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Oscar Predictions, Take 2: Why Best Picture Is Down to The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Top Gun: Maverick

Now that I’ve had a chance to catch up with a bunch of movies over the holiday break (Till, RRR, All Quiet on the Western Front), it’s time to update Above the Line‘s official Oscar predictions before the end of the year and the guild awards upend the season in early 2023.

When we last weighed in on the Oscar race, Steven Spielberg‘s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age movie The Fabelmans seemed like the clear-cut frontrunner to win Best Picture, and while I’m not quite as confident in its chances as I used to be, none of the late-breaking contenders have really staked a surefire claim to the throne, be it The Whale, Empire of Light, Babylon, or James Cameron‘s Avatar: The Way of Water, which will surely be a juggernaut when it comes to the below-the-line awards. Instead, there has been a reassessment of films from the first half of the year, such as Everything Everywhere All at Once and Top Gun: Maverick, though The Banshees of Inisherin still looms large.

Will Smith officially entered the Oscar race since our last update, as Apple TV+ boldly decided to throw caution to the wind and release Antoine Fuqua‘s Emancipation less than nine months after Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage at the Academy Awards. Voters may be within their rights to punish Smith by ignoring his film and thus, his performance, but I’d hope that members would be mature enough to judge the actor’s work on its own merits. Regardless of what happened in March, if someone thinks he delivered one of the five best leading male performances this year, I hope they’ll vote for him, as the Academy should continue to acknowledge his talent, effort, and achievement separately from his unusual and unacceptable behavior on Oscar night. We’ll see whether voters will be receptive to his campaign, though Apple hasn’t really gotten behind Emancipation following its muted critical reception.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether Brendan Fraser is The Whale‘s only legit acting contender, as Hong Chau‘s supporting performance as his caretaker should not be overlooked. Chau has been doing great work for years and it wouldn’t shock me if she managed to pull off an upset in the Supporting Actress category.

Without further ado, here’s the latest snapshot of how I see the field right now. You can also click here for Below the Line‘s current Oscar predictions, and feel free to hit me up on Twitter, where healthy, respectful debate is always welcome. Ha!

* denotes a movie I have yet to see

Babylon movie
Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in Babylon/Paramount Pictures

Best Picture

1. The Fabelmans

2. Top Gun: Maverick

3. The Banshees of Inisherin 

4. Avatar: The Way of Water

5. Everything Everywhere All at Once

6. TÁR

7. Elvis

8. All Quiet on the Western Front

9. Triangle of Sadness

10. Women Talking

ALTS: Babylon, RRR, or Aftersun

Analysis: I see this as a three-picture race, with dark horse Everything Everywhere All at Once a longshot to pull off the upset, for the simple reason that the movie is just too weird for older Academy voters. This is not a case of “but what about Parasite?” Parasite was a million times more conservative than this wackadoo A24 movie from two guys who most voters have never heard of because they insist on going by the moniker Daniels. That’s cool when you’re directing music videos, but I’m not sure it’s helpful when you’re trying to win Best Picture. If EEAAO was a film that boasted thousands of veteran below-the-line workers, maybe it’d be a different story, but this is a movie that had something like a six-person VFX team. How can it compete with Avatar: The Way of Water, which will surely draw more attention from below-the-line voters? Top Gun: Maverick might be a runaway winner here if Avatar wasn’t around to siphon off some of its votes.

Meanwhile, everyone has lost a friend one way or the other, right? That’s why The Banshees of Inisherin is striking a chord with audiences — because it resonates with everyone. Though it, too, is a pretty strange movie. Then again, so was The Shape of Water. However, the reason I still have The Fabelmans in pole position even though it hasn’t lit the world on fire is that I believe Universal and director Steven Spielberg are playing the long game here and that the film will find its audience at home on VOD/streaming. It’s clear that critics have it out for this movie, and Spielberg in particular, holding him to a higher standard than others when he has very clearly delivered his best film in years, one that appeals to the largest voting demo in the Academy — older white men.

