By audience consensus, the Academy Awards rarely get their major picks correct. There are winners every year of course, but the Oscars for Best Acting (on any level), Director, and Picture are great examples of design by committee. The cream of the annual crop are usually nominated but the evening’s winners often leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans by the morning after.
With the most nominations and wins for 2023, this year’s darling was undeniably Everything Everywhere All at Once, which we’ll shorten to EEAAO to save exhaustion, moving forward.
With an impressive 11 Oscar nominations and 7 wins, no one should debate that EEAAO isn’t a good film. It is just that. It is very good, even. It just wasn’t the best when compared to the other films nominated. EEAAO was a quiet sleeper that didn’t initially perform at the box office but has definitely made it’s money back. Major award nominations will do that for a film and are part of the Hollywood game. But, can you honestly say that you’d sit down and rewatch EEAAO twice in a year or stop what you were doing if it was on tv?
This year’s Oscar herd was thinner than in years past and getting tougher with more titles created for at home viewership. The meager, covid laden box office of the last few years is proof that cinema going was heading the way of the dodo. Then one movie came along and single handedly resurrected the silver screen experience: Top Gun: Maverick.
I submit to you that not only did Top Gun: Maverick save the movie theater experience, but it should have won best picture; if only for that alone. Let’s circle back to the winner though. Everything Everywhere All at Once won in all major categories so it must be worth mentioning again. If you didn’t see it, it’s a film about family connection, and life choices creating different paths across different universes. The heroine of the story, Michelle Yeoh learns to tap in to her other selves with the help of her mousy but jolly husband Ke Huy Quan and her daughter Stephanie Tsu.
The plot is much more complex than that, but for the sake of brevity it covers philosophical and existential topics such as: If you know everything about everything, is life meaningful or meaningless? Do small choices change who you are as person even though your life may end up drastically different? Are we products of our environment and upbringing, or can we escape those predeterminations?
These are complex subjects that EEAAO covers with fun and craziness and makes beautiful. They did a tremendous job tying it up and infusing sense into the world they created, but it was not the weirdest or most entertaining movie of the lot.
As far as strange and memorable goes, it’s hard to imagine odder movies than Triangle of Sadness or The Banshees of Inisherin. You can’t watch either of those films on first try and guess where they are ending up. Even crossing multiverses and having an entire dimension where Jamie Lee Curtis (and all others) have hot dogs for fingers, EEAAO still pales in oddness by comparison to the sea sickness scene of Triangle of Sadness or The Banshee of Inisherin’s donkey that chokes on human fingers. The Oscar sweeping film in its weirdness and charms is still very predictable and a paint by numbers heart-warmer in terms of character arc and emotion.
If we only went according to reviews, critic scores, box office draw, and longevity in the marketplace, none of the other movies nominated score nearly as high as Top Gun: Maverick.
Yes yes, Tom Cruise didn’t deliver an Oscar caliber performance, nor was the script mind-bending and original, but as an overall picture it just worked on all cylinders. We see quite a bit in the Oscars, where a film wins one or two of the major categories and is automatically shoved onto the podium for Best Picture. There’a also a good deal of timing involved as some years are stacked while others have to search to find a film to give the award to reluctantly. 1995 had winner Forrest Gump pitted against The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. How do you pick a winner out of those three? Impossible.
2006 had winner Crash against Munich, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote, and Brokeback Mountain. Those are all fine films but in hindsight would you sit down with a bowl of popcorn and watch any of them again, in their entirety even once every few years? Here’s an even better question: Would you make an appointment with the big screen for any of these films?
The only two on the 2023 list that are a yes are Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water. All Quiet on the Western Front certainly could have had a theatrical release for it’s scope, but opted to go for Netflix.
From first frame to last, Top Gun: Maverick is a thrill ride. The audience is put in the cockpit of every airborne vehicle and the pacing is a steady build to the show stopping mission at the end. Said mission is all action, all emotion, and somehow still unpredictable even though we know Tom Cruise never, ever, ever dies in any of his movies.
By comparison, the first half of EEAAO is a mess. Yes, it’s designed in part to make us feel as confused as Michelle Yeoh, experiencing the same wild ride, but the execution is lacking. It’s fun but sloppy at times. It feels cheaply done, forced into inexpensive settings, and the pacing makes you want to chew through your recliner without any rest. The second half brings everything in wonderfully and again this is all by design but it is not the ride that Top Gun: Maverick is. For cutting multiverses together, the editing Oscar in EEAAO is well earned as is the screenplay and direction for bringing scope to a very complex vision, but the acting awards aside from Ke Huy Quan could have gone to anyone in the field.
These are all great accomplishments but they did not bring people to the theaters, which is why large scale movies with named talent are usually made. In 2021 and 2022 Nicole Kidman was begging people to go to the theaters via ads. Attendance was at an all time low, save a few Marvel films.
No one was going to watch standard non superhero, non CGI laden films of any sort. Then the Top Gun sequel came along. With practical effects, human actors, limited CGI, and actual flying, it became a reason to get off our couches. Producer / Actor Tom Cruise delayed the release of the film over and over as covid crippled the box office receipts for 2 straight years, with few signs of improvement. In summer 2022 it dropped into theaters and had an incredible run. For perspective, a blockbuster movie can usually stick around at a cineplex for up to 3 months if it’s really, really big. Top Gun: Maverick, ran for almost 6 full months. People were going back to theaters to rewatch it on the big screen.
In hindsight, when choosing a “Best Picture”, does the Academy take fun and enjoyment into consideration? No. It’s usually artsy or moving films with messages that get nominated. Does the Academy care if the film is ever watched again after the awards? No, of course not.
Top Gun: Maverick is special in that it’s one of those films that brings repeated enjoyment, big action, is a sequel better than the original, and single handedly saved the movie experience as we know it. Steven Spielberg even said as much to Tom Cruise in person , and that’s a man who knows how to marry profit and art. Watch Everything Everywhere All at Once, then Top Gun: Maverick and let me know which one you’d sit through again in a month.
Best Picture doesn’t have to be the film that also won the most other major awards, or is a chore to get through because it’s so thought provoking and artsy. It should be viewed as a separate, stand alone prize for the accomplished film that works best as a whole and will stand the test of time with audiences, new and old.