Can you feel the buzz in the air? Festivals are launching, trailers are dropping, and campaigns are rolling out. Oscar season is truly, finally here. With the Venice Film Festival already in full swing and in advance of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, Next Best Picture has launched our first official predictions of the year (as well as our brand new website). While I did propose some way too early predictions in the aftermath of the 94th Academy Awards, the whole NBP team is weighing in now, giving us our first look at what sorts of consensus is developing pre-festivals. As awards season rolls out, let’s look at some of the big takeaways from the team’s first predictions…
THE FABELMANS IS OUR FRONTRUNNER
The early consensus is clear: the team thinks Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” is the film to beat. Nine out of twelve of us are predicting “The Fabelmans” to win Best Picture. Spielberg has only won Best Picture once with “Schindler’s List” but has come close numerous times. With “The Fabelmans” shaping up to be Spielberg’s most personal film to date, there’s much hope the Academy could reward him yet again at this later stage in his career as one final acknowledgment of his unquantifiable contributions to the industry. Universal certainly seems confident enough, as “The Fabelmans” will mark Spielberg’s first-ever film to play at the Toronto International Film Festival. For the NBP team, it’s not just a frontrunner in Best Picture. “The Fabelmans” also takes the collective number one spot in Best Director, Supporting Actress (for Michelle Williams), Supporting Actor (for Paul Dano), Original Screenplay, and Original Score. In fact, every single one of us is predicting Michelle Williams to win her Oscar this year finally.
Still, things may not be so simple. As many pointed out on Twitter this week, in the last 15 years, only two Best Picture winners were directed by someone who had previously directed a Best Picture nominee. In other words, fresh nominees for Best Picture tend to win Best Picture. That poses an uphill statistical battle for Spielberg, along with numerous other directors in the conversation.
“EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE” AND “TOP GUN: MAVERICK” ARE STILL CONTENDERS
Eleven out of the twelve members of the NBP team are predicting “Everything Everywhere All At Once” to land a Best Picture nomination, with Danilo Castro as the lone holdout. One team member, Zoe Rose Bryant, predicts the film to win Best Picture. It’s A24’s highest-grossing movie ever and one of the best-reviewed films of the year, but will it be too strange for the Academy? The NBP team doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu are also in the top five of their respective acting categories. As “CODA” proved last year, an early release date and atypical awards presence doesn’t disqualify a film from contending for Best Picture, and like that film, this multiverse film has the passion from its supporters to go all the way.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is another early release that the NBP team is betting on. All twelve of us are predicting “Top Gun: Maverick” to score a Best Picture nomination. It’s the box office story of the year. No one could argue that this is right up the Academy’s alley. Interestingly, for this feat of filmmaking, only two NBP members, Matt Neglia and myself have Joseph Kosinski in our top ten for Best Director. The Academy has increasingly recognized this sort of technical directorial achievement (making a ton of money also helps), so it’s interesting to see the team’s confidence in a Best Picture nomination but hesitation in Best Director.
WOMEN TALKING, AND SHE SAID
Only two projects from female directors feature prominently in our predictions thus far, and both are similarly named: Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” and Maria Schrader’s “She Said.” Polley was previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for her film “Away From Her,” which also received a nomination for Best Actress in 2006. Now, our entire team believes she could break into Best Picture for the first time. Featuring Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley, along with a stacked ensemble, as Mennonite women confront their religious oppression, “Women Talking” couldn’t be more timely. In addition to Best Picture, our team predicts Sarah Polley could easily snag a Best Director nomination, along with Jessie Buckley scoring her second nomination in a row in Best Supporting Actress.
NBP is a bit more split on “She Said,” the story of the journalists taking down Harvey Weinstein. Half of the team is predicting the film to receive a Best Picture nomination, though not one of us is predicting Schrader to receive a Best Director nomination. The team seems unsure of what to do with the film at this early stage. Will the Academy embrace a film that, at least to some degree, makes them look bad? Will the film be too similar to recent Best Picture winner “Spotlight” or three-time nominee “Bombshell?” And what of its stars, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan? These questions will have to wait until “She Said” premieres at the New York Film Festival this fall.
MARGOT ROBBIE VS. CATE BLANCHETT
In our team’s predictions for Best Actress, Margot Robbie has a decisive lead for her role in Damien Chazelle’s upcoming old-school Hollywood epic, “Babylon.” Seven team members are predicting her to win her first Oscar. Chazelle has already directed two Oscar-winning performances, so it’s easy to imagine this could be Robbie’s time. With only two Oscar nominations, it’s interesting to see her considered “overdue,” but I think that perception could play out in her favor this season.
On the other hand, Cate Blanchett, a two-time Oscar winner already, could shake the race up with her performance in Todd Fields’ “TÁR.” Judging by the trailer for the film, it’s one of the more artistic and abstract pieces that could be in play this season, but Blanchett appears to be undeniable. Will the Academy give her a third statuette? They’ve done that twice in the last decade, with Frances McDormand (“Nomadland“) and Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”).
