95th Academy Award Predictions: The Race Before Precursor Awards

This week, the Oscar race will officially be upon us. Gone are the days of festivals and early screening recaps. The Gotham Awards, the New York Film Critics, and the Los Angeles Film Critics will hand out their awards and begin the long, grueling march to the Oscars. And since it’s been a few months since my last update, I thought I’d refresh and revamp my predictions – even though my Top 7 seems pretty much locked in place.

The films voters are talking about around Thanksgiving time provide the most essential insight into what voters are thinking. This is when they catch up on the films they miss and find what excites them – it’s how Coda and Parasite surged. Right now, there are four films on everyone’s lips: The Fabelmans, Elvis, Top Gun: Maverick, and Everything Everywhere All At Once.

The Fabelmans and Elvis really shouldn’t be a huge surprise: they are incredible technical feats that can work on screens large and small, have strong pedigree, and in the case of Elvis, a strong box office. Top Gun and Everything Everywhere have a harder road thanks to their genres, but make no mistake: they have survived the preseason on the strength of their filmmaking and their box office. They are very much in this.

There are three other films that feel incredibly likely at earning nominations, despite not possessing that surging support. These are The Banshees of Inisherin, Tár, and Women Talking. Each film has a case being made against it: Banshees is too bleak, Tár too technically precise, and Women Talking has earned backlash from, ahem, certain critics (men) who criticize the color scheme (understandable) and the fact it’s about, well, women talking. But just as many voters who hate these films equally love these films. And when it comes to determining who gets a nomination, you just need to be well-liked enough.

But after these seven, things get tricky. Sure, it feels likely that Damien Chazelle’s Babylon will earn a handful of tech nominations on top of Best Picture, despite some polarizing early responses to its bombastic narrative. But after that, who knows? Who takes those final slots? It could be something from the artsier festivals, like Empire of Light (popular amongst voters, derided by critics), The Whale (despite universal love for Brendan Fraser, the backlash is already so loud A24 is hiding it), Triangle of Sadness (has struggled to connect, but has loud fans), and She Said (which has some support but abysmal box office returns).

Or it could be a blockbuster. Black Panther didn’t quite land the way it wanted to, but it does have technical support. Meanwhile, The Woman King did land, and has some real support. Meanwhile, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery turned out to be a huge hit for Netflix, who was basically bullied into releasing it theatrically.

And then there’s the giant blue elephant whale in the room: Avatar: The Way of Water. While no one has officially seen James Cameron’s newest epic (although Guillermo del Toro has seen a cut and sung its praises), expectations are high, as the technology on display is simply stunning – not to mention the fact that Cameron has not missed since the 80s, and has earned major nominations his last two outings. Can lightning strike three times in a row?

At the end of the day, I’m taking two risks for my final slots. The safest choice is Avatar, which enters the race at #9. The wild card here, however, is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which I’m recklessly predicting in the tenth slot. Now, there’s some bias going on here – I loved this film, and would love to see it get a nomination. But more importantly Pinocchio is emerging as Netflix’s – and indeed, streaming in general’s – strongest bet. Bardo bombed, White Noise is going nowhere, and while Glass Onion has a chance, it may be too light to earn a nomination. So expect Pinocchio to make some moves and earn a nomination.

But what of the acting races? How have they changed in the last few months? Well, I can tell you one thing: Best Actor is not changing. While the #1 may jockey based on a number of factors, and there’s a chance of an upset by Jonathan Majors, Jeremy Pope, or even Tom Cruise, it looks ever more likely that this year’s five will be Fraser, Butler, Farrell, Jackman, or Nighy.

Supporting Actress has equally settled into a stagnant resting period, outside of a few category placements – Carey Mulligan is confirmed Supporting (as I predicted), Michelle Williams has gone lead (as I predicted), and Rooney Mara has gone lead (as I…well, this one I didn’t predict). Therefore, Claire Foy and Kerry Condon have joined Jessie Buckley and Mulligan, with Nina Hoss rounding out the pack.

Which brings us to the bigger shake-ups: Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. With Williams now confirmed lead, she has propelled herself to the front of a pack that features heavyweight locks like Cate Blanchett. And since I find it unlikely that Olivia Colman will miss even with Empire of Light’s diminishing stock, we now have two spots remaining. Originally, those slots were filled with Margot Robbie, Naomie Ackie, and Ana de Armas, yet each of those actresses have hit a brick wall: Robbie’s film is more technical than acting, Ackie is losing steam with a film hidden from the public, and de Armas, despite raves, saw her film implode upon release.

