Almost exactly one year ago, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” premiered at SXSW. The sophomore feature from the two-headed directorial entity known as Daniels — aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — had plenty of hype going into the festival, as the GenX filmmaker had already garnered a decade of fans for their music video work, with bonus points for the silly-sweet gamble of their 2016 feature debut “Swiss Army Man.” Yet even the visionary concept of an island castaway riding a farting corpse to freedom couldn’t have prepared audiences for the cultural phenomenon to come.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” was an instant sensation with almost as many layers as the multiverses strewn across in its plot. It’s an innovative and hilarious sci-fi comedy about the messiness of modern life, a touching exploration of intergenerational Asian American identity, and a rousing showcase for Asian actors long under-appreciated by the industry. It was also a most unconventional commercial hit, generating over $100 million worldwide in the months following its festival premiere to become the biggest box-office hit in A24’s history.
However, there was one thing “Everything Everywhere All at Once” wasn’t, at least early on: Oscar bait. The film skews young, with a zany, go-for-broke filmmaking energy that seems a world apart from the sensibilities of many Oscar voters more likely to embrace familiar narrative tropes. Yet here we are, less than a week from the end of a long awards season in which “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has held onto Best Picture frontrunner status for months. With 11 nominations, the movie shows up in more categories than any other nominee this year, just as “The Power of the Dog” did last year. Yes, that movie ultimately lost to “CODA,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find a pundit who expects a similar outcome for the most-nominated movie this time around.
Yet even as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has brought the excitement of true disruption to awards season — picking up the baton from the history-making dominance of “Parasite” in 2020 — it faces a lot of worthy competition. While the Daniels’ movie is less likely to lose the big prize of the night, it doesn’t have to sweep to be the big winner. Here’s a category-by-category look at each of the movie’s 11 nominations as we determine just how many Academy Awards “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actually deserves to win.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
The soulful and sonic qualities of “This Is a Life” encapsulate the way “Everything Everywhere All at Once” can seem both otherworldly and heartfelt at once, while the immersive soundscape and poignant lyrics find David Byrne, Mitski, Son Lux’s Ryan Lott (who wrote the score with the rest of the group) working in wondrous musical harmony. It’s a pleasant and profound composition — but hardly the most memorable one of the category in a year that also gave us “Naatu Naatu,” the kinetic earworm of “RRR” poised to deliver one of the best dance numbers on Oscar night.
Still, if “RRR” somehow ends up losing this category, it would be acceptable for “This Is a Life” to take the spot instead. Given that the category also features the usual ostentatious pop star compositions (Lady Gaga and BloodPop’s “Hold My Hand,” Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up,” and Diane Warren’s “Applause”), it’s exciting to have two other nominees that head in more adventurous directions.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Like “This is a Life,” Son Lux’s score is a remarkable juggling act that oscillates from ominous to awe-inspiring and back again, with a few playful digressions along the way: Think Philip Glass with an electronic twist. The music, however, often operates in deference to the movie as a whole. The more radical gamble of the category belongs to veteran composer Carter Burwell, whose “The Banshees of Inisherin” composition evades the trappings of Irish clichés for something far more haunting and whimsical, embodying the dark comic introspection of Martin McDonagh’s bleak buddy movie.
Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find much in the way of orchestral innovation among any of the other nominees, including nonagenarian John Williams’ pleasant-but-forgettable piano score for “The Fabelmans.” For “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Son Lux has melded what feels like every fathomable musical instrumental into a vast sea of undulating moods. Having spent the better part of a year contemplating this movie, it’s impossible to hear the soundtrack and not immediately visualize the rapid-fire rhythms of “Everything Everywhere” as it zips from one universe to the next.
Conventional wisdom would have you believe that “Top Gun: Maverick” was the ultimate achievement in this category given how it navigates the language of a classic blockbuster with such aplomb. True enough, but that’s also what makes it so familiar. At the other end of the spectrum, “Elvis” certainly ups the ante for Baz Luhrmann’s restless narrative momentum as it zips through the King’s evolution in bite-sized pieces.
