By the time Harrison Ford opened the envelope to announce the Oscar for Best Picture at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night, there couldn’t be anyone in the audience, or watching on TV, who didn’t anticipate what would happen. And sure enough, with a heavy imperative, he came up: “Oscar goes to everything…”.
Ford didn’t need to say anything more than that. Everything Everywhere Every Time, has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and has already won six. So the seventh prize, the most coveted prize, was really just a formality.
But that didn’t stop the audience from going potty, screaming in unbridled collective jubilation as only a Hollywood audience can, as EEAAO (as it’s now known) ended the evening with the most Academy Awards of any film in director Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire 14 years ago.
It wasn’t worth cleaning (and neither did Slumdog Millionaire, with all its merits). Two or three Oscars will do. But Hollywood, every now and then, faced with a movie about poor aliens or immigrants, has an almost hysterical fit with Virtue Allusions.
EEAAO follows the life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), the struggling Chinese-American owner of a laundry, whose professional woes are compounded by personal challenges. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is on the verge of divorcing her and cannot confess to her elders, relentlessly demanding that her daughter be gay.
Everything Everywhere Every Time centers on Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), who must communicate with parallel universe versions of herself to stop a powerful being from destroying the multiverse — but it shouldn’t win Best Picture.
Evelyn was played by Michelle Yeoh (left), who won the Oscar for Best Actress, and Ki Hui Kwan, who plays her husband, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
But just as the story seems to settle into some kind of clichéd TV series, it devolves into an absurdist sci-fi comedy and, basically, goes completely insane. Gentle Waymond introduces Evelyn to a series of alternate universes, beginning at the tax office where she is being lectured by a misanthropic auditor played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Suddenly, Waymond becomes a martial arts dynamo, followed by Evelyn, as they embark on a series of chaotic adventures throughout the so-called multiverse. The film boldly jumps between different genres until the unfortunate immigrant family triumphs over all.
This, then, is the gentle extravaganza that Dolby Theater audiences sobbed to when Ford revealed the Academy Award for Best Picture Sunday night. Partly it may be because they were letting loose, with the endless party finally coming to an end and the lavish after-show parties about to begin. It may also be that some of them really thought this was the best picture of the last 12 months. But they sure can’t all think so. Honestly, I’m surprised anyone did that.
Either way, let me spoil the party after the event. I’d like to give an alternative title to Everything Everywhere at a Time, one that fits perfectly with it and not just because it’s about the owner of a laundromat: The Emperor’s New Clothes.
In the folk tale by Hans Christian Andersen, it took a child to exclaim that the Emperor was naked because no one else wanted to step out of line. Sunday’s seven Oscars, from where I sit, are credited to the same phenomenon.
Undoubtedly, the story of EEAAO is a story about Chinese American immigrants. Anointing it with several golden statues well and really burying the OscarsSoWhite social media hashtag that started trending in 2015 when none of the 20 acting nominees were “people of color.” But now a new hashtag suggests itself. Yes, it looks like #OscarsSoWhite has been superseded by #OscarsSoWoke.
This isn’t the first time since 2015 that the great American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, swayed by white criticism, has reminded us just how liberal and inclusive this idea really is.
In 2020, South Korean black comedy Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards. But the difference between the past and the present is that Parasite truly felt like the best cinematic achievement of the year. Whereas EEAAO, again from where I’m sitting, was actually the least deserving of the top ten Picture nominees.
It wasn’t worth cleaning (and neither did Slumdog Millionaire, with all its merits). Two or three Oscars will do. But every now and then, Hollywood is faced with a movie about poor aliens or immigrants suffering from a hysterical fit of virtue signals.
Not 100%: Sure, Yeoh, (pictured), is awesome but Cate Blanchett in Tar gives a performance for the ages and she should have won Best Actress.
Success at last: Jamie Lee Curtis has never been nominated for an Academy Award, either, despite her long career and antecedents as the daughter of Hollywood royalty in Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh
With narrative that turns from somewhat baffling to downright baffling, and with moments of silliness that the Monty Python team might have dismissed at their most inane (at one point, the characters’ fingers turn into pork sausages), it’s a very long run.
For good measure, it appears, with its video game aesthetic, to be aimed squarely at the TikTok generation.
Not that there’s much overlap between aging members of the Academy and those who understand TikTok, but perhaps that’s where these new emperor outfits come in: No one over fifty wanted to declare themselves completely baffled by this self-exercise in a cinematic whim from the writer. Directors: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. . . Instead, they all voted for it. Of course, what these Hollywood people really understand is work. They know how lucrative the Far Eastern market has become, hence the growing number of films with Chinese settings, characters, and stories. Even animation studio Pixar jumped on that bandwagon with Turning Red last year, a movie that follows a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who is transformed into a giant red panda.
And they understand box office numbers. After a secret release last year at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas (a far cry from the stalwart festivals of Cannes and Venice), EEAAO was given a limited theatrical release in the US, and in Britain it almost didn’t make it to cinemas at all.
But it quickly became a hit and then a real commercial success, as audiences seemed to warm to its silliness. With an estimated budget of just under $25m (£21m), it has so far grossed over $100m (£82m) worldwide, with more box office and home cash flows sure to flow in following its success. At the Oscars.
To me, this raises the mystery of who these appreciative audiences are. EEAAO has left many of my more experienced film mates behind. One fell asleep and only woke up when it was all over, as if in stark defiance of the sensory bombardment that begins after the first twenty minutes or so.
And another person walked out completely confused 45 minutes later; It is only the third time in over 50 years that he has left the cinema before the end credits. Even my son, who is a big part of TikTok’s demographic, found it “difficult” and “too much.”
But those who work in the film industry love it unconditionally, at least if the Oscars are to be believed. The thing is, though, I don’t.
No film in 95 years of Academy Awards has won all four major acting awards and only three of them have won three out of four: A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, then Network 25 years later, and now, significantly, EEAAO. But it’s only great because, quite obviously, this movie doesn’t belong to such a brilliant company. Sure, Yeoh is great but Cate Blanchett in Tar gives a performance for the ages and should have won Best Actress.
Jamie Lee Curtis had never before been nominated for an Academy Award, despite her long career and ancestry as the daughter of Hollywood royals Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
This, in my view, is why it got a nod for a rather cartoonish villain, while others were more deserving of the Best Supporting Actress award. Excellent as Quan, I also think there are better supporting actor nominees.
However, that’s how the Academy Awards work. They’re becoming more and more like The X Factor, with backstories that capture voters’ imaginations more than on-screen accomplishments.
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