Oscar voting officially started yesterday and will run until March 7th. It’s been another long awards season and we at Next Best Picture fully understand that voters might be confused as to which films to vote for with so many worthy nominees. There are a number of films, performances, screenplays and technical aspects that we’ve appreciated from this year, so we put together a few final FYC pleas down below just in case if any Academy members happen to read this with their empty ballots in hand looking to make a final decision on what to vote for.
Best Actress: Michelle Yeoh – “Everything Everywhere All At Once”
I don’t need to remind everyone of the history Michelle Yeoh would make by winning Best Actress – as only the second woman of color ever to do so and the first Asian actress to achieve such a feat – since we’re all already painfully aware of those sad statistics. Nor need I remind us of the staggering scope of this international screen legend’s 40-year-long career, which has spanned countries and genres since 1984. These narratives are inextricably linked to Michelle Yeoh’s Best Actress campaign. Still, at the end of the day, Yeoh deserves to be called an Oscar winner for the merits of her personal, powerful, and passionately poignant performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” alone. We’ve seen Yeoh do drama before. We’ve championed her in comedies, too. And we’ve most definitely never doubted her ability to kick ass. But never has Yeoh been given the opportunity to do all three at once in a film in which she is its shining star – a film that simultaneously doubles as an ode to her stardom and all she’s accomplished in her career thus far. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime role that resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and truly, I should say performances, as Yeoh plays not just one Evelyn Wang in this film, but an infinite number of Evelyns, all of whom feel astonishingly real from the first second we meet them. Whether this alternate Evelyn has hot dogs for fingers or supernaturally strong pinkies, Yeoh finds the humanity amidst the absurdity of every alternate universe she traverses and roots each Evelyn’s arc in emotional realism. Of course, this is never more apparent than it is with “Evelyn Prime,” a disenchanted middle-aged laundromat owner and immigrant whose sadness over the state of her own life has ruined her relationships with both her husband and her daughter – and could unintentionally bring about the end of existence as well. Each evolution in Evelyn Prime’s emotional journey is expressed so effortlessly by Yeoh, who, from the first frame, fills her with a wrenchingly relatable world-weariness that soon transforms into shock, which gives way to existential exhaustion, and, ultimately, a wholehearted embrace of the life she’s been given to lead and the people who provide it with meaning. Yeoh is the one who ushers us through this unconventional, idiosyncratic odyssey, and though the Daniels deserves all the acclaim and accolades they’ve earned for making this cacophonous chaos look and feel coherent as well, it’s undeniable that a film as frenetic as this would’ve fallen apart without a star as sturdy as Yeoh steadying the ship from scene-to-scene. It’s not just that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” would be nothing without Michelle Yeoh – it’s that Michelle Yeoh IS “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” This movie that has made the world believe in the magic of original storytelling once more only exists because of Michelle Yeoh, giving a performance we’ve never seen onscreen in a revolutionary role that actresses – especially actresses of color – don’t even dare dream of. But, against all odds, here she is. And as “Everything Everywhere All At Once” ends this awards season as the heavy favorite to take home the top prize at the Oscars, there’s no reason the face of this film should go home empty-handed either.
Best Actor: Austin Butler – “Elvis”
Typically, an actor inhabiting the role of a familiar historical figure can be expected to gain positive attention from the Academy. That so many of these performances have recently been showered with awards has created an understandable frustration from those who hope to see actors playing original characters get as much attention and praise. Typically, I would share this frustration. However, Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis Presley is far from typical. Resemblance to Presley aside (with which Butler is gifted), Butler burns bright through “Elvis‘” 160-minute runtime in a performance that masterfully recreates that which made The King so special as a man and as a performer. Butler does not hold back for a moment, perfectly keeping pace with the film’s maximalist aesthetic through classical acting techniques akin to the dramatic idols of the mid-twentieth century. Each word, movement, and expression is electrically charged. Compared to some of his colleagues who have won Oscars for playing cultural icons, his performance soars beyond impersonation and lands at the truth. Butler’s acting abilities are evident in his uncanny and captivating physicality during his onstage sequences. At only 31, he inhabits the role of a man exhausted by decades of performance while obtaining his livelihood and happiness from it. Here, we have the birth of an undeniable star, an actor who has shown his inherent charisma and natural talent in the role of a lifetime.
