Front runners and long shots Breaking down this year’s diverse slate of films vying for the Best Picture Oscar
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The Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 24, and this year’s wide-open Best Picture field includes critics’ darlings and box-office smashes, outré art-house satires and popcorn action sequels. In an unpredictable race, here are a few (tentative) predictions:
● Avatar: The Way of Water:
It’s big, it’s blue, and it’s doing boffo box office, but it’s unlikely to grab Oscar voters. The Academy loves success (which helped float Avatar director James Cameron’s Titanic to Oscar gold in 1998), but in terms of blockbuster buzz, this long-delayed sequel to the 2009 original feels oddly anticlimactic.
The visual experience is impressive and immersive, especially viewed on a big 3D screen, but it’s no longer novel, which makes the hokeyness of the story — about the battle between the Indigenous inhabitants of the planet Pandora and would-be Earth colonizers — more noticeable. (Where to watch: Currently in theatres only but will eventually stream on Disney+.)
● All Quiet on the Western Front:
Adapted from the 1928 novel (very loosely, many German critics have complained) this implacably grim and devastatingly effective antiwar film replicates the alternating tedium and terror of trench warfare, as we watch Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer), a once idealistic youngster, age before our eyes. The German-language film has nine nominations, tying for second with The Banshees of Inisherin, as well as momentum from international awards, but this is a hard, hard watch and remains a Best Pic long shot. (Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix).
● The Banshees of Inisherin:
Martin McDonagh’s bleakly beautiful, darkly funny film starts with what seems like a minor premise — on a small island in 1920s Ireland, one man suddenly breaks off a long friendship with another — but soon expands to suggest layers of Irish history, as well as the knotty contradictions of the human heart.
Fresh off a Golden Globes win and with nine Oscar nominations, including for powerfully understated work by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, the feel-bad film of the year is running behind Everything Everywhere All at Once, the oddsmakers’ current favourite, but it’s still in with a chance. (Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+ and available to rent on various platforms).
Opulent and over-the-top, Baz Luhrmann’s biopic-fantasia never takes us closer to Elvis the man, but, wow, it sure gets Elvis the spectacle. With jolting hips and a curling lip, Austin Butler is exhilarating in the musical performance scenes, but the film droops whenever the action moves offstage, and it’s unlikely to get the Academy all shook up. (Where to watch: Streaming on Crave and available to rent on various platforms.)
● Everything Everywhere All at Once:
Leading the Best Pic pack with 11 nominations, this celebration of cinematic too-muchness — it’s a martial arts movie/kitchen-sink drama/sci-fi multiverse freakout! — has become the odds-on favourite for the big prize.
It’s still possible some trad Academy voters will be put off by the movie’s unrelenting quick-cut zip and inherent zaniness. (And, yes, we’re talking about that one universe where humans have evolved to have hotdog fingers.) But Michelle Yeoh centres the action, keeping it grounded in the story of one Chinese-American immigrant family, which makes for a fun, frantic but unexpectedly emotional watch. In this universe, at least, Everything Everywhere is the one to beat. (Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video, and available to rent on various platforms.)
● The Fabelmans:
Steven Spielberg may be a known Hollywood quantity, but Oscar voters might find his latest drama a bit unexpected. Personal, poignant and played in a decidedly minor key, this is a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s own origin story, as we meet a young man (Gabriel LaBelle) who warily keeps his camera between himself and the world, especially as he tracks his parents’ difficult marriage and traumatic divorce.
This portrait of the filmmaker as a young man is tender and generous but muted, and while The Fabelmans made a strong start at last year’s TIFF, it hasn’t galvanized much awards-season support. (Where to watch: Still in theatres, and available to buy on various platforms.)
Sending off sparks of charisma with every word and gesture, Cate Blanchett is electrifying as a famous conductor whose life unravels after she is accused of serial abuse of power. Mesmerizing and mysterious, Todd Field’s film has launched a thousand polarized think pieces — is it a queasy justification of an art monster or a scathing takedown of the structures that enable her? — and that controversy could keep Tár from the Oscar podium. (Where to watch: Available to rent on various platforms.)
● Top Gun: Maverick:
A movie-movie with an old-school movie star, this actioner is best seen in theatres, where the dazzling fighter-jet sequences will make you dizzy. With its boomer-friendly soundtrack, nostalgic callbacks to the ’80s original and lots of scenes of Tom Cruise going very, very fast, you might think Maverick would be irresistible to an Academy that skews older, white and male.
But as the institution struggles to rebrand itself for the 21st-century, voters might shy away from overtly promoting the movie’s clear Cruise-controlled theme: the idea that middle-aged maverick men are never, ever obsolete. (Where to watch: Streaming on Paramount+ and available to rent on various platforms.)
● Triangle of Sadness:
In this eat-the-rich satire from Swedish provocateur Ruben Ostlund, a super-luxe cruise for obnoxious one-per-centers goes terribly wrong (or terribly right, from the point of view of the ship’s self-loathing Marxist captain). While there are glints of Ostlund’s uncomfortable brilliance, overall, this send-up of over-consumption feels obvious — and maybe unlikely to play well at an Oscar ceremony where already-wealthy VIPs receive $100,000 swag bags. (Where to watch: Available to rent on various platforms.)
● Women Talking:
Women in a traditional Mennonite colony who have been traumatized by systematic sexual abuse meet in a dim hayloft to decide what to do, in this harrowing and humane ensemble drama. Adapted from the 2018 novel by Manitoba-born Miriam Toews and based on a true-life event, Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley’s script is austerely intelligent, and it’s channelled through some powerful performances. But the film’s deliberate visual plainness might tell against it with some voters. (Where to watch: Currently in theatres only.)
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Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.