Earlier this week, Lainey wrote about Tom Cruise’s awards season campaign strategy, which so far amounts to “let the movie speak for itself”. Cruise himself has been scarce, but Top Gun: Maverick is coming back to theaters to remind the town how big this movie is, how immediately beloved, and how it saved theaters. Avatar: The Way of Water will end the year on a high note, money-wise at bare minimum, but Maverick is the movie that got the ball rolling. It’s not a bad strategy for Cruise, who is admired but maybe not beloved by his peers. But what about those who are both widely admired AND beloved? One thing that is shaping up this awards season is the sheer number of races that involve mega-watt names. We might end up remembering this Oscar season as the icon season for all the heavyweights lining up to campaign.
Two of the biggest names in the (early) race have milestone awards coming up to goose their Oscar odds. Steven Spielberg, who already has two Oscars for directing, is a frontrunner for Best Director with The Fabelmans, which is receiving the Vanguard Award from the Palm Springs International Film Awards. The award goes to Spielberg and the principal cast of the film. Palm Springs is always a stop on the campaign trail for the number of (older) Academy voters who reside there, at least part of the year. Right now, Spielberg is favored to win his third directing Oscar, though The Fabelmans is abandoning theaters after only one month to go to home streaming on VOD. Once upon a time, a film like this would play strong and steady through the holidays, then get a new year’s boost once Oscar nominations are announced. That math no longer works, though, in a landscape where only spectacle movies like Maverick can linger in theaters for months.
Spielberg is pretty much a lock for a nomination, but Angela Bassett is not. Though Disney-Marvel is concentrating their award efforts behind her performance as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Best Supporting Actress is a tough category this year. The cast of Women Talking alone could fill the nominations, never mind Kerry Condon (Banshees of Inisherin), and Hong Chau and Sadie Sink from The Whale, plus outsider runs from Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once) and Gabrielle Union (The Inspection). Bassett has a lot of competition, but she’s due to get a boost from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, who is giving her their Montecito Award. Like Palm Springs, Santa Barbara is a campaign stop catering to the industry expat set.
Spielberg and The Fabelmans probably gets a better deal, though, as their event in Palm Springs is scheduled to take place on January 5, and Oscar nominations open on January 12. They’ll be fresh in everyone’s mind as they start making their selections for nominations. Bassett’s honor isn’t given out until February 9, weeks after the nominations have closed. Given how competitive her potential category is, timing like that matters. Still, it’s good she’s getting her flowers regardless, because Bassett is one of the standouts in Wakanda Forever, a movie that must have been an emotional black hole to make (the more I think about it, the more existentially horrifying the making of that movie is).
I don’t know if Bassett can pull off a nomination—no one has yet been nominated for acting in a Marvel movie—but she’s such an icon, her presence alone might overcome that bias. That’s what is so interesting about this Oscar year. It’s titans vs. titans almost across the board. Spielberg’s biggest challenger, right now, is James Cameron! It doesn’t get bigger than that. The Oscars have had a blockbuster problem for two decades now. This might be the year that changes that, on name recognition alone.
Live long and gossip,