Now here’s something we don’t get every awards season. Three of the four Acting categories at the Academy Awards are basically photo finishes. There are tight races in the below the line categories, but above the line, these three are basically at pick-em status. Throw in neither of the Screenplay races being sewn up and there’s really only Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor that seem locked up. I’ll be focusing on the three acting fields in question today, but overall, it’s delightful to see some uncertainty in major categories, less than two weeks before Oscar night.
I want to preface this piece by saying how good this is for Oscar. When there are Academy Award ceremonies where everything above the line is a fait accompli, very little excitement presents itself. So, precursor voters have helped make for some impending fun at the Oscars…
First up is Best Actress. For almost the entire season, it has been a head to head battle between Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh. While the latter has her film Everything Everywhere All At Once poised for more Oscar love, the former saw her movie TÁR over-perform during the critics group phase of the season. As such, Blanchett built an early lead, also winning with BAFTA. Then, Yeoh took SAG, setting up this close call.
Right now, there’s come calculus to be done here. Essentially, do you weigh Yeoh’s recent win and the strength that her film is showing more heavily than Blanchett’s early dominance? Blanchett is certainly an easy vote, to be sure, but if enough voters are also checking off Everything Everywhere All At Once in several other categories, why not in Actress as well?
Next, we have Best Actor. What was thought of as a three horse race once the nominations were announced, between Austin Butler, Colin Farrell, and Brendan Fraser, seems to be down to two. Barring a shock where Farrell takes advantage of a vote split and the perceived lack of another spot to honor The Banshees of Inisherin (more on that next), it’s Butler’s turn in Elvis versus Fraser’s in The Whale.
What this comes down to, more or less, is if you think The Whale being more divisive will ultimately take just enough away from Fraser. He has SAG, which always seemed like what he needed, but is it enough? Butler has BAFTA, which seemed like the perhaps more surprising get. Historically, the Academy seems to go with the young emerging star over the veteran who might not be back, but the young star is rarely this young. It’s not quite Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne all over again, but it’s easy to see this race going either way. Fraser has the narrative, while Butler has the sort of biographical role voters rarely seem to be able to resist. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll settle on a winner until the weekend of the Oscars.
The other race is the one for Best Supporting Actress. Now, this is truly a tight trio, where you can make the case for almost any of the three. Early on, Angela Bassett established a lot of momentum, alongside a great narrative, for her work in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Then, Kerry Condon surprised at BAFTA for The Banshees of Inisherin, which made things feel a bit open ended. At least, that was the case until SAG, when Jamie Lee Curtis shocked with her Everything Everywhere All At Once win. Now, it’s truly chaos.
I truly don’t know who I’m going to ultimately predict here. Unless Farrell upsets in Actor, Condon is the hope for her film. At the same time, she might mainly benefit from a vote split between the veterans. There, we have Bassett seeking to get the win some thought she should have had years ago, while Curtis could be rewarded for championing her movie likely across the finish line to Best Picture. All three can make a compelling case. Curtis’ win comes at a particularly key time, since SAG will be most recently on the minds of Oscar voters when they cast their ballots…
Again, this is a good thing for Oscar. When we have this many races up in the air, there’s more excitement for the show, more things to pay attention to, pundit-wise, and frankly, more fun. It all makes for an Oscar night that, now that Best Picture seems sewn up, will have the most above the line nail-biters in some time. It may make my job harder, but all in all, I love it…
Stay tuned to see how these Oscar races turn out!