And the Oscar Goes To…

The film class of 2022 is illustrious, and with only a few exceptions (see best picture and best adapted screenplay), the Academy did a fine job of nominating the very best of the best. It has been a surprising and unpredictable awards season thus far, setting the stage for what could be a rousing Oscar ceremony on Sunday. Here’s my breakdowns and predictions for each of the Academy’s premier categories:

Best Actress

It’s unfortunate this category has the unnecessary stain of campaign controversy because the Academy got it right with its list of contenders: Cate Blanchett (Tár), Ana de Armas (Blonde), Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie), Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans) and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Anyone who cries foul in regards to the nominees is sucking on sour grapes.

Blanchett delivers the most commanding performance of her career as a famed conductor descending into madness. It’s rare to see an actor reach such depths of character—I was hanging on her every word and movement. De Armas is mesmerizing as a young starlet tormented by fame. The brilliance of her performance rests in her ability to capture the potency of Marilyn Monroe alongside the fragility of Norma Jean Baker. Riseborough’s performance is astounding. She strips herself raw in front of the camera, exposing all her vulnerabilities as a mother battling the demons of addiction. Williams is the most remarkable on-screen mother in cinematic history as the charmingly defiant Mitzi Fabelman. Yeoh portrays a most unlikely heroine—a 60–ish wife and mother disillusioned by unfulfilled hopes and dreams. And no one is more surprised than her to learn she has the superhuman powers to save the world from hateful demise.

Any one of the nominated actresses is worthy of this year’s Academy Award, but this race has narrowed to Blanchett or Yeoh. Blanchett emerged as the early favorite nabbing wins at the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA awards. But Yeoh has come on strong in recent weeks, winning the SAG and Independent Spirit awards. Now the women are in a dead heat heading into Sunday.

My prediction: Michelle Yeoh

My favorite: Andrea Riseborough

Best Actor

This has shaped up to be the most competitive category of the year with Austin Butler (Elvis), Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) and Brendan Fraser (The Whale) equally poised to take home Oscar. All three men have delivered career–defining performances worthy of the accolades they have each received.

Butler seemingly morphs himself into Elvis, mirroring the rock ‘n’ roll star’s iconic dance moves and capturing the full breadth of his vocal talent. But it’s the soulfulness behind Butler’s eyes that pulls audiences into the story whereby we too experience the emotions, both wonderful and torturous, of the legend’s 20–year career. Farrell is marvelous as a heartbroken dairy farmer. Even in moments without dialogue, Farrell translates the pathos of his experience through mere expression. And he lifts the weight of sadness with moments of robust humor. Fraser’s performance is a tour de force. Portraying a 600-pound recluse who sits on a couch or in a wheelchair for the vast majority of the film, Fraser’s body is a useless instrument. The actor uses only his face to relay intense thoughts, feelings and emotions. And in so doing, he paints a profound illustration of grief and hope.

At this year’s Golden Globes, Farrell won the award for best actor in a comedy, while Butler won in the drama category. Then, Fraser won the Critics’ Choice Award two weeks before Butler took home the BAFTA. Fraser closed out the pre-Oscar awards shows with a win at the SAGs. It’s impossible to peg who has the momentum heading into Sunday night.

My prediction: Brendan Fraser

My favorite: Colin Farrell

Best Picture

Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick should be booted far off this list of nominees. Both films complete highflying stunts with some fascinating special effects, but their storylines fall flat due to weak screenwriting. The Whale and She Said are superior films that deserve a spot alongside the other eight nominees: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Banshees of Inisherin, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár, Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking.

The four front-runners—All Quiet on the Western Front, The Banshees of Inisherin, Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Fabelmans—are as equally heartfelt as they are intense.

All Quiet brings audiences into an unforgiving battle pursuit where we experience the senselessness of war. It all begins with quiet charm—a close knit group of school boys decide to fight for the honor of their fatherland. However, as soon as they reach the battlefront, they realize they are merely pawns. They must immediately become killing machines, and come to grips with the fact that seeing the face of the enemy is like looking into a mirror.

Set in 1923 on a fictional Irish isle, Banshees is a feast for the eyes with its visually stunning landscape and beautifully balanced color tones. It’s also a heart rendering tragicomic that grips your soul. A man suffering from despair attempts to ease his gloom by abruptly ending a lifelong friendship. However, he failed to consider the effect his decision would have on everyone else around him. The Irish Civil War being waged on the mainland is a backdrop to the story. It’s also a metaphor for the fateful downfall heading to Inisherin.

With The Fablenans, Steven Spielberg creates a movie of great wonder, layered with far-reaching depths of character. Based on the director’s real life, young Sammy (Mateo Zoryan) is introduced to film by his parents. His father teaches him the science behind motion pictures, while his mother instills in him the idea that films are “dreams you never forget.” The movie-memoir records the landscape of Sammy’s formidable years, and the moments that shaped him into becoming a cinematic genius.

Everything Everywhere All at Once tells a tale of love and acceptance through the art of absurdist filmmaking. While the metaphysical hijinks and martial arts action sequences are the most marketed aspects of the movie, it’s the message of morality and interpersonal necessity that allows the film to resonate deeply with audiences.

My prediction: Everything Everywhere All at Once

My favorite: The Banshees of Inisherin

Best Supporting Actress

Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) emerged as the early favorite in this category by garnering wins at the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards. However, those resonated as token wins because she delivers the weakest performance of all the nominees. Her character, Queen Ramonda, is one-dimensional, eliminating any distinct range or gravitas in her acting. The most memorable part of her role is the manner by which she is killed. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-familiar case of a great actor being recognized for their entire body of work by receiving unjust merit for a current piece of work. In my not so humble opinion, Bassett doesn’t even deserve her nomination. Jessie Buckley should be on the list for her gutting performance in Women Talking.

The other nominees with wins this awards season are Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Condon’s character, Siobhan, is a breath of fresh air and the singular voice of reason among all the “fecking boring” men with whom she is forced to commune on a daily basis. In Everything Everywhere, Curtis gloriously portrays IRS auditor, Deirdre Beaubeirdre. The self-described “unlovable bitch” is disgruntled and hapless, but ultimately serves as the unifying thread that binds the moral center of the story. And through glimpses of unexpected charm, audiences are reassured that somewhere in some dimension, Deirdre is living a life of deserved love and jubilance.

The two other nominees, Hong Chau (The Whale) and Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once) stand very little chance of winning, but their performances are exceptional nonetheless. Chau plays Charlie’s (Brendan Fraser) nurse and dear friend who is ever loyal during his dying days. Hsu is dynamic in her multi-layered performance. She portrays a disaffected college student unable to properly communicate with her mother and a rapturous villain determined to dissolve all the world’s hope and meaningfulness.

My prediction: Jamie Lee Curtis

My favorite: Stephanie Hsu

Best Supporting Actor

This eclectic crop of contenders provides a range of vigorous performances. Brendan Gleeson (The Banshees of Inisherin) is demonstrative as fiddle player, Colm, who may or may not be losing his mind. He walks with direct intention and speaks no nonsense. And his stubborn shortsightedness causes war to erupt on the homefront. In Causeway, Brian Tyree Henry offers stillness amid trauma when he falls into an unexpected relationship with Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence), a U.S. soldier recovering from a traumatic brain injury. His performance is emotionally raw, and elegant in its vulnerability. Judd Hirsch (The Fabelmans) delivers a stirring single scene performance as Uncle Boris. He’s wild and inspiring, and teaches his young, filmmaking nephew a dire lesson about the dueling obligations of family and art. In The Banshees of Inisherin, Barry Keoghan plays a role of devastating beauty. He portrays Dominic, collectively regarded as the “dim” resident on the island who suffers terrible abuse at home, yet clings to optimism with hopeless, endearing desire.

Though remarkable as each of those performances are, Ke Huy Quan is the dominant front-runner in this category.