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the only nominee where the editing is an explicit part of the storytelling process every step of the way, as it careens through the multiverse with increasing momentum in the dizzying final act. It’s no surprise that nominee Paul Rogers previously worked on “The Eric Andre Show,” as he brings the same anarchic spirit to the epic scale on display here, transforming it into a form of gonzo poetry that creates logic out of the madness even as it accelerates and explodes into cross-cutting lunacy.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Conventional wisdom has it that Ruth Carter will repeat her victory for the ostentatious elegance of Wakandan garb in “Black Panther” by winning again for its sequel, but it would make just as much sense for Catherine Martin’s glittery work on “Elvis” or the stunning collage of striking old Hollywood glamour of Mary Zophres’ “Babylon” outfits to win here as all these movies adhere to familiar boundaries. By contrast, there’s no question that Shirley Kurata’s range of clothing on “Everything Everywhere All at Once” stands out for its sheer eclecticism, and she should win for that exact reason.
Costumes of the multiverse pic.twitter.com/WBakvGnvqC
— Everything Everywhere (@allatoncemovie) March 6, 2023
It’s true that the most notable costumes in the movie come and go in fragments, and they stand out less for their individual achievements than for the way they coalesce into a broader collage of many worlds. But that’s also what makes them so integral to the movie’s unique charms. There were over 40 costumes for Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu’s characters alone. The sheer range of work on display consolidates the many kinds of styles on display in the other nominees, from Hsu’s Elvis getup to Yeoh’s sleek look at a Hollywood premiere. It’s a whirlwind of costumes from the vast sea of cinematic references in play and deserves recognition for somehow managing to do all of them proud. Also, lest we forget: Hot dog hands.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
There’s no doubting that the Oscar for Most Innovative Screenplay goes to Kwan and Scheinert, as the Daniels manage to construct a labyrinthine narrative designed to mystify viewers and toss ample non sequiturs into the mix along the way, while maintaining the emotional mother-daughter story at the core. It’s a fast-and-loose, jazz-like experiment that informs much about the unique textures in play, but it wanders around a lot.
In this category, there are plenty of more cohesive screenplay undertakings on display, none more prominent than McDonagh’s tonal achievement in “Banshees,” which reflects the cynicism and soul-searching of his many years as a playwright and filmmaker even as it condenses them into a gratifying, minimalist two-hander. Oh, and there’s also Steven Spielberg’s therapeutic memoir of “The Fabelmans,” which (co-written with Tony Kushner) practically operates as a cinematic diary, the daring social satire of Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” and Todd Field’s remarkable detail-oriented character study “TÁR.” While “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the most ambitious cinematic vision among these, other contenders are more gratifying when it comes to the subtle art of screenplay structure and the meticulous process involved in weaving it together.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: JAMIE LEE CURTIS
Yes, Curtis rocks as the grumpy IRS agent who doubles as a supervillain and she’s the sort of Hollywood treasure who knows how to play the celebrity game with a degree of authenticity that eludes so many others. She’s also a Hollywood icon whose talent has been under-appreciated for too long, and certainly the kind of contender worth rooting for when it comes to the traditional constraints of an Oscar season narrative. However, Angela Bassett has been hiding in plain sight for almost as long, and her regal performance in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” transcends the boundaries of a Marvel-certified narrative with striking emotional heft. Still, if anyone but her takes the gold here, the prize belongs to the ferocious turn by Kerry Condon in “Banshees,” where she plays a frustrated woman in a world dominated by male hubris who keeps shouting for sanity until she can’t take it any longer. Condon is much younger than her fellow nominees, but has been acting for McDonagh for two decades, and an Oscar win would go a long way toward raising her profile in an industry that could do a whole lot more with her talent.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: STEPHANIE HSU
The very presence of 32-year-old Hsu in this category feels like cosmic fate given that the role was originally intended for Awkwafina and Hsu has been far less familiar a name until her versatile turn here. Like the movie, Hsu careens from different performative extremes, playing the psychotic evil daughter for revenge in one scene and a more familiar estranged offspring elsewhere. It’s incredible to watch her keep it all straight while sticking to the overall emotional trajectory in play. However, through no fault of her own, the performance sometimes registers as a stunt as it bounces around; others in this category (see above) work with more consistent material that better showcases their talent.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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Ke Huy Quan has been the MVP of this awards season as his giddy acceptance speeches at one ceremony after the next somehow come across as though he’s surprised to win each time out. Then again, Quan’s whole story has been a welcome surprise this year, given how his “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Goonies” origin story led him to more than a few dead-ends as he entered adulthood and started to assume that his acting days had ended. He delivers a bittersweet performance as Yeoh’s troubled husband in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” but also gets to play the action hero when the discursive plot call for it, and you can practically see the glee radiating out of him in every frame. No other performance in this category has such a jolting, liberating quality to it — the sense of an actor who has waited decades to show us what he can really do.
