'Everything Everywhere All at Once' triumphs at mild-mannered Oscars

The hit movie was the big winner at Sunday's Academy Awards, winning Best Picture and several other top prizes.

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

There were no slaps or any other acts of violence during Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony, a warm and inviting if typically exhausting celebration of Hollywood’s best and brightest.

The zany, internet-minded "Everything Everywhere All at Once" won a leading seven statues, including Best Picture, Best Director and three acting awards — Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) and Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis) — a remarkable showing for the sci-fi comic-drama mashup, and something of a game changer for the type of film that typically scores big at the Academy Awards.

The cast and crew of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" accepts the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Surprises? There weren't many. Heading into the evening, "Everything Everywhere" was heavily favored to clean up in the night’s big categories. Its chief competition was "All Quiet on the Western Front," the WWI drama which won four awards and was the most starkly traditional of the nominated films, especially in the Best Picture field.

If there was a push-pull between old and new as represented by the two films, it wasn't overstated, and the decidedly new school "Everything Everywhere" — an inclusive story of a Chinese immigrant family that pulls equally from the worlds of comic books, big screen blockbusters, kung-fu flicks, YouTube videos and meme culture — signals a changing of the guard at the Academy Awards.

Aside from comeback kid Brendan Fraser, who picked up a Best Actor trophy for his role as an obese shut-in in director Darren Aronofsky's difficult drama "The Whale," the evening's other big winner was moms and dads, as a majority of winners shouted out either one or both parents from the stage. It was indicative of the mood at the ceremony, a kinder, gentler Oscar night, which featured several jokes about the Will Smith incident from a year ago but no such unscripted, combustible moments. For Hollywood and the show's producers, that's a relief, even if it means there's less to chew on, culturally and politically, in the aftermath of the ceremony.

Daniel Scheinert, left, and Daniel Kwan accept the award for best original screenplay for "Everything Everywhere All at Once" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Host Jimmy Kimmel, returning for his third stint as Oscar host, set the show's friendly, affable tone early on with a monologue that lightly roasted several nominees and poked fun at the evening's runtime even before the runtime itself became an issue. "You know a show is too long when even Jim Cameron won't sit through it," Kimmel joked, poking fun at "Avatar: The Way of Water" director James Cameron, who skipped the ceremony.

Tom Cruise was the night's other notable no-show, despite several nominations for his box office-topping "Top Gun: Maverick," including in the Best Picture category. (Along with starring in the movie, Cruise was a producer on the project.) Cruise's absence was a missed opportunity to capitalize on his renewed status as Hollywood's king in the wake of "Top Gun's" gargantuan success, and there was no star big enough to fill the void he left.

Cruise's skipping of the ceremony made the rounds mid-day Sunday, just as Lady Gaga's performance of the "Maverick" anthem "Hold My Hand" was announced as part of the show. Gaga delivered a stripped-down showstopper performance of the song, and she was dressed casually in a black T-shirt and ripped jeans in the least Oscar-y Oscar look of the night.

Lady Gaga performs the song "Hold My Hand" from "Top Gun: Maverick" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023.

"Hold My Hand" did not go on to win the category, that honor went to "Naatu Naatu" from the Tollywood epic "RRR," which also topped Rihanna's "Lift Me Up" from "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and Diane Warren's "Applause," which marked Warren's 14th loss in the Best Original Song category. "Naatu Naatu's" win was another indicator of the expanded global reach of the Academy and the inclusion that was at the forefront of the show and its mission, and ultimately the changing face of the Academy Awards.

"Everything Everywhere's" Ke Huy Quan embodied that change in his stirring win and acceptance speech, which came early in the three-hour, 36 minute show. Quan is just the second performer of Asian descent to win Best Supporting Actor trophy, following Haing S. Ngor (for "The Killing Fields") in 1984.

"My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood's biggest stage," said Quan, the child star of the '80s who was entirely out of films from 2002 to 2021. "They say stories like this only happen in the movies, I cannot believe this is happening to me. This is the American dream!"

Yeoh, for her part, became the first Asian woman to win Best Actress honors, and she dedicated her victory to "all the little boys and girls who look like me" watching the show at home. "This is a beacon of hope and possibilities," the 60-year-old actress, who has been acting in movies for almost 40 years, said while holding up her award. "This is proof that dreams do come true."

Michelle Yeoh accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role for "Everything Everywhere All at Once" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Those dreams also came true for "Everything Everywhere" directing duo Daniels, aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The film is only the second directorial feature from the former music video team, following 2016's "Swiss Army Man," a bizarre exercise in style which featured "Harry Potter" actor Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulent corpse.

Kwan, the word "Punk" scrawled across the back of his red suit coat, thanked his immigrant parents while accepting the Best Director trophy. The pair also won the trophy for Best Original Screenplay, as "Everything Everywhere" also won Best Editing (for Paul Rogers).

With its win, "Everything Everywhere" becomes the most popular film, box office-wise, to win Best Picture since "Argo" in 2012. "Everything Everywhere All at Once," which opened in theaters last March, has grossed $73 million at the North American box office and has garnered a fervent following online. Last year's Best Picture winner, "CODA," was released on Apple TV+ and didn't have a significant theatrical presence, and no other Best Picture winner in the last decade had grossed more theatrically at the time of its Oscar win. Worldwide, "Everything Everywhere" has surpassed the $100 million marker, which is significant for a film that reportedly cost less than $25 million to make.

Curtis, in her win in the Best Supporting Actress category, gave a shout out to her late parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, as well as the slew of genre films she's appeared in over the years since she made her debut in the original "Halloween" in 1978. It was Curtis' first Oscar nomination in her 45-year career.

Jamie Lee Curtis accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role for "Everything Everywhere All at Once" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Other moving moments during the ceremony came when the Dolby Theatre audience serenaded James Martin, an actor with Down syndrome, with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" while he was on stage, celebrating his birthday, as his "An Irish Goodbye" won the award for Best Live Action Short Film. (The Best Documentary Short award went to "The Elephant Whisperers," a charming story about an elephant rehabilitation camp in Tamil Nadu, India, which was edited by Rochester Hills native Douglas Blush, who also executive produced the project.) Later, Kimmel brought a donkey on stage in a nod to "The Banshees of Inisherin's" scene-stealing mule, Jenny, in another soothing moment of serenity for the broadcast. (Alas, it was not the real Jenny, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.)

Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors, handing out the award for Best Cinematography, also managed to sneak in a lesson on what cinematography is and how it is effectively executed, the kind of handy lesson the Oscars should strive to provide in the technical categories, which are often hard to grasp for casual viewers of the telecast.

There were a few dud bits as well as the show dragged on past the 11 o'clock hour. "Cocaine Bear" director Elizabeth Banks appeared on stage with someone in a bear suit in a stunt that quickly wore out its welcome, and an audience segment late in the show fell flat when Kimmel asked Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala to weigh in on a stale Harry Styles controversy.

We also got a self-serving plug for Disney's upcoming remake of "The Little Mermaid" and an odd montage of Warner Bros. films; alas, you can't win 'em all. But Sunday night's Oscars — no matter how those pesky ratings pan out — seemed to right the path for the show following last year's disaster of a broadcast and its aftermath.

A slate of thankful, gracious winners coupled with a forward-thinking crop of honorees against a returning box office spell good things for an entity that's 95 years old and had looked out of touch — with viewers, with audiences, and even with Hollywood — in recent years.

No slap? That's just fine. Sunday's Oscars could be a case where the lack of chaos or controversy is a good thing, and the focus returns to where it should be: on the movies themselves.