by Jason Osiason
Welcome to my new Awards Series, where I break down the year’s Best Picture hopefuls. It’s an exciting time in the season as the year’s first two central fall Film Festivals (TIFF, Telluride) have passed.
Let’s start with your most likely Best Picture nominee and tentative frontrunner, Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film, The Fabelmans. Winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Award, The Fabelmans premiered to universal acclaim. Recent family dramas that reached the Best Picture category struggle to receive below-the-line nominations. Spielberg’s crafty film will defy expectations as the technical elements are in full force from its playful cinematography, gushing score, and detailed period costumes. Unlike The Post, the technological features in The Fabelmans are impressive and should be in line for a series of below-the-line nominations. Other major nominations to look out for are from actors Michelle Williams (a potential winner), Judd Hirsch (who nearly steals the film with precisely 8 minutes, 47 seconds of screen time— I timed it!), and Paul Dano as Spielberg’s late father.
While Toronto was going on, there was a sidelined conversation with Damien Chazelle where he premiered Babylon‘s trailer (twice!) to polarizing reception once the rest of the world saw it too. Early buzz suggests the studio made a more populist-style trailer that doesn’t meet the richness and gravitas of the material. If the early word is factual, you can expect Babylon to be one of the most nominated films in Academy history. It could be in line for up to four acting nominations, including Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Jean Smart. You may not have guessed it, but the movie’s lead is not any of these, but newcomer Diego Calva.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is A24’s most financially successful motion picture, but it is also one of their most critically lauded. While the film premiered back in the spring after its world premiere at SXSW, A24 seemed to have used their multi-year savings to bring potential Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh to almost every major stateside film festival with a career tribute. You can think of this movie as the year’s Get Out, but with even more technical prowess and chances at gold beyond its Original Screenplay. It’s not typically a genre we associate with awards. Still, this little movie could go in several categories, such as Best Actress, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Visual Effects, and its Whiplash-level showy Editing. While the film may not connect with the Academy’s oldest voters due to its genre-breaking film style, it’s precisely the type of movie that will elicit a passionate response from just about everyone else in the Academy partnered with the continued importance of Asian representation in the media it stands for.
Top Gun: Maverick proved to be a historical return to motion pictures both for audiences and critics. It’s a milestone motion picture that injects incomparable emotion and high thrill anxiety. There are not a lot of action films quite like it, and it will directly appeal to the signature steak eaters of the Academy. With so many disappointments this year, Top Gun Maverick is quickly rising in the ranks as one of the year’s most safe Best Picture nomination bets.
I have not seen TAR yet, but this year’s Spencer it is not! Chilly, intelligent, and ominous are the very common adjectives to describe this movie. Yet audiences are embracing TaR, with its People’s Telluride 4.20 audience average rating, putting it in the company of such films as Shape of Water and Manchester by the Sea. Destined to be one of the year’s major critic award winners come NYFCC, NSFSC, and LAFCA.
Women Talking premiered to strong festival results despite the constant criticisms for its jarring visual style. It should struggle for technical awards recognition due to its minimalist design, and nominations like the SAG ensemble are on questionable grounds. The characters are also not broadly developed and immediately put you into the heat of the discussion, making it hard to pick a favorite. I also cannot see it making much money, but the relevant subject and its powerful screenplay help elevate it to Best Picture nomination status. While I don’t think the movie will end up a top contender, with the new rules it should land a Best Picture nomination after placing second at TIFF. My main issue with the film was that I had trouble connecting to the thinly drawn-out characters, and the whole movie had a redundancy that made it forgettable in retrospect. Acting nominations are either Jessie Buckley (a previous nominee, closest to lead) and/or Claire Foy (a firecracker of a performance). Ben Whishaw has an outside chance, but I feel between the film capitalizing on its female cast and crew and him not being widely known as an actor. It is a primarily internal performance, and he may struggle for awards recognition.
The Banshees of Inisherin: A Film Stage review summed it perfectly: “Without his trademark vulgarity and narrative absurdity, McDonagh’s challenged himself to draw humor and meaning from the mundane.” This quote sums up precisely why the film may be embraced more critically than by audiences and Academy members. Thanks to McDonagh’s Academy breakthrough with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, this fable of a small town and its community slowly losing their marbles should have enough broad embrace to squeeze in from domestic and international voters alike. The film is McDonagh’s most mature and sophisticated yet, in terms of story and artistry, previously known to have a flatter visual style as he’s been collaborating with Director of Photography Ben Davis since 2012. Still, Banshees is his most accomplished and beautiful work, and audiences are immersed in the Irish landscapes and its gorgeous photography. Look out for nominations from Colin Farrell (Venice Best Actor winner and future Critic winner), Brendan Gleeson in the best performance of his career as a man who wants to be left alone, and possibly even Kerry Condon as Farrell’s character’s sister.
You can see it now – Baz Luhrmann’s biographical extravaganza, Elvis, is destined to be the year’s mostly wildly underestimated awards contender. It’s Warner Bros’ top movie and primed for so many awards distinctions like National Board of Review and AFI, and I could even see Austin Butler in play for critic awards. The film overall is incredibly polarizing with critics, but audiences love it. The box office and audience reception are strong, and it’s the only film this year that general audiences have seen multiple times. Butler is already on the campaign trail Eddie Redmayne and Rami Malek style, and if The Whale does not reach the Best Picture category, be prepared for Austin Butler to flat out win the Oscar as he has the prestigious biographical role for it. I am not even a fan of Elvis, and I think Austin Butler delivers one of the year’s best performances by far. The film will go a long way and possibly win a decent amount of technical awards.