So who does that leave? Well, two actresses that have been battering down the door since Day 1. The first is Michelle Yeoh, the best performer of the year, yet one I was skeptical the Academy would reward. I still have doubts the Academy will go for a big splashy sci-fi fantasy film, but if Everything Everywhere is going to compete for the crown, look for Yeoh to earn her first Oscar nomination. Meanwhile, while Till has met with some backlash regarding its aggressively downbeat nature, Danielle Deadwyler has earned raves. Several pundits have her poised to win. I don’t think that is the case. But look for her to be Till’s big nominee come January.

As for Supporting Actor, we’ve seen some big changes in the actors whose stock has risen and fallen. In fact, I think the only actor I have in common with my last update is Brendan Gleeson! Yet with Paul Dano and Seth Rogen getting outshone by their costar (more on that in a minute) and Tobey Maguire’s role being something of a cameo (and his big-name costar suffering from a series of well-deserved scandals), it’s time for some shakeups.

Banshees should dominate this category, with Gleeson joined by his scene-stealing costar Barry Keoghan. Judd Hirsch should ride a terrific one-scene wonder to a nomination for The Fabelmans. And Ke Huy Quan should earn a nomination for his remarkable turn in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Hell, he might win it. As for the final slot, it’s wide open. Brian Tyree Henry’s been getting some stellar reviews for Causeway, and don’t rule out Tom Hanks for Elvis – seriously. But more likely is that Ben Whishaw, the lone man in Women Talking, should earn a nod for his soulful turn.

Which brings us to the Creative races – Director and Screenplay. Best Original Screenplay is pretty much wrapped, with Everything Everywhere, Tár, The Fabelmans, and Banshees looking for a fifth in either Babylon or Triangle of Sadness. Best Adapted Screenplay is a complete mess, with the only locks Women Talking and Glass Onion. I’ve dropped The Son and The Whale in favor of Pinocchio, while White Noise and She Said remain likely nominees.

But Director? That’s completely up in the air. Sure, Steven Spielberg, Sarah Polley, and Todd Field feel like locks for frontrunners Fabelmans, Women Talking, and Tár, respectively. But after that, things get tricky – especially with Joseph Kosinski unlikely for Top Gun. The fourth slot will likely go to Damien Chazelle, if only because of his technical mastery. But slot #5? Who knows. Maybe it will be an international director, like Park Chan-Wook for Decision to Leave. Or maybe it’ll be a Best Picture frontrunner like Martin McDonagh (Banshees) or Baz Luhrmann (Elvis).

But frankly, the most likely scenario is that fifth spot goes to Daniels, the directing duo behind Everything Everywhere All At Once. Even more so than spectacle, the Best Director category in recent years has been about the directors whose films couldn’t exist without them. Looking at last year, films like Drive My Car and Licorice Pizza certainly weren’t spectacles, but no one else could have made those films in that way. Everything Everywhere is a Daniels movie, full stop. And if the film is going to compete for Best Picture, a nomination here is essential and expected.

So that’s where we’re at in the Oscar race. Obviously, things are going to change in the next few weeks as critics and, ultimately, guilds start weighing in. But if you’d like to see my updated predictions before the chaos ensues, you can check out my predictions in all categories right here. My updated Top Eight categories are listed below.

Best Picture

  1. The Fabelmans
  2. Top Gun: Maverick
  3. Elvis
  4. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  5. Women Talking
  6. The Banshees of Inisherin
  7. Tár
  8. Babylon
  9. Avatar: The Way of Water
  10. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans
  2. Sarah Polley – Women Talking
  3. Todd Field – Tár
  4. Damien Chazelle – Babylon
  5. Daniels – Everything Everywhere All At Once

Best Actor

  1. Brendan Fraser – The Whale
  2. Austin Butler – Elvis
  3. Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin
  4. Hugh Jackman – The Son
  5. Bill Nighy – Living

Best Actress

  1. Cate Blanchett – Tár
  2. Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans
  3. Olivia Colman – Empire of Light
  4. Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  5. Danielle Deadwyler – Till

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  2. Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans
  3. Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin
  4. Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin
  5. Ben Whishaw – Women Talking

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Jessie Buckley – Women Talking
  2. Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Claire Foy – Women Talking
  4. Nina Hoss – Tár
  5. Carey Mulligan – She Said

Best Original Screenplay

  1. The Fabelmans
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  4. Tár
  5. Triangle of Sadness

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Women Talking
  2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  3. White Noise
  4. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  5. She Said

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