scheinert. “This is kind of crazy.”
“Not normal” and “type of crazy” are increasingly reasonable ways to describe Oscar winners for Best Picture. Three years ago, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” a masterful Korean genre film and class satire, became the first non-English language film to win Hollywood’s top prize. Last year, “CODA,” a modest and heartwarming indie drama released in August, took home Best Picture and made history for the deaf community.
If those films set out with little expectation of Oscar glory, the checkered road for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was even more unlikely. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but historically movies with buttplug fights and hotdog fingers don’t win Oscars. They certainly won’t win seven of them.
As a story of family and immigrant life, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” may be as sentimental and old-fashioned, at heart, as plenty of Oscar winners before it. But it is perhaps – and proudly so – the strangest Best Picture winner in the Academy Awards’ 95-year history. At least it’s far from “Patton”.
There was much reflecting on what has and hasn’t changed in film since the 1971 Best Picture winner during a ceremony that opened with Navy fighter jets flying overhead and saw Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan, whose family fled Vietnam as war refugees, speaks emotionally about the surrealism of the American dream.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” for which Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian winner of Best Actress, is undoubtedly an Asian-American milestone. But for many reasons, it’s a distinctly non-Oscar-like film that, like “CODA” and “Parasite,” never — in any multiverse — expected any of this.
“It sometimes feels like we’re in our movie,” Scheinert said in an interview ahead of the Oscars. “At some point we’re going to be pulled out of this joke and come back to our own lives and say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool? That was a shame.'”
Still, it was striking how resoundingly the blissfully bonkers “Everything Everywhere All at Once” rounded out the competition. With acting wins for Yeoh, Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, it is just the third film to win three acting Oscars, joining “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network.” No film has ever won more “above the line” Academy Awards.
At the same time, much of the old guard was either absent or went home empty-handed. Tom Cruise, whose “Top Gun: Maverick” was nominated for best picture, was a no show. So was James Cameron, whose “Avatar: The Way of Water” was not considered a real contender. 25 years ago, it was Cameron who was “king of the world” at the Oscars with “Titanic”.
“Maverick” won for sound only, “Avatar” for effects. The paltry results for two films that have combined to gross nearly $4 billion at the box office might have taken some viewers off the air. Academy voters signaled early in the ceremony that blockbusters were off the menu and chose Curtis as actress over Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), which would have been the first Marvel artist to win an Oscar.
Steven Spielberg and “The Fabelmans” were also completely closed. Although he was nominated for seven awards, his most autobiographical film and the one he fought the hardest for won nothing. Best Director went to Daniels, who at 35 is the second youngest winner ever.
The Oscars belong more than ever to the underdogs. And the biggest loser may be Oscar bait.
Certainly, many of the winners were conventional academy selections. Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser’s prosthetics-assisted comeback in “The Whale” crossed many of the standard boxes. And it would be unfair to label Spielberg’s thought-provoking memoir — which somehow lost the “mother” narrative to Daniels’ film — as price-driven.
But Sunday’s Oscars suggested that Hollywood — at least for now — is looking for Oscar movies that don’t look too much like Oscar movies. Some of that could be attributed to the changing makeup of the academy, which has diversified and now numbers more than 10,000. It includes far more international voters, a subtle sea change that likely helped push the German-language WWI saga “All Quiet on the Western Front” to four Oscars and “Naatu Naatu” by Indian sensation “RRR” for Best Song.
But even the acting winners, while Hollywood veterans, were all first-timers. The gains for Yeoh, Quan and Fraser may have been in part to correct past mistakes by the industry. Fraser had largely been forgotten, and a victim of alleged abuse by a prominent member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Yeoh, a massive star in Hong Kong, had found himself in a hole in Hollywood. Quan, an indelible face from the 1980s, had given up acting after years of struggling to find work.
The Oscars telecast, with Jimmy Kimmel, was pretty traditional as the Academy seemed to tone down the drama of last year’s show. So it would be easy to miss that the ground during the Oscars is changing – and not just the carpet, which was previously dyed red.
But it’s more than a quirky blip when a pair of idiosyncratic, sensitive guys with an absurdist sense of humor win best picture for their only feature film next to the farting corpse. “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Daniels’ second film after 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” may have struck a chord because of how it channels our dizzying digital overload into multiple dimensions.
“The world is changing fast, and I fear our stories are not keeping up,” Kwan said on the Dolby Theater stage, referring to the speed of the Internet versus the slow-moving apparatus of cinema.
The Oscars tend to oscillate between trends. The much debated 2018 winner “Green Book” followed the landmark win for “Moonlight” the year before. Barry Jenkins’ film was A24’s first best picture winner, and now “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — A24’s biggest box office hit with $107.4 million — is the specialty brand’s second. A24 won all the top awards Sunday, a first for any studio in Oscar history.
Backstage at the Oscars, Kwan told reporters that their “shotgun of joy and absurdity and creativity” ultimately comes out of his own navigation through dark times and depression.
“And I really hope that the next generation can watch a movie like ours and just be, oh, there’s another way to look at the bleakness and another way to look at it upside down,” Kwan said.
The win for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” came as Hollywood and the Academy Awards continue to find their footing after years of the pandemic and the scandal of last year’s telecast. While the industry has tried to revive the movie experience, originality has been in short supply in cinemas. On Oscar weekend at the box office, a “VI” defeated a “III.”
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a mad rush of originality with “Raccacoonie” strapped to its head, is certainly loved for daring to be different. And at the Oscars, its win might not be “not normal,” as Kwan said, after all. It could be the new normal.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP