I’ve had an unusual relationship with the Academy over the years. I grew up during the years when the ceremonies used older actors and somewhat corny jokes, with plenty of singing-and-dancing production numbers. That’s largely what television was when I was a kid – lots of variety-show song-and-dance stuff, so I shrugged and accepted much of it. I got more cynical about the stagey-ness as I got older; one of the more hilarious Oscar viewing nights I can remember was in college when I watched with three other acting majors and two film majors (the sheer quantity of snark flung that night permanently re-set my threshhold).
I also started to pay more critical attention to the films and performances that were being acknowledged by the Academy. All too often, the films or the performers I was most impressed by got snubbed or overlooked; Brokeback Mountain losing out to Crash for Best Picture in 2003 is one of the better examples, or Chariots of Fire beating Reds in 1981. Or Driving Miss Daisy beating Dead Poets Society in 1990, while Do The Right Thing wasn’t even nominated. I started noticing just how many other journalists who predicted Oscar awards would differentiate between “who’s going to win” and “who deserves to win”, and by the time Green Book won over BlacKkKlansman in 2018 I’d given up nearly all hope that my own favorites would ever win with the Academy. Maybe my personal favorites would win Best Screenplay (Get Out, Lost In Translation, Gods And Monsters and Call Me By Your Name all enjoy that honor) but that’s as close as things would get.
Then in 2020 there was a little film called Parasite that completely beat all the odds. Roommate Russ and I were part of a crowd watching at a local theater; we both hoped, but thought it was a long shot and were very pleasantly surprised. “I’ve never been happier to lose an Oscar pool,” I later joked on Facebook. The next couple years were a bit of a wash from Covid throwing a wrench in the works, but…this year, I’ve actually started caring about what happens on Oscar night, and rooting for people who may actually have a chance at winning.
And thus I’m actually going to throw my hat in the ring for the first time and make some predictions about the awards this year. I reserve the rights to update my predictions within the next few days – I still have a few of the Best Picture movies to see – but I’ve also been watching the results come in from some of the other awards, like the SAGS or the Golden Globes, and things actually look very promising for a few of my favorites. There’s still one or two places in which I’m going to make what I heard one critic call a “pray-diction”, where I nod towards both the person who could win something and the person who I want to win deep down.
Right: starting with some of the technical awards.
Best Visual Effects – Avatar, Way Of Water
So I hate the Avatar films, for the record. Hated the original, and from what I’ve heard I’d hate the sequel. (I’m actually not going to watch it for this year’s Best Picture roundup.) But – the thing I hate is the script itself, and how trite and uninspired it is. That said, I absolutely respect the caliber of work both films’ Visual Effects artists have achieved, particularly since they’re working with water. A very long time ago I worked as a production assistant on a fishing show, and got into a lengthy conversation with one of the post-production staff who told me just how difficult it is to film water; the Avatar team isn’t just filming water, they’re trying to simulate filmed water, which seems exponentially tougher. So I’m giving this to Avatar – under duress.
Best Film Editing – Top Gun: Maverick
Honestly I flipped a coin for this one, between this and Elvis. I’m also rooting for Everything Everywhere All At Once, but that’s mostly for completist’s reasons, and it’s more likely it’ll be one of these others.
Best Costume Design – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Another case where I’m rooting for EEAAO, but Ruth Carter already won once for the original Black Panther and the cognoscenti are predicting she’ll win again. I’ve also seen some people make a good argument for Catherine Martin’s work for Elvis, but not good enough to unseat Carter to my mind.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling –
….Honestly, this is a toss-up for me. The team from The Batman has been gaining notice….but so has the team from Elvis. And the team behind Brendan Fraser’s prosthetics in The Whale did such a good job that a work colleague of mine was convinced Fraser actually was morbidly obese now. (I had to pull up a video of Fraser at the SAG awards yesterday to show him that no, he wasn’t.) I’m going to leave this one a wild card.
Best Cinematography – Elvis, Mandy Walker
Another coin-flip for me, and I may change my mind after seeing All Quiet On The Western Front tonight. And I also think that overlooking Nope was a criminal snub.
Best Production Design – Babylon
This film itself was a bit of a miss with audiences; personally I enjoyed it, but I’ve been immersing myself in the whole weird world of classic film for about four years now and I may have been more primed to appreciate it than the average filmgoer. But even the people who didn’t appreciate the film have agreed that the weird world depicted in it looks fantastic.
Best Sound –
Oh, God….I don’t know, can I say all of the above?
Best Original Score – John Williams, The Fabelmans
They’re going to give it to John Williams because they always do and because he says he’s going to retire soon. They should give it to anyone else.
