Everything Everywhere All the Oscars

The last time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences asked Harrison Ford to present the award for Best Picture, they were clearly confident that the Steven Spielberg–director war picture Saving Private Ryan was bound for victory, and it would be nice to see the man who played Indiana Jones onstage during that moment of celebration for a key collaborator. Ford handled the same task a few years earlier, after all, when Spielberg’s Schindler’s List won the top prize. Instead of the World War II drama, however, Ford peel opened the envelope and announced with a touch a disdain that the Oscars was bestowed upon Shakespeare in Love. Spielberg had a film officially in the running at last night’s Academy Awards, but there’s little doubt that the real endgame producers had in mind when booking Ford was to set up a quasi-impromptu reunion with his onetime co-star Ke Huy Quan, because it was sure to be an Everything Everywhere All at Once kind of night and the dependably excitable MVP of the long awards season was just as certain to lead the charge to the stage. This time, the Academy got their magic moment.

In general, I found this year’s Academy Awards ceremony to be rife with plenty of moments that, while maybe not magical, reached back to the sense of import that hooked me on this annual event long ago. Putting aside the repeat misfortune of a marginally interested host who’s mostly reliant on stale jokes (did you guys know the Oscars are long?) and needlessly meanspirited jabs at nominated films and the creators associated with them, I sensed a real effort to emphasize the honoring of deep, transformative art of moviemaking while sharing actual admiration for the cinema that’s been created. Having Creed III costars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors come out together to explain a very basic shot structuring technique with a hat tip to a bygone classic and bit of nifty stagecraft to help illustrate the point is exactly the sort of old-school, slightly stiff and even corny showmanship I tune into to see. I want every award to be presented on the telecast and the winners to be given reasonable opportunities to speak without the vaudeville hook of the orchestra interrupting. If an intrusive in-ceremony introduction to a movie trailer premiere from the broadcast network’s parent company is the Faustian tithe that must be paid, I can scowl my way through those few compromised minutes.

It helped the feel of specialness that every last acting winner last night was completing some version of a redemption arc. All four recipients did worthy work, but it’s perhaps more impressive that each can fairly say they were treated like discards by the entertainment industry not so long ago, making their entry into the pantheon of Oscar winners all the more moving. That presenter Ariana DeBose was barely able to speak Quan’s name through welling tears of emotion set the tone early in the evening. In other recent years, the overabundance of precursors could make the Academy Awards seem almost perfunctory, the final vote in an election that was long ago decided. The ways in which this particular award simply matters more came through brightly, in part because so many of those winners gave great speeches filled with intense feeling. Over and over, it was unavoidable clear that everyone watching was witness to a life-changing moment.

The ample history set last night included Everything Everywhere All at Once winning Best Picture and Best Directing along with three acting awards, a dominance in the top categories previously unseen across the ninety-five years of the Oscars. When A Streetcar Named Desire became the first to take three acting trophies, the other three major categories went to three completely different films, and Network, the next title with a trio of lauded thespians, couldn’t outpunch Rocky in the final rounds. (Because the sixth of the big six awards went to The Whale, another film on their slate, A24 was the studio behind every one of those major winners, which is also unprecedented.) I think that fact obscures what a peculiar choice this Daniels joint is for the Academy. In the middle of the ceremony, I felt a pang of doubt about the film’s otherwise all-but-settled final outcome as All Quiet on the Western Front, far more traditional Oscar fare, hit upon a pocket of wins. Beyond my on-the-record admiration for the film, it’s a better, bolder Academy that rewards filmmakers at their most audacious rather than waiting until they make a staid biopic about some important historical figure. It was a pleasure to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once prevail. Paradoxically, the sturdiness and tradition of the ceremony made it all the sweeter. Let the movies take the big swings, and let the Oscars be the Oscars.

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