Sarah Polley on the set of “Women Talking”. Photographed by Michael Gibson for Orion Releasing
So what’s going to get a Best Picture and who will get a Best Director nomination? The possible combinations of 10 and 5 contenders, respectively, are many. While Best Picture could well find a mix that doesn’t upset too many people (10 is a lot to work with) Best Director will likely be more fraught. So let’s talk Best Director first…
One of the most satisfying developments in recent Oscar history is the relatively sudden shift from all-white all -American all-male nominated slates to far more diversity in the directing shortlist. Now we regularly have a mix in terms of country of origin, race, and gender. The shift has been most publicly discussed in terms of gender. In the first 72 years of Oscar history (aka the 20th Century) there were just two instances of a woman being nominated for Best Director (Lina Wertmuller and Jane Campion). Things changed in the Aughts with two more women nominated in a single decade (Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow, the latter becoming the first to win) doubling the status. In the past five years, the number of times a woman has been in the shortlist has again doubled from four to eight (adding Greta Gerwig, Emerald Fennell, Chlóe Zhao, and Jane Campion becoming the first woman to receive a second Best Director nomination) and in the past five years the number of times a woman has won has tripled. Consider the speed of that… stats doubling and tripling in just five years versus the previous eighty-nine! Yes, it took too long but in online outrage people often forget that it’s all a numbers game. The more we move toward gender equity behind the camera, and more accurate racial representation in front of it, the more diversity will naturally occur in all categories; they can only select their nominees from the films that are released.
The ‘numbers game’ thing is still an issue. Naturally while Hollywood works out its various imbalances (and even irregularly after they do) there will be years with more diversity and years with little… just based on which films gain traction, which themes or genres are striking a chord, and which filmmakers and actors are having a “moment”. This is all along way of saying that the Academy should feel relief that Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking is proving so popular because otherwise the directing lineup this year was in danger of feeling 100% male this year and possibly 100% white male at that. While it’s theoretically possible that Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King) will factor in, any other female contender beyond Sarah Polley, seems like the very longest of long shots. In terms of male directors of color, only Daniel Kwan (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Park Chan Wook (Decision to Leave), and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther Wakanda Forever) have any heat at this writing but none are yet what you could call shoo-ins for the nominations. Some will argue that Kwan is but I still believe that anything is possible with Everything Everywhere All At Once since it’s so far outside of any previously known Academy comfort zone. Any number of Oscar nominations feels possible from a single nod (which would set the internet on fire) to several nods (maybe even as many as eight!).
The chart is updated if you want the whole effect (and we hope you do) but it’s also good to look at this in tiers that don’t break down so easily into groups of 5 which is what the charts do by formatting necessity. While some films have yet to be screened (Babylon is just one week away and presumably Avatar Way of the Water isn’t too far after that) the bulk of the contenders are now known.
CAN WE CALL THESE “LOCKS” YET?
Banshees of Inisherin, The Fabelmans, and Women Talking
Unless something goes very wrong in precursor awards and top ten season, it’s beginning to feel impossible that these three won’t be included in Oscar’s Best Picture lineup.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once”
THEY’LL PROBABLY BE THERE. BUT WEIRDER SNUBS HAVE HAPPENED
Everything Everywhere All At Once and Top Gun Maverick
Both of these movies have a lot going for them, but mostly they have staying power — not just in terms of box office legs but in terms of warm audience feeling. And though the tempat sometimes acts as if the Academy is some weird monolith, in the end they are just a collective of individual “audience” members who work in the motion picture industry.
From there the race is much fuzzier with lots of possibie combos. Currently on the chart we’re predicting All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar 2, Babylon, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, and Triangle of Sadness but we’re not exactly confident in that combo. Let’s group them by type of issues if not quite tiers
PREDICTING THEM BUT THEY HAVEN’T SCREENED YET SO WHO KNOWS
Avatar Way of the Water and Babylon
A lot will depend –as it should — on whether these two “play” as they say. Gargantuan spectacle, be it of the CG/action or movie star/craft variety, is very easy to convert into buzz/hype but always more difficult to convert into genuine audience love.
WILL VOTERS THINK OF THEM AS “PERFORMANCE PIECES” OR EMBRACE THEM AS MOVIES?
Tár and The Whale
While I personally love one and dislike the other, I am just one person; opinions will run the gamut with Oscar voters. Tár and The Whale won’t be competing with each directly — they’re far too different in appeal and motives and form and agenda for that — but they both have to navigate that gauntlet that so many movies built around one memorable acting challenge have to. Which is that those movies can be unfairly reduced to a “Performance Piece” even if there’s a lot happening in the direction, writing, and craft departments. We’ve seen it happen many times in Oscar history. Other times “ACTING!” movies surprise and avoid this trap entirely. A lot will depend on Academy’s mood and the awards campaigns themselves.
TOO MANY SEQUELS?
Glass Onion and Black Panther Wakanda Forever
With Top Gun Maverick nearly a done deal (it’s getting hard to picture it failing at the finish line given how it’s exceeded expectations in every way until now) and Avatar Way of the Water likely the 800 lb gorilla at years end in terms of tempat and box office attention, that’s already two sequels taking up space. Oscar voters are not, by nature, that invested in blockbuster franchises. But Hollywood as a machine has become almost solely about franchise culture. This year will be another test of whether voters finally cry “uncle” and just embrace the Franchise World we live in. Glass Onion is well liked already but it’s a comedy in addition to being a sequel and Oscar has trouble giggling with comedies. Plus, in Oscar history, sequels are generally only nominated for Best Picture if the original was also (see Lord of the Rings, The Godfather) which is points in Black Panther’s favor. Still, it’s hard to imagine the new funereal film (out in theaters today) having the same universal zeitgeist pull as its feel-good predecessor.
“The Woman King”
WILL THEY FADE OR GET A BOOST FROM PRECURSORS
Elvis and Woman King
Both of these films are hard to read. They outperformed expectations at the box office but voters often have terrible memories with pre-October releases. There are already two spring/summer releases that are very much in the race (Top Gun, Everything Everywhere…) which is a challenge for Elvis. Woman King is much more recent but if Oscar voters want action thrills or the drama of war this year they have a lot of other viable options with which to scratch that itch.
All Quiet on the Western Front and Living
They may have low profiles at the moment for reasons related to their countries of origin (i.e. not Hollywood!) but both are well-liked by people who actually watch them. They also appeal to more traditional Oscar tastes — what we used to call “Oscar bait” before Oscar started getting slightly more adventurous about the type of films they’d honor. Two things that are pretty constant in Oscar history though… the Academy has always loved war pictures and they’ve long had a soft spot for repressed (some would say “stuffy” — not I!) British dramas. Both films could be buoyed toward Best Picture by other races, too. They each have strong appeal in a couple of craft categories and both are already major discussion points in two key headine categories (Best International Feature and Best Actor, respectively) which will keep them in the discussion and, thus, assure that a healthy portion of the voting members actually watch them.