Awards season 2022-23 officially kicked off yesterday with the Venice Film Festival’s opening night and premiere screening of Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, and yes, Barbie has already come up:


But this is not about Adam Driver. Because the official onset of awards season means it’s time to start watching the lists as the prospective Bests vie for position. One of the earliest assumptions is that the Best Actor race will feature Elvis’s Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser, who stars in The Whale, Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play about a grief-stricken and regret-laden man, Charlie, who binge eats following the death of his lover, the man for which he abandoned his family. The Whale premieres at Venice this weekend, before screening at TIFF, where Fraser will receive a Tribute Award for his performance. 

In this house, we love and respect Brendan Fraser, and the prospect of a Best Actor race that comes down to him and Austin Butler is personally affronting to me, because I would LOVE a Brendan Fraser Oscar run, but I also believe what Austin Butler does in Elvis is a once-in-a-blue-moon accomplishment and it looks stupid when the Academy misses on those performances. That said, this is a basic “Icon vs. Ingenue” setup, and while Ingenues do very well on the actress side of the aisle, the Academy is colder to young men—especially the pretty ones. They usually have to wait years, even decades, for their accolades (see also: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bridges). Dude Ingenue wins do happen—Eddie Redmayne won at 32, Butler is currently 31—but it is something to keep in mind as we get into awards season. Fraser the Icon has an edge.


And he has Vanity Fair setting up his Oscar narrative. In a “first look” feature, he and director Darren Aronofsky discuss his physical transformation to play a 600-pound man, which involved hours in the makeup chair and a 3D-printed body suit. You know the Academy loves a physical transformation, but they also talk about Fraser’s emotional and artistic effort. Of the role, Fraser says, “I want to learn from the people I’m working with at this point in my career. I’ve had such variety, a lot of high highs and low lows, so what I’m keen for, in the second half of my time doing this, is to feel like I’m contributing to the craft and I’m learning from it. This is a prime opportunity. I wanted to disappear into it. My hope was that I would become unrecognizable.”

The narrative, then, is Fraser’s transformation, including his work with the Obesity Action Coalition, and treading the fine line of sensitively portraying a person struggling with an eating disorder and resulting obesity without piling onto our society’s fat-phobic tendencies (which we recently saw with Lizzo). But also, this is Brendan Fraser’s second act, his chance to be a “real actor” after his heartthrob days in the 1990s and early 2000s. That kind of ignores the great work he did in earlier films like School Ties and Gods and Monsters, but there is no question that at this point, Fraser is best known for The Mummy and George of the Jungle, both hunky roles. So we have physical transformation and artistic reinvention, if The Whale is even halfway decent, how will the Academy ever resist?