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If I Had an Oscar Ballot, Top Gun: Maverick Would Soar to Best Picture and The Whale Would Surprise

It all comes down to this, folks. Oscar voting is now open, and it ends at the close of business on Tuesday, March 7. It doesn’t matter how voters felt about these movies or these actors last year, or last month, or last week. All that matters is how they feel about them right now.

Will the Everything Everywhere All at Once parade continue, or have all the industry signs been wrong this past month? Are we, in fact, in for some surprises come March 12? The Academy is a unique collection of people who haven’t voted together on anything this season, so I guess we’ll see…

Of course, it goes without saying that I am not a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but for the exercise below, suppose that I am and that any of this matters. This is what my personal ballot would look like. Sue me. And keep in mind that you won’t find any of the shorts categories below, as I haven’t seen enough of them to put forth an educated opinion.

An asterisk (*) denotes my pick to win:

BEST PICTURE

All Quiet on the Western Front
Bros
Cha Cha Real Smooth
The Fabelmans
The Inspection
My Policeman
She Said
Thirteen Lives
Top Gun: Maverick*
The Whale

Analysis: I know what you’re thinking. “You think Bros and My Policeman should be up for Best Picture? Hahaha!” Laugh at my taste all you want, but the Academy nominated Women Talking over She Said, Thirteen Lives, and The Whale. These are heady days, indeed. Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick was the best movie of the year. To deny this is to deny reality. But I get it. It’s hard to think of it as Best Picture material. That’s why the good-but-not-quite-great Everything Everywhere All at Once is probably going to win — because nothing else emerged as a strong enough contender to really challenge it… unless All Quiet on the Western Front surprises. But yeah, I’m a ride-or-die kind of guy, and I’m going down with Maverick this year. A captain never abandons his ship. I’m not someone who always thinks that his favorite movie of the year should win Best Picture — I wasn’t saying The Place Beyond the Pines should’ve won an Oscar — but I do think that Maverick would make a deserving winner this year.

BEST DIRECTOR

Darren Aronofsky, The Whale
Edward Berger, All Quiet on the Western Front
Ron Howard, Thirteen Lives
Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick*
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

Analysis: Listen, we take Spielberg for granted. But I thought his movie was very good, not great, and I thought he got a little cute towards the end of The Fabelmans. For Aronofsky and Howard, the nomination is the win. I thought they both did an exceptional job, and Howard, in particular, had his work cut out for him given his film’s inevitable comparisons to the award-winning documentary The Rescue. So for me, this was really between Kosinski and Berger, and as someone who didn’t even like the original Top Gun, I just had to hand it to the Maverick director. It’s so hard to make a good blockbuster, let alone a great one, and he deserved my vote, though Berger did a fine job bringing humanity to the battlefield in All Quiet, which had more going on beneath the surface than similar feats such as 1917.

The Whale
Brendan Fraser in The Whale/A24

BEST ACTOR

Austin Butler, Elvis
Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser, The Whale*
Jeremy Pope, The Inspection

Analysis: How is this even a race at this point? Austin Butler was really good in Elvis but that movie didn’t truly soar until its final five minutes. Colin Farrell was really good in The Banshees of Inisherin, especially for Colin Farrell. But this is Brendan Fraser’s year. I honestly didn’t think he was even capable of this kind of performance, which is so much more than the size of his character. There’s so much pain and frustration in his eyes, and I think Fraser channeled years of his own frustration into that role. He gives a tour-de-force performance here, so as much as I love Cruise’s movie star turn in Top Gun, this is a no-brainer to me. I’m also excited to see what Pope does next, as I thought he was great in The Inspection, truly.

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, Tár*
Danielle Deadwyler, Till
Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Analysis: This is another no-brainer for me. Cate Blanchett gave the performance of the year, period. Danielle Deadwyler deserved a nomination for Till. I don’t believe she was snubbed because of her race, but because voters didn’t want to watch that story, which let’s be honest, is hard to watch. No harder to watch than Schindler’s List, you might argue, but I do believe that’s different, just as I believed 12 Years a Slave was different, and would soundly defeat Gravity for Best Picture, which it did. Anyway, I don’t think Academy voters are racist, I think there was just a lot of competition this year. I mean, Aubrey Plaza wasn’t even nominated, and she was fantastic in Emily the Criminal. In most years, I would say that Michelle Yeoh would make a deserving winner, but she ran into a juggernaut here in Blanchett’s Lydia Tár. Tough timing…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

David Dawson, My Policeman*
Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway
Anthony Hopkins, Armageddon Time
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Eddie Redmayne, The Good Nurse

Analysis: This is a tough call, but I have to show My Policeman some love this season. As great as Key Huy Quan was in EEAAO, and make no mistake, he was the best thing about the film, David Dawson just broke my heart into a million pieces in My Policeman. When he was first cast, I remember thinking, “who is this guy and how did he land that part?” And now I know. It fit him like a glove. I thought BTH was great in Causeway and that Redmayne was chilling in The Good Nurse, but this was a two-horse race for me, and I had to give the edge to the little guy, so to speak this season.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Hong Chau, The Whale*
Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ashley Judd, She Said
Mariana Treviño, A Man Called Otto
Gabrielle Union, The Inspection

Analysis: This was a pretty easy call for me, as I thought Hong Chau just blew away the competition, and sure, maybe I’m conflating her performance in The Whale with her equally wonderful work in The Menu, but what can I say? I was hugely impressed by her in 2022. She edged out Condon and Union for me, though the latter actress really deserved a nomination this year with her eye-opening turn in The Inspection, one that I wasn’t entirely sure she was capable of. I don’t know if performers want to hear tales of how they’ve been underestimated, but I humbly apologize, as she brought her A-game to that A24 drama. Elsewhere, Treviño was an absolute delight in A Man Called Otto, just a great find, and Ashley Judd took a backseat to Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Ehle, and Samantha Morton this season, but kudos to her for having the courage to play herself and relive the terrible events of She Said. She brought a certain authenticity to the film, and you could feel her burning anger on the big screen, which went a long way in my eyes.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Armageddon Time
Bros*
Cha Cha Real Smooth
The Fabelmans
The Inspection

Analysis: Bros was hilarious and it had heart, and even though it leaned on familiar rom-com tropes, I thought it was bold and original, for obvious reasons. It’s a shame that James Gray‘s Armageddon Time didn’t catch on this season, but it had the misfortune of being released the same year as The Fabelmans. Cha Cha Real Smooth seemed like a smart acquisition for Apple out of Sundance, but the film failed to gain any traction. I suspect that Cooper Raiff will stop casting himself as the lead in his films because the screenplay here wasn’t the problem. I really liked this movie, it was ultimately just too small to break through.

She Said movie
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said/Universal Pictures

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Good Nurse
My Policeman
She Said*
Top Gun: Maverick
The Whale

Analysis: This was actually really hard, but in the end, I had to give it to She Said, which probably featured the year’s best ending. I have to give director Maria Schrader credit as well, and I do feel bad that I left her off my ballot above, but in the end, I thought about how that triumphant, climactic moment at the end must’ve originated on the page, and I just have great respect for the care with which screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz handled that sensitive story. Aronofsky did a great job with The Whale, and the team behind Top Gun: Maverick won’t get nearly enough credit for what they accomplished, but She Said was cut from the same cloth at Spotlight, which is nothing to sneeze at.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

DC League of Super-Pets
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Turning Red*

Analysis: Yeah, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish were both really good, but c’mon, haven’t we seen those stories before? I can see the value in Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, but it was based on a series of shorts. Super-Pets was better than I expected, but it’s another talking animal movie, one involving superheroes, no less. Yawn. Pixar’s Turning Red, on the other hand, was truly original — a movie with a message about menstruation aimed at young girls. I’m not sure it has the same level of artistry as, say, Pinocchio and Puss in Boots, or even Marcel, but in terms of the story and how unique it was, Turning Red had no peer, which is why I gave it my vote this season.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Fire of Love
George Carlin’s American Dream
Navalny
Stutz*
Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul

