The final stretch of awards season is upon us as the Oscar nominations were announced last week. It’s a surprisingly good crop of nominees given the Oscars’ history of rewarding mediocre to straight-up bad movies. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to have found the right balance of critical and commercial hits to recognize. Here is a breakdown of the major categories and some of the trends and narratives surrounding them:
The Best Picture nominations this year were fairly predictable — Gold Derby correctly predicted nine of the 10, only “The Whale” missing out in favor of Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness” — but it struck a balance of prestige and blockbuster that allows the Academy to both maintain its standing as a respectable awards body and bolster television viewership. Among the nominees are festival hits like the aforementioned “Triangle of Sadness,” Venice Film Festival debutants “Tár” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award winner, “The Fabelmans,” and runner-up, “Women Talking.” The Academy also nominated the two most successful films of the year — “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick” and smaller hits “Elvis” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” The Netflix adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front” rounds out the group of 10 after a big showing at the BAFTAs where it picked up 14 nominations.
This race should come down to three films: “EEAAO” is the current favorite — garnering 11 nominations, the most of any film this year, and doing well on the awards circuit so far. “Banshees” is also a contender, reaching a much wider audience after coming to HBO Max and receiving much acclaim. “The Fabelmans” could take the “CODA” path to victory, taking advantage of the ranked-choice voting system as a film universally liked.
Whether Best Picture and Best Director go to the same film is a toss-up. “Parasite” and “Nomadland” each won both awards in 2020 and 2021, but director Sian Heder (“CODA”) wasn’t even nominated last year for her Best Picture-winning film. It’s generally a good bet that the Best Picture winner will at least be nominated for Best Director, which means “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “EEAAO,” “The Fabelmans,” “Tár” or “Triangle of Sadness” will likely take home the top prize. The nominations in this category went almost completely as expected, apart from the shocking inclusion of Ruben Ӧstlund for “Triangle of Sadness.” Going into the nomination announcement, Ӧstlund was the 13th favorite to win the award, but he surged forward to steal the final slot away from more likely nominees Edward Berger (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), James Cameron (“Avatar: The Way of Water”) and Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”). The Daniels are currently favored to take home both Best Director and Best Picture for “EEAAO,” but don’t be surprised if Steven Spielberg takes this one. He has equal odds as it stands and is looking to take home his first Best Director Oscar since 1998. It would give the Academy yet another opportunity to honor Spielberg for his personal, self-reflective masterpiece, “The Fabelmans.”
The Best Actor nominations went chalk this year; all five actors with the best odds via Gold Derby were nominated. Paul Mescal’s nomination for his raw, touching performance in “Aftersun” is a wonderful surprise since the only potentially close replacement was Tom Cruise, who failed to secure a nomination for his fine but empty movie star acting in “Top Gun: Maverick.” However, for a while now, this category has been a three-horse race between Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”).
Fraser is currently the favorite for giving his all in one of the worst movies of the year. Butler is pulling a Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), keeping himself in the race by portraying an American icon. But Farrell gives by far the best performance of the three. He takes McDonagh’s remarkably complex script and bounces quickly and with great aplomb between comic and tragic tones. Farrell winning would mean the Oscars finally getting the lead actor category right, which means they’ll definitely give it to Butler.
This race is between two actresses: Cate Blanchett for her powerful performance in “Tár” and Michelle Yeoh for her exciting and poignant performance in “EEAAO.” But the interesting story in the Best Actress category is where the hell Andrea Riseborough came from with her performance in “To Leslie?” Her nomination wasn’t out of nowhere — she had the seventh-best odds on Gold Derby. Nor was it undeserving — the buzz from “To Leslie” viewers suggests Riseborough is fantastic in the film. But the sudden influx of passion and campaigning on her behalf was shocking because hardly anyone saw this movie. “To Leslie” made $27,000 at the box office and is currently only available to rent online in the U.S. There has been almost no marketing for this film — I vaguely remember a trailer for a single screening at the Michigan Theater last fall. But a strong, grassroots push by famous actors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Mia Farrow, manifested an Oscar nomination for Riseborough. This campaign’s success was so bizarre that the Academy investigated whether or not it broke any rules, which could potentially have meant taking the nomination back, although there was eventually no wrongdoing found. It’s an absurd situation, but in terms of the awards, it doesn’t matter much because there is no way she (or anyone who would have taken her place) will beat Blanchett or Yeoh.
