Everything everywhere all at once made Oscar history in many ways, some more significant than others: the first win for an Asian American director, the first Best Picture winner primarily depicting the lives of Asian Americans , the first best actress award given to a woman of color in more than 20 years, and the first for a woman who openly identifies as Asian. But it’s also a milestone in a way that’s likely to get less attention: It’s the weirdest Best Picture winner in history.
It used to be that you could count on a better movie to be, well, normie, the kind of movie the term “Oscar bait” was coined for: a rousing drama tackling serious issues in an elegant, understated style. There were exceptions: Thesilenceofthelambs rocked further into horror than the academy had ever dared to go, and The artist became the first silent film to win the biggest awards since the 1920s, but generally speaking, if you put on a better film, you – with apologies to the 1994 winner Forrest Gump– knew what you were going to get.
It has been widely observed that the massive reshuffling of voting members between 2016 and 2020, leading to a much more diverse body in terms of race, gender and national origin (as well as much more representative of workers below the line of the movie industry) transformed the taste of the academy. While the expanded cohort is still too new to be entirely predictable, even some of the most dedicated Oscar whisperers were caught off guard by last year’s win for CODA– they are unquestionably more open to considering intimate character dramas that past Oscars would have deemed too “small”, and much less inclined to believe that films in languages other than English should stick to the category of foreign films (which they don’t even call “foreign film” anymore).
But at the same time Moonlight And ParasiteThe Best Picture wins were atypical, they could also be, at least in retrospect, explained in terms familiar to the Oscars. They’re both classic, if not exquisite, well-made dramas about important subjects, the kind of quality film the film industry likes to believe it’s still capable of making (no matter how well those particular movies actually exited the system).
Everywhereon the other hand, is another story. It may have a strong emotional center built around the relationship between immigrant parents and their American-born children, but it’s also an anarchic, crazy comedy with an evil bagel and talking stones.
It’s not your parents’ idea of an “Oscars movie.” It may not even be yours. I admit that when we talk about Everywhere nominations started to surface, I immediately ruled out his chances, largely because I thought there was no way someone over 60 would vote for such a quirky, inventive, and resolutely millennial, practically the opposite of the measured unit which is the reference of the academy in terms of good taste. (An anonymous member of the director’s branch told Indiewire he thought the movie might be “a generational thing,” but watched it three and a half times until he figured it out.) Sure , birdman was kinda in your face, and The shape of water genres mixed and matched with abandon, but you can still defend them by the old rules: the academy loves films about the creative process; the academy loves films that hark back to older styles of cinema.
Everywhere is the winner of the strangest best picture of history.
Everywhere is much more difficult to fit into this old paradigm. As the annual handful of Oscar voters explaining their choices arrived last week, the word that voters who chose him continued to use to explain their choice was “original.” Although it is full of references to previous films, from martial arts classics to Wong Kar-wai’s languid romances and even Ratatouille, it’s more collage than homage. It’s unlike any movie that’s ever won Best Picture – and really, it’s not even close.
I don’t know if older Oscar voters were put off by Everywhere, but if they were, they were outnumbered, and between the academy’s crackdown on inactive members and the sheer fact of human mortality, their numbers will only dwindle. There will always be movies too big for Oscar recognition, and many of them will be better off for it. And there will always be occasional ebbs and flows, the years when even the academy’s new guard opts for something comfortably familiar instead of pushing the envelope. (It’s only been four years since green paper.) But the bar for Oscar weirdness has been set much higher, and there’s no going back down.
Read more in Slate on the Oscars.