Wednesday, April 20, 2022

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Year Ahead: Predicting the 95th Academy Awards

A fool's errand, trying to predict the Oscars a year ahead, but here we are. Sometimes we get it right; often we get it wrong, but that's a good thing, we wouldn't want things to be so steady for 10 months, would we? Here's what I think will make it in eight of the major categories.

Best Picture
Avatar 2
The Banshees of Inisherin
The Fabelmans
Killers of the Flower Moon
The Lost King
Women Talking
The Wonder

Now, the only nervousness I have about this lineup is that Allelujah and The Lost King would appear to check the same box: solid British director, solid British story, solidly told. Well, OK, but it happens. Anyway, what are these stories? Let's talk about it. Allelujah discusses injustices and frustrations in modern Britain by focusing on a senior living facility set for closure. Avatar 2 is the sequel to James Cameron's 2009 masterpiece and which will undoubtedly be one of the greatest financial successes of the year despite snottier cinephiles' jokes (though, yes, probably more of a tech play). Babylon is a sinful old Hollywood tale, probably Avatar 2's main competitor in Sound and Production Design categories, with a guaranteed win in Costume Design, and a return to Oscar's good graces for La La Land's Damien Chazelle. The Banshees of Inisherin is the first film from Martin McDonagh since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That film did very well, and I expect the follow-up to do even better. The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg's fictionalized look back at his childhood - think Kenneth Branagh's Oscar-winning Belfast, or John Boorman's Hope and Glory - and perhaps the combination of intimacy and Spielberg's, uh, genuine fucking talent, will combine to make a great goshdarn film. Let us not forget, after all, that Spielberg has directed twelve Best Picture nominees. Killers of the Flower Moon (pictured) is Martin Scorsese's latest, from AppleTV+; Scorsese rarely misses with Oscar nowadays, and AppleTV+ is the reigning Best Picture champion, and my God, a true-crime period piece about a conspiracy of killings against Indigenous peoples just sounds like a necessary meeting of Great and Entertaining Filmmaker and Necessary Discussion. The Lost King is about an amateur archaeologist who finds the remains of King Richard III in a modern park; she also strives to rehabilitate his image. Now, goodness, you have director Stephen Frears (who's directed nine Oscar-nominated films), history, and a chance to discuss the retribution of a figure who's long been "canceled" - what Academy member could resist? Rustin is a biopic of the gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who was one of the chief organizers of the March on Washington, the event where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Women Talking tells of a group of Mennonite women who meet in the dead of night to discuss what to do about the spate of sexual violence inflicted upon them by men in their commune. Both this film and She Said, about the journalists who uncovered the Harvey Weinstein rapes, deal with sexual violence against women and the bureaucracy that helps cover it up; I suspect Women Talking will be Hollywood's best option for addressing the issue without indicting, directly or not, their own. And then we have The Wonder, in which a nurse investigates a "miracle fasting" in 1850s Ireland. The talent involved makes me wonder if it's a sure thing...

Last Year: 3/10 - Belfast, Dune, King Richard. Not only did they all get Best Picture nominations, but between them, they share eight Oscar wins and 29 nominations. Not bad at all!

Best Director
Sebastián Lelio, The Wonder
Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Park Chan-wook, Decision to Leave
Sarah Polley, Women Talking
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

I imagine it will be easier for the Academy to leave out the master Scorsese for a true crime film than it will be for them to dismiss Steven Spielberg for actually opening a vein and exposing himself so...much to us. Could there even be a win in store for him? Everyone else I've predicted has never been nominated, but they all feel due, in one way or another. Sebastian Lélio is so good Rachel Weisz demanded he take on directing duties for the masterpiece Disobedience; both Gloria and Gloria Bell are sleeper cult hits, while A Fantastic Woman won Best International Film at the 2017 Oscars. He's showing up eventually! Martin McDonagh probably just missed the cut in 2017 and 2008; perhaps his vision will be easier to digest as an Irishman talking Ireland, instead of an Irishman talking Missouri. Park Chan-wook...probably the most recognizable Korean auteur besides Bong Joon-ho, and that guy has three Oscars! It would be typical if Park, the more talented one, goes through life without a single recognition from the Academy, but times have changed, I'm optimistic, and if the movie is great, why not? Finally, Sarah Polley, previously nominated for adapting Away from a great writer-director! And it does feel, doesn't it, that lately a Frances McDormand casting is a blessing, instant gold (or at least, instant red carpet) bestowed?

