Hoping for a better audience – Oscars 95.
As we mix ourselves a long John Collins and settle back to take in the stumblebum glories of the 95th Academy Awards, one thought dominates in the wake of last year’s historic train wreck.
It’s got nothing to do with all the film’s lined up for their shot at the world’s most instantly recognizable doorstop – thank you for that, Marlon Brando – or with who will be wearing the most ill-fitting gown.
All senses will be waiting to see how many references will be made to the Will Smith slapping of Chris Rock, an incident now hard-wired into Oscar history as Smith sent the cool he had spent his career building into oblivion faster than the speed of light.
Hopefully host Jimmy Kimmell will prove his salt by making a quip or two in his opening monologue, but it’s what the procession of presenters and winners might say that is one of the big draw cards to the much-beleaguered ceremony. Will they crack wise or chicken out?
Despite last year’s brief respite from the year-on-year ratings plunge – there was an encouraging 58% leap in viewers over the record-low of the 2021 telecast, though it still ranked as the second-smallest viewership ever – Oscar is still struggling to reclaim the relevance it once held over filmdom.
A major criticism that has settled over the awards is how so many nominations are for small-scale films few people have seen.
To help redress this, in 2009 the Academy announced that the Best Picture category would henceforth accommodate 10 films instead of the usual five.
The intent behind the move was so that more popular films could be included, and thus attract more viewers.
A noble move, to be sure, though it hasn’t exactly worked out all that well with the inclusion of big titles in that category but in none of the top-tier categories creating the reek of tokenism.
And it’s happened again this year. Up for Best Picture are Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water, though they only rate mention elsewhere in production categories.
Anyway, enough of this gleeful preamble. Let’s tear through the list of nominees to see who’s likely to win, who deserves to win, who doesn’t and why.
Let’s also highlight some of the glaring omissions and anomalies that have become as much a part of Oscar tradition as awkward cutaway shots, overlong musical numbers and jokes that fall flat.
The main tussle here is between Bill Nighy for his beautifully subtle performance as a cancer-stricken bureaucrat in Living and former heart-throb Brendan Fraser for his raw portrayal of an obese man with heart throbbing problems in The Whale.
Fraser will win in a strong field that includes: Austin, who gave us the best Elvis yet in Elvis (thank you, thank you very much); Colin Farrell, reminding us what a fine comic actor he can be in The Banshees of Inisherin; and Paul Mescal, whose touching turn as a fragile father in Aftersun will no doubt serve as an entry pass to bigger things.
But was he given the berth that should have gone to Tom Hanks for A Man Called Otto? Hanks also didn’t get a mention for his work as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis. Has Hollywood fallen out of love with Hanks? Just putting it out there.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Veteran Brendan Gleeson will take it for his superb straight-face in The Banshees of Inisherin over Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway), Judd Hirsh (The Fabelmans, last nominated in 1980 for Ordinary People), Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Barry Keoghan (also for Banshees).
After her embarrassing Critic’s Choice Award speech where she denounced award shows as a “televised horse race”, it’d be fun to see Cate Blanchett win for the massively overrated, little-seen Tár just to witness how she’d deal her way out of that hole.
But let’s pray that doesn’t happen.
Never mind the lock she’s supposed to have on the win, Blanchett faces tough competition from: Ana de Armas, very good as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde; Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans; and Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once, probably the strongest contender after longshot favourite Andrea Riseborough for To Leslie, whose outsider status should secure her the gong.
Please, Oscar, give this to veteran Angela Bassett for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as a de facto Lifetime Achievement Award, even though the award will likely go to Hong Chau for The Whale over Kerry Condon (Banshees), Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Stephanie Hsu (ditto).
Oh gosh. Are Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere really going to take it over Steven Spielberg for The Fabelmans? Is Todd Field really in with a chance for the tedium of Tár? Please, no. Come on, Oscar. We know the Daniels are going to take it but give it to Spielberg for old time’s sake.
Off the top, we can easily dismiss Avatar, Top Gun, All Quiet on the Western Front, Elvis and the yawnfest Women Talking, as Oscar does not like dealing with the backlash and embarrassment of awarding films that don’t have a Best Director nomination attached, which Billy Crystal memorably referred to as “films that directed themselves”.
The case strengthens each year that the two categories should be combined, with the Best Film award handed to that film’s director. Come on, Hollywood. Sort it.
Of what’s left Everything Everywhere All at Once seems the likely winner over closest rivals Banshees and Fabelmans, with Tár a bit of a joke nomination.
As for the presence of Triangle of Sadness, both here and in Best Director for Ruben Östlund, we await an explanation as to how such a marginal prospect garnered such a high Oscars profile.
Perhaps it serves as a tribute to how open-minded Oscar is that such an niche arthouse film with such a tiny box office ($US25 million global) could be in the running for the top accolades, especially given the film’s apparent infatuation with projectile vomiting.
Best Animated Film must go to Pinocchio for Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant reimagining of the classic tale.
Best Cinematography is a toughie, with All Quiet pipping Elvis (by a hair’s breadth) and Empire of Light. That Tár is included here and Avatar is not is a friggin’ insult.
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris deserves Best Costume Design; Elvis should take Best Editing though it will likely go to the organized frenzy of Everything Everywhere. Honourable mention to Top Gun. And again, what the heck is Tár doing here?
For Best International Feature Film the easy winner shall be the stirring, BAFTA-sweeping All Quiet on the Western Front from Germany.
How is the more-real-than-real prosthetic work in The Whale not going to take Best Makeup, even though the transformative work in Elvis made Austin Butler unrecognizable as Manson Family member Tex in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Another hard one, Best Production Design ultimately deserves to go to Avatar over All Quiet, Elvis and the garish excess of Babylon.
As great as the work is in Avatar, Top Gun and Elvis, Best Sound must go to All Quiet on the Western Front, if for no other reason than for so powerfully conjuring the foreboding noise of approaching tanks.
Unless there’s something broken with the Academy’s voting system, Best Visual Effects will go to Avatar II – though the award should come with the understanding that James Cameron vows to stop shooting films in 3D.
Best Adapted Screenplay shall go to All Quiet for its gritty makeover of the 1930 classic, though Living deserves it a bit more for reworking the 1952 Akiira Kurosawa film Ikiru into an elegant English period piece. It’s heartening to see the hard work that goes into a terrific sequel acknowledged with the nod here to Top Gun 2. What the heck whodunnit Glass Onion and yapfest Women Talking are doing in this category is anybody’s guess.
Best Original Screenplay should reward the invention and sheer wackiness of Everything Everywhere All at Once, though the fear is that it will go to Tár, which would be a most undeserving win.
Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that.
Watch the Oscars ceremony live at 11am, Monday 13 March on Seven and Seven Plus.