95th Academy Awards Recap: (Shrugs)

Before I run through tired Academy Awards takes, can we take a minute to appreciate how much I nailed my predictions for Best Picture nominees back in October? Please do, because I don’t have much to pat myself on the back for. Going 8/10, only missing on Elvis and All Quiet on the Western Front is something worth riding home about in my world. Unfortunately, my prognostication is never going get me invited to St. Patrick’s Day parties or any celebratory occasions for that matter, so I’m still trying to improve.

I had the benefit of watching Everything Everywhere All at Once in April 2022 when the hype was minimal, only existing for super-online cinephiles on Letterboxd. I enjoyed it fine enough, thinking it was a clear execution of a unique vision, and it juggled multiple genres in fun ways. I’m preaching to the choir with this take, but I found the ending and resolution to many of its lofty ideas to be quite toothless. Oftentimes, the Daniels want to be taken seriously by dipping their toes into philosophy and cultural heritage but frequently resort to juvenile humor. When the film was rolling, at some point in the middle, Everything Everywhere kept me engaged and entertained.

Then, as awards season arrived and lasted far too long per usual, the film from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert got hit with a bad wave of discourse. This is typical for Best Picture favorites, but this case was more extreme than usual. This indie with multiverses and Epic Bacon sensibilities from filmmakers who are more inspired by YouTube than cinema vaulting to the highest of prestigious recognition was jarring, and it’s something I’m still grappling with. I imagine there were plenty of cinephiles who at least mildly enjoyed EEAAO and immediately turned on it when it received 11 Oscar nominations. I’d be lying if I didn’t have remnants of that instinct. With each passing day heading up to the Oscars ceremony, I gradually tempered my approval and enthusiasm for the film. I wonder if, deep down, I wanted to be a true hater of the film and the rabid fanbase it conceived. I purposefully have not revisited it yet, hoping to watch it with a fresh mind and removed any influence created from discourse. This is not a flattering take to reveal, but I can’t help but be underwhelmed by the Oscars awarding a film like EEAAO that is so commonly sophomoric. This is not to say that the Academy is the ultimate arbiter of great cinema, or that they consistently honor the best work, but I like to hold them to a standard of classiness. Academy voters responding favorably to something riddled with meme language doesn’t sit right with me. This runs counterintuitive to the philosophy of “let people enjoy things!” that permeates artistic criticism today. I sound like an old crank even though I’m the age of the target audience of Everything Everywhere, but this is the kind of thinking that I live with every day.

Other than the dominance of Everything Everywhere, I’m not sure what else there is to say. While it was dry and quite dull at times, I appreciate that the ceremony carried itself with pride and credibility, unlike the mockery that was put on display (Will Smith-innocent. If anything, it’s a shame he didn’t slap the decision-maker behind cutting categories from the broadcast). I say this by pretending like the infomercials for Disney and Warner Bros didn’t happen on the telecast. While watching, I was contemplating why I’m routinely invested in this annual ceremony that is regularly predictable, but I chose not to torture myself over it. Enjoy montages and clips of movies, I told myself. The shutout of The Fabelmans, my favorite of 2022, is a foresight into the Oscar success of Killers of the Flower Moon next year. The collective reverence for our master filmmakers like Spielberg and Scorsese has waned. There is obviously enough respect for these pictures to receive nominations, but late-period reflections seen in The Irishman and The Fabelmans are no longer a slam dunk for unanimous Oscar sweeps. Unfathomably, that’s reserved for Everything Everywhere All At Once.

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