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Oscars 2023: What should win and what should not win

by Piers Marchant | March 10, 2023 at 1:50 a.m.

This could be some sort of nostalgia thing, a reference to a past that seems filled with wonder, since it took place when I was much younger and fueled by energies and ambitions that I probably wouldn't even recognize now, but it certainly seems as if the Oscars have lost a lot of their luster since the '70s.

I mean, what hasn't, pretty much, right? But because of the non-stop fire hose of Big Studio content -- and the annual assessment of said content by zillions of writers, and critics, all feeding off that torrent like a pack of remoras to a Great White -- everything has become so diffused and regurgitated, very few Hollywood entreaties (other than James Cameron movies, for some reason) really stand out any more.

Used to be -- the old man said in a trembling voice, rising slowly from his chair and brandishing his cane like an exclamation point -- the Oscars really counted, man. They were significant! Winning Best Picture was the equivalent of capturing a Super Bowl, or World Cup, destined to live on in peoples' memories like a cherished heirloom. These days, I actually had to look up last year's winner ("CODA," it turns out, a desperately safe choice from the Academy), and I work in the bloody industry.

That said, diminished as they might be, the Oscars still stand for a lot, at least in film circles, if not the box office. In that vein, here are my fearless predictions (and greatest terrors) from this year's edition. All odds come from the helpfully named betting aggregate site (and keep in mind, the odds fluctuate from minute to minute, if not day to day). Whatever you do, don't bet money on any of my picks, they are strictly for entertainment purposes only.

Final bookkeeping note: Henceforth, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's wonderful "Everything Everywhere All at Once" shall be known as "EEAAO" in order to give my fingers a break.

Best Cinematography

Current Odds-On Favorite:"All Quiet on the Western Front."

Should Win: "Tár." War pictures tend to do well in this category (see: "Battleground," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Longest Day," "Apocalypse Now," "Glory," "Saving Private. Ryan," and "1917" among many others), so there's a pretty strong likelihood the favorite will take home the prize. Failing that, though, Todd Field's film, superbly shot by Florian Hoffmeister should be in strong consideration. It is, after all, testament to Todd Field's character study of the titular Lydia that the film has the look and feel of a dustless, extremely high-end catalog (her Berlin apartment alone is to thoroughly die for), and a sweeping style that perfectly sets up the closing juxtaposition to indicate just how bad things have gotten.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: "Elvis." Before any Baz Luhrmann fans dismember me (they are reportedly a very bloody faction), the truth is, this category is pretty sacrosanct this year. Honestly, even the worst film of the bunch, Sam Mendes' groaning "Empire of Light" is gorgeous to watch. In a field in which every film is exemplary, I will cast (very minor) aspersions on the work of Mandy Walker, who follows the director's lead when it comes to swooning, glammed up overdrive, but there really isn't a bad pick in the bunch. Nice work, Academy!

Best Supporting Actor

Current Odds-On Favorite:Ke Huy Quan, "EEAAO."

Should Win: Barry Keoghan, "The Banshees of Inisherin." "Banshees" is all over the acting awards this year (in addition to Keoghan, fellow castmate Brendan Gleeson is up for Supporting Actor, Kerry Condon is up for Supporting Actress, and Colin Farrell is nommed for Best Actor), and they are all indeed excellent performances. However, Keoghan, who plays Dominic, a disturbed kid who befriends Farrell's moping character, becomes the true unheralded tragic figure in Martin McDonagh's prickly dramedy. Filled with anguish he can't express, and unable to defend himself against his abusive father, the police chief, Dominic calls to mind a stray dog whose miserable past has already determined his wayward future.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: Judd Hirsch, "The Fabelmans." Yes, you can expect a lot of teeth-gnashing about the Academy love bestowed upon Senor Spielbergo's wish-fulfillment fantasy of a memoir. Hirsch, who plays a wizened old savta, pours on a heavy ladle of schmaltz, with a Yiddish accent that would make Mel Brooks blanch. He's not necessarily bad, but it's the kind of role you have seen him do a dozen times over, and he leaves no meshuga stone unturned. Oy, gevalt!

Best Supporting Actress

Current Odds-On Favorite: Angela Bassett, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Should Win:Bassett, "Wakanda Forever." Amid the shakiest "Phase" of the MCU's steady reign on the box office, the highly anticipated "Wakanda," flawed as it might have been, elevated the genre, and offered at least a brief sense of what can still be yet to come. Behind the loss of its leading man, the ever-charismatic Chadwick Boseman, director Ryan Coogler and the rest of the production had to cobble together an entirely new narrative, based on the collective grief of everyone involved. To pull it off, it was essential that the cast's very real misery at the loss of their friend was felt just as keenly by the audience, and behind the powerhouse of a performance from Bassett, who channeled her rage and grief masterfully, it most certainly was.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: Again, it's a more-than-solid lineup this year. There aren't any outstandingly unworthy performances here, but if we had to choose anyone, I suppose it would have to be Stephanie Hsu from "EEAAO." There's nothing intrinsically wrong with her performance, honestly, but against the luminaries she's up against -- including Jamie Lee Curtis, Kerry Condon, and Hong Chau -- someone's got to be last. No offense, Ms. Hsu. You're just in pretty grand company.

