The Oscars - Photo AMPAS
The Oscars – Photo AMPAS

Editor’s note: In 2022, Susan Granger correctly predicted, across the technical and glamour categories, 20 of the 21 Oscars.

In the first year since audiences returned to theaters after the pandemic, the 9,579 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences voters nominated three block-busters as Best Picture with eight films receiving at least five nominations and first-time nominees filling 16 out of the 20 acting slots.

The breadth of the list is impressive, encompassing one foreign film, one co-directed by an Asian American (with a mostly Asian American cast) and one by a woman. And this year, unlike last, ALL categories have been restored to the live broadcast.

Oscar used to honor star-driven crowd-pleasers with clear-cut stories, like “Forrest Gump” and “Titanic.” But over the past 20 years or so, the Academy has tended to choose smaller, more challenging movies, like “Parasite,” “The Shape of Water,” “Green Book” and “Crash,” emphasizing diversity and inclusion. Yet it’s always helpful to remember that ‘prestigious’ and ‘popular’ don’t have to be antonyms.

Perhaps the best explanation for the lack of consensus about these awards starts with the rapidly growing international membership. About half of recent invitees are international, so it’s not surprising that international films have dominated this year’s Oscar nominations. 

It’s worth nothing that streaming has made foreign-language films more accessible to American audiences who have avoided captions in movie theaters. Plus, many of the new members do not belong to the guilds, which used to be accurate predictors.  And producers in Hollywood are unsure about which films to release in theaters; moviegoing habits have changed irrevocably for all but big action movies and comic-book franchises.

These are the 10 Best Picture nominees:

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix): a German-language historical action re-make

“Avatar: The Way of Water” (Fox): James Cameron’s epic sequel in which family is the fortress

“The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight): a tragicomedy about a friendship gone sour in an Irish village

“Elvis” (Warner Bros.): Baz Luhrmann’s bling-bedazzled musical biopic

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24): a time-twisting, multiverse-surfing sci-fi fantasy

“Tar” (Focus): an ultra-sophisticated classical music drama

“The Fabelmans” (Universal): Steven Spielberg’s personal memory piece

“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount): a genuinely meaningful, exquisitely crafted action sequel

“Triangle of Sadness” (Neon): a scatological satire about the super-rich

“Women Talking” (United Artists): a sexual assault drama in a remote religious community

Oscar voters fill out a preferential ballot for Best Picture. The ballot asks you to rank the Best Picture nominees in order – with your favorite film as #1. Ballots are then separated into 10 piles, depending on which film is ranked first. The movie that got the fewest first-place votes is eliminated; the count continues round-after-round with the last place eliminated and ballots sifting to the next highest-ranking film. The process is designed to find the movie with the most support.

For the first time, two sequels (“Avatar,” “Maverick”) are nominated; together these popular popcorn pictures account for some $3.5 billion at the box-office. If I could vote – which critics can’t – I would choose “Top Gun: Maverick.”

MY PREDICTION: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

For Best Director, nominees are Todd Field (“Tar”), Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Martin McDonough (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Ruben Ostlund (“Triangle of Sadness”) & Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”).

This is Spielberg’s ninth nomination, and would mean a third win. The smart money is on first-timers Kwan & Scheinert, “The Daniels.” They took Best Director at the Directors Guild, which has presaged 18 of the last 21 Oscar director winners and 66 of the last 74.

The Daniels are the fourth directing pair to be nominated; their predecessors are Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins (1961’s “West Side Story”); Warren Beatty & Buck Henry (“Heaven Can Wait”); Joel & Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men,” “True Grit”).

MY PREDICTION: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

For Best Actress, nominees are Ana De Armas (“Blonde”), Cate Blanchett (“Tar”), Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”), Michelle Williams (“The Fablemans’) and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).

The inclusion of Andrea Riseborough’s portrayal of a former lottery winner battling addiction was a surprise. When “To Leslie” was released last October, it made just $27,000 at the box-office. But then Ms. Riseborough’s friends started a grassroots campaign. “Andrea should win every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet,” Gwyneth Paltrow posted on Instagram. She was joined by Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton. Momentum Pictures has since re-released the film.

Oscar campaigning has been a blood sport for years. Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein was the modern Machiavelli, inundating voters with screening party invitations and lavish gifts, ensuring “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan.” Nowadays, producers are allowed to send out only one email per week to Oscar voters, and these messages must be routed through messaging services; each massive blast can cost $2,000. But the Academy has never really made an effort to enforce its own rules.

Michelle Williams certainly delivered an impressive performance as Steven Spielberg’s eccentric mother, thwarted concert pianist Leah Adler, in “The Fablemans.” But Ana De Armas was way out of her depth in “Blonde,” a limpid, tasteless bio-pic that never delved into Marilyn Monroe’s charm and wit. 

The real contest comes down to two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who has garnered rapturous reviews as the troubled, lesbian, renowned conductor of a major Belin orchestra, and Michelle Yeoh, who embodied a beleaguered laundromat owner who finds her alternate selves in the multiverse. 

This is 60-year-old, Malaysian-born Yeoh’s first Oscar nomination and the first for an Asian actress in this category. “What it means for the rest of the Asians around the world, not just in America but globally, is that we now have a seat at the table,” she said. Historians may note that Merle Oberon placed in this category for 1935’s “The Dark Angel,” but – back then – she hid her South Asian/Maori heritage.

MY PREDICTION: Michelle Yeoh

For Best Actor, all five nominees are first-timers: Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) & Bill Nighy (“Living”).

Paul Mescal is the dark horse as a father on vacation with his daughter; Bill Nighy is a man who learns he’s dying; Austin Butler channeled the King; Colin Farrell is the dumped friend who won’t let go; and Brendan Fraser is a morbidly obese professor trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. 

