Last time this year, I was enraptured with one Oscar contender for Best Picture—Coda, which ended up winning the top prize, and captivated by two other nominees—Belfast, a feel-good Irish movie that made me laugh and cry, and King Richard, about the Williams sisters tennis phenoms, starring Will Smith.
This year’s Best Picture landscape is very different, not to mention Will Smith won’t be anywhere near Hollywood on Sunday night for the awards show, his consequence for slapping Chris Rock at last year’s event.
Though my husband and I try to watch as many of the Best Picture nominees as we can, this year’s field didn’t call out to us in the same way as years past. He watched All Quiet on the Western Front, but I opted out (too bloody). Tár, starring the always uncanny Cate Blanchett, seemed too esoteric for me. Same with Triangle of Sadness. I am thinking about seeing Women Talking, about rampant sexual abuse on a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, and based on a novel by Miriam Toews, but as a Mennonite myself, I don’t share Toews’ pitch-dark view of our shared people group (although I empathize with the pain she has endured). I’m also thinking about watching Avatar: The Way of Water, although the famous whale scene scares me, and Everything Everywhere All at Once, which appeals to me because of its wildly innovative structure. I am always energized by creativity and creative souls who push the boundaries of imagination.
No Best Picture nominee was more energizing than Top Gun: Maverick, starring the ageless and underrated Tom Cruise and proving that sometimes the sequel can beat the original. “A thrill,” I gushed in my review. This supersonic tour de force was everything a big-budget popcorn movie should be: exciting, touching, warm, and winning.
As much as I enjoyed Maverick, though, it’s not exactly Oscar bait; I was surprised to see it on this list of nominees. What is Oscar bait? The Banshees of Inisherin, an Irish movie that made me feel as bad as Belfast made me feel good. This shocking, black tragicomedy, about a villager whose best friend dumps him and the terrible fallout that ensues, was shot in dewy layers of Emerald-Isle green and features dazzling performances by Colin Farrell (Best Actor), Brendan Gleeson (Best Supporting Actor), and newcomer Barry Keoghan (Best Supporting Actor), who should probably win for his vulnerable portrayal of Dominic.
I say probably because my heart wants Judd Hirsch to win for his delightfully screwy turn as the kooky Uncle Boris in The Fablemans. I interviewed him once when he came to Grand Rapids to star in a play, and he talked my ear off in the best possible way. He’s not only hypnotizing as Uncle Boris, former circus lion tamer, but he is also 87 and hasn’t been nominated in 43 years since 1980 (for Ordinary People). The Fablemans beguiled me with its biographical story of director Steven Spielberg’s magical but troubled boyhood, where the seeds of his future career as a moviemaker were planted in rich soil atop shifting fault lines. Michelle Williams gets my vote for Best Actress, for her portrayal of Mitzi Fableman, based on Spielberg’s loving, broken mother.
As for Best Actor, my money’s on the magnetic Austin Butler, who utterly embodied Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, a lushly painted portrait of the star’s iconic rise, as seen through the eyes of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
According to everything I have read, Everything, Everywhere All at Once is poised to snag Best Picture honors, with Michelle Yeoh expected to triumph as Best Actress. Of course, there are always upsets at the Oscars, going back to 1942, when How Green Was My Valley beat out Citizen Kane as Best Picture, all the way to 2020, when a little Korean movie called Parasite beat out a bunch of Hollywood heavy hitters, including Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Anything could happen, including Judd Hirsch winning Best Supporting Actor. If he does, I know from personal experience that no one will be able to drag him from the mike—nor will they want to.
Here is a list of all ten Best Picture nominees and their producers:
- All Quiet on the Western Front; Malte Grunert
- Avatar: The Way of Water; James Cameron and Jon Landau
- The Banshees of Inisherin; Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh
- Elvis; Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss
- Everything Everywhere All at Once; Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert and Jonathan Wang
- The Fabelmans; Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
- Tár; Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert
- Top Gun: Maverick; Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison and Jerry Bruckheimer
- Triangle of Sadness; Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober
- Women Talking; Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Frances McDormand
The 95th Academy Awards at 8 p.m. EST Sunday, March 12, on ABC.