Best Actor

Current Odds-On Favorite:Brendan Fraser, "The Whale."

Should Win: Paul Mescal, "Aftersun." It's one thing to present a character with an obvious physical delineation, such as Fraser; or in a peculiar, playwright's environ, such as Farrell, but Mescal, working the subtle hues of Charlotte Wells' deeply felt tragedy, has to play a character whose emotional life is almost completely hidden, while hinting at the turmoil and unhappiness his father character is trying to hide from his young daughter, while they are on vacation in Turkey. It's a command performance from a deeply submerged interior, like trying to perform a ballet while in a full snowsuit.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: Austin Butler, "Elvis." Hear me out on this one. Butler is actually pretty captivating as the erstwhile King, capturing some of that smooth charm and unbridled sexual charisma that made Elvis so dominant in his era. There's no doubt the role was a challenge -- musically as well as otherwise -- but Elvis is such a known figure, with such an established style, a reasonably good mimic could produce a reasonable facsimile. At least in terms of his competition -- which also includes Colin Farrell and Bill Nighy -- the road map was much better marked toward his performance.

Best Actress

Current Odds-On Favorite:Cate Blanchett, "Tár."

Should Win:Blanchett. You will get no argument from me if the Aussie brings home the trophy, as her turn as the dynamic, self-besotted Lydia Tár is nothing short of mesmerizing, but I feel I have to give a shout out to Michelle Yeoh, who is absolutely wonderful in "EEAAO," playing a woman caught between multiverses, in all sorts of incarnations.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: Michelle Williams, "The Fabelmans." You want pressure? How's about trying to portray the mother of the director, only the single most powerful director in Hollywood. Still, the usually redoubtable Williams makes a series of baffling choices in her depiction of "Mrs. Fabelman" (aka, Leah Adler, mother of Spielberg). She's so loud and broad, in fact, with a peculiarly projective affectation, she actually detracts from the scenes she's in, rather than enhances them. At times, with her various affectations, it too often feels as if she's from a different project altogether.

Best Director

Current Odds-On Favorite:Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, "EEAAO."

Should Win: The Daniels, "EEAAO." I would be hard-pressed not to hand out the hardware to the duo, based on the outrageous degree of difficulty they managed to pull off -- a multiversal action/sci fi/family drama narrative that came at you like a hurricane and laid waste to everything it touched. You could certainly make a solid case for McDonagh for "Banshees," or Todd Field for "Tár," both of which were excellent, but no film worked harder to blow your mind to a thousand smithereens, and managed to pull it off with almost supernatural effectiveness.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: Steven Spielberg, "The Fabelmans." I do not mean to keep hammering a flat nail, here, but Spielberg's semi-autobiographical reminiscence is so riddled with wish-fulfillment fantasies, dishonesties, and compartmentalizations, it's as if he's trying to re-write his own family's history to better suit his patented Spielbergian mythos. The result feels exasperatingly evasive, like listening to an aging uncle recite at great length a sunny version of a story you know is laced with far more tragedy and pathos than he's choosing to reveal. It's the kind of film that leaves you feeling gaslighted.

Best Picture

Current Odds-On Favorite:"EEAAO."

Should Win: "EEAAO" is actually an excellent choice this year, but I would be fine with either "Tár" or "The Banshees of Inisherin" taking home the top prize. Mind you, none of these are the true best picture of the year, in my estimation, but, alas, "Aftersun" didn't make the cut.

Will Win if There Is No God, and the World Is a Cruel and Unjust Place: "Avatar: The Way of Water." Let me begin by saying this isn't a bad movie, by any means. Yes, it's overly long, and yes, a majority of its pleasures are in its otherworldly special effects -- which are really only fully appreciated watching the film on an expensive IMAX-3D screen -- but, unlike its predecessor, it has a story you at least somewhat care about, and comes to an exciting action climax that feels richly satisfying. That said, huge-budget action/adventure flicks such as this have rarely been serious contenders for Best Picture glory in the modern era (see also "Black Panther," "Avengers: Endgame," "E.T.," and freaking "Star Wars"!), save a kind of collective Oscar for Peter Jackson's "LOTR" trilogy with "The Return of the King." Just because a movie makes a pile of bucks doesn't make it the best film of the year (a film critic mantra). Besides, I can't just keep harping on "The Fabelmans," for all of these.

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