James Cameron
James Cameron and Sam Worthington on the set of Avatar: The Way of Water/Mark Fellman/20th Century Studios

Best Director

1. Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

2. Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin

3. Todd Field, TÁR

4. James Cameron, Avatar: The Way of Water

5. Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick

ALTS: Baz Luhrmann, Elvis or Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Analysis: I’ll admit, I don’t feel great about having both Cameron and Kosinski on here, as there may only be room for one, though both are more than deserving, as are Daniels, for that matter. At the last minute, I swapped in Luhrmann as an alt over Sarah Polley given his much more flashy direction of Elvis, though Hollywood may feel compelled to nominate a female director even though Polley doesn’t deserve the honor this year, in my opinion (I was not a fan of Women Talking). Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King) would be a far better pick since it seems that Maria Schrader (She Said) has unfairly been all but written off this season.

Sure, international filmmakers such as Park Chan-wook (Decision to Leave), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), or S.S. Rajamouli (RRR) could sneak in here, as Best Director has given us some surprises of late — Paweł Pawlikowski for Cold War, anyone? — and I’m not counting out Damien Chazelle (Babylon), either. But as of now, this is how I see the race.

Elvis movie
Austin Butler in Elvis/Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Actor

1. Brendan Fraser, The Whale

2. Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin

3. Austin Butler, Elvis

4. Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

5. Bill Nighy, Living*

ALTS: Jeremy Pope, The Inspection or Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Analysis: This is a two-man race as I see it — Fraser vs. Cruise. I used to think that Farrell would be Fraser’s main competition, but the more I think about it, the more I suspect it could be Cruise, who is note-perfect in Top Gun: Maverick. A lot of pundits think Austin Butler is a real threat for his turn in Elvis, but I just think he’s way too young to beat out two veterans with incredible narratives. Bohemian Rhapsody may have caught a lot of crap, but Rami Malek was excellent as Freddie Mercury, and with the exception of the last five minutes of Elvis, I just don’t think that Butler’s performance was on that level.

I struggled with leaving Will Smith (Emancipation) off my alt list but Aftersun has been getting a lot of attention of late — that’s a movie that critics could actually propel into the race. And though it pained me to make Pope an alt, it’s hard to ignore the buzz surrounding Nighy’s supposedly career-best performance in Living, which I still haven’t seen for myself. As for Hugh Jackman (The Son), I just don’t see it. Sorry. I think The Fabelmans star Gabriel LaBelle stands a better chance. And the trades need to stop it with the Adam Sandler talk. He was good in Hustle, but c’mon… he’s a non-starter, just like Babylon‘s Diego Calva. However, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (A Man Called Otto) is always a threat, though the Academy hasn’t shown him much love of late.

Tár movie
Cate Blanchett in Tár/Focus Features

Best Actress

1. Cate Blanchett, TÁR

2. Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans

3. Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

4. Danielle Deadwyler, Till

5. Olivia Colman, Empire of Light

ALTS: Viola Davis, The Woman King or Margot Robbie, Babylon

Analysis: OK, so three of these slots are locked up tight. The fourth would appear to belong to Deadwyler, though I also have a hunch that many voters aren’t in a rush to watch Till, which is a tough sit and one that you really have to be in the right mood for. Phase 1 is all about getting your screener to the top of the pile, so we’ll see. Then again, Cynthia Erivo was nominated for Harriet, so it’s certainly possible. If Davis’ performance in The Woman King was simply undeniable, I might give her the edge on reputation alone, but based on the eye test, Deadwyler takes it. I know, it sucks to compare art and the performances of two talented Black women, but this is the career I chose, just as this is the article you clicked on. Both could certainly be nominated this year, as Empire of Light hasn’t caught on here in the States, though I wonder if the Academy’s British contingent could catapult Colman to another nomination, as she is certainly beloved within the organization.

Robbie is also worth keeping an eye on, as she’s positively electric in Babylon, though her performance might be too much for more conservative voters. It doesn’t sound like Jennifer Lawrence (Causeway), Naomi Ackie (I Wanna Dance With Somebody) or Ana de Armas (Blonde) are really in the mix, though Good Luck to You, Leo Grande star Emma Thompson would make a worthy dark horse in this race.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once/A24

Best Supporting Actor

1. Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

2. Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin

3. Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans

4. Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway

5. Paul Dano, The Fabelmans 

ALTS: Brad Pitt, Babylon or Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin

Analysis: It’s funny how this acting race may end up being the least competitive, as Ke Huy Quan has run away with all the awards so far this season, and you know what, I’m okay with that. He was my favorite part of Everything Everything All at Once, and really brought a certain energy and flavor to that role, doling out exposition and the rules of the multiverse with tremendous flair. Hirsch seems like a lock as well at this point, and I really had no idea what to do with the other slots, even toying with including Eddie Redmayne (The Good Nurse) and Mark Rylance (Bones and All) as alts because they’re both past winners and the Academy loves its psychopaths.

