HOLLYWOOD: Subversive sci-fi flick “Everything Everywhere All at Once” collected key early prizes Sunday at the Oscars, where it is favorite to win the highly coveted best picture prize, as the star-studded Hollywood gala began with a flurry of jokes about the infamous slap.

The unorthodox but widely loved “Everything Everywhere” -- which features multiple universes, sex toys and hot dog fingers -- won best supporting actor and best supporting actress for Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

“Mom, I just won an Oscar!” said a tearful Quan.

The Vietnam-born actor, 51, was a major child star in the 1980s with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,“ but has made a comeback from decades in the Hollywood wilderness.

“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage... this is the American Dream!” he said.

Curtis paid tribute to her parents Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, both Oscar-nominated actors who never won Hollywood's most coveted golden statuettes.

The wacky sci-fi film has grossed $100 million at the global box office, and leads the overall nominations count Sunday, with 11.

It follows a Chinese immigrant laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) locked in battle with an inter-dimensional supervillain who happens to also be her own daughter.

Yeoh's heroine Evelyn must harness the power of her alter egos living in parallel universes, which feature hot dogs as human fingers, talking rocks and giant dildos used as weapons.

The film has dominated nearly every awards show in Hollywood, with its charismatic, predominantly Asian stars becoming the feel-good story of the season.

'The Slap'

If any rival can prevail, it is likely “All Quiet on the Western Front,“ Netflix’s German-language World War I movie that dominated Britain’s BAFTAs.

The film won best international feature and best cinematography early in Sunday's ceremony.

And as the night progressed, it also gathered Oscars for best original score and best production design -- an award it was not heavily favored for, which raised expectations that it could be on course to spring an major upset.

Another strong best picture contender is “Top Gun: Maverick,“ the long-awaited sequel from Tom Cruise that helped bring audiences back to movie theaters after the pandemic.

While Cruise did not attend Sunday's ceremony, the night began with a thunderous flyover by two US Navy jets, soaring at 345 mph over the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Host Jimmy Kimmel was then lowered onto the stage, and he quickly launched into a monologue which laid into Will Smith's infamous attack on Chris Rock at last year's Oscars.

The specter of “The Slap” has hung over the Oscars since Smith assaulted Rock on stage for cracking a joke about his wife.

Smith was allowed to stay at the gala, and accept Hollywood's top male acting prize soon after, but has since been banned from Academy events for a decade.

“If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during the show -- you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor, and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech,“ joked Kimmel.

'Naatu Naatu'

In the night’s other early prizes, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” won best animated film.

And “Navalny” won best documentary, with its director reading a message from the imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, before his wife took the stage.

“My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,“ Yulia Navalnaya said.

Dozens of dancers brought a colorful, energetic performance of “Naatu Naatu,“ the nominated song from Indian crowdpleaser “RRR,“ to the Oscars stage.

The lead acting contests -- expected to be announced just before the night's final prize of best picture -- are incredibly tight.

For best actress, Cate Blanchett had long been favorite to win a third Oscar for “Tar,“ but “Everything Everywhere” love could propel Yeoh to a historic first win by an Asian woman in the category.

Best actor is a three-horse race between Brendan Fraser (”The Whale”) , Austin Butler (”Elvis) and Colin Farrell (”The Banshees of Inisherin”).

Ratings rebound?

Academy bosses hope that Oscars television ratings will pick up from recent years, calling in big-hitters from the world of music to perform their nominated songs.

A dressed-down Lady Gaga sang an emotional, heartfelt rendition of her song “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Rihanna is expected to provide the final musical performance with “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,“ which also won best costume design.

Partly thanks to “The Slap,“ last year’s TV ratings improved from record lows, but remained well below their late 1990s peak, as interest in awards shows wanes.

This year, organizers hope that nominations for popular blockbusters like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” will bring viewers back. - AFP

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