The Oscars used to be more reliant upon the free market: big stars used to drive the box office, and thus big stars often drove the Oscars. Take, for instance, the first year I covered the Oscars when Gladiator won Best Picture. Russell Crowe and Julia Roberts were huge stars who could open movies. Both won Oscars that year, and naturally, people would watch the Oscars. So far, so good.
Cut to 2022, and almost everything has changed. We do, however, have two films that were driven by their central male performances to box office success: Top Gun: Maverick with $700 million and Elvis, which made $150 million. By any measure, these are successful films at a time when box office is taking a pounding.
This is our year’s most successful movies so far from Box Office Mojo:
Let’s go back to 2019, prior to COVID:
When we look at 2019, we see that spectacle drove the box office much more than celebrities. That is in keeping with what many have said about the film (and Oscar) industry of late: that celebrities have lost a lot of their power. It isn’t just that they’re on Instagram and social media, giving us way too much information about their lives. They seem to want to be “relatable,” but in so doing, that makes them more accessible to us. That means we’re less likely to want to pay to see them on the big screen.
Or maybe it’s the rise of reality TV and social media. Or maybe it’s the rise of superhero movies. Whatever it is, we don’t seem to have as many movie stars who can open movies the way they used to. But we do have two this year: Tom Cruise and Austin Butler.
When you look back at the all-time box office adjusted for inflation, what I see more than almost anything is spectacle. Gone With the Wind was to movies what World War I was to humanity: they’d never seen anything like it before. It changed everything. Titanic was spectacle, mixed with the rise of Leonardo DiCaprio. Jaws was spectacle. But that wasn’t the only reason people went. Clearly, “family entertainment” was and remains a big draw at the box office. As long as we have spectacle at the movies, we will have audiences, I figure.
And speaking of spectacle, that surely propelled Everything Everywhere All At Once to its $68 million, maybe even The Woman King and, without a doubt, Jordan Peele’s Nope. It was an art movie that made $120 million. That’s kind of incredible.
Best Actor and Best Picture
With the sole exception of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, all Best Actor winners in the era of the expanded Best Picture lineup have been in Best Picture contenders. I went even further back, all the way to 1996, and found that even when there were only five Best Picture contenders, more often than not the Best Actor winner had a Best Picture nomination.
The Best Actor winner doesn’t seem to predict the Best Picture winner, with two exceptions since 2009: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech and Jean Dujardin for The Artist. Otherwise, they split the prizes.
Those that won (since 1996) without a Best Picture nomination were:
Denzel Washington, Training Day
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
That’s it. Along with Jeff Bridges, those are the three since 1996.
Could this be a year where a Best Actor winner takes it without a corresponding Best Picture nomination? I mean, I guess so. But at this stage of the game, you’d have to imagine that if they’re good enough to WIN, the movie would have to be good enough as well.
The big news in our world is that Dave Karger, aka The King, is BACK. He’s returned to his old home at Entertainment Weekly and has put out his first list of Oscar predictions for the season.
His list for Best Picture looks like this:
- The Fabelmans (Best Actress probably maybe a supporting actor)
- TÁR (Best Actress)
- The Banshees of Inisherin (Best Actor frontrunner, according to Dave)
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (maybe Best Actor?)
