Oscar season, to some extent, always comes down to consensus—the movies and performances that start popping up over and over, from voting bodies that have nothing to do with each other. Consensus indicates momentum, the ability to appeal to a range of tastes and still pull through. The surprises on Oscar-noms morning are the outliers; the rest are the folks whose names we’d already seen dozens of times. It’s why, even though we’re still awaiting nominations from industry groups (next month, people!), the best-picture race is already closing in.
I’m David Canfield, watching closely as awards groups big and small, regional and national start weighing in with their picks for the best of the year. This week alone, we had the revamped Golden Globes and relatively stable Critics Choice Awards weigh in, and if anything, they’ve completed a narrowing picture of a best-picture category that, outside of a major upset, has started to settle. (Just don’t tell the many long shot campaigns still in full-court-press mode, even as the writing on the wall is starting to show.)
Do the Globe and Critics Choice noms actually matter? Not really, except for the fact that between them, most years, they miss very few best-picture nominees—throw in the annual top 10 from the American Film Institute, and usually you’re barely missing a movie. With that in mind, we’ve got a few front-runners: Everything Everywhere All at Once, which keeps cleaning up in the final tallies; The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s clearest chance at Oscar gold yet; The Fabelmans, holding nicely even as the Steven Spielberg memoir has lost some steam; and, most notably, Top Gun: Maverick, whose saving-cinemas narrative is evidently powering it to the front of this pack. Do not underestimate it.
Over the past month, I’d been hearing lots of positive word around town for the likes of audience hit Elvis, critical darling Tár, and, most recently, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, all three of which haven’t missed a major nod yet—they’re looking more comfortable by the day. And though they missed with AFI, which didn’t miss a single American nominee last year (international productions are not eligible), Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion and Damien Chazelle’s debaucherous Babylon both performed well with the Globes and Critics Choice. Glass Onion is looking like a key boon to Netflix’s best shot at a best-picture nomination, while Babylon met mixed reviews out of its premiere this week.
The Globes snubbed each of the major female-directed movies in this race, all of which were cited by AFI: Women Talking, The Woman King, and She Said. The former, as the best-reviewed of the bunch—and as the likeliest to pick up several other nominations across acting, screenplay, and score—appears to have the best shot to get in, especially since it hasn’t even come out yet. The Woman King was a box-office hit, but couldn’t crack the Critics Choice top 11 (unlike Women Talking), a sign of its weakness in this field. She Said faces the longest odds, still (unfairly, in this writer’s opinion), carrying the stink of being labeled a box-office bomb despite earning strong reviews.
And then there are the insurgents—the movies that can mess with this predictability a little bit. I’m not sure how far the campaign for RRR can go, but if there’s one grassroots international contender that can pull off what Drive My Car did last year, it’s this Indian blockbuster, having already taken home major critics prizes and a spot on the Critics Choice best-picture lineup. It’s still a climb. And the Hollywood Foreign Press Association couldn’t help but show some love to Triangle of Sadness, which feels in this fight to me, judging purely on the reception I’ve gauged out of a few industry screenings. An Academy member at a recent tastemaker event for another contender started giggling at my mere mention of the movie. It’s a ruthless satire of the rich and powerful—what could hit closer to home?