We’re at that point in awards season where, while we may not be “certain“ of anything yet, consensus is starting to form in several categories, and frontrunners are starting to solidify their first place positions. Obviously, much could (and should) change between now and March, but now that the fall festivals are in the rear view mirror and we’ve seen most of the year’s biggest awards contenders (save for stuff like Babylon and Avatar: The Way of Water), some may feel that we have all we need to start making long-term predictions and locking up certain races to a “final five.”
However, not only is that not the case (remember when Caitríona Balfe hit every precursor last year and was in a top three Best Picture contender but still got snubbed in Best Supporting Actress when all was said and done?), but acting like we can “wrap things up” in October also does a disservice to the contenders that don’t come from the “biggest names” or have the “biggest campaigns” – those who rely on continued conversation and positive word-of-mouth to have any fighting chance at grabbing the Academy’s attention. And so, here are ten of my personal picks for the contenders that aren’t yet seen as being at the “top of the pack” in their races, but should be.
The Woman King
Best Director – Gina Prince-Bythewood
Best Supporting Actress – Lashana Lynch
Best Supporting Actress – Thuso Mbedu
As a film, The Woman King has certainly more than proved itself already – earning a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 99% Audience Score), a 76 on Metacritic, and $65 million at the worldwide box office over four weeks – which has thrust it into the top ten of Gold Derby’s Best Picture predictions and also made Viola Davis a top contender in Best Actress. However, while director Gina Prince-Bythewood and stars Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu have been equally as praised as Davis, they have yet to be predicted as often – or as widely – as Davis (Prince-Bythewood sits at seventh in Gold Derby’s Best Director predictions, but Mbedu is only tenth in their Best Supporting Actress predictions, and Lynch is out of the top ten entirely), which can likely be attributed to their competition and the big names they’re up against (particularly in Prince-Bythewood’s place, where she goes head-to-head with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Damien Chazelle, Todd Field, and more), but when their work is this worthy, they should not be forgotten come the end of the year. Without Prince-Bythewood’s daring and distinguished direction, who’s to say if The Woman King would be as mighty and moving a movie as the finished product is? And while Viola Davis dominates the film with her potent screen presence, let’s not forget this season how Lynch’s and Mbedu’s performances are identically powerful – and poignant. If The Woman King hits big with The Academy, all four of these ladies should be a package deal, in my opinion.
Best Actor – Jeremy Pope
Best Supporting Actor – Bokeem Woodbine
Best Supporting Actress – Gabrielle Union
I had the pleasure of seeing Elegance Bratton’s semi-autobiographical The Inspection this Monday – a fantastically affecting film that offers a harrowing look into the life of a gay Marine recruit and the conflict (and camaraderie) he experiences throughout his time in the Army. It’s an emotionally wrenching yet also enlightening watch, and it features one of my favorite ensembles I’ve seen in any film this year, with lead Jeremy Pope and stellar supporting stars Bokeem Woodbine and Gabrielle Union deserving specific shoutouts. I’ve been a big fan of Pope’s since he was the saving grace of Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood miniseries on Netflix, and he knocks his first lead role in film out of the park, delivering a deeply embodied performance as a character based on Bratton himself when he was in the military – a scared boy who believes this is the one thing that will make his homophobic mother finally accept him, but in the meantime, learns how to love himself for who he is too, and stand up against those who try to take him down. Meanwhile, as his homophobic mother, Union also excels, stealing every one of her scenes – and since she really only has three in total, that says a lot about how magnetic she is in the moments when she is onscreen. By the end, though we – and Ellis (Pope’s character) – have every right in the world to hate this woman, Union succeeds in giving her just enough depth, ever so delicately, to make her a multidimensional being and not a stock stereotype before the curtains close. And lastly, Woodbine follows in the footsteps of the Oscar-winning Louis Gossett Jr. as a sinister superior in the army who makes Ellis’ time at training hell, though even he has more multidimensionality than he initially lets on, complicating our perspective of this “antagonist.”
