Zoë’s 2023 Academy Awards Predictions: The Most Competitive Categories

The end of another week means another update to my 2023 Academy Awards predictions, but in lieu of a typical reassessment of every single race, for this week, I thought I’d hone in on a few in particular. In all honesty, it’s been all quiet on the awards front as of late, and until we hear from some precursors, it’ll stay that way. So, since most of my predictions remain the same as they did last week, I wanted to instead do a deep dive on the seven categories I believe are the most competitive right now – especially since these categories will also be some of the most influential in deciding what film wins Best Picture. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with one of the most talked about of the 2022-2023 awards season: Best Actress.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in TÁR and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Both Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh won Golden Globes, and Cate Blanchett won the Critics Choice Award. That’s where we are right now for Best Actress, with SAG and BAFTA waiting in the wings (though Blanchett can also claim the trifecta of major critics awards, winning Best Actress with NYFCC, LAFCA, and NSFC as well). As of now, the odds favor Yeoh at SAG and Blanchett at BAFTA, giving Blanchett three industry awards and Yeoh two heading into Oscar night. Most awards watchers will be screaming to “FOLLOW BAFTA,” given how the taste of that awards body has been influential in determining close acting races in more years than one can count (Cotillard over Christie, Rylance over Stallone, Colman over Close, Hopkins over Boseman, etc), but if Yeoh really does pull this off at SAG (after presumably losing BAFTA), I wouldn’t tell her to call it quits just yet.

Let’s not forget the precedent wins that would help her case, like Halle Berry – another history maker – winning the Oscar with only SAG under her belt, while Gwyneth Paltrow bested another Cate Blanchett Best Actress bid in 1998 (this time, for Elizabeth) after only winning the Golden Globe and the SAG (as Yeoh is predicted to do) while Blanchett had the Drama Globe, Critics Choice Award, and BAFTA. What helped Paltrow? The fact that she was in the Best Picture winner, as Yeoh may be too. And sure, some of you may be yelling, “But TÁR overperformed with its Oscar nominations!” And you’d be right. But you know what other film did? Everything Everywhere All at Once.

In short, you can make a strong case for either actress at the moment, and although some may feel Blanchett’s potential win haul puts the odds in her favor, this race won’t really be over until that envelope is opened.

Best Actor

Austin Butler in Elvis, Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin, and Brendan Fraser in The Whale

I’ll cut to the chase on this one: I think this race is pretty firmly down to Austin Butler and Colin Farrell, and I don’t see much sense in entertaining a Brendan Fraser win after The Whale not only missed out on a Best Picture nomination (a category where Butler’s Elvis and Farrell’s The Banshees of Inisherin have showed up all season long), but also a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, in a notably weak field. What other former Best Actor frontrunner starred in a film that shockingly missed Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nods by the time the Oscar nominations rolled around? Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s Chadwick Boseman, who ultimately lost to someone starring in a Best Picture nominee (The Father‘s Anthony Hopkins). And Boseman, unlike Fraser, is someone they would never be able to award again. Yet he still lost, upholding a stat that has held since 2010, where a Best Actor winner has only come from a film also nominated for Best Picture.

If Fraser overcomes all of this, I’ll eat crow. But I’m not sure his narrative is enough to best equally acclaimed actors in much bigger and far more beloved films (especially someone like Butler, who is giving an equally showy transformation, and as a music legend no less). Sure, Fraser won the Critics Choice Award after Butler and Farrell won the Globes. But this reminds me more of how Michael Keaton won the Critics Choice Award for Birdman (with a Globe already under his belt as well that Fraser doesn’t have), while the newcomer transforming into a historical icon in a biopic (The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne) went on to win the rest of the industry awards including the Oscar – with this year’s “newcomer transforming into a historical icon in a biopic” being Austin Butler, of course.

