This is my second attempt to write this column on the Oscars.
I was too negative in my first try. I need to be more positive.
So here goes:
I’m positive that there are some poor choices among this year’s nominees.
I tell my film students that if everyone always agreed with each other, life would be boring. So I suppose I should be pleased that, with Oscar night coming March 12, some of this year’s nominations make me cringe. (Guess what? I’m not pleased.)
This is especially true for the best-picture contest. I’d divide the 10 nominees into three tiers: three in the top tier, four in the middle and three at the bottom. Those last three – which includes the night’s likely big winner – are especially baffling choices.
As for some of the other top categories, the best-actor group is the strongest this year. The others, as with best picture, have excellent choices combined with not-so-great nominees.
That said, here’s the lineup of nominees, listed in order of my preference (best to worst), in the top six categories, followed by a few comments and my prediction of who or what will win.
1. “All Quiet on the Western Front”
2. “The Banshees of Inisherin”
3. “Women Talking”
4. “Top Gun: Maverick”
6. “Triangle of Sadness”
8. “The Fabelmans”
9. “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
10. “Avatar: The Way of Water”
“All Quiet” and “Banshees” are the standouts, with “Women Talking” a close third. “All Quiet,” a German-language remake of the 1931 best-picture Oscar winner, takes place during World War I. It vividly, realistically and powerfully captures the camaraderie and carnage found on the battlefield. “Banshees,” about two Irishmen whose friendship collapses, benefits from outstanding performances and writer-director Martin McDonaugh’s dark wit. Sarah Polley’s drama “Women Talking” is, as advertised, talky, but the discussion is relevant and provocative.
The second tier features “Top: Gun: Maverick,” a top-notch mainstream action sequel which briefly transcends its genre with a moving reunion of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer; “Tár,” an intelligent character study that serves as a showcase for Cate Blanchett; “Triangle of Sadness,” an edgy social satire involving a ship of fools, with Woody Harrelson as a drunken captain and an extended puke scene; and “Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann’s razzle-dazzle biopic with a star-making performance by Austin Butler as Elvis Presley and a hammy one by Tom Hanks as Presley’s shady manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
And then there are the three at the bottom. Director Steven Spielberg appears to have put his heart into “The Fabelmans,” a film about his youth. I believe that; I can see that; I respect that. But the result is erratic, a film that, though based on real people and real events, often doesn’t ring true. “Everything Everywhere” certainly has its proponents – evident in that it’s become the favorite to win – but for me it’s a hollow experience, a lot of hyper-activity with the emotional impact of a blank screen. James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequel is impressive if you consider only the visuals, but the script is irritatingly repetitive and derivative.
My pick: “All Quiet on the Western Front”
My prediction: Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Best lead actor
1. Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”
2. Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”)
3. Austin Butler (“Elvis”)
4. Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”)
5. Bill Nighy (“Living”)
Really, any of these nominees would make a worthy winner: Nighy, as a reserved bureaucrat finding meaning late in life; Mescal, as a father harboring hidden emotional pain; Butler, capturing not just the look and sound of Elvis Presley, but the charisma and tragic flaws; Fraser, as a 600-pound English teacher on death’s door; and Farrell, as a simple Irishman who can’t accept the sudden rejection of his best friend.
Fraser gives a heartbreaking, beautiful performance, and his attention-grabbing appearance helps put him over the top as the likely winner. He’s great, but I prefer, by a slight margin, Farrell’s portrayal of a dim man reacting to rejection with confusion, hurt and an obstinate refusal to accept it.
My pick: Colin Farrell
My prediction: Brendan Fraser
Best lead actress
1. Ana de Armas (“Blonde”)
2. Cate Blanchett (“Tár”)
3. Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”)
4. Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
5. Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”)
Despite her nomination, de Armas hasn’t gotten the acclaim she deserves for the emotional depth of her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. Why? Probably because writer-director Andrew Dominik’s relentlessly gloomy take on Monroe’s tragic life was such a turnoff for many. To me, she’s far and away the best of the bunch here, with Blanchett and surprise-nominee Riseborough on the next level. Blanchett at one time seemed the favorite, and could still win, but Yeoh seems to have the momentum.
My pick: Ana de Armas
My prediction: Michelle Yeoh
Best supporting actor
1. Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”)
2. Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
3. Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
4. Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
5. Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”)
There are three great performances here: from Henry, as an auto mechanic who befriends Jennifer Lawrence’s troubled vet in “Causeway,” and Keoghan and Gleeson, as colorful denizens of an island off the coast of Ireland in “Banshees.” I’d give the slight edge to Henry for the most understated of the performances, but it would be exciting to see any of the three win.
That probably won’t happen. Ke Huy Quan has been winning every award in sight as the excitable husband in “Everywhere Everything.”
My pick: Brian Tyree Henry
My prediction: Ke Huy Quan
Best supporting actress
1. Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
2. Hong Chau (“The Whale”)
3. Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
4. Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
5. Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”)
As with the supporting actor category, three nominees – Condon, Chau and Hsu – stand out but probably won’t win. Curtis is the likely winner for playing against type as a frumpy, grumpy IRS inspector in “Everywhere Everything,” though Bassett could win for her melodramatic turn in the “Black Panther” sequel.
My pick: Kerry Condon
My prediction: Jamie Lee Curtis
1. Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
2. Todd Field (“Tár”)
3. Ruben Östlund (“Triangle of Sadness”)
4. Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”)
5. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
My comments above on the best-picture nominees pretty much sums up my thoughts for this category. McDonagh is far and away my pick here. The Kwan-Scheinert team are probably the favorites to win, but I’m going to guess that Spielberg pulls it out as the sentimental favorite.
My pick: Martin McDonagh
My prediction: Steven Spielberg
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.