- Women Talking (supporting actresses)
- Empire of Light (Best Actress, Supporting Actor)
- Babylon (Best Actor maybe, Best Actress/Supporting Actress)
- Avatar: The Way of Water
- Everything Everywhere All At Once (Best Actress)
- Top Gun: Maverick (Best Actor maybe)
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
- Elvis (Best Actor frontrunner <—should be in for Best Picture)
Now his Best Actor predictions:
- Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin (Best Picture predicted)
- Brendan Fraser, The Whale
- Hugh Jackman, The Son
- Jeremy Pope, The Inspection
- Gabriel LaBelle, The Fabelmans (Best Picture predicted)
- Austin Butler, Elvis (Best Picture predicted)
- Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick (Best Picture predicted)
- Adam Sandler, Hustle
- Christian Bale, The Pale Blue Eye
- Daniel Craig, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Best Picture predicted)
- Adam Driver, White Noise
- Tom Hanks, A Man Called Otto
Let’s see how Best Picture is shaping up over at Erik Anderson’s AwardsWatch:
1. The Fabelmans (possible Best Actor)
2. Women Talking
3. Everything Everywhere All at Once
4. Babylon (possible Best Actor)
5. The Banshees of Inisherin (Best Actor frontrunner)
6. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (possible Best Actor)
8. Triangle of Sadness
9. The Whale (possible Best Actor)
10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
12. Decision to Leave
13. Empire of Light
14. All Quiet on the Western Front
15. Top Gun: Maverick
16. She Said
17. The Son
18. Avatar: The Way of Water
19. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
20. The Woman King
Here are Erik’s Best Actor predictions:
1. Brendan Fraser – The Whale (Best Picture predicted)
2. Austin Butler – Elvis
3. Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin (Best Picture predicted)
4. Hugh Jackman – The Son
5. Diego Calva – Babylon (Best Picture predicted)
6. Daniel Giménez Cacho – Bardo, or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
7. Bill Nighy – Living
8. Michael Ward – Empire of Light
9. Park Hae-il – Decision to Leave
10. Song Kang-ho – Broker
11. Daniel Craig – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
12. Paul Mescal – Aftersun
13. Jeremy Pope – The Inspection
14. Kelvin Harrison Jr. – Chevalier
15. Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans
16. Adam Driver – White Noise
17. Will Smith – Emancipation
18. Harris Dickinson – Triangle of Sadness
19. Tom Hanks – A Man Called Otto
20. Jim Parsons – Spoiler Alert
I don’t think it’s that much of a coincidence we’re not quite getting the same level of strong male performances we’re used to getting, the main reason being in the past two years there has been an effort to push films by and about women. We’re certainly getting a lot of those this year, which explains why the Best Actress race is as strong as it is.
But be that as it may, there are still some rules to be taken. Apparently, there is chatter here and there about Will Smith and whether Academy members can forgive him for that traumatizing event last year (I was there, I know). But the thing is, they aren’t allowing him to attend the ceremony, so his behavior won’t be an issue here. If they’re thinking “we won’t welcome him back,” that’s different from “he gave one of the best performances of the year.” Given the subject matter and his skill as an actor, I’m going to go ahead and say that he will be a very strong performance that they can’t ignore.
So, at least for my part, I am going to predict Will Smith at this time based on those factors and not his rep in town. It’s true that private behavior can sometimes zotz a person from awards, but Mel Gibson got in for Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge because enough people liked the movie. It’s really as simple as that.
Actors aren’t so petty they would not recognize great work. If it isn’t a great work, then they won’t nominate it. This isn’t going to be decided by critics or Film Twitter. Actors will nominate the acting categories. Since actors rule the Academy, actor-led films tend to dominate the Best Picture race.
Austin Butler’s performance of Elvis is one for the ages. Film Twitter doesn’t seem to be too keen on it, but I’m not sure what movie they saw. If there is one thing that we know for sure right now, it’s that no one has given a better performance so far. I haven’t seen Banshees of Inisherin yet, but in general, a transformative work trumps a good performance where no transformation exists. Now, as I said, I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know how far Colin Farrell goes — but in general, if you’re up against transformative performances like Austin Butler in Elvis or Brendan Fraser in The Whale, you’re going to have a harder time overcoming that. Maybe.
Put it this way: if you want to completely kill the Oscars in the ratings, leave off Austin Butler, one of the few star-making turns this year that spread to popular culture and would have people actually tuning in to watch the Oscars. Butler is incredibly popular, especially with the Zoomers. How stupid would they have to be to leave off both Austin Butler and Top Gun: Maverick?
This is what I’m thinking for Best Picture right now, with a grain of salt. It will change. Don’t hold me to it.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Avatar: The Way of Water
Alts: Top Gun: Maverick, The Son, The Whale, Emancipation, Empire of Light, The Woman King
And for Best Actor, I’d go:
Austin Butler, Elvis
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Will Smith, Emancipation
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Diego Calva, Babylon
Alt: Hugh Jackman, The Son
And the charts: