In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 2023 winner Everything Everywhere All at Once. Is it better than Crash?
The discourse around the Oscars hasn’t changed all that much in my lifetime and it doesn’t look to change all that much. The problem, as I see it, is the Oscars only matter if they are relevant to the average viewer and they only stay relevant if they are both an indicator of greatness and a reward for it. That means you need to have some level of trust in their consensus but also you need to think their nominator process is a barometer in the first place.
The folks behind this whole thing showed their cards recently with a play at making a category for movies people actually watch, which is an old-school criticism tied in with the whole “Oscar bait” discussion. They walked that back because that’s a dumb idea and it makes them look dumb, but it does speak to a world where all ten of the top ten grossing films of 2022 in America were superhero movies, sequels, or both.
A24, the production company behind Everything Everywhere All at Once released exactly one movie, that one, in the top 50 grossing films of last year. That puts them one behind Crunchyroll, the anime streaming service. The world has changed. None of this matters. It still is part of the larger Oscar conversation, but it muddies the waters enough that the Oscars cannot seem to figure out what they want to be or for whom they want to put on a broadcast.
This year’s broadcast was, compared to the last decade or so, smoother, and, I think, better than it usually is. Almost everything you’d expect to happen more or less happened. The surprises were minimal and, in retrospect, make sense. All Quiet on the Western Front won a bunch of (deserved) technical or smaller awards. Brendan Fraser and the team behind his makeup won for The Whale. Other than that, Everything Everywhere All at Once essentially won everything majorly significant it could and people more or less seemed to both see that coming and accept it.
The point of this series was originally to drag Crash, which is a movie I have always found frustrating, but also to try to find a better understanding of what the Oscars do for us as a film audience. There are movies nominated every year that I would not otherwise see that I see only because of this process. I have that to thank for some surprising experiences this year, like the very weird Elvis biopic that I mostly liked and the atrocious, vile Blonde which I think was far and away the worst movie of the year and a low point for this entire endeavor.
I think this is the function of the Oscars in 2023. Your life probably looks pretty different than it did five years ago, when you might have gone to see more movies out in the world and taken some chances on different fare. Maybe I’m projecting, but that was true for me, and now I’m not as likely to turn on The Fablemans on a Tuesday. I appreciate the nomination process as a shortlisting of things to maybe try, if nothing else.
I think this year they got it right, too. My personal favorite movie nominated was The Banshees of Inisherin, but that’s not the kind of movie that wins this award. With the power of hindsight the last decade or so looks a little shaky, but there are also some all-time greats among Best Picture winners. How will we remember this one?
Everything Everywhere All at Once was such a sweep and so consistently a frontrunner that I don’t know how much I need to say here. Everyone said to see it cold and they were right, so I may take the lazy path here and tell you that’s the right recommendation. I think the odds of you reading this but not knowing more about it are slim, but if that’s you, just go watch it.
I’ll focus more on the place it occupies in film than the plot. Essentially everyone I know who saw it loved it and the critical consensus is near absolute. The New Yorker called it cynical, which in the context of their review makes sense but is akin to calling water dry. It’s a movie about optimism, or at least finding a way to cope with the inherent difficulties and failings around us. It’s a movie about a lot more things than I have space to talk about, which is part of why so many people loved it. It feels like it can be all things to all people, which gives it a sense that it’s talking to you no matter what you need to hear it say. That universality and that blank-slate quality of the main cast as they switch back and forth across multiple universes and different versions of themselves is what that single reviewer found alienating. In the larger world, it’s what people have grabbed onto and it’s how a really weird, specific movie feels like a slam dunk for a such a usually traditional award.
We’re only a few years removed from the fish monster love story movie winning, but it helps to remember that the Oscars have been very safe for most of their history. There are surprises, even going way back, but usually it’s a movie for everyone. Arguably, the real success of Everything Everywhere All at Once is that still being true and reflecting the world we actually live in even with visuals and experiences that are impossible and fantastical.
Will this seem weird ten years from now? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. The Oscars are at their best when they reflect the times accurately and it would be impossible to imagine anything else winning this year. I can’t even come up with what the contender would be, though I’m not saying this won by default. It deserves to be “the movie” of 2022, which is what the Oscars should be doing. Sometimes that’ll mean it’s a big deal to people who don’t care about the Oscars, but sometimes it doesn’t. Nomadland was the right choice two years ago, but did anyone ever mention it after that? I think we’re in for a different experience with this one.
The Best Part: The boldness of the whole thing is an easy choice here, as is the cast. This is the first movie in decades to win three of the four big acting awards in the same year. Everyone in it, down to the minor characters, is notably great. Couldn’t pick just one.
The Worst Part: I have not found that anyone shares my feelings on this, but some of the more extreme elements of slapstick fell flat for me. I think it says more about me than the movie, though, as that’s what a lot of people loved the most.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s better, by a huge margin. I legitimately am not sure if Blonde is, and honestly it probably is worse, if I’m on the spot. Nothing nominated for the big award comes close this year, but it’s comforting, in a way, to see the Academy still does love to nominate something that flat out sucks every single year. Refreshing to see that even as they want to build a big tent, they stick with their roots.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather| Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic | The Broadway Melody | The Sound of Music | On the Waterfront | Unforgiven | Million Dollar Baby | My Fair Lady | Hamlet | Braveheart | Oliver! | The English Patient | Lawrence of Arabia | Cimarron | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | All Quiet on the Western Front | The Great Ziegfeld | Out of Africa | Schindler’s List | Gandhi | Ben-Hur | The Godfather Part II | Annie Hall | Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) | Spotlight | Moonlight | The Shape of Water | Green Book | Parasite | Nomadland | CODA | Everything Everywhere All at Once
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.