Well, I’ll be gosh darned if this isn’t the gosh darnedest Oscar Season I’ve seen in quite some time. I mean, it used to be you had a pretty good idea about who and what were the frontrunners and whose performances and achievements were getting the most fanfare and attention, deserved or not, and then you could go to the betting window and make some solid coin by wagering on the whole thing.
Not this year, and that is the only thing holding my interest in the current awards season, which is typically one of my favorite times of the year. I normally love Oscar Season, and indeed, when I learned that I must attend a Bat Mitzvah on the same night as next week’s telecast, I told my wife I would be leaving early to watch the show back at the hotel. When my mother-in-law heard this, rather than the loud protest I was expecting, she instead said, “Well, sure, it’s like the Super Bowl for you, right?” Sometimes, people surprise you.
But this year is neck and neck with last year in terms of how uninspiring the Oscar race has been. Few awards movies in either season really captured my passion, and the fact that what I believe to be the year’s best picture has no chance of winning has only helped to temper my enthusiasm.
Let’s back up a bit, though. My editor here at Above the Line, Jeff Sneider, is an old friend. We’ve worked together previously and were friends before that. We sometimes agree on movies, but more often, we don’t, and he said something a few months ago that really troubled me, especially when I realized he was probably right. He loved The Fabelmans and said that it was absolutely going to win Best Picture because he feared that too much of the Academy just didn’t get Everything Everywhere All at Once enough to allow it to win the big prize.
Personally, I did not love The Fabelmans, and put it in the Green Book category of safe cinema that doesn’t really push any buttons and tells a simple, heart-tugging story in the most basic way possible (with more than a few flaws), but does so in a way that also appeals to many of the fogies who still populate the Academy’s roster of voters. I mean, it’s fine — far from the best thing Steven Spielberg has done even lately, but plenty of people love it, including my esteemed colleague. With the Academy’s ranked voting system, enough people could put it at the top of their lists and drop EEAAO to the very bottom to take Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical opus to the promised land. Especially because, while plenty of people will rank EEAAO as their top choice, many, many others will show how much they don’t get it by ranking it last, and thus the Academy’s preferential ballot will aid a movie that gets a lot of second and third place votes, even at the expense of the movie with the most first-place votes.
Is that not clear? Okay, a quick tutorial: ranked voting means you literally rank your choices from top to bottom. Once all the first-place votes are tallied, the lowest-ranked film is dropped, and all the number two choices from those ballots are given to the appropriate films. Another round, another film gets dropped, and so on, until there’s only one left standing. That means that a movie that gets a medium number of first-place votes, but a lot of second and third-place ones will score higher than a movie that divides people into “Love It” or “Hate It” camps and gets the most first-place votes in addition to a lot of last-place ones.
Like, say, Everything Everywhere All at Once, which has now won most of the major pre-Oscar awards — minus, in a very glaring way, the BAFTAs — and yet still cannot be considered a lock to win this year’s Best Picture Oscar, for this very reason.
It’s why I can’t be confident about Michelle Yeoh winning Best Actress, even though I think she deserves it, or Jamie Lee Curtis winning Best Supporting Actress, even though I think she deserves it, or Daniels winning Best Director, even though I think they deserve it — but only because the year’s true best director, Top Gun: Maverick‘s Joseph Kosinski, was hosed out of a nomination in that category, a traveshamockery of the first order — and so on. Best Supporting Actor nominee Ke Huy Quan is the one Oscar nominee from the film I think is actually guaranteed a win in his category, which is sort of stunning to me because, Top Gun: Maverick aside, EEAAO really is the best of this year’s bunch.
In fact, despite the fact that the PGA, the DGA, and SAG all gave their top awards to EEAAO, I keep coming back to that declaration Jeff made back in December, and the ensuing conversation we had, in which he reiterated, “EEAAO is just not an Academy movie. Too many people don’t get it.” I hate to admit when he’s right about something — I really, really hate it — but in this case, despite all the evidence being shown to me that this film is the clear frontrunner and should be considered a solid favorite to win a lot of Oscars next week, I cannot find it in myself to believe that this is truly the case.
Interestingly, one thing that has changed, and does affect Jeff’s early prediction, is not that EEAAO has faded, but that The Fabelmans has, and something else has risen to take its place. I expected The Banshees of Inisherin to be that movie — it really is a wonder to behold, so beautifully written and acted, and such a pleasure to watch, in spite of how deeply sad a film it is — but instead it’s the brilliant German film All Quiet on the Western Front, which swept the BAFTAs, that seems to be the biggest threat to EEAAO’s chances. After all, its seven Oscar nominations make it the most recognized foreign language film since 2018’s Roma.
The SAG Awards tend to be a pretty good barometer of who is going to win the acting Oscars — the two have matched up perfectly five times in the last 10 years, and of the other five, three of those years featured three of four matching winners. There were only two years in the past decade that only two of SAG’s four acting winners went on to win Oscars, and one of those years saw eventual Oscar winner Regina King snubbed for a SAG nomination, which is a whole other thing. But this year? Man, I just don’t know. I think Cate Blanchett is still the favorite for Best Actress, and Angela Bassett remains out in front in the Best Supporting Actress race.
Personally, I don’t really get the latter one. I love Angela Bassett, who is a great actress, but was what she did in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever all that special? Maybe the fact that I didn’t love the film itself is playing a part in that assessment, but I think that Curtis, her EEAAO co-star Stephanie Hsu, and Banshees actress Kerry Condon all surpassed her this year.
Similarly, while I personally detested Tár, I thought Blanchett was excellent in the lead role… but her performance doesn’t have nearly the same amount of nuance and layers that Yeoh brings to EEAAO. That said, what Blanchett does — playing a flawed genius who suffers a fall from grace — is the kind of flashy thing the Academy loves, so to believe that anyone other than her is going to win feels like something of a fool’s errand. It’s possible I’m wrong. I really hope I am, but I don’t think I will be.
Were I a betting man, how would I wager? Well, as it happens, I am a betting man, and I’m more than a little intimidated by the whole thing. Quan is such an enormous favorite that it’s silly to bet on him because the payout is too small. Blanchett and Bassett are also favored, though not nearly on the same scale. Curtis, however, is still a pretty enormous long shot, which might be worth a few bucks just because the payout would be huge.
Ultimately, the draw of this year’s Oscars is less about the films themselves, and more about just wanting to see how it all shakes out, and what the winners will say about the new Academy. I was genuinely surprised when Parasite won Best Director and Best Picture three years ago, and it would be fun to see a genuine surprise again this year. Even though EEAAO is technically the frontrunner, if it wins the big prize — and anything else besides Best Supporting Actor — that will certainly qualify.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.