LOS ANGELES — When Daniel Kwan was accepting one of his many awards for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, he took a moment to assure his young son that what was happening was, for sure, weird.
“This is not normal,” said Kwan, who directed the film with his creative partner, Daniel Scheinert. “That’s kind of crazy.”
“Abnormal” and “kind of crazy” are, increasingly, reasonable ways to describe the winners of the Best Picture Oscars. Three years ago, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” a masterful Korean genre 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, made the best picture, making history for the deaf community.
If those films started out with little expectation of Oscar glory, the road paved with eyes for Everything Everywhere All At Once was even more unlikely. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but, historically speaking, movies with butt fights and hot dog fingers don’t win Oscars. They certainly don’t win seven of them.
As a story about family and immigrant life, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” can be just as sentimental and old-fashioned, at heart, as many Oscar winners before it. But it may be — and proudly so — the strangest best picture winner in the 95-year history of the Academy Awards. It’s a far cry from “Patton,” to say the least.
We got a lot to think about what has and hasn’t changed in the movies since the 1971 Best Picture winner during a ceremony that opened with Navy fighter jets flying overhead and honored supporting actor Ke Huy Quan , whose family fled Vietnam as war refugees. they speak emotionally about the surrealism of the American dream.
‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’, for which Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian Best Actress winner, is undoubtedly a landmark from Asia. But for many reasons it’s an un-Oscar-like film that, like “CODA” and “Parasite,” never — in any multiverse — expected any of it.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re in our own movie,” Scheinert said in an interview ahead of the Oscars. “At some point we’re going to retire from this joke and go back to our lives and say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?’ Pity.”
However, it was impressive how soundly the blissfully discouraged ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ crushed the competition. With acting wins for Yeoh, Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, it’s only the third film to win three acting Oscars, joining “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network.” No film has won more “above the line” Oscars.
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, did not appear. So did James Cameron, whose “Avatar: The Way of Water” wasn’t considered a real contender. Twenty-five years ago, it was Cameron who was the “king of the world” at the Oscars, with “Titanic.”
“Maverick” won for sound only, “Avatar” for effects. Weak results for two films that combined to gross nearly $4 billion at the box office may have turned some viewers off the broadcast. Academy voters wrote early in the ceremony that blockbusters weren’t on the menu, choosing Curtis for supporting actress over Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), who would have been the first Marvel performer to win an Oscar.
Steven Spielberg and “The Fabelmans” were also completely off. Although nominated for seven awards, his most autobiographical film, and the one he fought for the most, won nothing. Best Director went to Daniels, who at 35 is the second-youngest winner of all time.
The Oscars, more than ever, belong to outsiders. And the biggest loser might be Oscar bait.
Sure, many of the winners were conventional academy picks. Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser’s prosthetic-assisted comeback performance in “The Whale” ticked many of the standard boxes. And it would be unfair to label Spielberg’s piece of contemplative memory — which somehow missed out on the “mom” narrative from Daniels’ film — as award-winning.
But Sunday’s Oscars suggested Hollywood — at least for now — is looking for Oscar movies that don’t look much like Oscar movies. Some of that could be attributed to the changed makeup of the academy, which has diversified and now numbers more than 10,000. That includes far more international voters, a subtle sea change that likely helped propel German-language World War I epic “All Quiet on the Western Front” to four Oscars and Indian aesthetic “RRR”‘s “Naatu Naatu” to best song.
But even the acting winners, while Hollywood veterans, were all firsts. The wins for Yeoh, Quan and Fraser may all have been in part to make up for past wrongs done to them by the industry. Fraser had been largely forgotten and the victim of alleged abuse by a prominent member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Yeoh, a huge star in Hong Kong, was pigeon holed in Hollywood. Kwan, an indelible figure of the 1980s, had given up acting after years of struggling to find work.
The Oscars telecast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, was fairly traditional as the academy tried to play down the drama of last year’s show. So it would be easy to miss that the ground beneath the Academy Awards is changing — and not just the carpet that used to be red.
But it’s more than a quirky coup when a couple of quirky, sensitive guys with an absurd sense of humor win Best Picture for their only feature film next to Flying Corpse. “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” Daniels’ second film after 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” may have struck a chord because it channels our dizzying digital overload into multiple dimensions.
“The world is changing fast, and I’m afraid our stories aren’t keeping up,” Kwan said onstage at the Dolby Theater, referring to the speed of the Internet compared to the slow motion of cinema.
The Oscars tend to see between trends. The much talked about 2018 winner ‘Green Book’ followed the landmark win for ‘Moonlight’ the previous year. The 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 at the box office — is the special’s second. A24 swept all of the top awards on Sunday, a first for any studio in Oscar history.
Backstage at the Oscars, Kwan told reporters that their “explosion of joy, absurdity and creativity” ultimately stems from his own navigation of dark times and depression.
“And I really hope that the next generation can watch a movie like ours and just be like, oh, there’s another way to look at the bleak situation and another way to face it,” Kwan said.
The win for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” came as Hollywood and the Oscars continue to find their footing after several years of the pandemic and the scandal of last year’s show. While the industry tried to revive cinema, originality was lacking in theatres. On Oscar weekend at the box office, a “VI” beat out a “III.”
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a mad rush of originality with “Raccacoonie” strapped to its head, is definitely endearing because it dares to be different. And at the Oscars, his win might not be “abnormal,” as Kwan said. After all, it might be the new normal.
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP