Oscar nomination voting officially starts today and will run until January 16th at 5pm PT. It’s been another long awards season and we at Next Best Picture fully understand voters might need some assistance as to which contenders to vote for when casting their ballots. There are a number of films, performances, screenplays and technical aspects that we’ve appreciated from this year, so we put together a few 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: Greta Lee – “Past Lives”
What else can I say that already has yet to be said about Greta Lee’s indelible performance in “Past Lives?” As great as Celine Song’s film is, it’s important to emphasize how much of it works because of how Lee interprets Song’s vision of Nora. Nora is so emotionally complex, trapped between two worlds and two different loves. Lee is able to proficiently convey this seemingly torn personality with ease. Although it’s clear that Nora knows who she is as an individual, the way Lee can convey a somewhat entirely different essence with her opposing scene partners is remarkable. Lee’s attention to the tiniest of Nora’s idiosyncratic traits makes her feel alive to the audience. Every longing glance, every reserved smile, and every sarcastic (yet endearing) line reading never goes unnoticed. It feels somewhat intrusive at times like you can read every thought running through Nora’s mind because Lee can effortlessly evoke every detail with her facial reactions alone. It’s an incredibly reserved performance that only builds towards an emotional climax that tears at your soul. Greta Lee not only gives one of my favorite performances from the past few years, but It’s a performance that can only grow in admiration after each rewatch. The Academy would be making a mistake by not recognizing this performance.
Best Actor: Andrew Scott – “All Of Us Strangers”
First of all, let’s get something out of the way. The Academy has a horrible history of recognizing LGBTQ+ performers. And yet, they love tossing trophies at straight actors for portraying non-straight characters. In this century alone, 12 non-LGBTQ+ actors have won Oscars for playing queer roles (Brendan Fraser was one such winner just last year), and that counts more than triples if you include nominees. This year alone, we’re likely to add to that number if Annette Bening (“Nyad“), Bradley Cooper (“Maestro“), and Emma Stone (“Poor Things“) receive nominations. At the same time, the only out actor to ever win an Oscar for playing such a role is Angelina Jolie for “Girl, Interrupted,” where she plays an ambiguously sexually fluid character. Luckily, several LGBTQ+ actors are playing queer roles who are decidedly in the race for an Oscar nomination this year, including Colman Domingo (“Rustin“), Jodie Foster (“Nyad“), and Andrew Scott (“All of Us Strangers“). Scott is a talented performer who has mostly made a name for himself on British television, notably as the infamous “Hot Priest” on “Fleabag.” “All of Us Strangers” represents a massive leap in his career as the lead of a major independent film. Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s movie is a devastating, moving journey that bends time to seek emotional clarity for Scott’s character – a lonely, single, middle-aged gay man who was orphaned at a young age. Throughout the film, Scott is totally captivating. He’s sympathetic without being pitiable and manages to find somehow new areas of the human soul to excavate. It would be easy for him to return to the same beats with every new meeting with his ghostly parents, but Scott is an intelligent actor who discovers new levels of nuance and shades between emotions. He would be a worthy pick for Best Actor.
- Cody Dericks
Best Supporting Actor: Charles Melton – “May December”
2023 was a banner year for breakout performers, in part thanks to the sublime vulnerability of Charles Melton in Todd Haynes’s “May December.” Alongside the work of Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, Melton surprises as the film’s acting stands out. He plays Joe, a young man trapped and manipulated into a relationship with a much older woman (played by Moore). With a layered screenplay by Samy Burch, the story follows long-buried truths about the relationship, particularly Joe’s inner turmoil. The role of Joe is a complex opportunity for Melton to exercise tremendous subtlety and intensity. He has the challenge of portraying the energy of a child stuck in a grown man’s body. As the film progresses and Joe becomes increasingly aware of his own reality, you discover more and more layers to Melton’s work. The control and nuance of his performance are fascinating to watch. Whether it’s a deep stare into the distance or a shaky build-up toward an emotional confrontation, Melton brings forth a tremendous screen presence that causes you to ponder every little gesture. When the end credits of “May December” roll, it’s the character’s devastating emotional state that haunts you. It’s the expression of mixed feelings on Joe’s face when he watches his children graduate. Melton is the shining star of “May December” and encompasses the very definition of what makes a true supporting performance.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Kelly Fremon Craig – “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
Sometimes, you strike gold and inspire a generation with your work as Judy Blume did with her 1970s coming-of-age novel, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” It was only a matter of time before the story was adapted for the big screen, but Blume really struck gold twice when Kelly Fremon Craig decided to take the screenwriting reins for the 2023 film. Craig has shown audiences worldwide that she can beautifully express the awkwardness and complexities of growing up, regardless of the time period, first seen in “The Edge of Seventeen” and now “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” With her second feature film, she delicately balances something as earth-shattering as moving from the city to the suburbs in a tween’s eyes to the joys you get from spending time with your family. Craig writes about a complex theme such as religion in an easy-to-digest way, allowing audience members to think about its role in their lives, just like Margaret. We don’t have to be a young girl growing up in the ’70s to connect to Margaret, and that’s possible because of Craig’s brilliant and inviting writing. The adapted screenplay field is already shaping up to be a tight race, but “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is a deserving contender.
- Ema Sasic
Best Original Screenplay: Chloe Domont – “Fair Play”
The fact that “Fair Play” is a debut feature is remarkable enough. Still, what really makes writer/director Chloe Domont’s original screenplay so Oscar-worthy is the narrative confidence she brings in laying out her thrilling tale of love and loyalty in the cutthroat world of high finance. Domont clearly lays out her finely detailed characters: financial analysts on the rise. Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are co-workers who are in a secret romantic relationship that’s forbidden by their company. An executive position suddenly opens, and although Luke expects to receive the promotion, it is Emily who gets the job, causing the power in their relationship to shift suddenly and irreparably. Because the film’s critical romantic scenes are so intense, many critics compared the scripts to such sexual thrillers as “Basic Instinct” or “Fatal Attraction,” but I would argue that view sells Domont’s complex screenplay short. In “Fair Play,” she displays far more interest in the power dynamic between men and women, painting a perceptive and unsettling portrait of the destructive power of the fragile male ego. In that sense, a more apt comparison should be to the classic dramas of Billy Wilder, and for a writer, there’s no higher compliment.
- Tom O’Brien
Best Costume Design: Stacey Battat – “Priscilla”
Despite high praise from audiences and critics alike, Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” has not performed well during this awards season. After its release last fall, the film seems to have lost steam and was even left off the Best Makeup & Hairstyling shortlist. As with the makeup and hairwork in the film, the costumes go a long way to show Priscilla Presley’s evolution from a naive 14-year-old to a young woman who has to grow up way too quickly. Stacey Battat — who previously designed costumes for other Coppola films, like “The Beguiled” — has crafted outfits for Priscilla that are period-appropriate and accurate to the character’s emotional state. The costumes are, in a way, a sort of plot device, such as when Elvis gives his brutally honest opinions about dresses she tries on; this type of scene wouldn’t work without Battat’s impressively designed costumes. Even though lead actress Cailee Spaeny’s beautifully nuanced performance carries the film, the costumes combine to create memorable looks.
Best Film Editing: Michael Andrews – “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
“Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” was already heralded for its frantic pacing and blend of animation styles to create a thrilling cinematic experience that was refreshing for viewers in 2018. Nearly every aspect of that film’s unique production was expanded upon and kicked up not one but several notches in the sequel, “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse.” It’s a dazzling feat of animation that features some of the very best action sequences of the year, always moving at a fast pace, except during several crucial scenes. It’s the moments where the film slows down to focus on the down-to-earth interactions between Miles and his parents or Stacey and her police captain father that the film truly transcends any genre or medium to set itself apart and further etch a timeless spot for itself in cinematic history. Most animated films don’t do such a thing, opting instead to move at a hurried pace throughout. But “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” is a much better film for those moments of reprieve, nuance, and gravitas. At 140 minutes, it’s the longest American studio-produced animated film to come out, and yet it earns every moment of that runtime. Guillermo del Toro spoke so eloquently last year about animation being taken seriously as a medium within the film community and by awards bodies. Animated films can be considered for more than just Best Animated Feature Film, and although the film has been Oscar shortlisted for its visual effects and score by Daniel Pemberton, this is yet another area the film should be receiving some form of acknowledgment as it continues to push boundaries of what is possible within the animation.
- Matt Neglia
Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen – “Asteroid City”
The production design in Wes Anderson’s films is famously fussy and detailed, but there’s a starkness to the main sets in “Asteroid City” that feels completely new and completely appropriate. The film’s elaborate theatrical conceit gave production designer Adam Stockhausen plenty of license to let his imagination run wild, but he mostly kept things grounded, allowing the sets to reflect the existential crisis faced by the characters of the play within a TV show within a movie. That doesn’t mean the sets aren’t fun to look at, though. That half-completed onramp to nowhere is one of the most strikingly memorable sets of the year, lending the main storyline an almost apocalyptic feel, which is smartly mitigated by the delightful mid-century science fiction elements (that spaceship! those kiddie inventions!) that you would expect to see in a Wes Anderson film set in this period. But that’s not all, as the layered narrative allows for gorgeous wood-paneled interiors, elaborate backstage mess, and even a pair of balconies that capture the romance of Broadway in beautiful black & white. It’s varied, detailed, imaginative period work that looks like nothing else, and if that’s not worthy of an Oscar nomination, then I don’t know what is.
- Dan Bayer
Best Original Score: Joe Hisaishi – “The Boy And The Heron”
Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s classics, it’s impossible to think of “The Boy and the Heron” without also thinking of Joe Hisaishi’s exquisite music. From “My Neighbor Totoro” to “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” Hisaishi’s musical scores give Miyazaki’s films much of their wonder and heart, grounding his dreamy worlds in minimalist piano and lush strings that gently let us know everything will be okay. Yet, “The Boy and the Heron” required something new, telling a story that’s at once Miyazaki at most autobiographical and most surreal, about a troubled twelve-year-old boy grieving the loss of his mother. From the familiar setting of World War II Japan and into a dreamworld that might as well be Miyazaki’s subconscious, Hisaishi’s score is sparse and caustic while always beautiful, with a haunting set of cues that grow and swell as the film transforms with it. Hisaishi begins with deep but simple piano chords and severe strings, withholding his full orchestra for the film’s most climactic moments. He knows exactly when and how to take our breath away. It’s one of the year’s best scores, the kind of intricately detailed and synergetic music that could only be born from one of cinema’s most fruitful director-composer partnerships, reuniting for one more masterwork.
- Brendan Hodges
Best Original Song: Meet In The Middle – “Flora And Son”
After a disappointing snub for “Drive It Like You Stole It” from “Sing Street,” it’s finally time the Music Branch of the Academy nominates John Carney. With two spots on the Best Original Song shortlist, “Flora and Son” should not be overlooked when voting on the five nominees. While two “Barbie” songs will make the final lineup, “Meet in the Middle” is head and shoulders above most of the shortlisted tunes. Co-written by Carney, his frequent collaborator Gary Clark, and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Eve Hewson, “Meet in the Middle” is a light-hearted, romantic track about a long-distance fling. It’s charming in that classic Carney way, with winking jokes alongside genuine emotion. “Barbie” aside, some emotionally heavy songs are on the shortlist, but seeing “Flora and Son” among the lineup would be a sweet surprise. Few in the industry have done more than Carney to modernize the movie musical. Throughout his last four films, he’s brought brilliant songwriting to the screen, but the Academy hasn’t yet recognized him personally. “Meet in the Middle” is one of the best movie songs of the year, endlessly listenable. Let’s make John Carney an Oscar nominee.
- Daniel Howat
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 an Oscar nomination? Please us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.