LOS ANGELES — We’re still a couple of months away from Oscar nominations, but, outside of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and its glorious space whales, all the contenders have landed.
Let’s set aside formal predictions for the moment and take a few bold guesses at what might happen if the planets align and a single butterfly’s wings flap in just the right way.
- “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” will earn a nomination
“Toy Story 3” was the last animated movie to earn a best picture nomination, and that was 12 years ago. “Up,” another Pixar classic, had managed the feat the year before, and “Beauty and the Beast” a couple of decades before that. But that’s it. And it’s not like there haven’t been some worthy contenders — “Inside Out,” “Coco,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” I’d even go back and sub in “Frozen” over the genteel crowd-pleaser “Philomena,” if it makes you happy.
So why now, why “Pinocchio”? For starters, Del Toro put a wildly inventive spin on the classic folk tale, leading to some of the year’s strongest reviews. And the fact that the Oscars have returned to a fixed slate of 10 nominees should work in its favor. “Up” and “Toy Story 3” earned their nominations during that two-year window when the film academy mandated a field of 10. Also: It’s not a particularly deep year for best picture contenders. Why not reward greatness — even if “Pinocchio” will be also recognized in the animated feature category?
Then there’s this: At the movie’s AFI Fest premiere earlier this month, many in the audience could be heard crying during the film’s poignant conclusion. Crying is good. Crying wins hearts. Crying wins votes.
- Park Chan-wook will earn a nomination, even if his movie doesn’t
The academy has gone global with its membership the past few years, particularly the directors branch, which has bolstered its ranks with scores of filmmakers from around the world. The branch’s nominations have reflected this change, with Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”), Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) earning nods the past four years, even when their movies (“Cold War” and “Another Round”) haven’t.
Look for Park Chan-wook to run the streak to five for his ravishing thriller “Decision to Leave.” A riveting story of obsession and longing, leavened with wry humor, it’s easily one of the year’s finest films. And Park, recently honored at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Film Gala, has a long resume that includes the iconic “Oldboy” and “The Handmaiden” and, really, too many standouts to mention. The South Korean master would seem primed for his Oscar moment.
- Michelle Yeoh will win the Oscar
From the moment Todd Field’s provocative “Tár” premiered in Venice, it felt like everyone was ready to call this race settled, handing the Oscar to Cate Blanchett for her turn as the title character, a magnificent, monstrous maestro and expert image builder. (Just look at the accented “a” in her name, a garnish manufactured to add a dash of sophistication. Her real name: Linda Tarr.)
And Blanchett may well win her third Oscar, though voters just gave Frances McDormand a third prize a couple of years ago, putting her alongside Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Meryl Streep as women who have won at least three Academy Awards. (Hepburn has four.)
Blanchett absolutely belongs in their company. But it might be a bit too soon for voters to sign off on another threepeat, particularly in a race that will include Michelle Yeoh, who hops between tones and multiverses in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” without missing a beat. “Tár” is a superb movie, but it is chilly. And in the wake of the feel-good weepy “CODA” winning best picture, we may still be in a time when people want to feel their feelings deeply and not have to puzzle their way through a movie that so aggressively demands that they (groan) pay attention.
- Tom Cruise earns a nomination for “Top Gun: Maverick”
OK, admittedly, this looks a little bonkers at first glance. Isn’t Tom Cruise simply playing Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick”? Can you name three ways Pete Mitchell is different from, say, Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher or any other character Cruise has played in the last decade or so? Maybe. Probably not. But what other actor could take a 30-some-odd-year break between blockbuster action movies and still convincingly play an irresistible, arrogant fighter pilot capable of saving the world and not have audiences rolling their eyes?
Is that great acting? Maybe. Probably not. But it’s an achievement just as impressive as, perhaps, Brendan Fraser donning prosthetics to portray a depressed, massively overweight English teacher in Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming drama, “The Whale.” But where’s the feeling in Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” performance, you ask. C’mon: Did you not shed a tear during that reunion scene between Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman? No? Who are you? Lydia Tár?
- “Everything Everywhere All at Once” earns as many nominations here as “Women Talking”
There are a great many great women in Sarah Polley’s sensitive, powerful drama “Women Talking,” and that surplus of quality could work against it at the Oscars. Who do you single out from this excellent ensemble? With Rooney Mara campaigning in the lead category, the focus will likely be on the actors voters know — Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, nominated last year for her brilliant work in “The Lost Daughter.”
Both Foy and Buckley could be nominated, or just one, which is also true of the supporting players in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Stephanie Hsu carries much of the film’s emotional weight as the despairing daughter, while Jamie Lee Curtis makes a strong case for her first Oscar nomination with an impeccable comic turn. Too bad this isn’t the Emmys, because this category could sure use a few more slots this year.
- Brian Tyree Henry earns a nomination for “Causeway”
This prediction is bold only in the sense that the Apple TV+ movie is a small, subtle film that might have trouble attracting voters’ attention, even with Jennifer Lawrence and Henry playing the leads. The actors share a tender rapport, and Henry is nothing short of phenomenal as an auto repair shop owner trying his best to deal with a tragic past. Henry has an Emmy nomination for “Atlanta” as well as a Tony nomination. The Oscars would do well to add to the acclaim.