Friday, June 14, 2024

Biggest Takeaways From The 95th Academy Awards

The 2022 Oscars, and perhaps the 2022 year of film in general, now officially belongs to “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” In fact, the new Best Picture now stands alone in the annals of Oscar history as the most awarded above-the-line Oscar winner ever and the first film to win three acting trophies and Best Picture. But that’s not all that happened on this Oscar night, despite what the ceremony’s beginning and end suggested.

This is a night, an award season, and a year singularly defined by “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Yet in between its historic sweeps, these are the other biggest stories of the 95th Oscars and ultimately of the 2022-23 awards season in general.

The Searchlight Machine Finally Breaks Down
A24 shattered records with all four acting winners and seven of eight above-the-line victories. It was the kind of history one would have expected a studio like Searchlight – the biggest Oscar-winning studio of the preferential ballot/post-Weinstein era – to make first. But for the first time in many years, Searchlight was dead quiet on Oscar night.

Even when “Everything Everywhere All at Once” started sweeping everything these last few weeks, “The Banshees of Inisherin” was expected to get at least one collective Oscar, if only because Searchlight does not get shut out with its major contenders. But once Kerry Condon lost Supporting Actress and Martin McDonagh fell short in Best Original Screenplay once again, the writing was on the wall.

Searchlight has gone winless in above-the-line categories before in 2012, 2015, and 2016. Otherwise, it can almost always be counted on to salvage one major win – like when Olivia Colman saved “The Favourite” from getting blanked in 2018, and when Searchlight got Jessica Chastain an Oscar and “Nightmare Alley” the last Best Picture nomination of 2021 on a relative off year. However, the pure domination of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” changed the usual Oscar rules in more ways than one.

The Musical Biopic Genre Actually Got Shut Down Too
An even more immutable rule of the modern Oscars is that nominated musical biopic films, and especially musical biopic or musical biopic adjacent actors must win something. Between that and the early success of both “Elvis” and Austin Butler, it seemed like an exceptionally safe bet in 2022. But in a collapse more shocking than that of Searchlight, this trend was shattered with far less warning.

It was one thing for Butler to lose to Brendan Fraser, even if his win for the non-Best Picture nominated “The Whale” was the first of its kind since Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart” in 2009. Yet those who thought Butler would lose still largely expected “Elvis” to get at least one tech win somewhere. Everyone who saw “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Ray,” “Walk the Line” and more musical biopic films win something in this century, and those who heard reports of packed Academy screenings for “Elvis” earlier this season, could not have imagined this Academy wouldn’t give the new musical biopic King anything at all.

But if we live in a world where Searchlight can get shut out, a musical biopic Best Picture nominee can go winless, and a favored musical biopic actor, in general, can lose as well – no matter how young he is or how long his movie voice endures – then maybe this really is a brand-new voting body after all.

Makeup & Hairstyling Paves The Way For Lead Acting Once Again
While Fraser and Butler didn’t have their final showdown until near the end, “Elvis” and “The Whale” had a significant showdown earlier in Best Makeup and Hairstyling. As it turned out, “The Whale” winning that tight competition was a bellwether for a more significant win to come, just as this category was last year.

In that other lead acting category of 2021, Jessica Chastain won a chaotic race for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” not long after that film won Best Makeup & Hairstyling first. Of course, that happened before the 2021 show’s televised broadcast started, unlike this year. Nevertheless, exactly like last year, that category’s winner pointed the way to clarity in a wide-open lead acting race again.

The Academy may have broken a few of its usual trends this year, but this one seems to have endured. Much as with past Best Makeup & Hairstyling and acting winners “Les Miserables,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and “Darkest Hour,” voters fell in love with the drastic physical and prosthetic transformations in not one but two categories once more.

The ‘Spread The Wealth’ Era Ends For A Year
It is one thing that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” broke records with six above-the-line victories. It is quite another that it happened in an era that almost always spreads the wealth between most of the Best Picture contenders, or at least barely gives the Best Picture winner anything else. Yet it wasn’t just the Best Picture winner responsible for this gap.

In the only nerve-wracking stretch of the night, “All Quiet on the Western Front” overperformed below the line with Best International Film, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography wins. Even though any slim Best Picture suspense ended when it got shut out, the damage was done to any hope of a ‘spread the wealth’ kind of night.

Between “Everything Everywhere All at Once” ‘s seven overall wins, the four for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and the two for “The Whale,” only three films won 13 out of the 18 non-documentary/animated/short categories. That, more than the shutouts for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” “TAR,” and “Elvis,” reflects how this really was the most unbalanced Oscar night and season in a very long time.

Of course, the easy argument is there hasn’t been an obviously dominant winner like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in this era before, if ever. Nonetheless, the late surges by Netflix’s top film and A24’s second biggest film show that it didn’t act alone in blowing out the rest of the field.

Women Are Still Writing Their Way To An Oscar
The 2010s were a total shutout for female screenwriters, culminating in 2019 when “Little Women’s” Greta Gerwig lost to the late surging “Jojo Rabbit” for Best Adapted Screenplay. But so far, the 2020s have been utter perfection for women writers instead, starting with Emerald Fennell’s Best Original Screenplay win for “Promising Young Woman” and continuing with Sian Heder’s upset Best Adapted Screenplay win for “CODA” that sealed Best Picture.

For the vast majority of this season, Sarah Polley was the overwhelming favorite – by default or otherwise – to continue this winning streak with “Women Talking” in Best Adapted Screenplay. Yet between the near collapse of “Women Talking” out of the Best Picture lineup, the late surge for “All Quiet on the Western Front” and its string of tech wins on Oscar night, it was starting to look like a formerly inevitable “Women Talking” Screenplay win would be a mild upset. However, whether by upset or inevitability, Polley took the stage and the Oscar like almost everyone assumed she would many months ago.

Women Talking” ended any slim hopes for a “Men Fighting” film like “All Quiet on the Western Front” to rally in Best Picture, exactly as it did to “Top Gun: Maverick” at the WGA awards the previous Sunday. Between that and continuing the winning ways of women writers at the Oscars, this decade keeps looking a little brighter for the likes of Polley than the last one did.

Barriers Weren’t Broken Everywhere
For all the glass ceilings shattered by “Everything Everywhere All at Once” for the Asian community and for lead actresses of color, some stayed unshattered. Perhaps the giant sign of how far we still have to go came with the only surprise “Everything Everywhere All at Once” win of the night when Jamie Lee Curtis got what was essentially a career-tribute win in Best Supporting Actress. Yet Angela Bassett’s own career-capping narrative didn’t pay off for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” despite being the favorite until BAFTA and SAG.

Of course, Curtis was carried along by an unprecedented Best Picture sweeper. Bassett’s film was a snubbed Marvel superhero sequel, albeit one that did get Ruth E. Carter her second Best Costume Design Oscar win of the franchise. Even so, the fact an African-American icon did not ultimately get the same “beloved veteran” push to the finish line that a white counterpart did – especially one who really wasn’t even the Best Supporting Actress of her own movie, thanks to similarly overlooked Stephanie Hsu – was a glaring asterisk for an otherwise barrier-breaking night.

It wasn’t the only one, as “Elvis’” surprising shutout also included a defeat for cinematographer Mandy Walker, despite early hopes she would be the first female winner of that category. Nonetheless, no matter how much progress the Academy makes, it still hasn’t gotten far enough for a rising tide to lift all underrepresented groups yet – even if the biggest headlines suggest differently.

What were your biggest takeaways from the Oscars this year? Did you enjoy the show? Did you enjoy the awards season as a whole? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. Thank you!

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