It’s still possible a fresh nominee will shake up the race. Dan Bayer predicts Naomi Ackie could be the first Black woman since Halle Berry to win Best Actress for her portrayal of Whitney Houston in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Meanwhile, I’m currently predicting Michelle Yeoh to maintain momentum through this season for her career pinnacle work in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
HUGH JACKMAN VS. BRENDAN FRASER
An even closer head-to-head is shaping up in the team’s predictions for Best Actor. Eight of us are predicting Hugh Jackman to win for “The Son,” while three are sticking with Brendan Fraser for “The Whale.” I’m the lone outlier, predicting Colin Farrell will finally get his due for Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Jackman and Fraser are pretty beloved within the industry and will win over plenty of voters when they’re each on the campaign trail. Jackman is a previous nominee (“Les Miserables“), while Fraser’s buzz is based on a comeback narrative. So who’s in better shape this early in the season?
With “The Son,” director Florian Zeller is coming off of significant awards attention for “The Father,” a Best Picture nominee and Adapted Screenplay winner that garnered Anthony Hopkins his second Best Actor trophy. Can Zeller direct back-to-back Best Actor winners? The NBP team seems to be fairly confident in the prospects of “The Son” overall, placing it in our collective top tens for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. Broad support for a film is typically needed to win Best Actor.
The last film to win Best Actor without a Best Picture nomination was Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” in 2009. Only two NBP team members are currently predicting “The Whale” to snag a Best Picture nomination. If Fraser is going to win, the film likely needs to be an overall player. Without that, it would be an uphill battle, comeback narrative or not.
SKEPTICAL OF BLOCKBUSTERS
With several blockbusters in the race, the NBP team’s initial predictions show a healthy skepticism toward their above-the-line chances, “Top Gun: Maverick” aside. “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” both sequels to Best Picture nominees, don’t appear in any of the above-the-line races for our consensus top tens. Only one team member, Zoe Rose Bryant, predicts “Avatar: The Way of Water” will score a Best Picture nomination. None are predicting “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” to show up at this time.
Still, both appear prominently in the craft races, notably in Best Cinematography and Visual Effects. Will either film meet the level of awards recognition that its predecessor received? The NBP team isn’t counting on it.
What films do the team not see as contenders, judging by these first predictions? One notable title is David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam.” Russell’s last four films received dozens of combined nominations, yet his latest film is only mentioned twice in our above-the-line predictions. Zoe Rose Bryant and Dan Bayer have Christian Bale in their top ten Best Supporting Actor contenders. Below the line, the film fares a little better, showing up a few times in Best Cinematography, Costume Design, and Makeup & Hairstyling. Still, this paltry showing is a far cry from Russell’s films’ grip on the Academy just a few years ago.
After a controversial Best Picture win with “Green Book,” Peter Farrelly is back with “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.” The NBP Team doesn’t have much faith in the awards prospects on this Vietnam War-era action comedy. Only Josh Parham has the film landing in his Best Picture predictions, though I suspect that’s due to a lack of faith in the Academy. Elsewhere, two team members have the war film in their Best Sound predictions. Otherwise, the team doesn’t expect Farrelly to be back in the race.
“Till” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” show hesitation in the NBP team’s first predictions. For “Till,” all twelve of us are predicting Danielle Deadwyler in our top ten for Best Actress, placing her at number six on our consensus ten. We also think the film’s adapted screenplay could be nominated, landing at number eight on our consensus ten. Otherwise, the film doesn’t show up in any other categories for us. Likewise, Naomi Ackie appears at number five on our consensus ten for Best Actress, just above Deadwyler. One team member, Zoe Rose Bryant, also sees Ashton Sanders as a potential nominee for Best Supporting Actor. There are no other predicted nominations for the Whitney Houston biopic. Could these two films be acting-only plays? The team seems to think so.
After the success of “Call Me By Your Name,” director Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet reunite for “Bones & All.” The romantic horror film isn’t exactly in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and the NBP team isn’t optimistic about its awards chances. The movie only appears in seven of the team members’ Best Adapted Screenplay predictions and nothing else. Will this recapture the magic of “Call Me By Your Name,” or zero out like Guadagnino’s last horror film, “Suspiria?”
Almost none of these films have been widely seen yet, so these predictions are merely speculative. As the festivals roll out, some contenders will fall by the wayside, but many will rise. Which films do you think we’re underestimating? Which of them do you think we’re giving too much credit to? Before many of these are seen, what’s your guess for what our next Best Picture Oscar winner will be? Keep an eye on our predictions throughout the season as they shift and update. Stay tuned to our coverage of all the major film festivals this fall.
You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk