Sunday, March 12, 2023

2023 Oscar Picks

 Every year, I pick my winners among categories where I've seen the majority of nominees.  These reflect only who I'd vote to give the Oscar to if I could, and not an attempt to predict who will win (though I may talk a little bit about predictions as well).  In the past my picks sometimes coincided with the Academy's selections, but they can easily diverge.  Last year, my picks matched the Academy's in only 6 of 15 categories.  In other words, they got a lot of things wrong.

If you read my Best Picture rankings, you'll know I didn't think much of the depth of filmmaking in 2022.  I was happy to see this be the year of the woman, though, as more Best Actress nominees came from Best Picture nominees than Best Actor (it's usually the opposite).  Overall, I'll have more gaps in the films I've seen than usual, so please bear with me.

Best Picture

If you read my Best Picture rankings, you know this is Everything Everywhere All at Once.  I can't stop talking about how original and how heartfelt it is.  An absolutely stellar job was done by all associated with this film.

Best Director

I have to give this to the Daniels.  They kept Everything Everywhere All at Once moving at all times and elicited wonderful performances from its cast.  Steven Spielberg and Martin McDonagh both did wonderful jobs as well, but I think the pair of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert takes this one for me.

Best Actor

I've not seen Brendan Fraser in The Whale, so while he has received boundless praise and accolades.  I would give my award to Austin Butler, who did a very good job with the little he's given in Elvis, with Colin Farrell my backup choice for The Banshees of Inisherin.

Best Actress

Incredibly strong category this year.  I've not seen Andrea Riseborough's performance, but the other four were stellar.  Ana de Armas is literally the only good thing about Blonde.  Michelle Williams was her usual talented self in The Fabelmans.  In another year, I'd give Cate Blanchett the nod for her very controlled performance as Lydia Tár, but this year is really Michelle Yeoh's year, as she portrayed so many dimensions (literally) as Evelyn Quan Wang.

Best Supporting Actor

The Supporting categories are a little weak this year.  I've not seen Brian Tyree Henry's work, but from the others, I'm pointing at Ke Huy Quan, who is simultaneously a well-meaning dad and long-suffering husband, a dashing secret agent, and a romantic lead.  He is the ultimate supporting actor, driving the plot forward for Michelle Yeoh's character.

Best Supporting Actress

I'm not a huge proponent of any of the nominees (I have not seen Hong Chau's performance in The Whale).  I'm constantly miffed that Angela Bassett was nominated over the much superior work of Viola Davis in The Woman King (Ms. Davis could have been nominated for either category for that role, but since she won Best Supporting for her much meatier role in Fences, I'll put her here).  I can see Stephanie Hsu winning for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once (or potentially Jamie Lee Curtis in a less power-packed role in the same film), but I think I'll give my vote to Kerry Condon, Colin Farrell's often frustrated sister in The Banshees of Inisherin.

Best Original Screenplay

I almost want to give this to Martin McDonagh for The Banshees of Inisherin, but Everything Everywhere All at Once was so imaginative that I think I have to give the nod to Daniels Kwan and Scheinert.

Best Adapted Screenplay

As a rule I discount nominations based on prior film franchise entries or on prior versions of the movie, so this is really a two-horse race for me.  I settled on All Quiet on the Western Front, where the screenwriters did a marvelous job capturing the novel's themes in a script that felt modern and moved things forward with consistency without inserting anachronism into a World War I tale.

Best Animated Feature Film

There was not a dominant nominee this year.  Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was difficult to sit through, so it comes in last in my rankings.  Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was incredibly well done but not really Oscar memorable.  Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is memorable and well done, but I took issue with some of its structure.  I was pleasantly surprised by The Sea Beast, which was much stronger than I'd expected.  But my winner is Turning Red, which did a wonderful job capturing teenage angst and cultural pressures in an animated form.  Plus those cooking scenes were animated masterpieces.

Best Animated Short Film

An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It was very imaginative and told a complete story.  My second place slot is filled with a tie between The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, a great adaptation of children's literature, and Ice Merchants, which told a beautiful story of a father and son dealing with loss.

Best Live Action Short Film

I didn't get to see An Irish Goodbye and The Red Suitcase because they're not on streaming (fix this please, Hollywood), and I suspect The Red Suitcase will win based on what I've heard.  However, of the three nominees I did see, I'd go with Ivalu, which told a beautiful, tragic story of a native Greenland girl searching for her sister.  It will make you cry and hit something at the same time.

Best Original Score

It's difficult to go against John Williams, especially in his next to last film, but Volker Bertelmann's score for All Quiet on the Western Front stays with you.  It is not just musical accompaniment, it's a sound landscape matching the visuals on the screen.  It's the kind of score you can listen to separately from the film and still feel the same visceral sensations.

Best Original Song

If there's any justice, "Naatu Naatu", the only song to actually have a role in its movie, should win for the criminally undernominated RRR.  However, if the Academy poo-poos that distinction and wants a more Grammy-esque award, I'd look to "This is a Life", the lovely work from Ryan Lott, David Byrne, and Mitski.

Best Production Design

I think you have to give this to All Quiet on the Western Front for its amazing recreation of the World War I battlefield.

Best Cinematography

Having not seen Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths or Empire of Light, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, the staging of All Quiet on the Western Front, the subtle zoom in shots used throughout, and the incredible tracking shots during action sequences wins this category for me.

Best Visual Effects

It's easy to go the Avatar direction, but I did not see the movie (and now never have to), so I will look instead at the other nominees.  The Batman was my early favorite for this, as it served up some amazing shots.  But then Top Gun: Maverick was nominated, and I'm partly giving it my vote for its incredible visual effects work and partly in protest that its stunning cinematography didn't get a nomination of its own.  Perhaps that's because the nominating groups assumed that the incredibly practical shots it captured were actually visual effects, and if so, I'll reward the film for it here.

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