Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert,  Everything Everywhere All At Once

Source: Blaine Ohigashi / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once

In urgent need of a credibility reset after last year’s shenanigans the 95th Academy Awards delivered a reassuringly conventional, heartfelt show that harkened back to days gone by yet at its heart seemed to offer a glimpse of generational shift.

Wisely, the Academy had opted for safe pairs of hands in executive producers Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss and show host Jimmy Kimmel, who made a grand entrance as he was lowered onto the stage in a harness and parachute after a video clip riff on Top Gun: Maverick showed him ejecting from Tom Cruise’s fighter plane. Outside the Dolby Theatre, two Navy jets whizzed past overhead, the flyover eliciting gasps from the audience watching on big screens.

There were no slips-ups or hot dog fingers on Sunday night, although there was the promised comedic reference to “slap-gate”. “If anyone in this theatre commits violence at any point during the show,” Kimmel said early into his third stint as Oscars MC, “you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute speech.”

And with that the memory of Will Smith’s moment of madness at last year’s ceremony was officially laid to rest. Kimmel kept things moving along at a fair clip, firing off mostly milquetoast gags like a benign grown-up with a Nerf gun at a children’s party. A few missed, most drew indulgent, polite laughter, like when he poked fun at Cruise and Avatar: The Way Of Water director James Cameron for not turning up to the theatre despite being huge advocates of theatre-going.

Elegant backdrop frames homage to cinema

Set against an elegant, retro-style backdrop that made good use of screens to dress the stage and its surroundings in gold and silver, the show felt brisk, even though three hours and 34 minutes was longer than some recent ceremony run times. Show producers made sure to highlight the collaborative nature of filmmaking, with part of the stage dedicated to recreating editing rooms and recording studios when crafts awards were handed out.

The producers did a good job of pairing presenters who were not required to trot out corny routines. Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, Andie MacDowell and her Four Weddings And A Funeral co-star Hugh Grant, Margot Robbie and Morgan Freeman, and Jessica Chastain and Halle Berry among others did what was asked of them with grace and a minimum of fuss. Berry filled in for the Academy-banned Smith to present the best lead actress award.

There were aaaaahs when Kimmel came on with what turned out to be an equine stand-in for Jenny the donkey from The Banshees Of Inisherin, and tittering quickly turned to tedium when a hoarse Elizabeth Banks presented the visual effects category alongside an actor dressed up as a bear costume in reference to her current release Cocaine Bear. A brief section in which Kimmel posed questions from the public to audience members Malala Yousafzai, Colin Farrell and Chastain fell flat.

The Academy continues to wrestle with how to engage the watching general public and didn’t help itself with self-indulgent pieces highlighting the Academy Museum and centenaries for Disney (whose corporate stablemate ABC broadcasts the Oscars) and Warner Bros.

The audience became a little restless at these points, but overall the mood was positive, buoyed by streamlined superstar musical performances from the likes of Rihanna, David Byrne, Diane Warren, the RRR cast and Lady Gaga, whose appearance in a low-key rendition of ‘Hold My Hand’ from Top Gun: Maverick was arguably the only surprise of the night after show producers had previously advised she would not perform live.

‘Everything’, ‘All Quiet’ contested close race

Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was the first win of the night followed by Ke Huy Quan’s male supporting actor win for A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, only the fifth acting win for a person of Asian descent and the second in the category. The two most predictable Oscars of the night out of the way, the ceremony moved through the winners towards the great unknowns – lead actor, lead actress, best picture.

After Netflix’s All Quiet On The Western Front won the international feature film Oscar and several crafts awards, there was a sense in the room that this could be the night the streamer might finally bring home the best picture Oscar.

Anticipation levels were rising. Out in the mezzanine lobby the team behind India’s best documentary short winner The Elephant Whisperers (Netflix) were celebrating and posing for photographs, a nice accompaniment to best song winner ‘Naatu Naatu’ from Indian smash RRR. Inside the room, Everything was gaining momentum with wins for Jamie Lee Curtis for supporting actress, Paul Rogers for editing, and Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for original screenplay. 

When the Daniels became only the third directing pair to win the directing Oscar after Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins for West Side Story in 1961 and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men in 2007, it seemed like nothing would stop Everything getting its hot dog fingers on more top prizes.

And so it proved to be. On a historic night Michelle Yeoh beat the early season favourite Cate Blanchett (Tár) to become the first Asian woman and only the second woman of colour after Halle Berry to win the lead actress Oscar in 95 years, and the sixth person of Asian descent (after Quan) to win an acting award. Wins for Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (her second costume Oscar after Black Panther four years prior) and Sarah Polley for adapted screenplay for Women Talking were popular in the room.

As the ceremony barrelled towards its finale, classy speeches continued to hold sway. Quan spoke of his win as epitomising the American Dream. Malaysian superstar Yeoh urged children who look like her to keep dreaming and the 60-year-old got a huge cheer when she urged women to never let anyone tell them they were past their prime. Brendan Fraser (The Whale) and Jamie Lee Curtis gave copious thanks, with the latter telling the room, “I am hundreds of people.” MM Keeravani, composer of ’Naatu Naatu’, sang his acceptance speech to a tune by his beloved The Carpenters.

When Everything was announced as best picture winner a loud roar rang out. It was an extremely rare win for a sci-fi feature (possibly the first if The Shape Of Water is categorised as fantasy), capping off weeks of speculation as to which film would take the top award. Everything had cleaned up at the US guilds ceremonies yet nobody had discounted Bafta winner All Quiet On The Western Front, especially after years of convergence between Oscars and Bafta winners.

In the end the Academy voted for a daring, original piece of work that also happened to be a box office hit. In fact All Quiet was the sole streamer film nominated for best picture this year. Ever in search of higher show ratings, the Academy and ABC executives will have liked the fact that many members of the public had seen the best picture winner in a theatre and in all likelihood felt connected to it.

After several years when the Academy spread its largesse among a number of nominees, seeing one film claim so many Oscars – seven – felt like times gone by. Encouragingly, for a potentially polarising film like Everything to prevail in the Academy’s preferential voting system meant it would have been a popular choice among members of all ages from the Academy’s roughly 9,500 voter base. The win felt like not only a reward for originality but for a fresh, contemporary way of telling a heartfelt story about love and family.

The sight on stage at the end summed it up: amid the jubilation and forest of outstretched arms holding Oscars, at the centre of the stage were Quan and best picture presenter Harrison Ford. Quan had been a child actor opposite Ford in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom back in 1984. Now, nearly 40 years later and recommitted to acting after nearly giving it all up, here was Quan hugging Ford. They looked like they never wanted to let each other go.