Last Year: 1/5. Only Kenneth Branagh, who didn't win, but he was also nominated for every single award last year, so...

Best Actor
Colman Domingo, Rustin
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Hugh Jackman, The Son
Bill Nighy, Living

Colman Domingo has been courting Oscar buzz two years in a row now, first for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which should have been the most-nominated film at the 93rd Academy Awards, and then Zola, which should have won at least one Oscar (though it was nominated for zero). Rustin, fortunately, is in a more familiar Oscar territory (politically important biopic!) from a writer that knows the territory (DLB!), and being from his Ma Rainey director George C. Wolfe, could serve as a triple: (1) my GOD you're amazing in this, (2) career honors, (3) sorry about paying Ma Rainey dust! Colin Farrell, likewise, has been a shoo-in for a nomination for at least a decade...if only the people who actually nominated things agreed! He's got a packed year between After Yang, The Batman, Thirteen Lives, and this 'un, which reteams him with his In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths director and, therefore, should lead to his win. Brendan Fraser in for the transformational, "welcome back!" attaboys that playing a 300-pound gay man will earn him - like Farrell, he's got a lot going on this year: in addition to The Whale, he's appearing in the comedy Brothers, Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon, and DC's Batgirl. Leading a Florian Zeller adaptation reaped great rewards for Anthony Hopkins in The Father; Hugh Jackman, I suspect, will reap similar benefits for same. And speaking of which: great buzz out of Sundance for Bill Nighy's performance in the Living, which was bought by Sony Pictures Classics; that same studio bought The Father following similar Sundance buzz and turned it into a six-nominated/two-winning Oscar standout. Here at the Silver Screening Room, we believe Nighy should have been nominated once and won another time...and when we do 2003, we'd be surprised if his Billy Mack didn't show up.

Last Year: 1/5. That one was Will Smith, the winner.

Best Actress
Naomi Ackie, I Wanna Dance with Somebody
Sally Hawkins, The Lost King
Helen Mirren, Golda
Emily Watson, God's Creatures
Tang Wei, Decision to Leave

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything; Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody; Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes: Anthony McCarten screenplays get people nominated. Good news for Naomi Ackie, taking on the role of Whitney Houston in the McCarten-penned I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Sally I said, I just feel that The Lost King may be one of those things that proves to be irresistible to the Academy - and I dare say if I'm right, she's your winner this year. We've already had our first glimpse of Helen Mirren as Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir, which at least proves it to be a contender in Best Makeup, and therefore - based on the awards runs of Charlize Theron in Monster and Bombshell, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, and Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Jessica Chastain - a good bet. The logline of God's Creatures describes a film where a mother's lie for her son causes turmoil; that, to me, sounds like the perfect kind of vehicle for Emily Watson, a never-awarded two-time nominee who could be this year's prickly female protagonist (in the vein of, say, Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter). I've already predicted Decision to Leave in Best Director, but also: I have been convinced of Tang Wei's ability to get nominated ever since Zoe Saldaña sang her praises in one of those...was it Variety?...features where they talked to actors about actors (it was about favorite recent performances; Saldaña chose Tang Wei in Lust, Caution, while George Clooney talked Marion Cotillard in La vie en rose).

Last Year: 1/5. Again, that one was the winner, Jessica Chastain.

Best Supporting Actor
Nicolas Cage, Butcher's Crossing
Willem Dafoe, Poor Things
Frankie Faison, Till
Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin

Foolish though I may be, a part of me wonders if the recent wave of Nicolas Cage nostalgia and career rehab could bring about a nomination - at the very least - for the actor. Here, he plays a character compared by literary scholars to Captain Ahab in an adaptation of a 1960 Western novel. Captain Ahab is a lead, of course, but if one were to fudge things a bit, especially for a campaign, one could argue that he's supporting Ishmael's story, and uh, therefore, etc. Willem Dafoe seems to be on a roll recently, to the extent that he almost got a nod for the improbable The Lighthouse and was heavily touted for the more improbable Spider-Man: No Way Home. Pairing him with Yorgos Lanthimos? Without knowing anything about his character, such a combination suggests either the greatest performance of his career, or the most alienating performance of his career, or both. Frankie Faison won much praise for his performance in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain last year. In Till, he apparently plays John Carthan, the grandfather of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy whose murderer, Carolyn Bryant, roams free to this day, and who will never face the indignities her victim was forced to suffer when he was lynched in 1955. Anyway. Faison. I say "apparently" because I have also read that John Carthan was not Emmett's grandfather, but rather a trusted uncle; either way, it sounds like an important patriarchal role in a Civil Rights drama. I doubled down on The Banshees of Inisherin because Brendan Gleeson is long overdue, because Barry Keoghan is up-and-coming and seems to be much-admired in the industry, and because rare is the Supporting Actor category without at least one Best Picture nominee.

