Earlier this week I received a text from a rushed colleague. “I’m not ready for Oscar season,” she wrote.
I blinked for a moment before responding. Finished? This season has been going on for months!
Of course, I got her point: January kicks things up considerably as we’re about to get televised award shows (the Golden Globes on Tuesday followed by the Critics Choice Awards the following Sunday), acting nominations , directing and producing guilds , and then the all-important Oscar nominations, which will be announced on January 24.
But we can already make an educated guess about the titles we’ll be hearing that day, as your projectionist has weighed in on valuable factors over the past few months, such as voter buzz, box office battles, laurels from critic groups, under-the-line Oscar shortlists, and influential citations such as the Gothams and the American Film Institute Awards. With all that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of 10 movies that I think have the best chance of making the best picture sequence right now.
Still, this is an unusual year where even the strongest movies come with significant write-offs, meaning there’s still room for big-budget entertainment (like “Babylon,” “Nope,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), foreign language films (including “RRR”, “Decision to Leave” and “All Quiet on the Western Front”), and indie films with strong performances (such as “The Whale”, “Till ”, “She Said” and “Aftersun”) to get through. Around this time last year, “CODA” looked like a mediocre contender, but a few weeks later, it won enough hearts to take home the Oscar for best picture.
So think of these 10 movies as just the starting lineup, ranked in descending order by their certainty.
Steven Spielberg gets personal in ‘The Fabelmans’
The director’s latest film, starring Michelle Williams, focuses on Sammy Fabelman, a budding filmmaker who looks a lot like Spielberg himself.
‘Everything everywhere at once’
After making a movie with sci-fi trappings and bizarre dildo-fighting scenes, the directors of “Everything Everywhere” never expected it to become an awards season sensation. Still, when you look under the hood, this movie has everything Oscar voters usually look for: it’s a critically acclaimed blockbuster featuring a veteran showcase star (Michelle Yeoh), a lightning-fast actor making his long-awaited comeback (Ke Huy Quan ), and an original, inventive story that concludes with a series of heartwarming scenes. The only downside (and it could prove to be a powerful one) is that many older voters just can’t get past the aforementioned sci-fi trappings and dildo fight scenes, and the movie’s appeal is therefore lost on them. Will the passion of the academy’s younger and hipper voters be enough to make up for that shortfall and push “Everything Everywhere” to the top?
While we might think of Steven Spielberg as an Oscar leading actor, it’s been more than two decades since he won his last statuette, for “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). If voters feel that the most successful director of all time is overdue for yet another little golden man, they may think it appropriate to reward him for “The Fabelmans,” the most personal project he’s ever made. This semi-autobiographical family drama has been hampered by meager box office headlines, but it’s not the only prestige drama to struggle in theaters this year. And once the nominations are sorted, the film should do very well in the preferred vote for best picture, which favors consensus crowd pleasers.
‘The Banshees of Inisherin’
Could almost half of the 20 acting nominations be screwed by just two films? If “Everything Everywhere” performs better, Yeoh, Quan and supporting actresses Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis could all be nominated. Ditto Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which I think has an even better shot at earning nominations for all four leads: lead actor Colin Farrell and his supporting co-stars Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon. (Unfortunately, Jenny the donkey wasn’t eligible last time I checked.) And while McDonagh failed to win best director for his latest film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the stunningly photographed vistas of “Inisherin” to put him over the top this time.
Don’t be fooled by the recent Best Picture wins for simple pleasure dramas like “CODA” and “Green Book”: There’s still a sizable bloc of elitist voters within the academy, and I suspect “Tár” will serve as their standard — bearer. Todd Field’s relentlessly contemporary drama about a disgraced conductor has already thrilled critics: the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Cate Blanchett’s lead role and named ‘Tár’ best picture of the year ( though the West Coast group broke up the difference with the latter, claiming a tie between “Tár” and “Everything Everywhere”). Field made the 2002 best picture lineup for his first film, “In the Bedroom,” and voters will be pleased to see that their early bet on him more than paid off.
‘Avatar: the way of the water’
James Cameron’s first “Avatar” was supposed to be runner-up in the race for best picture of 2010, ultimately taking the crown from his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow’s military drama “The Hurt Locker.” Can “The Way of Water” succeed where the first film failed? I don’t think it really stands a chance to win best picture, as Cameron has often said the franchise is framed in five movies, and that voters will likely wait until the distant denouement to determine the final value of the series, as they did with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy . Still, a long list of nominations is almost certain, as the film is both a blockbuster triumph and a dazzling author only Cameron could have pulled off.
It’s been 21 years since director Baz Luhrmann scored an Oscar breakthrough with the musical “Moulin Rouge” — which was nominated for eight Oscars and won two — and I expect he’ll be welcomed back in grand style for this glittering biopic of the iconic singer, played by surefire best actor Austin Butler. One of the few adult dramas of the year to make it to theaters, “Elvis” plays as if “Bohemian Rhapsody” had been performed with real panache, and Luhrmann’s maximalist aesthetic could even push it into the best director lineup, as that branch gaga goes for technical daring. .
‘Top Gun: Maverick’
If a well-reviewed action sequel becomes the biggest movie of the year and gives struggling theaters a leg up, shouldn’t that be enough to cram it into the top movie race? Well, by that argument, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” didn’t make the lineup last year, but domestic box office champion “Top Gun: Maverick” is already off to a brighter start, dragging in Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes. the guard. and Critics Choice Awards that elude Marvel’s web garland. But is this Tom Cruise star vehicle for real? as regards something, or is it just high-flying entertainment? Oscar voters tend to turn their noses up at sequels — the only Best Picture nominee in the past 15 years was George Miller’s stunning “Mad Max: Fury Road” — and the next phase of this awards campaign will have to convince them that there are there’s more to “Top Gun: Maverick” than meets the eye.
‘Triangle of Sadness’
After “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival nearly four years ago, budding film studio Neon successfully capitalized on the film’s international appeal and made it an awards season darling. Can the studio pull off the same feat for Ruben Ostlund’s social satire “Triangle of Sadness,” which also cost de Palme and similarly mines class struggle for big laughs and shocking set pieces? It helps that this cruise ship comedy has a secret weapon in contender-actress Dolly de Leon, who plays a maid-turned-despot: at a time when most contenders are still wary of putting too much weight on the controversial Golden Globes, the Filipino actress has drawn heads for discussing how much the Globe nomination means to her, and many Oscar voters will be happy to extend her awards season.
After launching a major fall festival, Sarah Polley’s well-reviewed Mennonite drama may have waited a little too long to hit theaters: it was ingested in limited release over the Christmas weekend, and will have a hard time expanding to new locations until the Oscar nominations are announced. Still, Polley is a respected actress-turned-director, the ensemble is full of award-winning ringleaders like Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Frances McDormand, and the movie’s uplifting conversations about gender and sexual assault make a strong case for its relevance.
‘The Queen of Women’
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s well-edited action epic about female warriors in 19th-century Africa has an Oscar-winning star in Viola Davis and plenty of clever technical elements, though I’m afraid it didn’t make the Oscar shortlists. for his superlative costume design and hair and makeup. (At least Terence Blanchard’s thunderous score made the cut in its category.) Next week’s Producers Guild nominations could predict the film’s ultimate fate, as that group likes to acknowledge rousing theatrical successes and “The Woman King,” which globally earned nearly double its $50 million budget will almost certainly make it there if it has the guts to impress award voters.