Triangle of Sadness is Ruben Östlund’s mainstream breakthrough. It’s his best and most audience-friendly film yet, but winning the Palme D’ Or put a target on its back. Initial critical reception is far lower than it deserves, and its box office prospects are questionable. Yet this is the exact type of movie that breaks through to the Academy. Its wickedly sharp humor never wavers and always has something to say in its biting commentary on relationships and (gender and economic) privilege. The halfway mark is also a feat of spectacle filmmaking, and you cannot deny how exciting of a cinematic experience the film is despite the movie slowing down some in its final act. If the film does emerge as a Best Picture contender, look out for Filipina actress Dolly De Leon as a maid character appearing in the third act that is the only one with the smarts and wits to survive and nearly steals the entire movie.
The Whale played gangbusters at TIFF but was mostly uplifted by Brendan Fraser’s unforgettable performance and the fandom that follows his trail. The emotionally-driven picture resonates stronger with audiences than critics. Still, I feel that the People’s Choice Award Placement was needed to legitimize The Whale as a Best Picture contender alongside Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Unlike Netflix, A24’s usual strategy is to let the audience and critics tell them what to do and then push it themselves. While The Whale is on shakier grounds, look for Oscar nominations for its screenplay and makeup. The cast is a pure acting masterclass, but Hong Chau stands out most in the film’s most tough-as-nails and second-most layered role. The film elicits a memorable impression and is your atypical water-cooler type of movie. The audience scores are also extremely strong, and it’s destined to overperform at the box office, all factors I cannot overlook.
ON THE CUSP:
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: A delightful, twist-filled, and well-made popcorn movie, but it plays the same tricks as its predecessor (although the musical score is superior and the production design is even more superb). Does that merit it to outdo the first film’s awards reach and land a Best Picture nomination? The difference is Netflix is behind it.
She Said – Buzz is pretty good, and it looks to be a movie tailor-made for journalists, but the niche subject matter may limit box office prospects such as the equally zeitgeist-tapping and “Me-too”-centric drama, Bombshell. Reviews will surely be good as it premieres at the selective New York Film Festival, but how good? The way this film is also being positioned does not inspire Best Picture-level confidence, and Universal is already a surefire contender with The Fabelmans. Overall, it may be the type of film to land the sole Adapted Screenplay nomination out of respect.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: Ryan Coogler was given an almost impossible task. Rewrite his Black Panther sequel without the iconic lead, the late Chadwick Boseman. If the trailer says anything, it’s destined to go down as one of the most emotionally brutal and draining superhero movies of all time. The trailer hints that Wakanda Forever’s backbone will lay tribute to Chadwick Boseman’s death. It also has an early November release date and will dominate entertainment conversation while the guild voting period commences.
Avatar: The Way of Water: James Cameron doesn’t make bad movies, but unlike Terminator 2, it doesn’t seem Cameron is changing up the formula enough. I know the film will be great, but I’m getting severe Star Wars: Force Awakens vibes from it.
Till: Powerful buzz behind this one looks like an emotional wallop. Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as Emmett Till’s mother is said to be a surefire Best Actress nominee. To reach Best Picture a film like this needed a stronger festival story unless it became a box office sensation after its New York Film Festival World Premiere.
Movies out of the Best Picture conversation:
Empire of Light: Sam Mendes’ love letter to cinema, his own life, and the racial politics of the era was handsomely made but premiered to a bit of a thud. The critical reception has leaned negative, and the film bombed in the Telluride audience rating polls. Searchlight already has Banshees as a contender, so I only see this playing for the technical nominations. There is also Olivia Colman’s Oscar-worthy performance as a woman maddened with schizophrenia and influenced by Sam Mendes’ own mother.
The Son: I liked the movie, but critics eviscerated it and found it too emotionally manipulative. Hugh Jackson has an outside shot still at a Best Actor nomination.
Bardo: It might come away with a technical nomination or two, but this seems to be the most underwhelming film of the fall festival circuit as a so-called indulgent film made for neither his fans nor critics. Industry on the other hand could bite on some aspects of the film.
White Noise: I have not seen White Noise yet, so I’ll reserve some judgment, but the seemingly unfilmable novel seems to be precisely that. That does not mean this is not the type of film the writers’ branch won’t passionately admire in the vein of Inherent Vice.
FIRST SET OF OSCAR PREDICTIONS
1. The Fabelmans
3. Everything Everywhere All at Once
4. Top Gun: Maverick
6. Women Talking
7. The Banshees of Inishiren
9. Triangle of Sadness
10. The Whale
Alt: She Said
1. Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
2. Damien Chazelle, Babylon
3. The Daniels, Everything Everywhere All At Once
4. Todd Field, TAR
5. Ruben Ostlund, Triangle of Sadness
Alt: Martin McDonagh
1. Brendan Fraser, The Whale
2. Austin Butler, Elvis
3. Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inishiren
4. Bill Nighy, Living
5. Diego Calva, Babylon
Alt: Tom Cruise
1. Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once
2. Cate Blanchett, TAR
3. Margot Robbie, Babylon
4. Danielle Deadwyler, Till
5. Viola Davis, The Woman King
alt: Olivia Colman, Ana De Armas
Best Supporting Actor:
1. Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once
2. Brad Pitt, Babylon
3. Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
4. Paul Dano, The Fabelmans
5. Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans
alt: Eddie Redmayne
Best Supporting Actress:
1. Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
2. Jean Smart, Babylon
3. Hong Chau, The Whale
4. Jessie Buckley, Women Talking
5. Dolly De Leon, Triangle of Sadness
alt: Claire Foy, Kerry Condon
Best Original Screenplay:
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
2. The Fabelmans
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
5. Triangle of Sadness
Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Women Talking
2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story
3. White Noise
4. The Whale
5. She Said