Analysis: Another no-brainer for me. Jonah Hill‘s therapy documentary Stutz was a top 10 movie of the year. It should be required viewing in schools, as it’s the kind of movie that can really help people and take some of the stigma away from therapy. I feel like a lot of young people are embarrassed to go to therapy, as it makes them feel like something is wrong with them, but the truth is that everyone could benefit from having someone to talk to, especially if that someone is a professional. I realize that not everyone is able to afford such a luxury, but if you can, you should think about it, as contrary to public opinion on Twitter, it has helped me immensely. Meanwhile, it feels like the Oscar is between Fire of Love and Navalny, and in that case, I have to go with Navalny, which feels a bit more weighty and important than Fire of Love, though both are minor miracles of movies when you think about their existence.

All Quiet on the Western Front
Felix Kammerer in All Quiet on the Western Front/Netflix

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

All Quiet on the Western Front*
Close
Happening
The Innocents
RRR

Analysis: This one wasn’t particularly — wait for it — close. Get it? All Quiet on the Western Front was easily the year’s best international film, and if there’s one Oscar race that’s truly a lock, it’s this one. Props to RRR though, which surprised and impressed me, and don’t sleep on The Innocents, which is a pretty chilling superhero movie, but I promise it’s not what you’re expecting based on that description.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

All Quiet on the Western Front
Athena*
Empire of Light
The Northman
Top Gun: Maverick

Analysis: Talk about a slam dunk. The cinematography in Athena will blow your mind. The Northman is a gorgeous film that was totally overlooked in the crafts categories, and I can’t believe that Claudio Miranda didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work on Top Gun, so I’ve righted both of those wrongs above. James Friend and Roger Deakins do gorgeous work in All Quiet on the Western Front and Empire of Light, but this award belongs to Matias Boucard. If only Netflix had given him a bigger push… though I suppose his absence will allow Friend to win for the streamer’s All Quiet adaptation.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Babylon
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Elvis *
The Fabelmans
The Northman

Analysis: This one was between Babylon and Elvis for me, but in the end, I couldn’t ignore the King’s many costume changes and how beautiful some of those designs are. Babylon boasts some stunning costumes itself but in the end, even Damien Chazelle couldn’t compete with the excess of Baz Luhrmann. The Black Panther sequel makes for a very strong third-place contender that would normally win in any other year. As for The Northman‘s inclusion here, Bjork‘s look is just seared into my brain.

BEST EDITING

Babylon
Emily the Criminal
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Top Gun: Maverick*

Analysis: You’ve gotta give credit to Paul Rogers, who cut Everything Everywhere All at Once, for keeping track of the multiverse, and laying it all out in a way we could understand and make sense of the information overload. I think Steven Spielberg delivered another incredibly well-made movie with The Fabelmans, and I loved the go-for-broke energy in Babylon, as well as the way that Emily the Criminal kept me on the edge of my seat. But in the end, I had to vote for Top Gun: Maverick editor Eddie Hamilton, who felt a need for speed and delivered the goods, as there’s no fat on that sequel, which moves so fast, it practically flies by. Ooof, pardon my terrible puns.

BEST MAKEUP/HAIRSTYLING

All Quiet on the Western Front
Babylon
Bones and All
The Northman
The Whale*

Analysis: Props to the hairstylist on Bones and All, who had to deal with Mark Rylance‘s braided ponytail and Timothée Chalamet‘s pink hair, but this was between The Whale and All Quiet on the Western Front for me, and Brendan Fraser‘s remarkable transformation in the former tipped the scales for me, pardon the pun. Fraser isn’t just wearing a weighted suit, he’s outfitted with carefully designed prosthetics that still allowed him to give a heartbreaking, devastating performance. All Quiet looked incredibly realistic, as its protagonist is put through literal hell on earth, but the work of The Whale team was too impressive to ignore.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

