And the Oscars go to... why Steven Spielberg and Cate Blanchett are among the frontrunners for awards in 2023
The summer has drawn to a close bringing with it, in the film world at least, awards season. Now that the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals have wrapped up, awards pundits like me will spend the next six months discussing, theorising and predicting who will be taking home the gold at the 2023 Academy Awards.
I’ve spent the past three weeks covering two international film festivals – Venice and Toronto – and watched more than 50 films. This includes enough anticipated titles to predict the likely key players over the coming awards season.
That said, there are some major titles yet to be seen which could have a late-surge Oscars run such as Damien Chazelle’s ode to Hollywood with Babylon, Maria Schrader’s timely #MeToo drama She Said and James Cameron’s long-delayed, but highly anticipated, franchise sequel Avatar: Way of Water.
While certain categories seem to have clear frontrunners, the race for the top prize, Best Picture, remains an open field. Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans, Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light and Sarah Polley’s Women Talking all tick a certain amount of boxes but none has instilled confidence as an outright frontrunner.
The Fabelmans has taken an early lead after winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), an award that has proved a highly reliable indicator when it comes to predicting the Best Picture outcome. Past recipients that also triumphed at the Oscars include 12 years a Slave, Green Book and Nomadland.
Spielberg also has a narrative that could work in his favour. It’s been 28 years since the director has claimed Best Picture – the last time (also his first) was for Schindler’s List in 1994. The beloved filmmaker has now reached a diamond milestone age of 75 so if the Academy is feeling sentimental, what better way to celebrate his phenomenal career than by crowning the film that dramatises the personal story of how he fell in love with the medium?
Yet it’s far from a done deal. As we’ve seen in recent years, the Academy has sidestepped conventions with early-frontrunners La La Land and Belfast for smaller indie hits Moonlight and CODA. This means underdog films like the cinematic-success story of the year Everything Everywhere All At Once, still has a pathway to victory.
Mendes’s cinema-set drama Empire of Light sadly failed to launch at TIFF. The film is currently at a middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes so despite its thematic content being Academy-catnip, its chances of Best Picture have been slashed significantly.
Two topical female-driven titles have the potential to surprise. Polley’s Woman Talking proved it has the legs to go the distance when it came in second in the People’s Choice vote at TIFF. There’s also Maria Schrader’s yet-to-be-seen She Said which details the uncovering of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Honouring the movie that details the takedown of the industry’s most notorious predator could be a way for the Academy to give themselves a collective pat on the back.
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery were major crowd pleasers at TIFF – either one could nab a Best Picture slot. However, The Academy tends to only acknowledge a handful of blockbusters per year and Top Gun: Maverick is in a much stronger position as it’s the most profitable film of 2022 and looks to be nominated heavily in many technical categories.
Best Picture predictions (with predicted winner in bold):
The Banshees of Inisherin
Decision to Leave
Empire of Light
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Top Gun: Maverick
Best Picture and Best Director share a lot of overlap at the Oscars, which means a nomination for Spielberg is all but guaranteed, and would bring his directing nomination tally to nine.
Canadian filmmaker Polley’s arresting direction in Women Talking is also likely to net her a first nomination. A win for Polley would make a hat-trick of female winners following Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog).
Park Chan-wook’s romantic thriller Decision to Leave has a passionate fanbase. The South Korean filmmaker won Best Director in Cannes and has yet to be acknowledged by the Academy. Decision to Leave is South Korea’s official selection for Best International Feature and his Hitchcockian style of storytelling could translate into his first long overdue directing nomination. This past decade the Academy has shown a preference for honouring international directors; Ang Lee, Bong Joon Ho, and the Mexican directors Alejandro Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, so Park Chan-wook could continue the trend.
Wunderkind Damien Chazelle - the youngest ever winner as a director (he won for La La Land at the age of 32) is most certainly in the running and that’s solely based on Film Twitter’s reaction to the audacious first trailer for his latest film Babylon.
Best Director predictions:
Park Chan-wook - Decision to Leave
Damien Chazelle - Babylon
Martin McDonagh - The Banshees of Inisherin
Sarah Polley - Women Talking
Steven Spielberg - The Fabelmans
When it comes to performances, the name on everybody’s lips at both Venice and TIFF was Brendan Fraser – whose stunning comeback performance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is the type of go-for-broke role that audiences and voters love to champion. His first Best Actor nomination seems assured, but can he go all the way?
