We are getting down to the wire in awards season, with the BAFTAs and the Directors’ Guild Awards occurring over the weekend.
Because of their recent voting changes, the BAFTAs aren’t as central to the Oscar race as they used to be; for instance, despite both giving excellent performances, BAFTA supporting actor winners Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon, both from The Banshees of Inisherin, are unlikely to upset Oscar frontrunners Ke Huy Quan and Angela Bassett (though Keoghan and Condon are completely heartbreaking in this scene, and do deserve recognition. I think about “there goes that dream” a LOT). But there are still some interesting momentum shifts going on as we head into next weekend, the powerhouse pre-Oscar weekend of both the Producers’ Guild and Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, the two biggest branches of the Academy handing out their trophies.
The BAFTAs big winner was All Quiet on the Western Front, which should not surprise you at this point as I have been calling it the classic Oscar bait bet of the year (non-derogatory, it is a very good film) for weeks. It won five awards, including Best Director for Edward Berger, Best Cinematography for James Friend, and Best Film. This is a record haul for a non-English language film, and this could shift momentum for the Oscars. Meanwhile, Outstanding British Film went to The Banshees of Inisherin, which pulled four awards, including Best Original Screenplay for Martin McDonagh, which he is likely to repeat at the Oscars.
The Best Actress race is coalescing around Cate Blanchett, which is fine. Like, who didn’t expect that. Would it be great if it was Michelle Yeoh? Yes. They’re both very good in their respective films, but Yeoh’s job was harder (multiple characters, and playing an embittered woman we still root for, plus all the stunt work). Next weekend will tell us for sure, if SAG breaks for Blanchett, that race is over.
The Best Actor race, however, continues to be very close. Austin Butler clocked another win, but again, SAG will tell the tale. Brendan Fraser has the comeback story, though at this point, Ke Huy Quan has sort of dominated that narrative more than Fraser has, which kind of robs Fraser of momentum.
And an Academy voter in my life pointed this out about Austin Butler recently: he’s been around since he was a kid, he is just now breaking out as a grownup, but he spent his 20s basically auditioning for everyone. They ALL know him, by reputation if not through meetings. And as we have said many times since Elvis came out last summer, everyone loves Austin Butler. There are a lot of people around the industry glad to see he crushed a great role, that he is maintaining a sweet and humble presence on the awards circuit, that he is, as the voter told me, “Still the nice kid I met,” and, “not letting it go to his head”.
Once again, I will await the SAG vote, but I am edging momentum in Butler’s favor. People like Brendan Fraser, but the support for Butler is real, and to people in the industry, his story of grinding it out until he finally bagged that breakout role is its own kind of heartwarming.
Another race with a big momentum shift this weekend: Best Director. The DGA broke for The Daniels, the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, for EEAAO. I am not convinced they can pull off a Spielberg upset at the Oscars, but it’s closer to happening now than it was on Friday. If anything, it might be more of a signal of how Best Picture voting could go. With ten nominees in that field but only five everywhere else, I am fully expecting a split among the top prizes. Once upon a time, Best Picture, Director, Editing, and Cinematography were almost always lock-step, and splits were surprising. Now, though, because of the nominee imbalance, splits will be more common. People can, for instance, reward Spielberg for “his most personal film”, while giving Best Picture to someone else. It could very easily end up Spielberg for Best Director, James Friend (Western Front) for Best Cinematography, and EEAAO for Best Picture. (Best Editing is a tight race between Paul Rogers for EEAAO and Eddie Hamilton for Top Gun: Maverick.)
What it comes down to is this: the top contenders for Best Picture are Western Front, the classic “Oscar movie”; EEAAO, the little film that could, a ray of light in the beleaguered indie sector; and Top Gun: Maverick, the film that saved Hollywood.
EEAAO is currently the favorite, but it’s just weird enough I doubt the old farts in the Academy, which are still legion, will give it an honest watch.
Maverick has Tom Cruise and all the goodwill he’s getting for saving movie theaters, but it also has Tom Cruise and all the sketchiness of Xenu. It’s a question of which matters more to the Academy, the boost Maverick gave movie theaters, or the grudge many hold against Cruise for being an incurable weirdo.
And then there is Western Front, which is the “easy” pick, but it’s also a Netflix movie, and the Academy has been, to date, loathe to give Netflix the big trophy. And remember, the Oscars use weighted voting, so a film doesn’t even need the most #1 picks, it’s actually best to be the most common #2 pick. If everyone splits their top vote, what is most likely to sneak in as #2?
Check out the complete list of winners here.