Who Will, Could, and Should Win at the 2023 Oscars

The 95th Academy Awards are days away, meaning pundits and critics are putting the final touches on their predictions. Some will look through statistics, while others will go with their gut. My approach combines both, assessing the race’s current state and who just feels right. Instead of uniform picks, I will be switching between who I think will, should, and could win and who would be a delightful surprise. (For reasons explained below, one category will also have a “who should’ve been nominated” option.)

Anything could happen on Sunday night. (At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if a write-in candidate won Best Picture, as if it were the ’30s.) However, I’m pretty sold on these picks and looking forward to seeing how many, if any, bear themselves out.

Best Picture

Will and Should Win: Everything Everywhere All at Once

A Delightful Surprise Win: Top Gun: Maverick

There’s nothing more dangerous for an Oscar contender than the perception of inevitability. It has sunken more awards campaigns than you can count, even in the last cycle. (CODA pipping The Power of the Dog.) However, there is no denying Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s overwhelming power.

The sci-fi multiverse indie film about an Asian immigrant family’s generational trauma, with butt plug fights, would’ve been a non-starter a decade ago. However, audiences and the industry have unequivocally fallen in love with it. EEAAO is one of the few films to win top honors from every major industry guild, including the Producers’ Guild and SAG. It is a box office smash, becoming studio A24’s highest-grossing release. Most importantly, its overall message of acceptance and love against overwhelming odds has resonated with the zeitgeist. EEAAO has an underdog spirit and champion-level skills, which is devastating for the other nine nominees.

If one film that could meet EEAAO in terms of passion, its last year’s box office behemoth Top Gun: Maverick. A somewhat dodgy prospect when it was first announced, it has defied every expectation, almost singlehandedly reviving the theatrical experience and being an elite example of blockbuster filmmaking. While the film hasn’t performed nearly as well this awards season, populist-leaning voters could easily throw their support behind the biggest film of last year and one of the last great movie stars.

Best Director

Will Win: The Daniels, EEAAO

Should Win: Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inishiren

A Delightful Surprise Win: Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

Under less deft creative hands, EEAAO would fall apart under the weight of its own staggering ambition. And yet, directing duo The Daniels kept their dizzying ride through the multiverse on track, balancing several genres and storytelling modes without breaking a sweat. Their craftsmanship and pacing are extraordinary, and their win is well-deserved.

Another director managing a difficult balancing act is The Banshees of Inishiren’s Martin McDonagh. While certainly a comic effort, McDonagh’s film also plays in the darkest spaces of mental health struggles and familial conflict. He often uses absurd comedy to land a gut-punch so powerful that it takes your breath away. While many will cite Banshees‘ excellent script and performances as its strongest element, it is McDonagh’s thoughtful and fearless direction that helps bring it to life.

Speaking of fearless, it’s easy to write Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans off as self-indulgent navel-gazing about “the power of movies.” In reality, it’s a surprisingly frank examination of the sacrifices artists make, and how their pasts undeniably shape their work. Spielberg fires on all cylinders, leveraging his trademark directorial magic in service of a story that might’ve spooked other filmmakers with its candor. If his honesty isn’t enough of a reason to support him, Spielberg’s last directing Oscar win was 25 years ago for Saving Private Ryan. Fans of the prolific director might see The Fabelmans as an opportunity to acknowledge him for maintaining his level of excellence while finding new paths to explore.

Best Actor

Will Win: Austin Butler, Elvis

Should Win: Brendan Fraser, The Whale

A Delightful Surprise Win: Paul Mescal, Aftersun

New kid on the block versus the beloved veteran. Two stunning transformation, one into a pop culture legend and the other into an original character. The easily-mocked inescapable accent and the sharply divisive response to his film. Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser head into Oscar night with several strengths in their favor and weaknesses potentially holding them back from the podium. The question is, who has the stronger position?

Given that Elvis is nominated for Best Picture and The Whale is not, it seems like Butler. The last Best Actor winner without a corresponding Best Picture nomination is Jeff Bridges in 2009’s Crazy Heart, Elvis is also significantly more popular, both in terms of box office and awards recognition. Butler is the undeniable centerpiece of that adoration, and the Academy adores a good transformative biopic performance.

The only thing standing in Butler’s way is Fraser’s popularity with audiences and industry folks, demonstrated by his win at the SAG Awards. People are rooting for Fraser after what he’s been through, and his performance in The Whale is a testament to his dramatic capabilities which audiences have rarely seen. In the wake of such strong, centralizing performances, voters tend to vote with their hearts, and Fraser tugs at all the right strings.

Amidst the outsized personalities at the front sits Paul Mescal, whose nomination for Aftersun may be one of the season’s most delightful surprises. Mescal has become a superstar in three short years, thanks to his Emmy-nominated turn in Normal People and rabid press and online interest. His penchant for quiet, contemplative performances can often be overlooked by the Academy in favor of showier fare. And yet, his role in Aftersun clearly struck a chord with voters who bucked the trend on his behalf. While his theoretical win would be a game-changer, his nomination speaks louder. It is both as an acknowledgement of his growing stature in Hollywood, and a demonstration of the belief he will win in the near future.

Best Actress

Will and Should Win: Michelle Yeoh, EEAAO

Should’ve Been Nominated: Danielle Deadwyler, Till

The Best Actress race has been a two-horse race for months, between Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett as the ferociously talented and abusive conductor Lydia Tár. Both are beloved powerhouse film veterans delivering the best performances of their remarkable careers. Picking between them is like pulling teeth, and it makes you yearn for a Hepburn-Streisand tie. Since that likely won’t happen, voters have arguably the most difficult choice of the season. Who will they choose?

The choice is Yeoh, for several reasons. Given EEAAO‘s gargantuan nomination haul and stunning success, voters understand how and why the film works. Much of the credit belongs to Yeoh. She is as chameleonic as her film, navigating genre and performative skill without ever missing a beat. She can be funny, express pathos and joy, and kick every kind of ass that exists in the multiverse. Yeoh is as captivating in a shimmering ballgown as she is hugged up with Jamie Lee Curtis wearing sausage fingers. She sells every single moment in a way that very few actors – not Jackie Chan, and probably not Blanchett – could.

And then there is the cultural significance her win will hold. She would be the first Asian actress ever to win Best Actress, ending a drought of POC winners that has lasted twenty years. (Halle Berry is still the only woman of color and Black woman to win Best Actress.) Yeoh’s win would signify to other Asian performers that, despite the Academy’s ongoing struggles with diversity, their work is worthy of acknowledgment. There would be immense power in seeing Yeoh holding her Oscar, an award she should’ve at least been nominated for already. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon says hello.) History can be made this year, and it would behoove voters to keep that in mind. (Or, they can accept the sickening reality that the Oscars are approaching their centennial and only found one woman of color worthy.)

With all due respect to the remaining nominees, the absence of Danielle Deadwyler for her soul-crushing performance in Till from the category is a disgrace. If anyone this season could mount a legitimate challenge to either Yeoh or Blanchett, it is Deadwyler. Her work as a grieving mother-turned-steadfast civil rights activist is extraordinary, filled with unforgettable, searing moments. You can feel her ache in every frame she inhabits, and it is unfathomable that voters didn’t acknowledge that work. While I’m personally rooting for Yeoh, and would be happy for Blanchett’s snub, Deadwyler’s snub nearly invalidates the entire season.

Best Supporting Actor

Will and Should Win: Key Huy Quan, EEAAO

A Delightful Surprise Win: Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway

Ke Huy Quan is winning. Period. The BAFTAs threw a wrinkle into his winning streak by rewarding Banshees’ Barry Keoghan, but it’s still Quan’s to lose. No one has worked harder and enjoyed the awards season as much as he has. His energy is infectious, his gratitude for his recognition is heartwarming, and his performance is incredible. By all rights, Quan will be an Oscar winner this weekend.

As undeniable as Quan is, Brian Tyree Henry would make for a stunning upset. His performance in the Apple TV+ film Causeway operates on the same frequency as Mescal’s: a minor-key work with tons of heartrending depth. He plays incredibly well against the equally-great Jennifer Lawrence, and demonstrates incredible presence and range. Sadly, Causeway is probably too small to crack the EEAAO and Banshees firewall. Like Mescal, Henry’s nomination feels like a reward itself, and a show of industry support for a superstar on the rise.

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Could Win: Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inishiren or Jamie Lee Curtis in EEAAO

A Delightful Surprise Win: Stephanie Hsu, EEAAO

There is chaos, and then there is this year’s Best Supporting Actress category. Many pundits had the race sewn up for Wakanda Forever’s Angela Bassett after she claimed the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards. Then, the BAFTAs came around and handed their award to Kerry Condon for her spectacular performance in The Banshees of Inishiren. Given that there is significant overlap between BAFTA and the Academy, it seemed like Bassett had healthy competition from Condon. And then SAG took a blow torch to that by handing Jamie Lee Curtis a win for EEAAO, upsetting Bassett.

And so, this year’s race is split three ways. Bassett has the most televised wins. Condon has the international branch (and those who want Banshees to win something). Curtis has the actors branch, which is the largest contingent of the Academy. Who takes home the biggest prize? I think Bassett is still a strong proposition, because of her industry stature and that she has an undeniably powerful “Oscar clip” in her back pocket. If Curtis and Bassett split the “industry veteran” vote, then Condon could win thanks to strong backing from across the pond.

The lack of consensus might actually benefit EEAAO‘s Stephanie Hsu. Several precursors ignored Hsu, despite being the film’s beating heart, and Yeoh’s central motivation. Thankfully, SAG reversed the trend, helping Hsu landed a nomination she should’ve been leading from the start. If EEAAO breaks as big as expected, and people realize her importance, then she could sidestep her unsettled fellow nominees. Nothing is out of the cards at this point, but Hsu’s win would be especially sweet.

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