All five received BAFTA nominations and all but Mescal were nominated for SAG awards.

MY PREDICTION: Austin Butler

For Best Supporting Actress, nominees are Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Hong Chau (“The Whale”), Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once,”), and Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”). 

As Wakanda’s Sovereign Queen Mother Ramonda, Angela Bassett made superhero cinema history as the first woman, the first person of color and the first Marvel Studios actor to be nominated for an Academy Award in a comic book adaptation. She’s also only the fourth Black actress to earn multiple Oscar nods – the others being Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg and Octavia Spencer. 

But my vote would go to SAG winner Jamie Lee Curtis, whose parents (Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis) both received Oscar nods. Previous 2nd generation winners include Laura Dern, whose parents are Bruce Dern & Diane Ladd, and Liza Minnelli, whose parents were Judy Garland & Vincente Minnelli.

MY PREDICTION: Angela Bassett

For Best Supporting Actor, nominees are: Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”), Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”), Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Key Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at once”), 

Now 87, Judd Hirsch was nominated in this category 42 years ago for “Ordinary People”: Brian Tyree Henry embodied an amputee who bonds with a soldier suffering from PTSD; Brendan Gleeson personified a melancholy fiddler/composer who abruptly terminates a friendship and SAG-winner Key Huy Quan, as Michelle Yeoh’s mild-mannered husband, is a former child star, best known for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” 

MY PREDICTION: Key Huy Quan

For Best Original Screenplay, nominees are Todd Fields’ “Tar,” Martin McDonough’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Daniel Kwan/Daniel Scheinerts’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” & Steven Spielberg/Tony Kushner’s “The Fabelmans.” 

Academy members must have short memories because Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” is certainly NOT original’ it’s a ‘gender switch’ on J.M. Barrie’s “The Admirable Crichton.” And while many favor Steven Spielberg’s auto-fictional tale of the hectic childhood that shaped him into a director,…..

MY PREDICTION: “The Banshees of Inisherin”

For Best Adapted Screenplay, nominees are: Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson & Ian Stokell’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Living,” Ria Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” and Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer & Christopher McQuarrie’s “Top Gun” Maverick.” 

MY PREDICTION: “Women Talking”

For Best International Film, contenders are “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Germany), “Argentina 1985” (Argentina), “Close” (Belgium), “EO” (Poland) & “The Quiet Girl” (Ireland). 

Unfortunately, because India did not submit its outrageously entertaining “RRR,” revolving around two Indian revolutionaries who team up to sing, dance and wreak havoc on the British, that film was not eligible. But you’ll have a chance to see its rousing “Naatu, Naatu” performed. 

Finally, Ireland has its first-ever nominee in this category and a quarter of this year’s acting nominees are Irish. But since “All Quiet on the Western Front” was also nominated as Best Picture, it’s an obvious indicator that this picture – with a total of nine nominations – will win the International category.

MY PREDICTION” “All Quiet on the Western Front”

For Best Animated Film, contenders are “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio,” “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” “Sea Beast” & “Turning Red.” 

Elaborately detailed and relocated to Italy, “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” takes several inventive detours on its journey to turning a wooden puppet into a beloved son for Geppetto.

MY PREDICTION: “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” 

With stellar original song nominees from some of the year’s best movies, the Oscar telecast should keep viewers engaged for the duration with an eclectic mix of genres and vocalists.

Best Original Song nominees are: Lady Gaga for “Hold My Hand” (“Top Gun: Maverick”), Rihanna for “Lift Me Up” (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Diane Warren for “Applause” (“Tell It Like a Woman”), M.M. Keeravani/Chandrabose for ”Naatu Naatu” (“RRR”) & Ryan Lott/David Byrne for “This is a Life” (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).

This is Diane Warren’s 14th nomination with no wins, but she did receive an Honorary Oscar earlier this year. Yet nothing can compare with “RRR’s” fiendishly catchy “Naatu, Naatu,” which in India’s Telugu language means “country.” It’s exuberant country music, sparking a high-stakes dance-off.

MY PREDICTION: “Naatu Naatu”

Best Score nominees are: Justin Hurwitz (“Babylon”), Volker Brtyrlmann (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), Carter Burwell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), the experimental band Son Lux (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) & John Williams (“The Fabelmans”).

At 90 years old, John Williams is Oscar’s oldest competitor. With 53 nominations, he holds the record in this category. After meeting him in 1972, he has worked with Steven Spielberg for more than 50 years.

MY PREDICTION: “Babylon”

GUILD AND CRAFT CATEGORIES predictions:

Documentary: “Navalny” 

Editing: “Top Gun: Maverick”

Cinematography: “Elvis” – Mandy Walker just became the 1st woman to win at the American Society of Cinematographers, breaking the glass ceiling

Production Design: “Babylon”

Visual Effects: “Avatar: The Way of Water”

Costume Design: “Elvis”

Make-up and Hairstyling: “Elvis” – transforming Austin Butler into Elvis Presley

Sound: “Top Gun: Maverick”

SHORT FILMS:

Documentary Short: “The Elephant Whisperers”

Animated Short: “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”

Live Action Short: “An Irish Goodbye”

The 2022 Academy Awards drew 16.6 million viewers, the second-lowest turnout on record after the pandemic-affected 2021 telecast. If the Nielsen ratings do not improve for the Sunday, March 12 show on ABC-TV, the Academy faces a financial precipice; most of its revenue comes from the sale of broadcasting rights. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Yet, the Academy still doesn’t realize that when their favorite films/stars aren’t properly acknowledged, many fans stop watching.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.