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In the end, it was an 'Everything Everywhere' night at the Oscars

Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan speak after winning the Oscar for best picture for <em>Everything Everywhere All at Once.</em>
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan speak after winning the Oscar for best picture for Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Updated March 13, 2023 at 6:46 AM ET

Everything Everywhere All at Once didn't win every award for which it was nominated — it was nominated for 11 and won seven. But it won big ones, again and again: best picture, best original screenplay, best director, best supporting actor and actress, best actress, and best editing.

For a stretch in the middle of the ceremony, it seemed like All Quiet On The Western Front might be coming on very strong, but the pendulum swung back. What's perhaps most surprising is how many films that once seemed like strong contenders for major awards wound up getting completely shut out: Tár, The Banshees of Inisherin, The Fabelmans and Elvis all went home empty-handed.

All the first-time acting nominees led to some emotional moments.

Of the 20 acting nominees across lead and supporting categories, 16 were first-time nominees. Unsurprisingly, they swept all four awards. The awards for supporting actor and supporting actress went to two very, very different "newcomers."

Ke Huy Quan once found himself shut out of Hollywood after a big start as a child actor in movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. He came roaring back in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and his speech highlighted the remarkable arc of his career. Jamie Lee Curtis also won for Everything Everywhere All At Once, but her story could hardly be more different. Born to Oscar-nominated parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, she became a star after Halloween in 1978, when she was just turning 20 years old. In the 45 years since then, she's made comedies like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda, family movies like Freaky Friday and My Girl, and — indeed — more horror films. And she expressed her gratitude for all the many, many people she's worked with over the years.

Michelle Yeoh, a superstar who became the first Asian woman to win best actress, was Everything Everywhere's third acting winner. And she also acknowledged her parents, her family, and the history that she and the film were making. Finally, Brendan Fraser, who had a hot film career as a very handsome young man and then saw the industry's interest in him wane, leaving a long period of relative quiet before his role in The Whale this year, won. He's another example of the many ways Hollywood can abandon or fail to see performers — and sometimes, even if not often, it can find them again.

They really wanted this to be the Comeback Oscars.

Host Jimmy Kimmel, in his monologue, talked about 2022 as the year people came back to theaters, two years after COVID upended the movie business. Huge movies, particularly Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick, were both moneymakers and best picture nominees. This year's message was plain: we're back. Perhaps it's fitting that Avatar won for visual effects and Top Gun: Maverick for sound — the spectacles won awards that relate, in part, to their status as such.

Host Jimmy Kimmel onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Host Jimmy Kimmel onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards.

Making this the comeback Oscars was, of course, consistent with the industry's chosen narrative of rebirth. But it's also part of the Academy's effort to revive interest in the ceremony after years of hearing the theory that the ratings were dropping because blockbusters weren't being nominated. That theory might turn out to be right or it might be wrong, but if this year didn't do it, then nominating big movies isn't a solution to the ratings problem as has so often been speculated.

The Academy's record when it comes to inclusion remains mixed, at best.

The milestones of the night — Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan being the first and second Asian performers to win in their respective categories was the most widely noted — sat alongside much more dispiriting facts.

Ruth E. Carter, winner of the best costume design award for <em>Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.</em>
Mike Coppola / Getty Images
Getty Images
Ruth E. Carter, winner of the best costume design award for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

For instance,Ruth Carter,who won for the costumes in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, became the first Black woman ever to win two Oscars, in a year in which Black nominees, particularly outside that one film, were limited. There are countless measures of representation, many more than just these two, and most are still painfully out of balance. But these notable firsts and these notable limitations juxtaposed continue to suggest that gains remain slow and uneven when they come at all.

The Oscars still love a war movie — and Netflix is a power.

These things are subjective, of course, but it didn't necessarily feel like there was a ton of enthusiastic buzz about the Netflix update of All Quiet on the Western Front until it started winning awards. The film perhaps sneaked up on people, but as Oscar night wore on and it started to rake in prizes, including for score, cinematography, production design and international feature, the fondness that Academy voters still have for epic war sequences became perfectly clear. It was perhaps the most utterly traditional choice they could have made in every way except for the fact that it's a film that's not in English.

At the same time, it was a reminder that while only a few years ago, Netflix was trying to wedge itself into the Oscars, it's now established a home there. Both the big haul for All Quiet and the nomination for Ana de Armas in Blonde seemed like testaments to the streamer's capacity to campaign.

The Oscars remain, as always ... the Oscars.

This was a year in which they didn't try much in terms of change; in fact, the goal seemed to be the most normal Oscars possible. Some montages, a nice In Memoriam segment, an okay monologue, solid musical performances from Lady Gaga and Rihanna among others, and a return to theater seating after last year's cocktail tables and the train station set the year before. It looked and felt fully, and full-throatedly, traditional. No tricks, no gimmicks, just the Oscars. And, of course, David Byrne performing with hot dog fingers.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.