As the meta-verse traveling husband, Waymond Wang, Quan is the source of calm amid the chaos of Everything Everywhere All at Once. In addition to playing a spouse and father in his prime dimension, he also portrays an action-hero version of Waymond in an alternate dimension, and in a third dimension, he plays a suave, intellectual version of Waymond. Quan nails every aspect of this incomparable acting feat and offers a refreshing look at the expectations of a husband and father within a family unit.

My prediction: Ke Huy Quan

My favorite: Barry Keoghan

Best Director

This is a two–way race between Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans) and Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively referred to as the Daniels (Everything Everywhere All at Once).

Spielberg’s biopic is a love letter to family and filmmaking. Through the power of his camera lens, he illustrates the necessity of human connection, and underscores the importance of nurturing dreams and desires. The beauty of the film lies is its fine use of musicality. In poignant moments of tenderness and drama, Spielberg is able to capture intimacy and heartache without the use of dialogue.

In Chinese philosophy and religion, the Yin Yang is constructed on two principles. One is negative, dark and female; the other is positive, light and masculine, and the interaction therein, influences the destinies of creatures and things. The Daniels use this construct as the theme of Everything Everywhere All at Once. A rigid matriarch with a cold exterior is jeopardizing her relationship with her kind, nurturing husband, and destroying her connection with her daughter. In a master stroke of filmmaking, this wife and mother becomes their heroine. She synchronizes opposing harmonies throughout the metaverse, and secures the unity and love that was missing within her family.

My prediction: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

My favorite: Steven Spielberg

Best Original Screenplay

Screenwriting is the most elemental ingredient in filmmaking. Regardless of how meager a film’s budget, so long as the actors are equipped with a valiant script, any movie has the possibility for greatness.

This category is stacked with heavy hitting screenplays, and the two best, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin and the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once are in close pursuit for the win.

With Banshees, McDonagh has penned a beautiful piece of Irish folklore. His script is a patchwork of loneliness, hope, death and hilarity. He has created unlucky characters with whom viewers fall in love, and has invented a mythical land that ignites curiosities.

The Daniels have scripted a humorous, tearjerking sci-fi adventure film. Their multi-layered screenplay is reflective, proving when nothing matters, everything can, and within the bad, there is always good.

My prediction: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

My favorite: Martin McDonagh

Best Adapted Screenplay

It is downright criminal for Christopher McQuarrie, Ehren Kruger and Eric Singer (Top Gun: Maverick) and Rian Johnson (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) take up space on this list of nominees. Top Gun’s script is not only clumsily written, it borrows too many plot beats from the original movie. The screenplay for Glass Onion is the weakest part of the mediocre film. The plotline peaks midway through, then fizzles into an unsurprising conclusion. Andrew Dominik (Blonde) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (She Said) were robbed of their rightful spots on this list of nominees.

This race is tight between Sarah Polley (Women Talking) and Edward Berger (All Quiet on the Western Front).

Polley has erected an enthralling screenplay with Women Talking. The film’s single setting is a barn loft, where women in a strict, religious colony convene for a trio of discussions. The men of the community are currently jailed for abusing and raping the women, but will soon be released, forcing the women to quickly make one of two decisions: stay and fight or leave. The debates ensue with brash, cutting dialogue that pits the women against one another. As the hours and days tick by, the tension grips and tears before the women finally reach consensus and a decision is made. The unrelenting script engulfs viewers in the high stakes drama witnessed on-screen. By the time the credits rolled, I was emotionally drained.

Berger’s saga is told from the viewpoint of Paul, an idyllic 17-year-old boy who is thrust into an atrocity. As the story quickly progresses, Paul becomes hardened by his actions and increasingly jaded, but in moments of naked vulnerability, his inherent empathy is put on display. Berger gives audiences an up-close experience of a soldier’s life in the trenches then jumps to the cozy quarters of the German officers determining the fate of the young warriors. This brilliant juxtaposition of comfort formulates into one of the hardest hitting war movies in cinematic history. The film is the new standard bearer for anti-war epics.

My prediction: Sarah Polley

My favorite: Sarah Polley

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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