Fraser’s last hope is SAG, which I see as a battle between him and Butler, though I do have Butler ahead right now. BAFTA meanwhile is where Farrell needs to make his last stand to be a real threat for the trophy, though I see that as a battle between him and Butler, since both Banshees and Elvis received Best Film nominations and Elvis overperformed dramatically. Honestly, there’s a world where Butler wins literally all of the rest of the industry awards including the Oscar – a la the aforementioned Redmayne – but I will admit the race is far from ran just yet, with Farrell being bigger competition for him than Fraser due to the love for Banshees having to manifest somewhere, and Farrell having a long, successful career actors may want to honor.

Best Director

Daniels, Barry Keoghan and Martin McDonagh, and Todd Field

I think you could make a case for any of the men in this year’s Best Director line-up except for Ruben Östlund (sorry buddy, but happy to see you here!). However, I’m still very bullish on Daniels, and pretty cynical on Steven Spielberg’s chances. Not only has The Fabelmans underperformed almost all season long, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that Spielberg didn’t even make the BAFTA’s longlist for their Best Director category (his film ultimately only received one nomination total), and how he didn’t win any critics awards for Best Director except for NBR (which hasn’t lined up with the Oscar winner since Martin Scorsese for The Departed – in 2006).

In contrast, Daniels are helming the Best Picture frontrunner, led the critics awards by WIDE margin, and have the showy directorial achievement that tends to win in this category. Their win here may depend on their success (or failure) in the category we’ll discuss next, but as of now, they truly do just check all the boxes, and they’re one of two “directors” to have been nominated for every industry award – with the other being The Banshees of Inisherin‘s Martin McDonagh. I (and assumedly, many awards voters) regard Banshees as more of a writing achievement than a directorial one, but McDonagh stands a chance at winning BAFTA should his film overperform, so we can’t count him out just yet.

And then there’s Todd Field, the wild card. If Cate Blanchett doesn’t win Best Actress, is this where voters will choose to award TÁRTÁR is the only film in the Best Director line-up that has corresponding Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing nominations, which often correlates to a win here (though Alfonso Cuarón and Bong Joon-ho have recently bucked that trend), and he won some pretty major critics prizes too, including LAFCA. Additionally, after Daniels, he does seem to have the most stereotypical and grand “directorial achievement” of the bunch. I still think Daniels being a bit “showier” will give them the edge, but Field could be nipping on their heels if we’re looking at an upset.

Best Original Screenplay

Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Banshees of Inisherin

A lot of us have been feeling for awhile that Everything Everywhere All at Once vs. The Banshees of Inisherin in Best Original Screenplay would be a repeat of Get Out vs. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri five years ago, and here we are: Banshees won the Golden Globe (as 3BB did), EEAAO won the Critics Choice Award (as Get Out did), and now Banshees is the frontrunner for the BAFTA (as 3BB was), and EEAAO is the frontrunner for the WGA with Banshees ineligible (as Get Out was when 3BB was ineligible). If EEAAO wins this, it doesn’t even matter if it wins Best Actress, Best Director, or Best Film Editing (as we’ll soon discuss) – with a locked win for Ke Huy Quan in Best Supporting Actor and this screenplay award, it can follow the Supporting Acting Award + Screenplay Award path that films like 12 Years a SlaveMoonlightGreen Book, and CODA took to Best Picture and not worry about anything else.

However, there is always the possibility that voters choose this to be the one place to award Banshees and McDonagh (even though he is already an Oscar winner for Best Live-Action Short Film, for 2004’s Six Shooter), especially if they’re throwing their support behind Daniels in Best Director. Or Daniels could win both as EEAAO wins Best Picture, as Bong Joon-ho did for Parasite, Alejandro González Iñárritu did for Birdman, The Coen Brothers did for No Country for Old Men, and so on and so forth. I’m leaning EEAAO right now, but this could be a nailbiter, especially if Banshees‘ other potential wins don’t pan out and support is still strong enough for it to take home a trophy somewhere.