- Eve O’Dea
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Women Talking”
Members of the Academy should vote for Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” for Best Adapted Screenplay, which is not only the best film in the line-up but is also the best screenplay nominated here. Polley, who also directed the film, so excellently adapted Miriam Toews’ novel — a difficult task, to be sure. Toews’ novel is based on real events and won multiple prestigious awards, so rewarding the impeccable screenplay makes sense. Polley has crafted memorable, clever, heartbreaking, and sometimes funny dialogue brought to life by a top-notch ensemble. Polley manages to make the daunting task of women talking in a hayloft work, and instead of feeling stagey, her script comes alive and is precisely written. Each character is given a chance to shine, often through dialogue, and the principal characters are all given monologues that speak truth to the characters and their situations. Every character is fully developed, even though the story primarily takes place over a short period of time. When the film ends, all of their arcs seem authentic and believable. Also, Polley’s script deals with difficult, heavy subject matters delicately and intelligently, straying far from stereotypes and/or cliches. Polley’s “Women Talking” is the kind of true adaptation that deserves to win here.
Best Original Screenplay: “The Banshees Of Inisherin”
Martin McDonagh, in one of his best screenplays to date, tackles the fallout of choosing to pursue creative goals over human connection, as well as themes of loneliness and nihilism, in a way that’s accessible to audiences. His allegory for the Irish Civil War taking place on the mainland is devastating and whip-smart for characters criticized for being dim. The screenplay strikes this perfect balance of comedy and devastation amidst a friendship breaking down for seemingly no reason. The captivating performances of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan are supported by the strength of McDonagh’s screenplay. Despite taking place in 1920s Ireland, the story of “The Banshees Of Inisherin” feels remarkably timeless yet strikingly current to society’s moment in time. This is McDonagh’s third nomination for Best Original Screenplay; he was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay with “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” With such a strong screenplay as “The Banshees Of Inisherin” is, now is the time to honor his creative prowess with an Academy Award.
Best Cinematography: “All Quiet On The Western Front”
We’ve seen countless well-shot war films throughout cinematic history. It seems any time a war film is in the Oscar race, it receives a nomination for Best Cinematography. Whether it’s static shots of well-framed compositions, stark contrasts in lighting, shaky handheld camerawork to illustrate the chaos of battle, or elaborate long takes used to immerse viewers into the horrors of war, the genre offers cinematographers a plethora of options to play with as they attempt to tell the story as effectively as possible. What James Friend captures with “All Quiet On The Western Front” combines all these techniques and more as his camera plunges us right into the thick of WWI, where the battlefront is anything but quiet. With an artistry that matches and recalls the stunning work of Emmanuel Lubezki, Roger Deakins, and Janusz Kaminski, James Friend may not be as well known at this stage in his career as those titans within the field. Still, his work on Edward Berger’s haunting, brutal, and beautiful adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic 1929 novel should catapult his name up to their level and kick-start a new stage in his career.
Best Original Score: “Babylon”
If any Oscar voters are reading this, I plead with you to vote for “Babylon” for Best Original Score. Justin Hurwitz completely shifts gears from his more somber work on “First Man” Instead, Hurwitz delivers a bombastic yet equally infectious score that encapsulates everything Damien Chazelle hurls at viewers on screen. We are energized by the clash of rhythmic drums and injecting percussion work from tracks like “Coke Room” We are charmed by the romantic saloon-esque piano theme that is the core of the “Manny and Nellie” theme. The “Gold Coast Sunset” track is swooning as your ears are serenaded to a classical crescendo on a whole other level. Hurwitz’s use of vocals throughout the entire score range from tribalistic to haunting. It ties to the animalistic and hedonist nature that was the norm before Hollywood became repressed for many years to come. Chazelle and Hurtwiz’s collaboration is an iconic pairing we rarely see. I doubt there is anything that will come close to Hurtwitz’s score for “Babylon” for years to come.
Best Sound: “Avatar: The Way Of Water”
“Avatar: The Way Of Water” was the most successful blockbuster of the past year. A true spectacle in every sense of the word that excelled and exceeded with its visual effects and scrupulous direction by the king of the worldwide box office, James Cameron. But one of the critical factors that makes “Avatar: The Way Of Water” work as well as it does in immerses us in the alien world of Pandora is its sound. The sound team not only builds upon the work established in the first film, but they make the transition from the forest life in the previous film to oceanic life and expand the soundscape of Cameron’s sci-fi epic. There is a well-detailed art of expression that comes with the characters’ lifestyle in which they adapt to new sea creatures that they form bonds with. The level of emotions experienced during these downbeat scenes fuel the action scenes later to come. The layered work from the sound team for this over three hour long film without exhausting our ear drums is brilliant. Also, because the same sound team here lost for the previous “Avatar” film, this would be the perfect moment to acknowledge their efforts for what is more robust work compared to the first film.
Thank you for considering these contenders in your Oscar voting. For those who are not voting, what would you like Academy voters to consider for the Oscar win? Please us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and be sure to vote on your own 95th Academy Award winners ballot here. Check out our latest Oscar predictions here.