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"Insider" Film Critic Laurence Lerman's Oscar Picks

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

By Laurence Lerman / New York City



 

Laurence Lerman

The 95th Academy Awards will be held this Sunday, March 12, at 8:00 pm EST and broadcast live around the world on ABC.

This gathering marks The Insider’s third year of coverage of the much-anticipated annual event, and we’re confident the 2023 show will be as markedly different from last year’s gala as 2022’s was from the previous gathering.

For starters, in 2021, in response to the pandemic, the Oscars ceremony was held at downtown Los Angeles’s Union Station. A nervous nation watched as the nominees and presenters mingled outside of the terminal and rotated in and out of the venue to allow space for physical social distancing. Last year, the show returned to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood (since renamed Ovation Hollywood), its home since 2002, and this year’s show will be held there once again.

After three years of Oscar ceremonies sans hosts, 2022’s show found Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes sharing the duties. This year, the job will be taken on by a returning Jimmy Kimmel, who oversaw the proceedings in 2017 and 2018. Kimmel’s first stint hosting in 2017 was the show that memorably climaxed with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announcing La La Land as the Best Picture winner. It took several minutes of on-stage confusion before the statuette was rightfully awarded to the makers of Moonlight.

“Being invited to host the Oscars for a third time is either a great honor or a trap,” Kimmel joked in a statement in November when it was announced he was taking the reins again. “Either way, I am grateful to the Academy for asking me so quickly after everyone good said no.”

Another notable difference is that unlike in 2022, all 23 categories will be included in the live broadcast. Last year, eight categories—editing, production design, make-up and hairstyling, original score, sound, live action short, documentary short, and animated short—were presented off the air, with highlights edited into the live show. Needless to say, this action didn’t go down to well with virtually anyone in the industry, hence the immediate change for this year.

As for the awards themselves, the 2022 Oscars made some noise in terms of shattering a glass ceiling or two. Apple TV’s drama CODA, directed and co-written by Sian Heder, became the first film released by a streaming service to bring home the prize for Best Picture, while its lively co-star Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to win an acting Oscar (in this case, for his supporting role).

Meanwhile, West Side Story’s sizzling Ariana DeBose became the first openly gay woman of color to be nominated for—and win—an Academy Award in an acting category (Best Supporting Actress).

Winners notwithstanding, this remains the most memorable moment of last year's Oscars
Winners notwithstanding, this remains the most memorable moment of last year's Oscars

Prior to his being awarded Best Actor for his performance in King Richard, Will Smith famously took to the stage and assaulted comic/actor Chris Rock in one of most unforgettable viral moments in the history of the Academy Awards. Smith won’t be around this year to repeat it, as he’s been banned from the gala and other Academy events for the next 10 years.

Who knows what the movie gods have in store for the 2023 Academy Awards? Remove all the buzz and glamour and the other glittery flotsam and jetsam and you are left with the movies, and there were a number of fine ones in 2022.

As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic (it’s not as pronounced, to be sure, but it’s still among us!), the frustrating politics that invade our day-to-day lives and the violent war that continues to rage on the other side of the world, I think it’s important to take a breather from the serious stuff to acknowledge—and enjoy!—the restorative properties of some really good movies.

And so, I come here to offer my predictions on the Big Six categories for the 2023 Academy Awards. Read on to see who I’m thinking will triumph this year.


 

My Picks and Predictions


(from left) Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh and James Hong in Everything Everywhere All at Once
(from left) Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh and James Hong in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Picture:


Everything Everywhere All at Once

Top Gun: Maverick

All Quiet on the Western Front

The Fabelmans

The Banshees of Inisherin

Elvis

Tár

Avatar: The Way of Water

Women Talking

Triangle of Sadness


What would I like to win: Everything Everywhere All at Once

What will win: Everything Everywhere All at Once

They don’t come much more original or non-traditional than EEAAO, the anarchic, over-the-top adventure that plops such genre elements as action, comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, martial arts and animation into a Cuisinart and cranks it up to 11. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as “The Daniels”), the film’s takes on such philosophical concepts as existentialism and absurdism as it tackles far-ranging themes like family dynamics, depression, wish fulfillment, generational differences and Asian-American identity.

EEAAO’s production elements are simply outstanding, particularly for a large-scale, metaverse-hopping film with a budget of under $25 million. The editing, visual effects, production design, costumes, action sequences and central performances by Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis are all sterling.

So, even while EEAAO didn’t grab me from the get-go and didn’t wholly work for me by the close, damn, I’ll say that it was as startling and refreshing as they come. And if a strange, independently made film that arrived on the scene as an outlier can garner a huge international audience and get people talking like this one did, then it deserves to be honored (as it was at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and a slew of critics organizations).

And you gotta love those hot dog fingers!

Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Directing:


Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin

Todd Field, Tár

Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness


Who would I like to win: Steven Spielberg

Who will win: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

The Best Director race is going to come down between éminence grise Steven Spielberg and rising stars The Daniels, with each holding vastly different appeals to the multi-generational Academy voting base. For Spielberg, it’s the respect he commands with older Academy members for his decades of lauded work and the autobiographical and very revealing story he chose to put forward in The Fabelmans.

And for The Daniels, it’s about younger Academy members choosing the new over the old and rewarding an exciting new voice that’s taken bold cinematic steps forward in their approach to narrative filmmaking while exploring the mysteries of the universe (and metaverse).

Both Spielberg and The Daniels have picked up Best Director honors at various previous awards shindigs, so I’m not sure how much that will play into the tallies. It feels really up the middle, but I’m going to call it for The Daniels, who took a wildly out-there premise, mounted a dazzling-looking and engaging film and wangled a remarkable amount of emotion out of it.

