Everything Everywhere All at the Oscars
The multiverse comes out on top at a grateful and gracious 95th Academy Awards.
Jotting down a few post-mortem notes at 11:45 p.m. – which is still an early evening for me after 20 years of Oscar nights at the Globe offices, putting the late edition to bed at 1 a.m. (Added bonus: I get to watch the Oscars with my wife and friends for only the second time since 2002.)
It was a scandal-free night, which is always a relief and is also a little dull.
The best part of the 95th Academy Awards? The acceptance speeches: Funny, tearful, full-hearted, and above all grateful, with little if any posturing or playacting. The joy of acting winners Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, and Brendan Fraser was the joy of creative people who’d become convinced their best work was behind them, that the business had forgotten them and moved on, only to be granted a great role and the serendipity of a second chance. Yeoh had the added satisfaction of breaking a barrier as the first Asian to win the Best Actress Oscar. (Trivia question #1: Quan is the second Asian performer to have won Best Supporting Actor; without looking it up, who was the first?)
Mothers, living and deceased, got the most shout-outs. Quan crowed “Mom – I won an Oscar!” in happy disbelief; Ruth Carter dedicated her Best Costume trophy for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” to her mother, who died last week and “joined the ancestors” at the age of 101; and Best Supporting Actress Jamie Lee Curtis thanked pretty much everyone on the planet before looking up to movie star heaven and sharing her statue with her late parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, both of whom were nominated for Oscars and neither of whom won. (Trivia question #2: Leigh’s nomination was in the Best Supporting Actress category for “Psycho” in 1961. What was Tony Curtis nominated for?)
Sweetest singalong: A rousing “Happy Birthday” from the entire Dolby Theatre audience for James Martin, an actor with Down Syndrome and the co-star of Live-Action Short winner “An Irish Goodbye.”
Worst bit: Host Jimmy Kimmel, who landed about two out of every three jokes over the course of the evening – a pretty decent batting average overall – went into the audience for a sub-Letterman routine where he asked the stars stupid questions. That was bad enough, but when the guy in a bear suit from an earlier unfunny schtick interrupted Kimmel’s conversation with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (she was there as executive producer of documentary short ”Stranger at the Gate”), the ensuing sentence “Cocaine Bear, leave Malala alone” somehow felt like a compressed representation of American popular culture as a slightly diseased whole.
A potential tidal wave for “All Quiet on the Western Front” did not materialize, despite the German war film’s winning four Oscars (International Film, Cinematography, Production Design, and Score). The other technical categories were evenly and diplomatically spread around to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Costumes), “Top Gun: Maverick” (Sound), “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Visual Effects), “The Whale” (Hair and Make-up), and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Editing). So everybody went home happy, and Ted Sarandos of Netflix got enough thank yous from the Germans to justify the investment.
Austin Butler is either condemned to play Elvis Presley for the rest of his life or he is truly committed to the bit. Also, someone get that boy a hot meal.
Was I the only person experiencing severe cognitive dissonance as some mind-bendingly awful dresses received high praise from the commentators on TV? Florence Pugh looked like an explosion in a drapery factory, Jennifer Connolly appeared to have a small runway stapled to her chest, and there were enough oversized bows to outfit a Macy’s parade float. And pity the people sitting behind singer and Oscar nominee Tems and her giant cumulus cloud of a headpiece.
Lady Gaga is a stone master at persona manipulation. She stalled saying whether she’d sing at the Academy Awards to the last minute, showed up in full red-carpet glam, then stripped down to torn jeans and no make-up for an electrifying close-up performance of the Oscar-nominated song from “Top Gun: Maverick” that implicitly threw a gauntlet down to Rihanna and said “Follow this.” (She couldn’t.)
I already see online sniping at Angela Bassett, who took her Best Supporting Actress loss to Jamie Lee Curtis like a true diva, scowling and refusing to applaud. I say let a queen behave like a queen. (And really, she or Kerry Condon should have won – I wonder if they split the vote?)
I also see people piling on Hugh Grant for his dismissive red-carpet interview with Ashley Graham, the model and TV presenter whose questions for celebrities were embarrassingly inane even by the standards of a historically inane event. (Not to mention one of the more tragic outfits of the entire evening.) First, that’s just Hugh Grant doing Hugh Grant – charming/edgy rudeness is thoroughly on brand. Second, giving vacuous questions the non-answers they deserve occasionally feels like a breath of bracing cold air. Third, while Grant could have played nicer, it’s up to Graham to finesse a celebrity Q&A going south – co-interviewer Vanessa Hudgens on the other side of the red carpet had no such difficulties and came off like a pro – and the exchange only bolstered the sense of a performer who’s not quite ready for prime time.
When it was all over, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had won seven Oscars, including Picture, Director(s), Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. This is A) remarkable for a film that came out a year ago and seemed destined for a sizable and happy cult audience rather than mainstream glory and pop-culture dominance, B) a win for the younger audiences that movies and the Oscars will need if they want to survive in the coming years, and C) incontrovertible evidence of a shift in the Academy toward younger voters willing to board the film’s conceptual rollercoaster and ride it to the end. You may not like “EEAAO” – you may hate every hyperactive frame of it – but an awful lot of people loved it, and it’s hard to deny a feel-good story that climaxes with Indiana Jones handing an Oscar to Short Round 38 years after they last rode together.
Finally, “The Banshees of Inisherin” had nine nominations but got skunked throughout the evening. (Not even Best Original Screenplay? Really?) I take solace in the thought that my favorite of the ten Best Picture nominees won in several parallel universes, and so did yours.
What did you think of the evening? Train wreck or pleasant surprise? Feel free to comment below.
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Basically agree with you, especially on how Malala put Kimmel in his place. What was with the intrusive non-stop VO descriptions of fashion, etc. throughout the broadcast, obviously intended for a sight-impaired audience? I thought I was accidentally tuned into some special audio subchannel, but I couldn't turn it off. The VO talked over most of the musical numbers, making them impossible to enjoy.
Excellent recap, and I’m in agreement on nearly every point. (Especially re: Angela Bassett....put her performance side by side with Curtis’s, and it’s just no contest that Bassett should have won. The Queen deserved her moment of miff.)
Generally, the show moved along pretty well, and the speeches were crisp and heartfelt. The major weirdness for me were the VERY weird film tributes-that-were-actually-trailers, especially the “homage” to Warner Bros. (It felt like an In Memoriam to a studio.)