2022 was a great year for film, with amazing selections across the board for all genres and budget types. “Aftersun,” a debut independent film from newcomer Charlotte Wells, starring Paul Mescal of “Normal People” fame, was rated the fifth best film of the year on the popular cinephile social media site Letterboxd. On the opposite end of the budget spectrum, “Top Gun: Maverick” was rated fourteenth best film on the same list, with “The Batman” at 19th and “Avatar: The Way of Water” at 41st. In the middle of the spectrum, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was the best film of the year according to Letterboxd (as well as many, many other publications), bringing attention to the mid-budget film, which has slowly been diminishing in popularity over the years and giving way to more franchises and blockbusters. All of this is to say that depending on your preference for genre and scope, there were lots of stellar choices to choose from last year. And thankfully, the Academy’s nominations this year, for the most part, reflect the quality and popularity of 2022’s films and those who worked on them. However, this is not to say that the nominations this year are without controversy. Let’s get into it.
(Disclaimer: I have not seen every movie nominated, nor do I care about every category equally. I apologize to those extremely invested in documentaries and short films, as well as a lot of the technical categories such as Sound, Editing, Production Design, etc, as there is just far too much to talk about. I will just be going over the major categories here.)
Much has been said in recent years of the fact that the Oscars do not reflect the preferences of general audiences, instead choosing to honor highbrow dramas that don’t make much money in ticket sales. If the Academy, as “prestigious” as it has marketed itself to be for the past near-100 years, does not reflect the movies people actually buy tickets to see, what’s the point? Some years have been better about this than others, and this year the Academy has chosen to nominate three blockbuster films for best picture: “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and “Elvis.” Of these three, “Top Gun” has the best chance of actually winning. It was the second highest-grossing film of 2022 (after “Avatar”) and has the added bonus of being extremely highly rated by audiences and critics alike. However, for my pick, the probable winner of the category is “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which has been highly lauded ever since it was released in March (it also has the highest number of nominations this year, leading with eleven). However, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a major win, as sometimes the nomination is honor enough for the Academy while they go on to choose something more accessible and appealing for the typical Academy voter (you can probably guess the demographic). My runner-ups, therefore, are “The Fabelmans,” Steven Spielberg’s mass-appealing and extremely well-received semi-autobiography, and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Martin McDonagh’s small-scale Irish dramedy, which has been very popular at many previous and ongoing awards ceremonies, and definitely deserves to be here.
Best Acting (all categories)
For me, the biggest surprise of all the acting nominations was Paul Mescal in the aforementioned “Aftersun” for best actor. It is the film’s only nomination, but as a debut film, this is extremely high praise for director Charlotte Wells. I also feel that this is very well deserved; Mescal brings an amazing vulnerability to the highly nuanced character of Calum, a single, 30-year-old father to his eleven-year-old daughter Sophie. The film explores Sophie’s memories of her father and depicts him mostly through her point of view as they vacation together in Turkey. Go see “Aftersun” — it truly is amazing. Go see it especially because Mescal probably isn’t gonna win this one. Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“Banshees”), and Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) are the frontrunners for lead actor, with Butler the probable win due to his radical physical transformation in the role (the Academy loves physical transformations) and his recent win in the same category at the Golden Globes. Brendan Fraser, though, is likely going to give him a run for his money for the same transformative reason, furthered by his comeback story that has won the internet and much of Hollywood over (the Brenaissance is only beginning). It’s pretty much a given that Cate Blanchett is going to win for “Tár” (and rightfully so), although it is great to see Michelle Yeoh nominated as well for “Everything Everywhere.” Ana De Armas is nominated here for the highly divisive Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde,” and interestingly enough, she is also nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actress for the exact same performance, pretty much summing up the discourse on the film and her performance.
For Best Supporting Actor, it is nice to see Bryan Tyree Henry nominated (I love his work in “Atlanta”), although it’s pretty much guaranteed that Ke Huy Quan will win for his role in “Everything Everywhere,” given his captivating performance and his touching return to fame 30 years after an iconic child performance in Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” For Best Supporting Actress, both Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu are nominated for their roles in “Everything Everywhere,” but I think Kerry Condon turned in a great performance in “Banshees” and I can see her taking home this award. Overall, this is a great crop of nominees, with many being first-time candidates whose performances were rightfully lauded in all of their films.
The Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert), who directed “Everything Everywhere,” are nominated in this category and are the fan-favorite choice. However, given the track record of the Academy giving awards for personal, grounded, mass-appealing stories, I see Spielberg taking home this award for his semi-autobiography “The Fabelmans.” He rarely turns in a bad film and his talents behind the camera have been virtually unquestioned his entire career.
This is overall a pretty great selection for the top awards. Unlike in the past few years, pretty much every pick is deserving of their nominations, and I wouldn’t be terribly upset to see my picks not chosen (compare this to 2018’s “Green Book” beating out, among many others, “BlacKkKlansman”). However, there are definitely a few disappointments. For starters, Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” a film I consider to be one of the best of the year due to its insane balance of many seemingly disparate themes — all critiquing today’s spectacle-driven consumer society — while masquerading as a grounded sci-fi horror, received no nominations at all. Although it honestly isn’t that surprising when you consider the fact that it critiques the very problems in society that allow the worst aspects of Hollywood to thrive. “The Batman,” in my opinion the best blockbuster film of the year, did not receive nominations in the two categories in which I feel it excelled — cinematography and original score. In these two technical frontiers, its helmsmen (Greig Fraser and Michael Giacchino, respectively) worked exceptionally well in creating work that drove the narrative and themes forward and generally emphasized the goals and vision of the film. Not to mention its critical and commercial success overall, which should’ve earned it more attention. In the International Film category, and in general, fan favorite “Decision to Leave” was not seen at all. 2019’s “Parasite” broke records when it won best picture as a non-English language film, but the past few years have done nothing to show that that massive win was anything but a one-time fluke. “RRR,” a historical Indian action epic that captured audiences around the world, was also virtually nonexistent except for a nomination in the best original song category.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” a class-conscious satire skewering the 1%. No other film this year includes a capitalist Russian oligarch and a Marxist American yacht captain getting drunk and reading economic and political theory over the PA system of the yacht while it’s actively sinking. I felt that it was not getting the love it deserved at previous awards ceremonies, despite winning the Palm D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, so I was surprised and happy to see it nominated for Best Picture and Östlund for Best Director.
There are a few disappointments as well, namely in regard to representation and diversity. The Best Director race, while filled with undeniably talented men, is only filled with men, a change from the last two years in which Chloé Zhao and Jane Campion won.
Ultimately, however, compared to last year’s nominees and winners, I would personally say that the 2023 Oscars are shaping up to be a much more exciting competition. The popularity of the honored films and craftspeople is, in my opinion, much higher than last year, and this is simply due to how good 2022 was in terms of film. This year seemed like a closer wedding between “high” and “low” art in film — I feel as if the distinction is meaningless, and never amounts to constructive criticism of the art form. But there were many, many high-quality films of all genres and budgets this year that so many people saw. It’s refreshing to see the Academy honor those films as opposed to those that, while they may be good or even great, simply don’t reflect the tastes of general audiences. I’m excited to see how it all plays out on March 12 when the awards are officially given out.