As for the 76-year-old Spielberg, he’ll always be The Man—(1993’s Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in one calendar year—enough said!) and definitely still has great work and more awards ahead of him!


Brendan Fraser in The Whale
Brendan Fraser in The Whale

Actor in a Leading Role:


Brendan Fraser, The Whale

Austin Butler, Elvis

Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin

Bill Nighy, Living

Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Who would I like to win: Brendan Fraser

Who will win: Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser returned to the conversation as an obese and reclusive English professor hoping to reconnect with his estranged daughter in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. Lauded by critics and on the 2022 festival circuit, his was as surprisingly powerful a comeback performance as one could imagine by the star of such mainstream smashes as The Mummy (1999) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) and art house darlings like Gods and Monsters (1998) and The Quiet American (2002).

True, Fraser has popped up in a number of titles over the past decade but nothing that’s come even close to showcasing the talent that he taps into for The Whale (yes, with a fat suit to help inspire him). And Hollywood just loves a comeback story, right?

As for Austin Butler, he showcased some startling range in Elvis and, yes, the Academy tends to dig real-life figures (see Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in 2017's Darkest Hour and a bunch of others). But he’s young and still has a lot of time…


Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Actress in a Leading Role:


Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Cate Blanchett, Tár

Ana de Armas, Blonde

Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans

Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie


Who would I like to win: Cate Blanchett

Who will win: Michelle Yeoh

In a career that dates back to Hong Kong shoot ’em ups and Jackie Chan fight flicks in the mid-Eighties, followed by decades of regular Hollywood work, Michelle Yeoh triumphs in her role as a hard-working family woman who’s plunged into a dimension-hopping adventure to save the universe from being wiped from existence. She keeps Everything Everywhere All At Once’s on-screen craziness grounded (well, as grounded as it can be) with her deft handling of the film’s dizzying mix of action, comedy and drama.

Still, even as her probable victory works for me, I preferred Blanchett’s remarkable performance as fictional composer Lydia Tár, and all the vanity, trauma, anger and confusion that accompanies it. Ditto Michelle Williams for her simply glowing take as the mother to a surrogate Steven Spielberg in Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans.


But Yeoh has got some serious momentum behind her with her victories at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild shows, and she speak to a large international audience who’ve been watching her grow from genre ass-kicker to seasoned actress over the past four decades.


Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once
Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Actor in a Supporting Role:


Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin

Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin

Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans

Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway


Who would I like to win: Ke Huy Quan

Who will win: Ke Huy Quan

Ke Huy Quan is hot, hot, hot following his victories at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards and Screen Actors Guild honors, and there’s no reason to think he won’t follow it up with an Oscar victory. The boy who debuted as the high-kicking Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom back in 1984 is now a seasoned Hollywood veteran whose role as the goofily timid husband of EEAAO’s metaverse-traversing Michelle Yeoh provides a strong secondary heart to the adventurous film (after Ms. Yeoh’s, of course),

Watch Quan take it home as part of a potential Everything Everywhere All at Once sweep.


Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Actress in a Supporting Role:


Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin

Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Hong Chau, The Whale


Who would I like to win: Jamie Lee Curtis

Who will win: Angela Bassett

A toughie this year: a victory for Stephanie Hsu or the always fun Jamie Lee would certainly help certify the aforementioned EEAAO sweep, but I think the Academy will want to spread the wealth where it’s reasonable. And as a nod to other performers, particularly to one of color who isn’t Asian, the very deserving Angela Bassett is primed to take the prize this year. She’s certainly warrants a high-profile honor and has for 30 years since she rocked us as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It back in 1993. Her regal bearing as the Queen of Wakanda hits hard in the hit Black Panther sequel and an award here would mark the first-ever Oscar recognition for an actor in the Marvel Comics Universe, which could also be considered overdue.

But oh, Jamie Lee! I’ve loved you since the 1977 TV series Operation: Petticoat (based on the 1959 comedy by the same name, starring your daddy Tony) followed by your 1978 debut as Laurie Stroud in the brand new Halloween franchise. But I don’t think your wonderful performance as IRS auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdre is gonna be awarded Oscar gold, though I’ll continue to smile at your winning speech at the Screen Actors Guild awards a couple of weeks ago, where you declared, “What a f*cking dream, man!”


 

So, there we go! Once again, as every year, we want to hear from you, both through the contest and on this very page! Leave a comment and tell me what you think—hell, tell me that you disagree with me! I can take it—and I’m always up for a good argument!

And while we’re at it, back up a month or so and consider all the nominations. No Paul Dano for Best Actor (or even Best Supporting Actor) for his quietly devastating low-key take on Steven Spielberg’s surrogate father character in The Fabelmans? (It was less showy than Michelle Williams’ mother, but no less calculated.)

And how about the Best Director breakdown? All five nominees are up for what are essentially art-house films, despite there being three massive, nearly industry-saving blockbusters in the Best Picture lineup. I’m talking about Avatar: The Way of Water, Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick, helmed by James Cameron, Baz Luhrmann and Joseph Kosinski, respectively. All three directors made films—solid, entertaining films—that people actually left their homes to see in theaters!

And no nominations?

I’m a viewer who loves both art-house fare and mainstream movies and I truly believe that a moviemaker who swings big and goes for the fences, earns critical and audience kudos, and sells tickets comes out of the gate as an award-winner!



Click below to enter The Insider's Oscar Contest:


 

Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.

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