Best Original Song – “Naatu Naatu”, from RRR
So, this could be an interesting race. Four times now an insanely ear-wormy song like “Naatu Naatu” has been nominated (Pharrell’s “Happy” from Despicable Me, “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie, “Blame Canada” from the South Park Movie, and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from the Trolls movie), but has lost to something a little more “traditional” (“Happy” lost to Frozen’s “Let It Go”, “Everything Is Awesome” lost to Selma’s “Glory”, “Blame Canada” lost to “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan, and “Can’t Stop The Feeling” lost to “City Of Stars”). And Rhianna got some late buzz from her Super Bowl Halftime show, which some predict could make it a contender for this slot. But the buzz around RRR is immense – Roommate Russ has been on a near-evangelical campaign to get me to see it, and to do so in a theater. Fans have been livid that it was only nominated in this one category, and that may be enough of a push to get it the Oscar. ….If nothing else, it’s going to be tremendously fun to see how many of the stars in the Dolby Theater get up and dance in the aisles during the song’s Oscar Night performance.
Best Short Films –
Putting these all in one paragraph: I’m going with The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and the Horse for animated short, Le Pupille for Best Live Action, and The Elephant Whisperers for documentary.
Best Documentary Feature – Navalny
I’m surprising myself with this one, since here in New York it’s All The Beauty And The Bloodshed that’s been getting the most buzz. But Nan Goldin, the artist featured in the film, is a fixture in the New York art world and that may be some hometown buzz. On the other hand, Navalny is a film about a Russian opposition leader that came out about a year into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and that may win a sympathy vote.
Best International Feature Film – All Quiet On The Western Front
I am reasonably certain that All Quiet is going to get this as a consolation prize for losing Best Picture. Which is a shame, because another nominee, The Quiet Girl, is one of the first films in the Irish language to get nominated in this category.
Best Animated Feature Film – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
The usual Pixar/Disney entries this year were a bit lackluster, and so this is a chance for a worthy contender to step up.
Best Adapted Screenplay – Sarah Polley, Women Talking
I raved about Polley’s work when I saw the film. I stand by that.
Best Original Screenplay – Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
I’m voting this way with the footnote that I want it to be The Daniels for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
….speaking of which, now we get into the real horse-races….
Best Supporting Actress –
This is a tough one. Angela Basset has been nominated for Wakanda Forever, and has won the Golden Globe for this role; there’s also an element of “she lost for something even better so let’s give it to her for this” going on. But – Jamie Lee Curtis won this role in the SAG Awards, and also hasn’t won before either. Most other critics are calling this one neck-and-neck between the two. I know that Jamie Lee Curtis is my pray-diction.
Best Supporting Actor – Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Quan’s story could be a movie all on its own. I can only think of one instance this season where Quan was nominated for this and didn’t win (Barry Keoghan beat him in the BAFTAs), and he has been generating so much accumulated good will that if he doesn’t win there might possibly be a riot. And, happily, he has 100% earned the accolades and the good will.
Best Actress –
My pray-diction is Michelle Yeoh. The only person who could really give her a run for her money is Cate Blanchett – Michelle Williams was fine in The Fabelmans, but it was a smallish role, and Ana de Armas was apparently the only bright spot in a mediocre film. I think the controversy around Andrea Riseborough’s nomination may ward people off. Which leaves Blanchett – who’s won the Critics’ Choice and has also won an Oscar before, versus Yeoh, who’s won the Golden Globes and the SAG this year but hasn’t ever been an Oscar contender before. The “little film that could” buzz around Everything Everywhere could tip her over, but that may be wishful thinking on my part.
Best Actor – Brendan Fraser, The Whale
This is more of an educated pray-diction. On the one hand, Fraser’s performance was a bright spot in an otherwise “meh” film, and a lot of people may still be thinking of him as “that beefcake dude who was in the George of the Jungle movie” and may opt for Austin Butler in Elvis. But on the other hand, Fraser’s been having a comeback story that’s equally as powerful as Ke Huy Quan’s, and he’s been winning a few more of the pre-Oscar awards – and has been as grateful and gracious as Quan has. And there are those of us who shunned the George Of The Jungle films in his oeuvre but remember him from weightier fare like Gods and Monsters, School Ties or The Quiet American. There’s also a lot of sympathy for him stemming from a 2018 “where is he these days” article in which he revealed he’d been wrestling with some weighty personal matters. His more serious work is really underrated, he’s due for a revalidation and he’s earned this, dammit.
Best Director – Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once
I am 100% basing that on wishful thinking, I admit – but honestly, I’ve seen all five of the films by all five nominated directors, and EEAAO was the only film I even thought was Oscar-caliber. The other four films were just fine, but felt more like also-rans.
Which leads us to:
Best Picture – Everything Everywhere All At Once
I have seen six of the ten nominated films thus far, and while all of them were perfectly fine, most of them didn’t even feel like they were Oscar-caliber. Of the two or three films I thought worth the accolade, this not only has the most accumulated good will behind it, it’s my favorite. If it loses it will be an enormous upset that will brand the winner as one of “The Worst Best Picture Picks” for years to come.
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