The Road to the 95th Oscars Part 1: Predicting the Nominees

It’s hard to believe that Oscar nominations are already upon us, but it really is that time of year again! The Academy will be pretending to have their finger on the pulse of the film industry bright and early tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24, at 8:30 AM ET. This may be my first missive about the Oscars this year, but rest assured that I’ve been paying as much attention as ever to who’s going to come out on top on nominations morning, and I’ll probably be as wrong as ever despite that! 

Recent years have seen the Academy taking an unexpected turn towards more arthouse fare, with big wins for films like Moonlight, Nomadland, The Shape of Water, Parasite,and CODA, and even more populist winners (ugh, Green Book) far from breaking the box office. This year is shaping up to tell a different story, with more focus than ever on the comeback of the global box office thanks to juggernauts like Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick and leggy success stories like Everything Everywhere All at Once and Elvis. On the other hand, many expected Oscars darlings – The Fabelmans, Babylon, and Women Talking immediately come to mind – have fizzled with audiences (to put it generously) despite plaudits elsewhere. So: what can we expect for these and other contenders tomorrow morning? Let’s dive in.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, courtesy A24.

I have to start with this year’s runaway Pits winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s rare for a movie to maintain buzz after dropping early in the year, but EEAAO has done just that, premiering to raves at SXSW in March and only picking up steam since. It’s a shoe-in for Picture and Director nominations (with a DGA nom for Daniels certainly assuring the latter); Michelle Yeoh is a top contender for not just a nom but a win in Best Actress (though Cate Blanchett will have something to say about that!), and Ke Huy Quan is without a doubt the closest thing to a frontrunner in any category over in Supporting Actor. While it would warm my heart to see James Hong sneak into that category as well, it isn’t going to happen. Supporting Actress, on the other hand, will definitely garner Jamie Lee Curtis her first Oscar nomination, and Stephanie Hsu is a top contender for the fifth nomination in that category. Elsewhere, Original Screenplay and Film Editing noms are all but guaranteed, while a Sound nomination is likely. After shockingly missing the Visual Effects and Makeup and Hairstyling shortlists, I’m worried about the film’s chances in Costume Design, but it makes my predictions based on merit and its Costume Directors Guild nom. 

For a while, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans seemed like a very cut-and-dry Picture frontrunner: a very personal TIFF People’s Choice winner from a beloved director; a “movie about movies”; and a year-end critical favorite. All of that is still true, but its box office failure is shifting the narrative significantly, to the point that even a number of previously assured below-the-line nominations are coming into question. Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Score nominations are still assured, as is a Supporting Actor nom for Paul Dano, and perhaps one for Judd Hirsch (he’s my current pick for the fifth slot, but there’s a lot of competition). Michelle Williams was originally seen as likely to win her first Oscar in Supporting Actress, but the decision to campaign her in the very competitive Actress field has complicated that greatly. She will absolutely be harmed by her votes getting split across the categories; the question is whether or not it’s enough to push her out of the Actress race altogether. I think not, but it’ll be close between her and Blonde’s Ana de Armas for the fifth slot. It’s probably making it in for Film Editing, but I think it’ll get edged out in Cinematography by ASC nominee The Batman and Production Design by fellow ADG nominee All Quiet on the Western Front

Top Gun: Maverick, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

One of the biggest box office stories of last year was the remarkable success of Top Gun: Maverick, and I have every expectation that that will continue tomorrow morning. It hasn’t exactly been cleaning up in precursor nominations, but rest assured: Maverick will be a Best Picture nominee. Whether or not Tom Cruise is able to slip into the Actor field over someone like Paul Mescal (Aftersun) or Bill Nighy (Living) is up in the air; I am banking on the Academy rallying around Maverick and Avatar and think that Cruise sneaks in for his first nom in over 20 years. A strong showing gleans an Adapted Screenplay nomination, and while the smarter bet would be to give my fifth slot in that category to She Said or Living, I am again betting on the Academy showing up for Maverick. Below the line, Cinematography, Film Editing, Song, Sound, and Visual Effects noms are all but assured.

Over on Pandora, the rumors of Avatar: The Way of Water’s floppage have been highly, highly exaggerated, as the film’s $2 billion+ global take yet again proves that betting against James Cameron is a fool’s game. A Picture nom is certain, and I think that Cameron will sneak into Director, displacing All Quiet on the Western Front’s Edward Berger. There are no real acting contenders for Avatar, and an Adapted Screenplay nom isn’t in the cards, but expect it to clean up in the techs with nominations for Cinematography, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. Film Editing is a possibility, but I think Cameron is where the passion will be.

Speaking of All Quiet on the Western Front, it wasn’t until late in the season that this was seen as Netflix’s big Oscars play. It premiered to stellar reviews at TIFF but stayed under the radar until the Academy shortlists made it clear that the film has a lot of support. A Picture nomination seems assured, with Berger as my alternate in Director. Acting nominations are unlikely, but Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound, Visual Effects, and International Feature Film are likely. As noted above, I’m taking a swing and including this in Production Design, too. 

Martin McDonagh’s latest, The Banshees of Inisherin, made a big splash in its Venice Film Festival premiere, taking home both a Screenplay award and the Volpi Cup for Colin Farrell. After a successful limited box office run, it’s absolutely taking away Picture, Director, Actor (shockingly Farrell’s first nom!), and Original Screenplay nominations. Kerry Condon is a sure thing in Supporting Actress, and both Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan should show up in Supporting Actor. It’s perhaps a bit surprising that a film with seven above-the-line noms won’t get much else, but other than a likely Score nom and an outside shot at Film Editing (it’s my alternate there), that’s probably the peak for this one. 

TÁR, courtesy Focus Features.

Speaking of films getting plenty of above-the-line love, my personal favorite of 2022, Todd Field’s TÁR, is probably coming away pretty happy tomorrow morning: Picture, Director, Actress, and Original Screenplay are all but guaranteed. Unfortunately some heavy campaigning from Field and Blanchett seems unlikely to push the extremely deserving Nina Hoss into the Supporting Actress race, but I’ll still be lighting a candle for her!

There are three slots left to fill in the Picture field, and I think they’ll go to a mixture of Elvis, The Whale, Women Talking, and RRR. I’ll rip the bandaid off and talk about The Whale first. Like it or not, this has quietly become a big arthouse box office success story (to say nothing of the Brendan Fraser comeback story), and that is going to carry over into Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress (Hong Chau), and Adapted Screenplay noms, as well as a very regressive pick as the Makeup and Hairstyling frontrunner. 

Of the two films about abusive patriarchal power structures produced by noted abuser Brad Pitt this year, (the admittedly phenomenal) Women Talking has made the bigger critical splash (the other being the tepid She Said), but its box office failure puts it in the unenviable position of being a likely Picture nominee that very much peaked too soon. Sarah Polley is still in the Director race, but I don’t see her squeaking in; vote-splitting between Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy in Supporting Actress probably leaves both off of the ballot; and Ben Whishaw is probably just outside of the Supporting Actor race. Adapted Screenplay and Score noms are certain, and that’s it for this one. 

Elvis was a big box office surprise this summer, and Austin Butler has been tipped for a Best Actor nomination since day one. That and Picture are absolutely happening, as are Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and Sound. I think that Baz Luhrmann sneaking into Director is probably a step too far, and although Tom Hanks is currently getting a lot of love for the surprise success of A Man Called Otto (the one and only time I’ll be mentioning that one!), it’s not going to lift him into the Supporting Actor race.

RRR has really surprised in year-end critics’ lists and awards, but hasn’t made much of an impact elsewhere other than the occasional foreign language film win (and it wasn’t submitted for International Feature Film, so that’s out). There is clearly a strong base of support for it, and so it gets my alternate slot in Picture (yes, over Babylon, Glass Onion, The Woman King, and Triangle of Sadness!), but other than that it’s only nom is going to be in Song. 

As far as that quartet of films goes, big bomb Babylon will go against the conventional wisdom that films about Hollywood make big showings at the Oscars: Brad Pitt has a shot at Supporting Actor, but I’m not banking on it. This one will peak with Costume Design, Production Design, and Score noms. There’s a chance it shows up in Makeup and Hairstyling and Sound, but I’m not betting on it. Glass Onion will follow in the footsteps of Knives Out and get a (now) Adapted Screenplay nod. That’s probably it – Production Design and Costume Design noms are deserved, but likely aren’t happening. The Woman King will probably be settling for Actress (Viola Davis) and Costume Design noms, and Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness has a good shot at snagging the final Original Screenplay slot, with Dolly De Leon as my alternate in Supporting Actress.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, courtesy Marvel.

The most-nominated film that I haven’t mentioned yet is, of course, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Angela Bassett is making a surprising run to the top of the heap in the crowded Supporting Actress field to be the first acting nominee from a Marvel film. This won’t mimic the first film’s run to a Picture nom, but it will still have a very strong tech showing with Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Song, Production Design, and Visual Effects nominations, and it’s also my alternate in Score.

We’re almost 2000 words in, so I’ll wrap things up with some stray mentions:

  • Danielle Deadwyler will fill out the Actress category for Till.
  • I think Bill Nighy makes it in over Paul Mescal in Actor, with Living as my alternate in Adapted Screenplay and Aftersun as my alternate in Original Screenplay.
  • Eddie Redmayne has been getting some love for his turn in The Good Nurse, and is my alternate in Supporting Actor.
  • Oscar darling Sam Mendes followed up 1917 with Empire of Light and, well, the less we say about that the better. A Cinematography nom is likely, and then we’ll never think about it again.
  • Aside from a predicted Cinematography nom, The Batman should show up in Makeup and Hairstyling and Visual Effects, and it’s my alternate in Sound.
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio should be the breakout in Animated Feature, with likely noms in Score and Song, too. 
  • The fifth Song slot is an entertaining battle between Taylor Swift for Where the Crawdads Sing and perennial filler nominee Diane Warren for Tell It Like a Woman, which I am not convinced is actually a movie. It’s stupid to bet against Warren, but I’m giving Swift the victory and putting recent Honorary Oscar winner Warren as my alternate.

Okay, we made it! Join me down in the comments to tear my picks to shreds (and to witness my annual short film and Documentary Feature crapshoot), and I’ll see you all bright and early tomorrow for the nominations!