He will have tough competition from Colin Farrell, who won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival for his role in Martin McDonagh’s macabre comedy The Banshees of Inisherin. Austin Butler’s star-making turn as the king of rock’n’roll Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis also makes him a contender.
Initially a sure bet, Hugh Jackman’s chances don’t seem so strong. Florian Zeller’s The Father took home two Oscars in 2021, including Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins and many were expecting Zeller’s follow-up The Son to be an awards launching pad for Jackman. However, the film’s handling of sensitive topics of depression, self-harm and suicide has divided audiences and may damage Jackman’s chances. This leaves him vulnerable to first-time hopefuls like Bill Nighy for his role in Living, Michael Ward in Empire of Light and Jeremy Pope for Inspection to swoop in.
Best Actor predictions:
Austin Butler - Elvis
Colin Farrell - The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser - The Whale
Hugh Jackman - The Son
Jeremy Pope - Inspection
Like most years, Best Actress is already shaping up to be one of the most fiercely competitive categories. Michelle Yeoh is highly favoured to bag her first-ever Oscar nomination for her career-highlight performance in word-of-mouth crossover hit Everything Everywhere All At Once – the film was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. She would only be the second ever Asian woman to be nominated for a leading performance at the Oscars - the first was Merle Oberon in The Dark Angel way back in 1936.
Reactions to Andrew Dominik’s Blonde in Venice were lukewarm but critics generally enjoyed Ana de Armas’ bewitching turn as the iconic blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe – a role that has Oscar bait written all over it. De Armas’ star has been on the rise for several years and she seems poised to land her first-ever nomination.
She will be battling it out for a coveted spot against Academy regulars Cate Blanchett, for her performance in Tár, and Olivia Colman for Empire of Light. Both previous winners in this category themselves and both received rapturous responses at Venice and TIFF for their respective performances. Blanchett’s Volpi Cup win for Best Actress makes her a credible frontrunner. Past winners of the Volpi Cup who then succeeded at the Oscars include Helen Mirren for The Queen, Emma Stone (La La Land) and Olivia Colman (The Favourite).
My money is currently on Blanchett for her barnstorming performance as an ambitious composer, however Tár does run the risk of alienating voters as it’s a very serious and pretentious arthouse picture that may not be to a general audience’s liking... so we may see a more audience-accessible performance like Colman or Yeoh gain steam.
Best Actress predictions:
Cate Blanchett - Tár
Olivia Colman - Empire of Light
Ana De Armas - Blonde
Margot Robbie - Babylon
Michelle Yeoh - Everything Everywhere All At Once
Best Supporting Actor
The frontrunners for Best Supporting Actor have yet to emerge at this point, but there are a lot of viable options – many of whom would be first-time nominees.
Renowned Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is in the running for his darkly funny turn as a grumpy fiddle player in The Banshees of Inisherin. Some would argue he’s a co-lead alongside Farrell but there’s enough ambiguity surrounding his character to be placed in either category and he stands a better chance of winning the supporting award.
Ben Whishaw has a considerable advantage by being the only man in Women Talking. It’s a sensitive role and he’s given enough meaty moments to stand out.
Meanwhile, thank goodness Brian Tyree Henry finally found a juicy part worthy of his talent to grab voters’ attention. His performance in Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway alongside Jennifer Lawrence is understatedly raw.
Like Brendan Fraser, Ke Huy Quan similarly has a comeback-kid narrative. The former child star of The Goonies and Temple of Doom took a 20-year break from acting and has been widely celebrated for his returning performance as Michelle Yeoh’s compassionate and fannypack-whipping husband in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
When it comes to The Fabelmans, Judd Hirsch and Paul Dano could be battling it out for a spot. Dano’s role is more substantial, however Hirsch leaves a bigger impact with only a few minutes of screen time. If Hirsch were to land a nomination it would be his second in 42 years which would make him the record holder for the longest gap between acting nods in Academy history (Henry Fonda currently holds the record with 41 years). Hirsch’s previous nomination was for Ordinary People in 1981.