Last Year: 0/5. Christ, if you ever took me seriously, don't.

Best Supporting Actress
Judi Dench, Allelujah
Claire Foy, Women Talking
Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
Jean Smart, Babylon
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans

Could Judi Dench really come back for a ninth go, right on the heels of her surprise eighth nomination for Belfast? Probably - if Allelujah does as well as I'm predicting it to, she'll probably be at the center of its success. Women Talking has a killer ensemble - three-time winner Frances McDormand, two-time nominee Rooney Mara, recent nominee Jessie Buckley, veteran Judith Ivey - and without having read the book or knowing much else about the film, it's hard to predict who will win raves. But Claire Foy flirted with Oscar before (hello, First Man!), is a respected thesp in the industry, has Globes and Emmys aplenty: isn't this the logical next step? Same goes for Jean Smart in Babylon, frankly; she's having quite the resurgence despite never ever disappearing, isn't she? Thank goodness for that! If you're like me, you've enjoyed Lily Gladstone posting about filming Killers of the Flower Moon with Martin Scorsese. In the film, she plays Mollie Burkhart, a real person whose family, members of the Osage nation, found itself targeted for, basically, assimilating too well to American capitalism. It sounds like a pivotal, juicy role (possibly lead?), Gladstone's been a critically-acclaimed rising star for some time now: if the movie's got the goods, she's got the gold. Her only threat, really, would be four-time nominee (and fellow Reichardt alum) Michelle Williams as a fictionalized version of Steven Spielberg's mother in The Fabelmans

Last Year: 1/5...the surprise nominee, Judi Dench.

Best Original Screenplay
The Banshees of Inisherin - Martin McDonagh
Everything Everywhere All At Once - Daniels
The Fabelmans - Tony Kushner & Steven Spielberg
The Lost King - Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope
Rustin - Dustin Lance Black and George C. Wolfe

For some reason, the year's most audacious, visually striking films - films you would expect to be no-brainers for, say, Director or Editing or Cinematography - frequently find their sole nomination in...Original Screenplay. Because writers admire the originality of vision, yes, but also recognize the specificity on the page that communicates the wonder on the screen. Anyway, that's how Everything Everywhere All At Once gets in. Everyone else gets in based on Best Picture buzz and previous nominations: The Banshees of Inisherin's Martin McDonagh has two unsuccessful nods in this category; The Fabelmans' Tony Kusher has two Adapted Screenplay nods; The Lost King's Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope are previous nominees; Rustin's Dustin Lance Black won for Milk in 2008).

Last Year: 1/5. But again, that one was the winner, Kenneth Branagh for Belfast. I knew, man. I knew.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Allelujah - Heidi Thomas and Alan Bennett
Killers of the Flower Moon - Eric Roth
The Son - Florian Zeller
Women Talking - Sarah Polley
The Wonder - Alice Birch / Sebastián Lelio

Weirdly harder to predict than Original Screenplay. I do feel pretty bullish on this Allelujah thing - perhaps I feel if I back both and The Lost King one is bound to thrive? - but it is strange that Alan Bennett's only Oscar nod is The Madness of King George, especially when yours truly has sung the praises of Prick Up Your Ears and A Private Function. Eric Roth is, perhaps, the living writer I admire/envy most, and with six Oscar nomination in this very category under his belt, his most recent being for Dune, I feel like Killers of the Flower Moon is a safe bet for him! Florian Zeller won, if you recall, for The Father, so I feel The Son will do well. As I mentioned before, Sarah Polley's only Oscar nomination was in this category so if she blips for Best Director, Women Talking should at least do well here. And then there's The Wonder, adapted from an Emma Donoghue novel, something that worked well enough for 2015's Room.

Last Year: 1/5. It was Dune.

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