2023 Oscar Picks & Commentary

Pete Mitchell (aka Maverick) goes ballistic with Penny Benjamin AGAIN! The World War I novel, “All Quiet on the Western Friend,” is made into an Oscar-nominated movie AGAIN! James Cameron spends years producing an Avatar movie AGAIN! Elvis left the building AGAIN! Director Martin McDonagh launches a film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson AGAIN! Black Panther birthed BP2, forcing us to go to Wakanda AGAIN!

2022 was a lousy year for movies. It was a year where people … mostly young people … went back into theaters but not in droves unless you’re talking about comic book films. Some of our best actors and actresses are now playing superheroes and supervillains. Tell me it isn’t true, Viola Davis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, and Andrew Garfield!

Some of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture only made a token appearance in a real theater. Others went right to TV movie channels or streaming services (Elvis, All Quiet on the Western Front). Most were ignored (Triangle of Success, Tár, Women Talking) even after they were nominated.

No wonder the five actors nominated for Best Actor are someone named Austin Butler, someone named Paul Mescal, and B-List actors Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell, and Bill Nighy. Supporting actors include Brian Tyree Henry (who?), Barry Keoghan (Who?), and Ke Huy Quan (WHO??). Maybe this is good for Hollywood, but it is no wonder that the Oscar ratings have sunk to historical lows.

Did anyone see To Leslie? It was so unknown even in Hollywood that it took a spirited effort by her manager, the director, the director’s wife (actress Mary McCormack), and an organized group of A-list actresses (Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Amy Adams) to lobby and host screenings to get its star, Andrea Riseborough, nominated for Best Actress.

How about Causeway, a movie so unheralded that, despite starring Jennifer Lawrence, it almost can’t be found on any streaming service. (See Amazon Prime)

As a result, even I will be watching the Oscars more for the fashion than the awards. Well, maybe I’ll watch to see whether any actor slaps another. Maybe Will Smith and Chris Rock should be invited after all.

The Awards

OK, I will get serious now.

BEST PICTURE: The best movie was The Fabelmans. I hope it wins. In old, traditional Hollywood, it would. Steven Spielberg has expertly crafted a coming-of-age film with exceptional performances by stars Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch. The winner is likely to be Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s weird, fun, bizarre and feels like a foreign film, but it’s not. Stars Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan are all nominated for acting Oscars. With a budget of only $25 million, it is the anti-Avatar, a special effects-driven movie made on the cheap. Hollywood, which should resent James Cameron’s maximalist approach to filmmaking (Avatars), should love it.

BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett should win for Tár. She plays a renowned orchestra conductor who drives herself to the kind of madness only a perfectionist can. The movie is nominated for Best Picture but shouldn’t have made the cut. The performance is fantastic. Blanchett could now take the baton of any symphony orchestra. The runner-up … and possible upsetter … is Michelle Williams, who plays the mother in The Fabelmans. Blanchett has two Oscars from eight nominations; Williams has five nominations but hasn’t won yet. Hence, she just might win this year. Or will Michelle Yeoh (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) ride the Everything Everywhere wave from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards?

BEST ACTOR: Austin Butler has won almost every award for his portrayal of Elvis. In Baz Lurhmann’s interpretation of the life of the King of Rock ‘N Roll, Butler may be the best Elvis impersonator ever. He may indeed win. But for my money, the best performance by an actor belongs to Brendan Fraser in The Whale. There probably are not two more different performances than these two. Fraser’s performance is transformative in the way that Charlize Theron’s was in Monster. Butler’s is great mimicry.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Shoot me if Angela Bassett wins for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This is always the toughest category to pick because Hollywood has a habit for choosing an outsider. The sentimental favorite is Jamie Lee Curtis, who won the SAG award for EEAAO. But if I were voting, I would choose Hong Chau for The Whale. As the main caregiver for the dying teacher, she is sympathetic, tough, and loving all at once. Besides, she was equally incredible in The Menu but was not nominated for that performance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Every performance in this category is Oscar worthy. Ke Huy Quan, as the seemingly clueless husband in Everything Everywhere All at Once, will likely win. His transformation into the emissary from the Alphaverse is really fun to watch. I would love to see 87-year-old Judd Hirsch win for The Fabelmans. It’s been 42 years since he was nominated for Ordinary People. Wouldn’t it be great to see him get the award for this little performance as the grandfather who encourages his grandson to go for his dream of making movies? He is unlikely to win, however.

BEST DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg helmed this masterpiece of storytelling in The Fabelmans, his autobiographical story. He picked the actors to portray his mother, father, grandfather, and other family members and let them create compelling moviemaking. He deserves his 4th Oscar from 20+ nominations as a director and producer. He has few peers in history. But Hollywood hates to allow dynasties (how else to explain Meryl Streep only winning three Oscars from 20+ nominations?). If he is to be beaten, it might go to EEAAO’s The Daniels, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who got their start in music videos. It might be the first shared award that includes an Asian American director. And it would show how two young guys with a small budget can produce a fantastic film.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM: I only saw one of these, but it will win. All Quiet on the Western Front is the latest adaptation of the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The first movie version in 1930 won the Best Picture Oscar, the second ever awarded.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: It’s Elvis or All Quiet on the Western Front. Let’s go with Elvis because its cinematographer is Mandy Walker. No woman has ever won this category, and her work on Elvis was spectacular. Hollywood has a gender problem … and here is a chance to take a step forward.  If she doesn’t win, it will go to the war movie, All Quiet on the Western Front, which won this category in the British equivalent of the Oscars (it also won Best Film).

I won’t venture forth with predictions on Original and Adapted Screenplays, but I want to make a point. On Adapted Screenplay, I don’t think that movies adapted from other movies (Top Gun: Maverick, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) should win this category. And why should the third adaptation of the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, win when its writers have already seen the two others?

The Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be held on March 12th. If I were you, I would record the show but watch the fashion pre-show. And if you spot Will Smith, watch out!

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