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The Oscars 2023 - The Long and Short of It

I think it’s fair to say that your mileage may vary on whether or not the Oscars - the Academy Awards, Hollywood’s Big Night - matters in any way shape or form to the industry or in any way at all to yourself, for that matter. As someone who for the past three years now has asked, begged and cobbled together a gaggle of friends to stay up for the ceremony each year on GMT (midnight until around 4am) and found it be a rather uphill struggle, I understand it’s not a commonly excitable evening of television. Does anybody still care other than those completely entrenched in the industry? Even last year, when the biggest event to happen in Oscar history in some time occurred (a certain matter regarding words in or out of people’s mouths), the friends I was watching with were outside smoking, requiring me to rush out and yell “you have no idea what you just missed!”. But the long and short of it when it comes to the nominations for 2023 are as they usually are… some things reek of the past and some things herald a new future for the Academy and the industry as a whole. But let’s just say the truth, which is that these sorts of things happen every year and then next year it will all stay the same and it will all change again.

Patterns are everywhere. Sometimes those patterns mean something and sometimes they don’t. Every year for the past decade or so, the race for Best Picture has fallen between a large crowd-pleasing favourite and an independent darling - La La Land and Moonlight (who won that one again?), Coda and The Power of the Dog. There are always films that are repeatedly given an abundance of nominations but ultimately lead to very few Oscars in hand; The Irishman perhaps the most blatant case in recent memory. But again these patterns on the night fail to mean much of anything as they are repeatedly bucked and shirked. For now, however, it seems clear where the front-runners lie. Firstly, Best Picture. I don’t think the tremendous love and adoration for Everything Everywhere All At Once can be ignored, although I personally was mixed on the picture, I understand that this is a film where an entire cult has already been established and that the film has indeed been accepted by many as one of the great modern films – but when it comes to the Oscars’ preferential voting, I feel like this will either be a lot of people’s No. 1’s or a lot further down the ranking. Whereas a film like a Tar or even The Banshees of Inisherin will be a lot of people’s No.1’s but also their No.2’s or No.3’s if not. And all those top three placements could add up to a win. However are we all forgetting about how much just about every single person loved Top Gun: Maverick? In my circles and on all the media I listen to, I have found very few people who adamantly hate Maverick nor for that matter dislike it that greatly. The memory of Maverick remains for many, but does feel slightly out of place in Oscar voters recent memory, or could be thwarted by a typical Academy mentality regarding prestige and what ‘deserves’ to be a Best Picture winner. There could be a late stage swell, however it seems very belated at this stage. My gut feeling, not that I like it, is that we are looking at a big evening for Everything Everywhere All At Once and that my beloved Tar will possibly only go home with Best Actress for the perfect Cate Blanchett. Todd Field’s sensational screenplay may even be knocked out by my also very much loved The Banshees of Inisherin, with the Academy’s fervent love for Martin McDonagh not being something one can ignore easily.

Pictured: Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson sup stout in Martin McDonagh's The Banshees of Inisherin.

Let’s talk about overall nominations and if they mean anything. As already mentioned, the era of Titanic and Return of The King winning over and over again throughout the evening is gone, with a balanced spread being more in favour. Even La La Land, which received a record tying 14 nominations didn’t take the main prize and only ended with 6 wins in the end. Although I would love my favourite films to sweep, I don’t mind the way the spread works out some times. It offers a more balanced and varied array of winners for the historical element of the awards, which is for me still the most important part of the ceremony (even if time after time the ‘wrong’ films win and history forgets them immediately, with them simply becoming trivia questions for people to forget; Eg. How Green is my Valley over Citizen Kane). Again, we have to talk about Everything Everywhere, which received the most nominations with 11, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Banshees of Inisherin just behind them with 9, then Elvis with 8 (go for it, why not, as long as it doesn’t win), The Fablemans with 7 and my two favourite films of the list; Top Gun: Maverick and Tar both with 6. The Maverick nominations that people were hoping for didn’t materialise regrettably, with no nods for Best Director or Best Actor, however this could indeed be a case where, when people are voting, despite not seeing a huge swath of nominations they still end up giving it the win for Best Picture – but looking at the past this would be highly irregular. It could occur and stranger things have happened at the Oscars. I just can’t get over that gut feeling (that again, I can’t say I like) that this year there will be a sweep when it comes to Everything Everywhere. It’s certainly a fresh and audacious film and hopefully a win for it would spur a boost in original mid-budget films once more, however I think more than anything it could spark a backlash, that I wouldn’t be a part of with great vitriol, but I certainly would be slightly in agreement. Like all of these things opinions are opinions and just because the mass opinion is one thing doesn’t mean that does genuinely make it the best, at the end of the day these sorts of awards are all pure pageantry and you either enjoy that sort of thing and think it holds any sort of credit, or frankly and quite simply you don’t. Diversity is also a factor under much discussion with these nominations. After the Academy’s growth of members and increased diversity among voters, it begs the question of why there are still so few black nominees in acting and so few women nominated for directing? Sometimes, no matter how many diverse voices are voting and nominating, overwhelming numbers sometimes take the films that are less diverse in-front or behind the camera still to the top. In regards to Asian representation however these nominations are a joyous evening, even if it is down to a love for Everything Everywhere, rather than a spread of varied films.

Stephanie Hsu (left), Michelle Yeoh (centre) and Ke Huy Quan (right) all received acting nominations for their performances in Everything Everywhere All At Once.

In regards to the acting categories this is where the tightest races are and, with the upcoming awards, certain front-runners may force their way through. For now it seems to be a nice open race, especially in Best Actor with three strong candidates in Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell and Austin Butler. All three are genuinely deserving winners, but my ranking would be Farrell, Butler, Fraser. It is also wonderfully exciting to credit that all of the five people nominated for Best Actor are first-time Oscar nominees, as well as three of the five Best Actress nominees, four for Best Supporting Actress and four of the Best Supporting Actor. These lists do include many familiar faces, but it does show some sort of shift towards praising and crediting new performances rather than familiar Oscar favourites. And while that may very well be down to the fact that there was no Meryl Streep movie to nominate, it is a wonderfully exciting statistic to say, to dispute and then to somewhat cynically reject.

My own personal awards will be coming soon, for the hundreds and thousands of you who await those awards with just as much anticipation as the Academy Awards. But it has to be said that I am currently at sea and about 8 or so of the strong contenders I have been unable to watch. This is the first time this has happened quite literally since I became a die-hard Oscars viewer around my early teens. For some, this may have been like a reverse intervention situation and by distancing oneself from the awards and the films, one could find a whole new appreciation for the world of film beyond such simply reductive awards. But on the contrary, I am filled with anger that I cannot see every nominated film and that I can’t see the ceremony live. Why? My favourite films are in contention (not my very favourite films, but that’s another matter – live long Babylon lovers, time will avenge us), but still just like any sport or race, we can’t help but root for those we support. Did I think Mank was going to win anything at its Oscars? Not a chance, but I was still chanting ‘Mank Sweep, Mank Sweep’ at every nominated possibility. Why do we do this? Why do we fall for this pageantry? Will this sort of system implode eventually? I doubt it. How could it? It’ll just continue in the corner forevermore and I will be there to watch and anticipate and comment forevermore myself.

Thomas Carruthers is a featured writer for Left Brain Media. You can find his other work here.

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