This year, the stats aren’t likely to help guide you when it comes to predictions. Predictions are something you’re going to have to FEEL, like SOME MOVIES YOU FEEL. That’s slightly harder to do if you spend a lot of time on Twitter, because Twitter is a vibe. Increasingly, though, Twitter and the Oscar race are becoming one in the same vibe, much like Twitter and politics. It’s the water cooler but it’s also the panopticon that watches everyone, everywhere, all the time. Oh, if only art could tell the truth. The stories we could tell.
There are two realities. There is actual reality — what people say when no one can hear them — and there is our manufactured reality, the one we all pretend to go along with while being watched and monitored for thought crimes. Who will be the one found out today? Who will say the wrong thing, back the wrong movie, like the wrong tweet, vote for the wrong person.
So much of what we’re navigating through in the acting races this year seems to revolve around everything but what it should be about: how good the acting actually was. Of course, that’s subjective. What we respond to varies. Some people like non-performances, when they just reflect reality or minimalist expressions. Then there are people who like big, broad performances. Some measure greatness by level of difficulty, how different do they appear on screen compared to how they are in real life?
Ultimately, a great performance comes down to this:
Do you KNOW this person?
Do you BELIEVE this person?
A great performance takes you out of yourself and into the story.
But that’s isn’t really what we’re measuring this year. Some of it is. Some of it is just how the race has rolled out, the stories and narratives that have emerged. Some of it we can’t measure because we just don’t know. We have no idea how much influence BAFTA voters will have. We just know we have a completely different set of winners at BAFTA and SAG. And that is rare.
We’ve only seen one other time when the BAFTA voters almost completely rejected the consensus pick and that was in 2014 when Birdman won. But if you look at that year overall, there was a strong consensus. In fact, that year, the acting categories matched 100%:
But there was no doubt that Birdman had struck a chord with the industry here that didn’t really cross the pond. The consensus seemed to be with Boyhood, until the PGA whipped it around in a different direction, so it’s possible the BAFTA would have caught the wave. And in fact, they voted before the blitz of the PGA and SAG. It’s possible that if they were voting right now their picks might have been different. Who knows.
Either way, it is curious how unaligned things are this year and, really, the past few years. Much has happened both in our country and in the industry to account for these changes. Dramatic changes in voting at BAFTA, for one thing. An “inclusivity mandate” at the Oscars to take effect next year, and a near-complete overhaul of all institutions of power, including the film industry after the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 (AKA “The Great Awokening”).
And let’s not forget the Golden Globes apocalypse which had them canceled, then putting themselves back together again with a network show on a weeknight. The Globes were good enough that they’ve got their weekend slot back again going forward.
The slow and painful death of Hollywood itself, disappointing box office for prestige films, a last minute rally for All Quiet on the Western Front, and the surprise success of Top Gun: Maverick have all been factors this year. But the biggest factor, without a doubt, is still identity. This isn’t just about race or even about gender — it’s about empathy and sympathy for those who exist on the margins. There seems to be a collective sentiment online to see Cinderella stories play out.
These are “Oscar stories,” like this:
Brendan Fraser on reuniting with his ENCINO MAN costar Ke Huy Quan this awards season: “I was effusive and I said, ‘We’re still here.’ He said, ‘That’s right, we are.’” https://t.co/FFa3KhQL4u pic.twitter.com/GY4wtzLfo2
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) March 1, 2023
I am sensing (and I’m sure you are too) that Brendan Fraser’s “Oscar story” is more compelling than Austin Butler’s because the role he plays ties into his own career somehow. There is an emotional hit people might get from seeing him win.
And then there’s Michelle Yeoh. After the story about Andrea Riseborough broke, Yeoh was the first to step up and defend her, and try to keep the focus more on their work and less on, say, inclusivity, as she told Deadline:
“I love [Viola and Danielle] to the extreme and wish we were all getting Oscars, but it’s tough,” she added. “It took me 40 years to even get a nomination. Every single actor and actress puts their heart and soul into these movies and you don’t necessarily start thinking you are going to get nominated. The stories we want to tell are more important.”
It was a brave stand she took at a time when everyone else was talking about race and racism. But between then and the SAG Awards, her messaging shifted. Then she hit the note hard about inclusivity. The reason being, that gives voters the chance to make history. And why wouldn’t they want to do that in a category that has shut out nearly every kind of actress except white women?
If you watch this video with Michelle Yeoh, you are going to want her to win and badly. You know you’re going to get a major Cinderella moment, with a packed house at the Dolby standing on its feet for the first woman of color to win in Best Actress since Halle Berry in 2001. This video is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Just try to resist her:
This matters, of course, and most definitely makes the difference. These two are your likely winners for the Oscar largely due to the response they received when they won. It’s one of those things — when you recognize that feeling, you want to repeat it.
When I first started my website in 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was up for Best Picture. I remember how badly we wanted Michelle Yeoh to get in one of the acting categories, so I did a quick search in the Wayback machine to see what I’d written about her, and I found this paragraph:
But of course, that was a competitive year and she didn’t make the cut. But that was over 20 years ago. She was also more or less ignored for Crazy Rich Asians. It seems like for Yeoh it’s never been her turn. So why wouldn’t the industry want to give her this much-deserved win? I can’t think of any good reason.
Does that mean Cate Blanchett won’t win? Of course not. She COULD win. The BAFTA voters could drive her through. Riseborough is also going to be a factor here. The people who got together to pick her on their ballots might still vote for her, which would lead to a split vote scenario and I have no idea how that might turn out.
Moving on to Supporting Acterss, this is also really complicated because Jamie Lee Curtis gave a banging speech at the SAG and, per the smart publicist advising her or perhaps her own instincts, she hit the “over 60” note hard too. If she and Yeoh both win, is that the first time that the two actress categories are won by women over 60? Who isn’t going to root for that?
Angela Bassett and Kerry Condon are still potential winners, Condon especially. With all of the love for Banshees, and nine Oscar nominations, are they really going to go home empty-handed?
Stats aren’t going to help us because the stats ain’t what they used to be. These charts I made track the acting races from 2009 through to 2022 and it’s very easy to see how dramatically they changed after 2019-2020. They used to be much more uniform, but events have absolutely shaken up Hollywood and shaken up the voting patterns.
So look at it this way, friends: your guess is as good as mine. The stats are not your friend this year. You have BAFTA’s complete shut out of Everything Everywhere All at Once, and you have the film industry’s over-the-moon response to it. Somewhere in between these two extremes the Oscar will reside.
One key thing to note — the most acting trophies a Best Picture has ever won was 2. In the era of the preferential ballot, they max out at one. They tend to like to split up the votes in the major categories. True, EEAAO broke the record at SAG with 3 and won the PGA/DGA. So you could be looking at a very rare sweep making and breaking history. Who knows.
I suspect at the end of the day the winners will be winners that make these particular voters feel really good — feel good about themselves, about the recipients, about their industry, about their world. I figure that this moment in history, we have just moved through has forever changed the Oscars and sealed their fate. All that’s left to do now is strap in and enjoy the ride.