All Quiet on the Western Front*
Babylon
Bones and All
Empire of Light

RRR

Analysis: It wasn’t a particularly memorable year for scores, though, obviously, I appreciate the work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross a great deal. I loved what Justin Hurwitz brought to Babylon, even if it was reminiscent of his La La Land work, and I enjoyed the flavor that M.M. Keeravani brought to RRR. But in the end, the score I couldn’t get out of my head was that of Volker Bertelmann in All Quiet on the Western Front, which felt like such a bold choice, and not at all what I was expecting. But it totally stood out from the pack, and I suspect it could even win at the Oscars given how unique it is.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever*
“This Is A Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once
“Naatu Naatu” from RRR
“Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick
“New Body Rhumba” from White Noise

Analysis: As much as “Naatu Naatu” makes me want to get up and dance, I’m not sure it’s something I’d necessarily listen to in the car. “This Is A Life” is actually the song that I’d probably be most likely to listen to on my own. But only one of these songs conjures deeply felt emotion, and that’s “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Can you listen to that song without thinking about Chadwick Boseman? Neither can I. That’s why I voted for it, and that’s why I think it could possibly upset “Naatu Naatu” at the Oscars. Possibly. After all, the power of Rihanna is strong…

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Babylon*
Elvis
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Thirteen Lives

Analysis: There were a few really strong contenders this year. Glass Onion, which I did not care for as a movie, boasts some gorgeous production design, and I was very impressed with Thirteen Lives as well, as that team had to reconstruct parts of the Thai cave system. But Babylon is just stunning from a production design perspective, it’s immaculate, and the work of Florencia Martin and Anthony Carlino simply cannot be ignored this season. Bravo!

BEST SOUND

All Quiet on the Western Front
Avatar: The Way of Water
The Batman
Elvis
Top Gun: Maverick*

Analysis: This is a category where All Quiet on the Western Front probably took a hit because I watched it at home on my TV, which while powerful, can’t compete with theater speakers. Avatar: The Way of Water and The Batman both sounded great, but I could feel the sound of Top Gun: Maverick in my belly while watching the film at CinemaCon last year, and I wasn’t able to shake that memory so easily. I tip my wings to all involved.

Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water image via 20th Century Studios

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Avatar: The Way of Water*
The Batman
Everything Everywhere All at Once
RRR
Top Gun: Maverick

Analysis: I give a ton of credit to the small team that worked on EEAAO, and the folks who brought RRR to life, but this was a two-horse race in my eyes between the Avatar and Top Gun sequels, and in the end, I felt compelled to spread the love. Sure, the Avatar team already won an Oscar for the first film, but the way they pushed the boundaries of film even further this time around was truly impressive, from their facial capture systems to how realistic everything looks underwater. They deserved my vote, even though I know the Top Gun team had their work cut out for them and did it seamlessly.

BEST ENSEMBLE (Bonus Category)

Bros
The Fabelmans
She Said
Top Gun: Maverick*
The Whale

Analysis: Tom Cruise. Miles Teller. Jennifer Connelly. Glen Powell. Jon Hamm. Ed Harris. Val Kilmer. I could go on. But that’s an ensemble. The Fabelmans, from top to bottom. That’s an ensemble. It was a great year for ensembles! I couldn’t even fit The Banshees of Inisherin or Everything Everywhere All at Once in this category. That’s how much I believed in the casts of Bros and She Said. The Whale and Banshees was a close call, but if I’m prepared to give The Whale cast two Oscars, it seemed only right that I include that film, which also features a strong supporting turn from Samantha Morton, who had quite a year.

FINAL TALLY

Top Gun: Maverick5 (Picture, Director, Editing, Sound, Ensemble)
The Whale3 (Actor, Supporting Actress Makeup/Hairstyling)
All Quiet on the Western Front2 (International Feature, Original Score)
Athena1 (Cinematography)
Avatar: The Way of Water1 (Visual Effects)
Babylon1 (Production Design)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever1 (Original Song)
Bros1 (Original Screenplay)
Elvis1 (Costume Design)
My Policeman1 (Supporting Actor)
She Said1 (Adapted Screenplay)
Stutz1 (Documentary Feature)
Tár1 (Actress)
Turning Red1 (Animated Feature)

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