However, I went with Henry’s sensitive performance in Causeway and Dano’s subtle work in The Fabelmans, though both Dano and Barry Keoghan (The Banshees of Inisherin) may each wind up overshadowed by their own co-stars unless one of those two Best Picture frontrunners manages to land multiple nominations in the category. And let’s not forget recent winner Brad Pitt, who delivers the movie star goods once again with his spirited turn in Babylon. How much do voters love him? We’re about to find out…

The Whale
Hong Chau in The Whale/A24

Best Supporting Actress

1. Hong Chau, The Whale

2. Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin

3. Jessie Buckley, Women Talking

4. Dolly de Leon, Triangle of Sadness

5. Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once

ALTS: Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever or Keke Palmer, Nope

Analysis: I know, I left off Carey Mulligan (She Said), Janelle Monae (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), and Stephanie Hsu (EEAAO), but there are only so many slots, people! I defy you to tell me who on my list above is undeserving. I haven’t seen The Son yet so I can’t speak to Laura Dern or Vanessa Kirby‘s performances in that film, but I have seen Women Talking, and Buckley is the clear favorite to be nominated over her co-star Claire Foy, whose performance I found rather one-note. There’s also Nina Hoss (TÁR) and Jean Smart (Babylon), but I’m not sure either one of them had a big enough part to really compete this season, and none of the talented young women in The Woman King really stood out from the rest of the fine ensemble.

Bassett and Palmer, however, are true threats this year, as the former brought a regal presence to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, while the latter dazzled (as the lead, c’mon) in Jordan Peele‘s sci-fi movie, which really allowed her to show what she can do on the big screen. Again, it was hard to leave both of them, off, and maybe I’m being crazy including Hong Chau on this list, but if voters are going to be paying close attention to The Whale with an eye on Brendan Fraser, I suspect that her excellent performance will be hard to miss.

Triangle of Sadness
Charlbi Dean and Harrison Dickinson in Triangle of Sadness/NEON

Best Original Screenplay

1. The Fabelmans – Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg

2. The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh

3. Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniels

4. TÁR – Todd Field

5. Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund

ALTS: Nope – Jordan Peele or Till – Keith Beauchamp, Chinonye Chukwu, and Michael Reilly

Analysis: I’ve seen Aftersun making a late push in this category, but that movie doesn’t even feel written, it just feels like a series of home movies, and therein may very well lie its strength. But I acknowledge that Charlotte Wells could surprise in this category come nomination morning. The foreign language films Close and Decision to Leave are also possible contenders here, as could the memoir movies Armageddon TimeThe Inspection, or Empire of Light, but in the end, I went with Nope and Till as my alts. That said, I wouldn’t count out Damien Chazelle‘s Babylon, though even its most generous fans have to acknowledge that the movie gets away from him towards the end. This race feels wide open, and call me crazy, but if one of the films on my list above does win Best Picture, I could see the other one winning here.

Women Talking
Jessie Buckley in Women Talking/MGM/United Artists Releasing

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. Women Talking – Sarah Polley (based on the novel by Miriam Toews)

2. All Quiet on the Western Front – Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell (based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque

3. Living* – Kazuo Ishiguro (based on Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni)

4. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Rian Johnson (based on the film Knives Out)

5. Top Gun: Maverick – Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie (based on characters created by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.)

ALTS: The Whale – Samuel D. Hunter (based on his own play) or She Said – Rebecca Lenkiewicz (based on the book by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey)

Analysis: Sorry, but I don’t see Avatar: The Way of Water as a serious contender in this category, as I think everyone who sees that movie comes away talking about its visuals, which hurts its chances here. It does, however, have a better chance at a nod than Noah Baumbach‘s adaption of White Noise, which is a true headscratcher. I’d love to see The Whale or She Said win this award outright, but something tells me that Sarah Polley already has this one in the bag, for better or worse. I can’t imagine the Knives Out or Top Gun sequels taking this one, while Living strikes me as a bit too staid, and All Quiet on the Western Front a bit too German to upset Women Talking.

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