Oscar Watch: The Contenders are Lining Up

It’s time to make a must-see movie list because Oscar season has arrived! Here’s a rundown of the films and performances that will likely be vying for Academy Awards on Sunday, March 12.

The Banshees of Inisherin

One of the most buzzed about films of the year is Martin McDonagh’s (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) most intimate film to date. Set on the fictional isle of Inisherin in 1923, the film is a quirky comedy that delves deep into character study and the pain that is often masked behind a joker’s smile.

The story is centered on Pádraic (Colin Farrell), a milk farmer who lives with his sister, and folk musician Colm (Brendan Gleeson). The two are living steady, modest lives when Colm abruptly decides to end his lifelong friendship with Pádraic. However, Colm failed to consider the weight his decision would have on the lives of everyone else around the two men—a single affecting response has the power to ignite a consequential chain reaction.

Farrell took home the prize for best actor at the Venice film festival, and the film has collected eight Golden Globe and nine Critics’ Choice Award nominations. Oscar will assuredly cozy up to this impassioned dramedy.

Tár

Writer/director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children) uses filmmaking to dissect the human condition. His dramatic gravitas has the power to pull audiences into his stories to feel the weight of his character’s emotions.

As Lydia Tár, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Nightmare Alley) delivers a galvanizing performance. A world-renowned conductor on the precipice of further elevating her career, Lydia is being driven to madness by her genius and her guilt. The power, control and egoism she long wielded to secure her status is diminishing, and when her past becomes present, she’s toppled by the destruction she has caused.

Field’s artistic nuances can seemingly render the storyline disjointed at times, but Blanchett’s performance harnesses the film. She won best actress at the Venice Film Festival, and the film has a handful of Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations. I expect Oscar to express a lot of love for both Blanchett and Field.

Women Talking

Oscar nominated writer/director Sarah Polley (Away from Her) has created a gripping interpretation of a novel inspired by real-life events. Set in an isolated Mennonite colony in 2010, it is revealed the men of the community have been drugging and raping the colony’s women for years. Circumstances change when a group of the women decide they’ve suffered in silence long enough. They band together and risk everything by speaking out.

The film is led by a star-studded cast including Claire Foy (The Crown, First Man), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Nomadland), Rooney Mara (Carol, Nightmare Alley) and Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Lost Daughter), and was first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Polley has earned Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations for best screenplay and best director; it seems likely Oscar will follow suit.

Avatar: The Way of Water

Thirteen years ago, James Cameron scripted a love letter to Mother Earth with Avatar. The dystopian saga weaves themes of passion, commitment, greed and destiny into a tumultuous tale of survival, and flips the narrative of “aliens” on its head. The movie’s sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water takes audiences back to the fictional planet of Pandora, where once again, a family and its colony are forced to fight for their existence. And this time, they must battle in a foreign, underwater world.

With Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nods for best picture and best director in the bag, Avatar: The Way of Water is poised to rekindle Oscar’s decades long love affair with James Cameron.

Aftersun

Writer/director Charlotte Wells’ debut feature film is a piercing father-daughter story. The film is centered on Sophie (Frankie Corio), who at age 11, takes a summer vacation to Turkey with her loving, but troubled father (Paul Mescal). Ever curious and observant, Sophie pays close attention to the teenagers at the resort discussing and acting on the adolescent urges Sophie, herself, is beginning to feel burgeoning within. In her present-day life, 20 years after the vacation, Sophie reflects on that rare time spent with her father, the man she never came to know. Through Sophie’s recollections, Wells artfully melts past and present together into a heartrending portrait of acceptance and understanding.

The Fablemans 

In one of the most anticipated films of the year, Steven Spielberg has penned a personal tribute to family and filmmaking. Set in post-war Arizona and California, the film follows Sammy Fableman, portrayed by Gabriel Labelle, as he ventures on an evolutionary love affair with movies from age 7 to 18. Each member of the ensemble cast—Labelle, Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Manchester by the Sea) Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Seth Rogen (The Interview, Long Shot), Judd Hirsch (Ordinary People, Independence Day)—delivers a commanding performance and the on-screen chemistry among them is electric.

The film won top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has also earned five Golden Globe and 11 Critics’ Choice Award nominations. There’s no doubt the film will garner multiple Oscar nominations. The only question: How many statuettes will Spielberg be taking home?

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Sequel

The second sequel on this list is Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his 2019 smash, Knives Out. This installment takes place on a private Greek island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Miles has invited his closest friends to convene for a weekend–long murder mystery game. The atmosphere is familial and Miles fondly refers to his close-knit crew as “The Disruptors.” But there is a glaring caveat to everyone’s pleasure: the presence of their former comrade, Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe). Eventually, a real case of whodunit emerges, sending the entire household into rampant chaos.

Unfortunately, the stirring suspense and intrigue that was so palpable in Knives Out, wanes in Glass Onion. The storyline peaks midway through, before fizzling into an unsurprising conclusion. Nonetheless, it’s easy to stay engaged with the film due to its dazzling set design and costuming, and stellar performances by Monáe and Daniel Craig (who reprises his role as detective Benoit Blanc). Supporting roles from Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. and Madelyn Cline also give the film some heft, and a plethora of celebrity cameos grant the movie unexpected delight.

The film was second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has garnered two Golden Globe and six Critics’ Choice Award nominations. Oscar is sure to be enticed by the movie’s unending glitz.

Babylon

Writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) has created a cinematic explosion with his latest tour de force. Set in 1920s Hollywood as the industry is transitioning from silent films to talkies, the story blends fictional and historical characters fueled by decadence and debauchery. The world seems an oyster to every resident of Tinseltown, until outrageous excess sends stardom spiraling into fateful demise.

The film has earned five Golden Globe and nine Critics’ Choice Award nominations, and with its all-star cast—Margot Robbie (I, Tonya, Once Upon a timein Hollywood) Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds, Once Upon a Timein Hollywood) Jean Smart (Designing Women, Hacks) Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man, Brothers), Olivia Wilde (Richard Jewell, Don’t Worry Darling) and Samara Weaving (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Ready or Not)—this rousing epic is sure to satisfy many of Oscar’s desires.

Top Gun: Maverick

The presence of Top Gun: Maverick on this list is a testament to the campaigning skills of the film’s production team, and not due to any Oscar-caliber filmmaking. Aside from a solid performance by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Whiplash) and some remarkable action sequences, this is a mediocre movie. The script relies too heavily on nostalgia and prior narratives, leaving little room for any original storytelling. And the screenwriters should be shamed for their pathetic attempt to swoon women with the love affair between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Penny (Jennifer Connelly). Like many women, my heart throbbed witnessing the passion shared between Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis) in the original Top Gun—theirs was a relationship with depth and tenacity. Cruise and Connolly have zero chemistry and their storyline plays out like a weak afterthought. The franchise’s legion of female fans were served a monumental failure with this sequel. Nonetheless, Top Gun: Maverick was a box office smash, affording it a multi-million dollar awards campaign that has resulted in a Golden Globe nomination for best picture and six Critics’ Choice Award nominations. The campaign’s messaging is clearly working; I expect Cruise to receive the producer’s nomination he is so desperately seeking.

The Whale

Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Mother!) is a maestro of psychological thrills. He utilizes wicked artistry to illuminate the human psyche and unearth significant life truths.

His latest cinematic feat is more tailored down than his usual epics. Adapted from a play of the same name, The Whale follows 600-pound reclusive teacher, Charlie (Brenden Fraser), who in the throes of mourning, has made the decision to eat himself to death. The film takes place entirely in Charlie’s apartment, as his friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) does her best to provide some sort of medical care. Charlie’s only dying hope is to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink) and make a final attempt at mending their relationship.

Elvis

Writer/director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) takes a unique look into the life of Elvis Presley with this gleaming biopic. Rather than taking a direct storytelling route, the film explorers Elvis’ (Austin Butler) life and music through the prism of his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Spanning 20 years, from Presley’s early rise to fame to his world-wide stardom and marriage with Priscilla (Olivia Dejonge), the film is set against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape in America. Luhrmann executes finite artistry, using imagery and news headlines to advance the storyline at times.

The brilliance of the film rests in Butler’s performance. He seemingly morphs himself into the rock ‘n’ roll artist, mirroring Elvis’ iconic dance moves and capturing the full breadth of his vocal talent. Butler is practically a shoo-in for a best actor Oscar nomination, and considering the film’s array of Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations, it is likely to receive plenty of love from Oscar as well.

Living

Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is one of the most magnetic actors of his generation, and he attains this dynamic presence with quiet charm. There’s nothing glaring about him on-screen, it’s the calm, artistic subtleties of his craft that pull audiences into his characters’ experiences.

Living is set in 1950s London where Williams (Nighy) works as a civil servant within the city’s bureaucracy as it struggles to rebuild following the war. He’s living a life of mundanity—buried under paperwork at the office, lonesome in his home life—when a shattering medical diagnosis forces him to take personal stock. He makes a swift decision to move to the south coast where he can hopefully experience some beauty and gratification in his remaining days.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Writing/directing team, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as “The Daniels,” have created a big-hearted sci-fi adventure with this absurdist comedy. The plot centers on Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a wife and mother who emigrated from China when she was young, in love and idealistic. Now, the laundromat she owns and operates with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is under audit, her elderly father is visiting to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and lines of communication between she and her college-aged daughter are frustratingly frayed. Suddenly, during a trip to the IRS office, an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, and Evelyn learns she has the powers to connect with parallel versions of herself and prevent a powerful being from destroying the multiverse.

About 50 minutes into watching this film, I felt like my brain was in a pressure cooker. The script takes little time before catapulting into a high-octane thrill ride, chock-full of prolonged martial arts action sequences and Monte Python-esque humor. The movie explores common themes of love and self-awareness, and ultimately, serves up important life reminders: If you cannot accept who you are and make something out of whatever circumstances into which you are born, life can easily become a meaningless void.

The film won best picture at the Gotham Awards, and has six Golden Globe and 14 Critics’ Choice Award nominations. It will undoubtedly receive several Oscar nominations.

She Said

When New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor set out to investigate the sexual abuse allegations of Harvey Weinstein, they never could have imagined their work would shift the cultural conscience of the nation. Their reporting became the launchpad for the #MeToo movement, and in 2019, the pair published a memoir chronicling the risk and vigor of their reportorial odyssey.

Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida, Disobedience) adapted the best-selling book, and together with director Maria Schrader (Liebesleben, Unorthodox), the two have created an intimate film of truth and consequence. Unlike journalistic juggernauts All the President’s Men and Spotlight, which are solely focused on the reporters’ work lives, She Said approaches the investigation from the perspective of the women as both journalists and mothers. It was Schrader’s vision to portray the professional, fierce reporters as normal women dividing time between work and home.

With the acting chops of Carey Mulligan (Drive, Promising Young Woman) and Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) leading the film, and a screenplay that has won a Satellite Award and been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award, I expect the film to receive multiple Oscar nominations.

Awards season gets underway on January 10 with the Golden Globe Awards, and continues on January 15 with the Critics’ Choice Awards.

3 thoughts on “Oscar Watch: The Contenders are Lining Up

  1. Amanda, I couldn’t wait. You have done a fabulous job! I am going to read it again when I am not sleepy. I am very impressed. I would give anything to have a vocabulary as rich as yours. More later…. but Bravo!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s