‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ leads Oscars’ diverse list of 2023 nominees

oscar nominees 2023

Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

And suddenly “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was … everywhere, all at once.

The metaphysical metaverse fantasy led the 2023 Oscar nominations on Jan. 24, with 11 nominations, including best picture, best director (shared by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), best supporting actress nods for Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, and a best supporting actor one for Ke Huy Quan.

Michelle Yeoh, meanwhile, got a best actress mention — the first Asian to be honored in that category in the Academy’s 95 years.

The wild, genre-bending film’s nomination domination — and the acknowledgement of often over-looked Asian talent — may speak to efforts the Academy has made recently to broaden its membership. Once primarily made up of older, white American men, its rolls have grown younger and made room for more women, more people of color, and more international filmmakers.

That’s not to say that these were merely politically correct choices — although I fully suspect an #OscarsSoWoke hashtag to sprout up somewhere, if it hasn’t already.

Angela Bassett in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Seriously, who would dare call Angela Bassett, who got a best supporting actress nod for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” undeserving? And however much you may have disliked the loose-with-the-facts “Blonde” — and I did, a lot — who would say Ana de Armas didn’t do a marvelous job of bringing Marilyn Monroe, or someone like her, to life.

So no, this diverse list of nominees has nothing to do with tokenism. Although it may have something to do with a changing membership being willing to look past the usual suspects, and the biggest Hollywood films, to find other equally praiseworthy people and pictures.

Nine nominations, for example, went to the German film “All Quiet on the Western Front,” an epic new adaptation of the classic WWI novel that hasn’t exactly drawn crowds. Tying it for second place in the honors race was “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a dark absurdist drama about life on a tiny Irish island that some audiences were divided on.

The big blockbusters were still here, along with some familiar names. The spectacular “Avatar: The Way of Water” got a best picture nomination, as did Steven Spielberg’s far smaller and more personal “The Fabelmans” (which also snagged him a best director mention, and a shared one for best original screenplay). “Top Gun: Maverick” scored a best picture nod, too.

What’s changed is that there were times when those would be the only sorts of movies mentioned. This year saw smaller, more difficult movies like “Triangle of Sadness” and “Women Talking” enter the best picture race. Another top-prize contender, “Tár,” also drew major praise for its star, Cate Blanchett, and its director and writer, Todd Field.

Brendan Fraser in “The Whale.”

Going through the acting categories, one by one, reveal some surprises and some sure things. Best actor Brendan Fraser has had nothing but praise for “The Whale” since it premiered; he will now compete against Austin Butler for “Elvis” and Colin Farrell for “The Banshees of Inisherin.” The two wild cards? Paul Mescal as the father in the widely praised indie “Aftersun” and Bill Nighy as a dying businessman in “Living,”

Yeoh and Blanchett may be neck-and-neck in the race for the best actress praise — although, given her many years in the business and the breakthrough nature of her nomination, the edge goes to Yeoh. De Armas and Michelle Williams, for “The Fabelmans,” help fill out the list. The big surprise here? The marvelous Andrea Riseborough for “To Leslie”; the veteran actress benefitted from a sudden online campaign on her behalf by other actors.

In the supporting actor race, Quan is a sentimental favorite, perhaps even a lock — he’s a former child actor (“The Goonies,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) and his performance was a welcome return after decades away. Brendan Gleeson’s quiet turn in “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Judd Hirsch’s far-from-quiet one in “The Fabelmans” were expected, too. More surprising was the inclusion of Gleeson’s costar, Barry Keoghan, and of Brian Tyree Henry, a fine actor in a little-seen film, “Causeway.”

The supporting actress category may have been the most unpredictable. Two female-centric films — “Women Talking” and “She Said” — each could have easily filled those five slots. Instead, both films were shut out here, while room was made for Bassett, Curtis and Hsu, Hong Chau from “The Whale” and Kerry Condon from “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Bassett may have the edge, but she’s already made pop-culture history — no other performer has ever been nominated for a Marvel film.

Of course, the entertainment media will now busy itself with tallying up the snubs. It’s not a game I particularly like to play. After all, in most of the 23 categories, there are only room for five nominees. If your favorite didn’t make it … well, who would you kick off to make room? 

Sure, it’s hard not to look at this honor roll and see some gaps. What happened to the more political stories about Black history, like “Till” and “The Woman King,” and their formidable stars? Why was the best director list again all-all male — when Sarah Polley made one of the best picture nominees, “Women Talking”? (One possible reason: Directors draw up the best director nominations. The entire membership votes on best picture.) 

Aubrey Plaza in “Emily the Criminal.”

And where were some of the critical darlings? Yes, it was a small surprise to see “Aftersun” and “Triangle of Sadness” gain attention. But where were the other arthouse films, including widely praised family dramas like “Armageddon Time”? Quirky indies like “Emily the Criminal”? Thought-provoking imports like “Decision to Leave”? Or even some of the year’s amazing, daring horror movies, like “Pearl,” a shocker even Martin Scorsese praised?

Well, they were on critics’ own lists (and maybe yours). But now, after several months of critics’ prizes, it’s time to turn the awards job over to the people who actually make movies, and know the movie makers. And suddenly an entirely new and hugely personal set of factors — did this actor annoy me at a party last year? is this director horrible to work with? — come into play.

We’ll see what answers they come up with on March 12, when the golden statues are given out.

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