Everything everywhere at once is the winner of the Oscars for Best Picture of 2023, and it also earned six other awards, for Best Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Actress and Supporting Actor and Actress. For anyone who attended this year’s ceremony, where the audience went wild every time the film was mentioned, the Best Picture win midway through the show came as no surprise. But a year ago, no one could have seen Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s multiverse masterpiece and expected this kind of reaction or recognition – not from the notoriously dour Academy.
Everything everywhere initially felt like a movie designed to earn a small, passionate audience. At best, it looked like it was going to be a well-kept cult movie secret. It played like a bigger and better version of Daniels’ first movie, Swiss Army — a film beloved in certain circles, but too dark, eccentric and subversive to capture a mainstream or widespread audience. None of their projects felt like Academy contenders for sure.
But as word of mouth about the movie grew and it stayed in theaters week after week, the story began to change. There were so many reasons to view the film as a collective feel-good experience for moviegoers: Ke Huy Quan’s triumphant return to cinema; Michelle Yeoh gets a lead role worthy of her acting skills and martial arts skills. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to comedy in a unique role. A mostly Asian cast that tells the kind of nuanced, emotional story they so rarely get to tell in American movies. A story full of Easter eggs and in-jokes aimed directly at cinephiles. As the conversation around the movie got bigger and bigger, it started to take on an underdog undertone, especially by the time it was released. the first $100 million blockbuster for small arthouse distributor A24.
And by the time the Oscar nominations rolled around and the movie appeared in 11 categories, Everything everywhere looked like a true rarity in Oscars history: a serious contender for the Academy Awards that was also a comedy and an action thriller – and most importantly a weird, foreign movie.
In a sense, at least Everything everywhere is a traditional Oscar movie: it takes the characters through a gauntlet of suffering and then gives them a humanistic, uplifting ending. But nothing else fits the usual Oscar model. Gags about dildos and butt plugs, S&M and spice-squirting hot dog fingers, all pierce the kind of self-righteous gravity that usually ranks high at the annual ceremony. The Academy almost never recognizes genre films outside of the technical categories. But Everything everywhere is a sci-fi fantasy that fully embraces the possibilities of alternate universes, jumping between worlds and challenging viewers to keep up with the pace.
Getting attention from the Academy alone makes Daniels’ film a triumph. It’s the kind of project that should win Oscars much more often – a technically stunning, ambitious film that deliberately pushes the boundaries of what cinema can do. It is deliberately designed to go further and faster than most films, to challenge both the audience and the medium. And it’s designed mostly to make the world a better place, to get viewers to leave and want to be better, kinder people.
But that’s not what the Academy usually honors. Even in the era of the expanded Best Picture category, designed to entice viewers by recognizing a few populist blockbusters a year, the Academy still focuses its actual awards on period dramas and prestige films. Even when the very occasional authentic quirk lands a Best Picture win – Guillermo del Toro’s The shape of water in 2017 for example – it’s still a serious and serious movie, one that feels like a prestige drama with fantastical elements.
No one would accuse Everything everywhere of being that. It’s a film that really challenges the medium, rather than imitating familiar styles and stories. It represents the kind of innovation and excellence that the Academy should be looking for every year. Recognizing and rewarding is a good look for the notoriously tough prize organization.
But it’s also a triumph for downright weird cinema. If success in Hollywood continues to spawn imitation, perhaps in a few years around this time we’ll see more movies that pick up on the energy and hilarity of the Daniels as, say, animators at various studios have picked up Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse‘s visual experiments and groundbreaking animations. Perhaps the energy that infected this year’s Oscars, from the speeches to the audience’s reactions, will serve as a lesson to the Academy that joy and excitement are as worthy and respectable as cinematic values such as solemnity and historical weight. Bring on the cosmic bagels and the hot dog fingers: weird cinema is finally fully mainstream.