Best Supporting Actor
This category was all over the place. Everyone expected Paul Dano to get the nomination for Burt Fabelman in “The Fabelmans,” but it was Judd Hirsch who got the nod with his powerful, six-minute cameo as Uncle Boris. Brian Tyree Henry also came out of nowhere with a nomination for “Causeway,” the film’s only nomination. His intimate, emotional performance seemed to have struck a chord with voters. “The Banshees of Inisherin” also came in with nominations for Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan, both worthy of every bit of praise they have received for their touching and funny performances. This category’s major narrative is the wonderful comeback story of Ke Huy Quan, who quit acting for decades after struggling to find work, but who gives an exciting, heartfelt performance in “EEAAO.” The Oscar will almost certainly go to Quan, as he has been winning at nearly every awards ceremony so far.
Best Supporting Actress
This category would have been Michelle Williams’s to lose if she hadn’t unexpectedly run in Best Actress instead. Now, the award in this weak category is likely Angela Bassett’s for her fine but unremarkable work in the fine but unremarkable “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Though not the performance for which she should win an award or be remembered, the win would be a nice career achievement acknowledgment for a brilliant actress whose strength and on-screen presence are always a welcome sight. Though all the nominations — like Kerry Condon for “The Banshees of Inisherin” or Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu for “EEAAO” — were expected according to Gold Derby, given the love for “Triangle of Sadness” in other major categories, it is a little surprising that Dolly De Leon didn’t slip in here somewhere. The way she convincingly pulls off the shift from meek to powerful when the characters’ situations change in the film’s final act was worthy of consideration.
Best Original Screenplay
This is the only category where every nominee deserves the award. Even the weakest screenplay of the bunch — “Triangle of Sadness” — is a bold, provocative work that demands attention. Though it would have been nice to see “Babylon” and “Nope” here instead for their bold, weighty, messy screenplays, there were no surprises in this category as all five Gold Derby favorites were nominated. Still, the Academy struck a nice balance. Current favorite “EEAAO” is a creative, funny and emotional crowd-pleaser. “The Fabelmans” is a melancholic, personal work from an all-time great. “Tár” has big, relevant ideas and creates one of the year’s best characters. But this one should go to “The Banshees of Inisherin” for its deft juggling of tones, its rhythmic dialogue and its deep, complex characters.
Best Adapted Screenplay
While the Original Screenplay category has the best crop of nominees, Adapted Screenplay has one of the worst. The favorite is “Women Talking,” whose script feels like it should have been a play given most of it takes place in one room and features overwritten, theatrical dialogue. “All Quiet on the Western Front” was also nominated despite deviating wildly from the book to the story’s detriment. There was one surprise nomination: “Top Gun: Maverick” jumped into the category over favorite “The Whale.” The “Top Gun: Maverick” script is unimaginative and dull, but it’s a win if we don’t have to recognize the harsh, judgmental screenplay for “The Whale.” I haven’t had the chance to see “Living,” another nominee, so I can’t comment on the quality of that script — writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s status as a Nobel Prize winner suggests some baseline level of quality. The only interesting, clever screenplay of the bunch that I have seen is “Glass Onion.” While the film is not Rian Johnson’s best work, it would be nice to see this excellent writer rewarded with an Oscar.
Best International Feature
It was a happy surprise to see “EO” pick up a nomination, but the big shock in this category is the omission of Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave.” Park’s film was a huge hit with critics at Cannes last year, and it looked primed for an Oscar nomination — it was the second favorite on Gold Derby. Another omission, though not shocking given it wasn’t submitted by India for eligibility, is “RRR,” a film with a passionate fandom that picked up a Best Song nomination for “Naatu Naatu.” One wonders if the love for the film could have propelled it to a nomination for Best International Feature had India chosen to submit it instead of “Last Film Show” — a film with a positive reception, but lacking the passion viewers have for “RRR.” It’s hard to imagine that something other than “All Quiet on the Western Front” will win here given its Best Picture nomination, but stranger things have happened — fellow nominee “Argentina, 1985” came out of nowhere with minimal buzz and beat it for the Golden Globe.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.