Best Cinematography

Elvis and All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Cinematography got a BIG shakeup when supposed frontrunner Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. Now, there really isn’t a frontrunner, but most believe the race is between Elvis‘ Mandy Walker (who would be the first woman ever to win, should she come out on top) and All Quiet on the Western Front‘s James Friend. What helps Elvis is the fact that it is the only film in contention to have received nominations from ASC, BSC, and BAFTA.

All Quiet meanwhile showed up at BSC and BAFTA, and for many, it “feels” like the more conventional Best Cinematography winner with its vast vistas and staggering shot compositions. However, Elvis is a bright and bombastic affair that may have simply stupefied enough voters’ senses to eke out a win here, especially as it appears poised to overperform across-the-board. We’ll know more when we see who pulls ahead at ASC and BAFTA, but if Top Gun wins either of those awards, we’re back at square one.

Best Film Editing

Everything Everywhere All at Once and Top Gun: Maverick

Best Film Editing has been between Everything Everywhere All at Once and Top Gun: Maverick all year long, and it will continue to be until the very last second of this awards season. And the precursors won’t tell us much on this one either, since ACE splits their awards between Drama and Comedy, giving both films a chance to take home a trophy (though BAFTA could be more helpful). The stats favor Top Gun, as the last time a film won Best Film Editing without any Sound nomination (as would be the case for EEAAO) was in 2006, with The Departed. Meanwhile, Top Gun doesn’t just have a Sound nomination, but it’s the frontrunner to win Best Sound.

Still, the editing in EEAAO is so singular, showy, memorable, and acclaimed that it may be able to overcome these obstacles anyway, especially since it already has the Critics Choice Award under its belt. Not getting into Best Sound isn’t a great sign for EEAAO, but you can also make the case that it may have shown up in a year where there were still two Sound categories – one for Editing, one for Mixing – and that we’re in new territory now in year three of this condensed category. Regardless, this one remains too close to call, though stats do make me favor Top Gun ever-so-slightly (and EEAAO doesn’t need this award either).

Best Production Design

Babylon and Elvis

The production design in Babylon speaks for itself, and had it managed a Best Picture nomination, it would be a slam dunk to win this award. Unfortunately, it did not. And doubly unfortunately, many – myself included – are already predicting it to win Best Original Score. Can we really predict a film that didn’t get a Best Picture nomination to win two of its three Oscar nominations? That seems a little too risky for me. And it’s not as if Babylon is entirely unchallenged here either, as two-time Best Production Design winner Catherine Martin (for Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby) is behind the PD in Elvis, and she has a history of winning this award and Costume Design when she’s up for both awards (another category where Elvis is the current frontrunner).

You certainly can’t say Elvis isn’t almost as showy, with its bombastic style elevating it above standard biopic status and helping make it as successful as it was. However, Babylon has that old Hollywood recreation that voters have gone nuts for with films like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Mankand it just happened to win the Critics Choice Award as well. Or maybe it’s neither of these films and instead Avatar: The Way of Water, which is the sequel to a film that won this Oscar and just released a fancy new featurette highlighting its ravishing and revolutionary production design this time around specifically. This is another category that has too many potential outcomes to predict until we hear from the precursors, but for now, on account of Babylon‘s underperformance across-the-board and Elvis‘ overperformance, I’ll lean towards the latter.

Conclusion

My full current Oscar predictions are as follows:

Best Picture: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Actor: Austin Butler – Elvis

Best Actress: Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Supporting Actor: Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Supporting Actress: Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Best Original Screenplay: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Adapted Screenplay: Women Talking

Best Cinematography: Elvis

Best Costume Design: Elvis

Best Film Editing: Top Gun: Maverick

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Elvis

Best Original Score: Babylon

Best Original Song: RRR

Best Production Design: Elvis

Best Sound: Top Gun: Maverick

Best Visual Effects: Avatar: The Way of Water

Best Animated Feature: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Best Documentary Feature: Fire of Love

Best International Feature Film: All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Animated Short Film: My Year of Dicks

Best Documentary Short Film: The Elephant Whisperers

Best Live-Action Short Film: Le Pupille

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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