Sure, Cate Blanchett is a transcendent screen presence in “TÁR,” so in tune with Todd Field’s script that she practically seems as if she lives within its confines. In another year, it would be no contest. But Yeoh’s performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” does all that with a more visible degree of personal investment.
An Asian actress often neglected by the industry around her, she brings a powerful degree of authenticity to the impression of a woman at constant odds with her surroundings and fighting to fit in — quite literally, but also figuratively, as the movie manages to be both a nuanced portrait of immigrant alienation and a maximalist spectacle at the same time. Her performance also doubles as autobiographical riff as the movie delivers a cinematic argument for her exquisite talents and the infuriating lack of appreciation for them over the years. Given all that, her win should correct the record once and for all.
This one is tricky. While the all-male nominees frustrate for that reason alone, they represent an exciting range of filmmaking approaches, none of which play it totally safe.
And there’s a solid case to be made for each of them. Nobody nominated for Best Director has shown more dedication to the art of the moving image than Steven Spielberg, and “The Fabelmans” salutes that in ways his other movies never have. He’s more the star of the show than any of his actors, and in that sense, a Best Director win would double as an acting prize for a director who has long resisted putting his own life on display.
Yet for all its admirable dedication to celebrating the filmmaking process in personal terms, if you ignore the autobiographical subtext, “The Fabelmans” follows rather conventional dramatic beats. Ostlund’s surrealist mayhem delivers the most adventurous filmmaking of the category (it’s a credit to the distributor, Neon, that a Swedish auteur known for scathing, unfiltered, and very un-Hollywood satire has snaked his way into this category and Best Picture with such a subversive missive). And the Daniels have made a movie so loaded with the infectious love of filmmaking that it basically invites the audience to be a part of the ride, to get lost in the absurd twists, and find some measure of profundity at the end of the tunnel.
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection
However, Todd Field’s meticulous exploration of high society, cancel culture, and creative posturing with “TÁR” is a symphonic experience on par with its anti-hero’s greatest talents. It’s pure cinema mastery of the highest order, a note-perfect feat that manages to operate both within Lydia Tár’s subjectivity while regarding it with abject horror from the outside. At times it has the authentic details of a Frederick Wiseman documentary; elsewhere, it’s a caustic dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a tragic depiction of character failings that musters some measure of empathy even when Lydia reaches her lowest point. Field’s first movie in 15 years looks and sounds nothing like “Little Children” and “In the Bedroom,” either — it’s vivid proof that directors can reinvent themselves each time out, and reinvent the movies, too. Let’s hope the Daniels keep doing that as they keep evolving. Whether or not they win here, it’s clear that they have a lot left to say — and if they do end up with a win, here’s hoping it only deepens their ability to keep saying it on their own terms.
Since the Best Picture Oscar goes to a movie’s producers, the most deserving winner is one that speaks to the sheer practical challenges of willing a movie into existence, as well as the overall quality of the movie itself. Some may argue that Tom Cruise’s producorial investment in “Top Gun: Maverick” fits that bill, but at the end of the day, it’s just a “Top Gun” movie. Potential Best Picture spoiler “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a more exciting upset for what it might portend for international films produced on an epic scale — the concept of Oscar bait going global — but it’s still a bloody, visceral war epic of the kind we’ve seen before.
In light of all that, no movie released in 2022 speaks to the potential of knitting together a complex artistic achievement more than “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” given that on paper it never sounded all that feasible. It’s the sort of bizarre swing that could only get made by people who have learned how to subvert the system. The Daniels and producing partner Jonathan Wang started building the foundations of their work with visually adventurous music videos over a decade ago, and parlayed those achievements into “Swiss Army Man,” a movie that also felt like it shouldn’t exist by any practical standards of the industry.
Allyson Riggs /© A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Now, that’s a mere asterisk alongside “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which transcends the boundaries of its $14.2 million budget by generating a more astonishing sense of scale and world-building depth than anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s triumphant proof that original ideas can come to fruition through the right blend of mad science and intelligent design even when the business suggests otherwise. By winning Best Picture, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” doesn’t just prove that it belongs at the table with the heavyhitters; it opens the floodgates for other innovative artists to get there, too.
FINAL TALLY: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” should win (at least) five Academy Awards.