Best Actor – Ralph Fiennes
I also caught Mark Mylod’s The Menu this week, and while many who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival singled this scorching social satire out as a potential Best Original Screenplay contender, I came out with another category in mind for its campaign: Best Actor, for the ferociously frightening Ralph Fiennes. In a year where many are complaining about the “emptiness” of the Best Actor field, here we have one of the most complicated characters of 2022, played to perfection by Fiennes, who delivers deliciously on the more “mischievous” machinations of Chef Slowik’s sinister plan to wreak havoc on his wealthy guests, but also shines as more layers are pulled back to unveil the corruptive pain he carries with him as well, which acts as one of the primary motivators for his sickening schemes. It’d be easy to dismiss The Menu as no more than a “genre flick” sight unseen, but this film has far more on its mind than any old modern mystery thriller, and much of that is due to Fiennes’ winning work in the lead role. With the acting categories often full of basic biopic transformations, Fiennes would represent a fresh shake-up to the category’s “formula,” and I couldn’t imagine a more worthy contender to bring about this change.
Best Supporting Actor – Brian Tyree Henry
I have yet to see Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway myself, but I’ve heard nothing but positive things about the performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry from pundits I trust, and since “Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence” doesn’t need my help for her awards campaign, I wanted to devote a space here to Henry, who has been turning in tremendous work in both film and television for years, but has thus far only been recognized by TV awards bodies (earning an Emmy nomination for This Is Us in 2017 and one for Atlanta in 2018). In a just world, Henry should’ve been a sure-thing for a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2018 for either his petrifying supporting part in Steve McQueen’s Widows or his stunning one-scene performance in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, but since that didn’t come to pass, I’m hoping he can finally earn some industry love for this, with his role as a source of reprieve for Lawrence’s Lynsey – and a man who carries his own grief with him as well, just like her, and relays it in time with a calm, but chilling, control. Though there may be contenders from “bigger” films in the Best Supporting Actor category, Henry’s surely stirring work shouldn’t be forgotten simply because Causeway isn’t a Best Picture player.
Triangle of Sadness
Best Supporting Actress – Dolly de Leon
Of all the names on this list, Dolly de Leon is probably getting the most attention at the moment – with recent profiles in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker – but I’m giving her a shoutout here nonetheless because a) she’s just that damn good and b) I’m constantly fearful that she’s not going to be given the attention and accolades she deserves by the industry simply because she’s a “fresh face” (i.e. not one of their already anointed “big names”). A few newcomers break into the Oscar race every season (Troy Kotsur last year, Youn Yuh-jung the year before, etc.), and De Leon definitely has the role – and the narrative – to follow in their footsteps. She’s a scene-stealer in every sense of the word, her character is endlessly comical, and she gets the killer final scene of the film, which drives home its social commentary in a shocking way. But where Kotsur and Youn benefitted from their films being big Best Picture contenders, Triangle of Sadness‘ Oscar fate is up in the air in the top category, which could seemingly put De Leon’s candidacy in jeopardy. So, Academy voters, take this as my plea to not let this happen, because no matter if Triangle performs well elsewhere or not – or even if you liked the film overall – I think we can all agree that what De Leon accomplishes here is nothing short of revelatory, and there’s no Supporting Actress category that is complete without her.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Best Original Screenplay – Cooper Raiff
Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth was the standout of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival – even going on to win the Audience Award – but after a lowkey launch on Apple TV+ in June (and Apple’s decision to perhaps prioritize Causeway and Emancipation this awards season), its Oscar fate is up in the air. It doesn’t help that competition in the Best Original Screenplay category is fierce (it could feasibly be made up of all Best Picture contenders, with Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin, Babylon, and TÁR serving as the consensus five at the moment), and despite there usually always being space for a “lone screenplay nominee,” Cha Cha could find itself contending with buzzier titles like Triangle of Sadness, Bros, or The Menu for that title. However, Cooper Raiff’s heartfelt – but honest – coming-of-age romantic comedy deserves a spot just as much as any other contender, with Raiff demonstrating a wit and wisdom well beyond his years in this authentic look at life and love in your 20s, alongside offering a resonant reflection on the multiple soulmates we meet in our brief time on this Earth. In a just world, I think Cha Cha should contend in multiple top categories at the Oscars, but I’ll settle for Original Screenplay recognition, where Raiff is appropriately acknowledged for this tender and twee tale.