In addition to Everything Everywhere All at Once’s record-breaking sweep of Oscars in almost every major category Sunday night, the 95th Academy Awards served as a triumphant showcase for self-styled underdogs with a mic. That is, for the speechifying of winners who’ve bucked Hollywood’s cultural assumptions and broken out of the industry’s career pigeonholing. “Dreams are something you have to believe in,” said Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan from the podium while fighting back tears. “I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dream alive!”
But less than two hours after the conclusion of the awards presentation, upstairs at the glitzy Governors Ball, the customary first after-party stop for assorted members of the entertainment Fourth Estate — including those newly possessed of Academy hardware — talk of dreams gave way to less aspirational industry summations. For weeks leading up to Oscars Sunday, EEAAO had been the odds-on favorite to win big according to many leading awards-season prognosticators. Despite the heartwarming onstage celebrations earlier in the night, a number of guests inside the cavernous event space voiced something closer to unemotional resignation for Everything Everywhere’s awards haul. “Everyone thought it was going to win all the awards, and it won all the awards,” the wife of a hit-making producer and member of the Academy who had placed Everything Everywhere All At Once at the top of his preferential ballot for Best Picture told me. “So what’s the surprise?”
To be clear, the people I talked to seemed generally happy that a weird little film full of pet rocks, googly eyes, hot-dog fingers, and butt plugs could go the distance and be recognized for its originality and the distinguished performances of its primary cast — particularly Quan, who struggled to make a living as an actor and lost his health insurance because he couldn’t book another job after wrapping Everything Everywhere. But there was also a feeling of bloodlessness: that those of us feasting on Moroccan lamb cigars and Oscar-shaped salmon matzahs while traipsing the champagne carpet and ascending the rose-festooned stairs had long ago accepted EEAAO (and its key talent) as our presumed winners. Viewed that way, the night’s awards benediction was little more than a formality.
Some of the grousing, of course, came from the competition. A senior executive from a studio whose nominated films did not fare as well as A24’s top moneymaker of all time admitted the “lack of a spread was surprising.” Usually, the Academy “likes to spread the big awards between a few different movies,” he said. “So it was weird they gave everything to Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Moreover, this executive (who, like others who spoke with Vulture for this article, requested anonymity due to ongoing business sensitivities) felt that EEAAO’s dominance at so many bellwether awards shows in the run-up to the Oscars meant that more mainstream fare never had a fighting chance. “This was supposed to be the year ‘Movies are back!’” he said, echoing a rallying call that had gone out throughout the studio and theatrical exhibition communities since the spring. “This was the year a bunch of movies that made a lot of money that people actually went to the theater to see got nominated. But the big movies were never in contention. There was never any chance Avatar or Top Gun or Black Panther were going to win the major awards. Not when Everything Everywhere was the clear front-runner.”
EEAAO ended up with the most Oscars won by any Best Picture winner since the category expanded in 2009, and the most above-the-line awards by a single movie in Academy history. At just past 10 p.m., as Nelly’s mellifluous 2001 bop “Ride Wit Me” blared from speakers, the film’s Best Original Screenplay– and Best Director–winning duo, Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert), boogied up a few stairs to a narrow stage beneath a giant “Oscars 95” banner where engravers carved their names onto their new statuettes. Joining producer Jonathan Wang, who was hefting his own Academy Award for the film’s Best Picture win, the three clinked their Oscars together: a victory toast. Wang walked to the edge of the stage to where a wall of red roses separated him from a pen of professional photographers and lookie-loos clutching iPhones. He thrust his award into the air as capstone to the evening.
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