Best Supporting Actor predictions:
Brendan Gleeson - The Banshees of Inisherin
Brian Tyree Henry - Causeway
Judd Hirsch - The Fabelmans
Ke Huy Quan - Everything Everywhere All At Once
Ben Whishaw - Women Talking
Best Supporting Actress
There is an abundance of choices when it comes to supporting actresses; you could fill all five slots from just the ensemble in Women Talking. That won’t happen, but there will certainly be representation from the film. While I would advocate for veteran performers like Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy, it is far more likely that the Academy will gravitate towards more established names like Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy.
A name that truly created a lot of commotion at both Venice and TIFF was Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin. While the plot is essentially a double act between Farrell and Gleeson, Condon fully holds her own as Farrell’s exasperated sister Siobhan, caught in the middle of their petty feud. She fuses comedy and drama together effortlessly – it’s some of her finest work.
Michelle Williams has been nominated four previous times and has yet to win. Could this finally be her year for her cheesy-yet-tender turn as a guffawing mother in The Fabelmans?
Samatha Morton has had a strong year with two noteworthy roles in The Whale and She Said. In the latter, she has a pivotal part as Zelda Perkins – the former assistant of Harvey Weinstein who spoke up about the movie mogul’s history of sexual misconduct. We haven’t seen it yet, but the performance will undoubtedly cause a stir. Her part in The Whale is small but has a big impact, however her co-star Hong Chau is more likely to secure a nomination for that film.
Best Supporting Actress predictions:
Jessie Buckley - Women Talking
Hong Chau - The Whale
Kerry Condon - The Banshees of Inisherin
Claire Foy - Women Talking
Michelle Williams - The Fabelmans
Best Adapted Screenplay
A frontrunner has already emerged in this category. It might be premature to say, but this is Sarah Polley’s to lose. Her adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel Women Talking is a ferocious yet eloquent criticism of patriarchal oppression. The dialogue leaps off the screen. It’s the type of urgent, topical talkie that’s too beautifully articulated to go ignored.
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out follow-up Glass Onion was an audience favourite at TIFF thanks to his zingy, subversive script. His previous film bagged him an original screenplay nom but his sequel could very well see him securing a spot in adapting next year.
David Kajgnich deserves to be nominated for his adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ novel Bones and All for the sheer accomplishment of pulling off a coming-of-age cannibalism love story – it shouldn’t work but by gum, it does. However, given the Academy’s unfavourable track record for acknowledging genre films, this seems like wishful thinking.
Best Adapted Screenplay predictions:
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Best Original Screenplay
After winning best screenplay at Venice, Martin McDonagh has taken an early lead for his The Banshees of Inisherin. This is not the only comedic screenplay that could show up in this category.
Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning satire of the rich Triangle of Sadness tested well with TIFF attendees as did Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller’s groundbreaking LGBTQ+ romcom Bros.
There’s been a groundswell of support for the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once and a screenplay might be the film’s best chance of winning something.
There was plenty of fanfare in Venice for Todd Field’s sophisticated screenplay for Tár however it does run the risk of being too ostentatious for the Academy.
Best Original Screenplay predictions:
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Best International Feature
One of the biggest surprises of Venice was the lacklustre reception to Alejandro Iñárritu’s self-indulgent semi-autobiographical odyssey Bardo. The film seemed like a sure-fire selection for Mexico’s entry for International Feature and perhaps an early frontrunner. Sadly the disappointing response from critics has squelched those hopes for Mexico and for Netflix.
The streaming giant should now be investing its resources into a sturdy campaign for Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Germany’s official selection is a visceral muddy war epic that became a word-of-mouth sensation at TIFF. It could go the distance and secure multiple nominations for sound, production design, editing and cinematography. The academy loves a war movie and this one is equal parts Saving Private Ryan and 1917 so it’s plausible that Berger could surprise in directing. If All Quiet on the Western Front scores enough technical nominations then we could be looking at a very tight race between this and Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave.
Best International Feature predictions:
All Quiet on the Western Front - Germany
Close - Belgium
Decision to Leave - South Korea
Holy Spider - Denmark