Here we are. The campaigns are over (for now), the parties are done (for now) and we’re days away from the Best Picture Oscar nominations for the 95th Academy Awards.
It’s been a wild year for populist blockbusters not only finding people in theaters but their names in awards season, and in most unexpected ways. The beginning of the year was still feasting off the massive box office of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which netted over $800M in the U.S. and over $19B worldwide. Then Top Gun: Maverick, a film that had been delayed from release since before the pandemic, had a splashy May premiere at Cannes and turned summer 2022 on its head with the biggest hit of Tom Cruise’s career, with numbers no one saw coming: $718M in the U.S. and 1.4B worldwide. For perspective, the first film earned $180M/$357M back in 1986. Even with inflation, the sequel blows it out of the sky. The ‘return to cinema’ and ‘Tom Cruise saved theaters!’ proclamations that came after lasted all year and as awards season started to come around and the ‘Oscar’ films showed up, that cheerleading didn’t quiet down, it got louder. Critics and guilds started chiming in beginning in December and it was on top 10 lists, winning dozens of cinematography prizes and Best Film from the National Board of Review. That propelled it to Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and the Producers Guild of America, sending pundits into a frenzied combination of thrill and confusion (and really, that’s the best combo for this kind of thing) as it became a bonafide contender.
Not to be outdone, Everything Everywhere All At Once had come out in March after premiering at SXSW and slowly but surely grew and grew, becoming A24’s highest grossing film ever, with over $70M in the U.S. and over $100M worldwide. Sure, those aren’t Top Gun numbers but it’s all relative to size, scope and expectation. A mid-budget sci-fi movie with butt plugs and dildos for weapons became a hit and the frontrunner for Oscar season.
The fall festivals of Venice, Telluride, Toronto and the dozens of regional fests plus AFI brought us contender after contender, some that started high and some that crashed quickly. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans surprised by being a TIFF world premiere (Spielberg’s first time there) and then winning the TIFF People’s Choice Award. It became an early frontrunner and after so many directors mining material of their autobiographical past recently, this one felt special and that it could go all the way. But it’s been a roller coaster for the film, which Universal Pictures chose to give a NY/LA limited release on November 11 (which ensured great initial box office numbers) then go wide for Thanksgiving. But then it kind of tanked, hard. After the box office disappointment of Spielberg’s West Side Story last year, it was odd to see one of Hollywood’s biggest and most celebrated directors flounder once again. The film went to VOD just two weeks later and although it’s made a bit of a comeback with guilds and awards bodies (it won the Globe as did Spielberg), it fell deep in the shadow of Everything Everywhere All At Once and Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin (a box office dud but massive critics’ winner) and even Elvis, another summer hit that’s going to make a big dent in overall nominations next week.
Depending on how everything shakes out, could this be one of the lessons learned or tides turned as we go into this year? The focus for Oscar contenders is so zeroed in on the September-December festival and release strategy but 2022 is showing us that Oscar movies aren’t just a four-month season, they’re 12, and should be.
Let’s look at the PGA record since the lineup expansion in 2009. We only have three years where both PGA and Oscar had 10 nominees (2009, 2010, 2021) but even then it can come in handy to see why the PGA would go for Wonder Woman or Bridesmaids or Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and then the Academy opting for Phantom Thread, The Tree of Life and The Father. In general, but not as a rule, some populist PGA picks just don’t translate over to the Oscars. Sometimes you’ll have a dominate studio with enough executives to make a Best Picture push like The Blind Side and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close from Warner Bros.
Since I hope you love visuals and graphics as much as I do, here’s the PGA-Best Picture lineups from the start of the expanded lineup in 2009.
There isn’t much of a pattern, per se, and things will probably be easier to track as we have more years of 10-for-10 comparisons but what does this year look like? How many PGA nominees will make the crossover? I think it’s going to be an 8 or 9 year like the three 10-film examples we have. Who is the most vulnerable and who is locked?
The PGA went for no less than four blockbuster sequels this year in Avatar: The Way of Water, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Top Gun: Maverick. I don’t see them all making it in, most likely half of them. If you’ve looked at my final predictions in other categories leading up to this you can probably tell that I’m looking at Glass Onion to repeat what happened to the first film and fall short of BP and snagging just a screenplay nomination (in a thankfully bleak category). I’m not feeling Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, even though it suddenly has an acting frontrunner in its midst. For most people, The Whale showing up here was the biggest surprise and while I’ve had the film in BP all year it was based on the belief that Brendan Fraser is winning Best Actor and it’s simply too hard to do without a BP nom. So I expected it not to show up at PGA (I did have it at 11th) but to knock another film out for the Oscar nomination. So its presence here (it is a box office success) all but ensures it a spot in my eyes.
So what’s in. Let’s look at the ‘who’s got what’ breakdown below. Banshees, EEAAO, Elvis, TÁR are all in. The Fabelmans, Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water should be. I’ve already saved a spot for The Whale. That’s eight. Now it’s a fight between late breakers, early contenders and at least one awards season flop. The massive performance by All Quiet on the Western Front (the stealth Netflix contender even they didn’t see coming) all happened at exactly the right time. Triangle of Sadness was all the way back at Cannes but made a bit of a dent with BAFTA noms and should still show up with screenplay and acting nods. Babylon was supposed to be a major player but now could just grab a handful of techs. Or, it could be like like Nightmare Alley last year, with a tech nom sweep and BP. RRR just didn’t do what a lot of critics’ thought it would and were pushing for but it’s got an outside chance. Women Talking is probably the biggest disappointments of the season in terms of performance as an awards player yet here it is with a SAG cast nomination (and CCA for good measure). It could go so many ways.
Every member of the Academy gets to vote in Best Picture and if all 9,579 eligible voters cast ballots, it would take 871 #1 votes to secure a nomination. But in using the preferential ballot system, if a film doesn’t have that many first-place votes in the initial count, tabulation continues to multiple rounds to pick up 2nd and 3rd place votes from eliminated ballots to reach a Top 10.
Oscar nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 24. Here are my final Oscar nomination predictions for Best Picture.
|1. Everything Everywhere All At Once (A24) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, PGA, SAG|
|2. The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, PGA, SAG|
|3. TÁR (Focus Features) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, PGA|
|4. Elvis (Warner Bros) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, PGA|
|5. The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures) – CCA, GG, PGA, SAG|
|6. Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures) – CCA, GG, PGA|
|7. All Quiet on the Western Front (Netflix) – BAFTA|
|8. Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century Studios) – CCA, GG, PGA|
|9. The Whale (A24) – PGA|
|10. Triangle of Sadness (NEON) – GG|
|11. Women Talking (UAR/Orion) – CCA, SAG|
|12. Babylon (Paramount Pictures) – CCA, GG, SAG|
|13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Walt Disney/Marvel Studios) – PGA|
|14. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix) – CC, GG, PGA|
|15. The Woman King (Sony/TriStar)|