Oscars Analysis: How ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Became the Poster Child for the New Academy

The freewheeling, chaotic movie didn’t feel anything like a usual Best Picture winner, but it rolled through the ceremony, bowling over all rivals

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Slowly but surely, over the course of three and a half hours, the 95th Academy Awards ceremony turned from a runaway into a nail-biter.

And then it became a runaway again, with the pre-show favorite “Everything Everywhere All at Once” winning four of the last five categories, including Best Director, Best Actress and Best Picture. This came after the German-language drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” had put up a fight through the middle of the show, winning four awards and beating “Everything Everywhere” head-to-head in musical score to keep alive visions of a dramatic upset.

But if “Everything Everywhere” didn’t exactly win everything, everywhere, it won a lot and it won in the right places. Just after the three-hour mark, it tied “All Quiet” with its fourth win in the crucial film editing category, and then pulled ahead for good when Best Director went to directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.

From there the freewheeling, chaotic film coasted home, securing its third award in the four acting categories for Michelle Yeoh. (Her costars Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis won two of the night’s first three awards, starting the film off on a roll.) And then it grabbed the inevitable Best Picture award at the end of one of the sharpest Oscar ceremonies in years, featuring Jimmy Kimmel as a smooth and appropriately nasty host and also including some strong performances, quite a few moving speeches and the usual number of dry stretches and curious choices.

(An ad for Disney’s upcoming live-action “Little Mermaid” as part of the show rather than in a commercial break? An info segment on the Academy Museum that seemed similar to the Academy Museum segment on at least one previous Oscars? Obviously, this show serves a few masters.)

But “Everything Everywhere” ended up being a popular winner, at least in the room. And the delirium with which its victories were greeted makes perfect sense when you consider that the hyperkinetic, violent, rude and sentimental movie looks and feels nothing like a typical Best Picture winner.  

How did it happen? When it premiered at SXSW in March 2022 (before that year’s Oscars and exactly a year and a day before this year’s show), “Everything Everywhere” was greeted with largely positive reviews but little talk of awards. But when “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” had their own debuts in Cannes, a festival far more accustomed to launching awards movies, the idea of movies from the first half of 2022 being genuine Best Picture contenders began to take hold — and when that happened, the Daniels’ film began to be mentioned in the conversation more often.

But the success seemed to take even distributor A24 by surprise. Two weeks after SXSW and two days before the 2022 Oscars, the company gave the film a limited release in 10 theaters in North America, followed the next week by a one-night-only IMAX release. On April 8 it got a wider release, followed at the end of the month by another IMAX release, this one for a full week. Then there was a re-release in late July, by which point awards watchers were beginning to pay serious attention to Yeoh and, by extension, to the movie itself.

But the idea that it could win Best Picture still seemed crazy. After all, nobody had seen any of the fall festival movies that often dominate the awards lineup. Still to come were Todd Field’s “Tár,” Martin McDonagh’s ”The Banshees of Inisherin,” Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light,” Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” Maria Schrader’s “She Said,” Florian Zeller’s “The Son,” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” and, maybe above all, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.”

Given that lineup of 15 potential heavy hitters, plus the fact that “Top Gun” and “Elvis” seemed likelier nominees than “Everything Everywhere,” the crazy little movie remained a longshot. But about half of those movies didn’t get much awards traction when they came out, and “Everything” never dropped out of the conversation. A24 was more frugal in its spending than many of its competitors, and it didn’t win critics’ awards the way “Tár” did — but when the first big indie-film awards show, the Gotham Awards, took place in late November, it beat “Tár” and gave Ke Huy Quan the first of the many trips to an awards podium he’d be making.

Meanwhile, nothing else really caught on. “The Fabelmans” had a stretch as the presumed frontrunner, but Spielberg had been in that position with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Lincoln,” and he knew as much as anyone how precarious a perch it was. “The Fabelmans” and “The Banshees of Inisherin” won at the Golden Globes, but five days later “Everything Everywhere” won at the Critics Choice Awards and the narrative began to pick up: It was the freshest and the most fun, and it was going to win.

The first of the four major Hollywood guild awards, the Directors Guild Awards, was fascinating and instructive. It seemed as if every winner or presenter that took the stage at the Beverly Hilton, including the Daniels, paid homage to Steven Spielberg and gushed about how much he meant to them. And then, after listening to people tell him how great he was for three hours, Spielberg lost to the kids. (All right, they’re both 35, which means they’re not kids, but if you add their ages together you get 70, which is six years short of Spielberg, and that means they feel like kids when you put them next to him.)

“Everything Everywhere” didn’t win much the following day at BAFTA, which suggested it might stumble with the Academy too. But then it won the top Producers Guild Award and set a new record at the SAG Awards on back-to-back days one weekend, and set a record at the Spirit Awards and won the Writers Guild Awards the next weekend.

And even though it still seemed to be a divisive movie trying to get the most votes in a system that looks for consensus, it felt like case closed.

We’ll never know for sure because the accountants at Pwc aren’t talking, but it wouldn’t surprise me if “Everything Everywhere” got more low votes than just about every other Best Picture winner in the last 12 years of using ranked-choice voting in the category. But it could afford to get low votes and still win, because this is a new Academy with some of the same old blind spots but also with a taste for eccentric, transgressive movies.

And that meant that on Sunday night, apart from playing a bit of mid-show rope-a-dope and letting “All Quiet” win a few categories, “Everything Everywhere” mowed down the competition so mercilessly that five of the 10 Best Picture nominees — “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Elvis,” “The Fabelmans,” “Elvis,” “Tár” and “Triangle of Sadness” — went a combined 0-for-33.

The funny thing is that we pretty much saw this coming: Almost none of Sunday’s awards were surprises, apart from “All Quiet” for production design. “Everything Everywhere” came in as the poster child for the new Academy and went out the same way.

If we weren’t paying attention when the similarly transgressive but slightly less chaotic “Parasite” won three years ago, we are now.