Oscars Preview: Maybe the Multiverse Will Give Us the Best Picture Winner We Deserve

After a year that has been both annoying and messy, “Everything Everywhere” might be the fresh, annoying, chaotic and sentimental movie to represent our current time

Everything Everywhere All at Once
"Everything Everywhere All at Once." (A24)

On March 11, 2022, exactly one year and one day before the 95th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, a supercharged and wacky movie called “Everything Everywhere All at Once” premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The second feature from a pair of music-video directors whose first film, “Swiss Army Man,” was mostly known as the flick in which Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse, it was an ideal SXSW movie, a chaotic genre mishmash that, in the words of Wrap reviewer Robert Abele, “swirls sci-fi, metaphysics, martial arts, slapstick, star power, and pop culture shout-outs into the type of experience that one can imagine the late exhibition gimmick impresario William Castle — he who notoriously wired theater seats so they buzzed — responding with, ‘Yeah, this doesn’t need my help.’”

What it did not seem to be back then was any kind of awards movie, except maybe if the Film Independent Spirit Awards wanted to get crazy. The 94th Oscars hadn’t even taken place at that point – but if anybody had dared suggest that at the 95th Oscars in 366 days, “Everything Everywhere” would pick up a passel of awards, including Best Picture, they would have been dismissed as a visitor from one of the wildest corners of the multiverse through which Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang travels.

You think a world where people have hot dogs for fingers is weird? Well, how about one in which a movie with hot-dog fingers and dildo battles wins Best Picture?

But it turns out that we might just be living in a universe where 9,579 film professionals in the Academy can come to the consensus that “Everything Everywhere” is the best movie of 2022. Go figure.

And by the way, it’s a universe in which young Irish actor Paul Mescal lands a Best Actor nomination over Tom Cruise; and a universe in which underappreciated British actress Andrea Riseborough is nominated for a movie almost nobody had even heard of, much less seen, before a social-media campaign in December; and a universe in which Netflix comes into awards season with a handful of presumed Best Picture contenders – “Glass Onion,” “Bardo,” “Blonde,” “White Noise” – and comes out of it with its only nominee being a German-language war movie based on a book that had already been turned into the Best Picture winner in 1931, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Those nominations and this odd year are the product of the new Academy, swollen over the last half decade by the addition of more than 3,000 new members, many of them from outside the United States. After “Green Book” won Best Picture in 2019 in what was considered a conservative choice, the voters course-corrected by giving their top prize the following year to “Parasite,” a vicious social satire that ends in a ludicrous bloodbath and became the first film not in English to win Best Picture. The next year, it was “Nomadland,” far more austere and restrained than the usual winner. Last year, “CODA,” which may have been more conventional than critics’ favorite “The Power of the Dog” but was also a completely left-field and decidedly indie choice, the first Sundance movie to ever win.

Given that history, is it strange that “Everything Everywhere” is the clear favorite, heading into the Oscars with the rare grand slam of wins at the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards?

Well, yeah, that is a little strange. And one reason why it’s strange is because the most frequent conversation I’ve had about any Oscar Best Picture contender in the last few weeks is one in which, after a little gentle prodding, the person I’m talking to reluctantly admits that they really didn’t like “Everything Everywhere,” or that they tried to watch it (usually more than once) but couldn’t get through it.

I feel as if I’ve had that conversation almost every day with somebody new, from Academy members to the guy who cuts my hair. Granted, this kind of anecdotal evidence is hardly persuasive, and it certainly means next to nothing compared to the PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG sweep.

But it’s downright strange to find that the film that feels like a slam-dunk, guaranteed Best Picture winner is also the film that so many people have told me that they don’t like, although they all seem reluctant to admit that.

Maybe there’s something in all of those conversations. Maybe “All Quiet” is the stealth candidate that can pull off a stunning upset, or maybe “Top Gun: Maverick” will turn out to be the actual consensus favorite even though it hasn’t won any of the important precursor awards.

Or maybe the thing that eludes some people about “Everything Everywhere” connects with others so strongly that it truly is the commanding winner that precedent suggests. I’ve been resisting this conclusion for months, partly (largely?) because I didn’t really care for the movie when I saw it last year. It annoyed me, though I kept telling myself that I needed to give it another chance.

This week, I finally realized that time was running out if I was going to give it that chance, so I saw it again – in a real movie theater, not at home. And about halfway through the film, it slowly dawned on me that I’d be perfectly fine with it winning Best Picture. Because, you know, a fresh and odd and messy and sappy movie is probably the right kind of film to sum up this past year. And summing up the past year ought to be one of the purposes of a Best Picture winner.

Let’s face it: “Everything Everywhere” is as sentimental as “The Fabelmans,” as transgressive as “Triangle of Sadness” (I’ll see your vomiting scene and raise you one butt-plug battle!), as female-centric as “Women Talking,” as profane as “The Banshees of Inisherin” and as devoted to universe-building as “Avatar.” Plus it has its own Elvis and more fighting than “Top Gun.”

Robert Abele summed it up near the end of his Wrap review, “In their nifty code-switching, we-all-contain-multitudes metaphor, (the Daniels have) concocted something that feels genuinely attuned to our modern anxieties, but also embracing of our coping mechanisms.”

It’s still not my favorite nominee, but there’s something pretty impressive about its determination to be everything all at once. And after a year that has been both annoying and messy, there’s nothing wrong with picking this movie to represent our current time.   

So go ahead, Academy, and give the guys who made that farting corpse movie a handful of Oscars. But in the spirit of their movie, I’ll offer a suggestion to Steven Spielberg and Todd Field and anybody else who wants it. This won’t make any sense to people who haven’t seen “Everything Everywhere” – but if you guys eat a Chapstick during Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue on Sunday, maybe we’ll jump to a universe where your movie can win.

Or maybe we’re already in that universe, and the Daniels are the ones who’ll need to be chewing on their Chapsticks.