The race to the 2023 Oscars is officially on now that some of the fall's most anticipated movies have premiered. Could this season culminate with a major acting comeback, a historic Best Actress win, and more? Let's take an early look at the field:
- Austin Butler (Elvis)
- Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin)
- Brendan Fraser (The Whale)
- Hugh Jackman (The Son)
- Bill Nighy (Living)
Predicted winner: Austin Butler (Elvis)
At this stage, the Best Actor race looks like a battle between Austin Butler, Brendan Fraser, and Hugh Jackman.
Jackman stars in The Son, the follow-up to The Father from director Florian Zeller, about a teenager who moves in with his father after his parents' divorce. Early reviews have heaped praise on Jackman, with Deadline calling it "the most impressive dramatic performance of his career." He's beloved in the industry and has even hosted the Oscars with aplomb, but he is yet to win an Academy Award, having only been nominated once for Les Misérables. This could be his chance — and let's not forget The Father scored Anthony Hopkins the lead actor Oscar. At the same time, The Son hasn't been nearly as warmly received as The Father thus far (its early Rotten Tomatoes score is 65 percent compared to 98 percent for The Father), so Jackman is no lock. The film is apparently an even more brutal viewing experience than The Father, too, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it "punishing." Will that be a hindrance to Jackman's campaign?
Besides, does anyone have a shot in the year of the #Brenaissance? Brendan Fraser is a strong contender for The Whale, the Darren Aronofsky movie in which he plays a 600-pound man. He has drawn universal acclaim for the performance, even among people who otherwise didn't care for the film, and the Academy loves the kind of transformation that Fraser is doing here. Plus, Fraser's campaign comes with a compelling comeback narrative the Academy can embrace, as the actor has been largely out of the spotlight in the past decade. Fraser also received a boost when he was honored with a tribute award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which in recent years has gone to performers who went on to win an Oscar like Jessica Chastain, Anthony Hopkins, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Yet early reviews for The Whale make it sound like another difficult-to-watch movie that could prove divisive in the Academy, with Slant describing it as "cinematic misery porn." So for the time being, we're still betting on Austin Butler for Elvis. The Academy has historically gravitated toward actors playing real people, from Will Smith as Richard Williams and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker to Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, and many more. No one who's seen Elvis can deny that Butler accurately channels Elvis Presley to a spooky degree, so much so that when the movie switches to real Elvis footage, it's not immediately clear we aren't still watching Butler.
So Butler could follow the Rami Malek trajectory with a musical biopic win. Both Elvis and Bohemian Rhapsody were box office hits, which never hurts, and Elvis seems like the movie here that is most likely to appeal to older, more traditional Oscar voters. The race could end up being a repeat of the 2009 Oscars, when the lead of a bleak Darren Aronofsky movie, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, lost to an actor playing a real person, Sean Penn in Milk. We can already hear the cries of Film Twitter screaming, "Brendan was robbed!"
The other two slots are fairly up for grabs, but Colin Farrell is a candidate based on early reviews for The Banshees of Inisherin, which features what NextBestPicture's Matt Neglia called the "most deeply layered work" of his career. The movie itself, which comes from the director of Best Picture nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, also received some of the best reviews out of this year's Venice International Film Festival, and Farrell won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor there. We're also keeping an eye on Bill Nighy, who in Living stars as a man who "makes a supreme effort to turn his dull life into something wonderful," per Sony's plot synopsis. At age 72, it would be Nighy's first Oscar nomination ever.
- Cate Blanchett (Tár)
- Olivia Colman (Empire of Light)
- Carey Mulligan (She Said)
- Margot Robbie (Babylon)
- Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
Predicted winner: Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
The Best Actress field may consist almost entirely of past nominees or winners, including Cate Blanchett, who has a whopping seven Oscar nominations and two wins under her belt. But she could be coming for a third with Tár, which sees her play a classical music composer. It was perhaps the single most buzzed about movie at this year's Venice International Film Festival, where it received absolutely glowing reviews, and The Hollywood Reporter described her performance as "astonishing." Blanchett won an Oscar most recently for Blue Jasmine in 2014, but she hasn't been nominated since Carol in 2016. The Academy clearly has no problem crowning a three-time winner, though, as Frances McDormand just won her third Oscar in 2021.
The Academy is also unlikely to miss yet another opportunity to honor Olivia Colman, who has become a perennial nominee following her surprise win for The Favourite in 2019. Since then, she's been nominated two more times for The Father and The Lost Daughter. This time, Colman is in the mix for Sam Mendes' Empire of Light, a love story set around a movie theater in the 1980s and one of several films this season about the Magic of the Movies. It still looks likely to get a Best Picture nomination, even though critics weren't as enthusiastic about it as expected when it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, and Entertainment Weekly said Colman "lifts nearly every scene."
Carey Mulligan is our riskiest pick here given She Said, a Spotlight-esque drama about the reporters who uncovered Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse, hasn't premiered yet. But assuming it's not a major disappointment, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Academy embrace the film as a symbolic repudiation of Weinstein, in which case a Mulligan nomination is quite possible. She's already been nominated twice for An Education and Promising Young Woman and seemed to come close to winning Best Actress for the latter. That being said, it isn't totally clear whether she'll be campaigned as a lead or supporting actress.
Babylon, La La Land director Damien Chazelle's film about 1920s Hollywood, also hasn't been screened yet. But on paper, it looks poised to score Margot Robbie her third Oscar nod after I, Tonya and Bombshell. The trailer suggests it is one of the most flashy non-Harley Quinn performances of her career, and Chazelle already directed one of his female leads to a Best Actress win: Emma Stone in La La Land. Besides, when have we known the Academy to totally shun a movie about Hollywood?
Ultimately, though, it's looking like this will be the year of Michelle Yeoh. The actress has received rapturous reviews for the acclaimed multiverse film Everything Everywhere All At Once, and her campaign already received a boost when she was honored with a TIFF tribute award, the same key Oscar precursor Fraser received. Since 2019, there has never been a year when at least one of the TIFF tribute winners didn't also win an acting Oscar. We're still a little uncertain about Everything Everywhere's Best Picture prospects, given how chaotic and wacky the movie is, but even those who haven't hailed it as an all-timer tend to love Yeoh's performance. She's an actress who has decades of great work under her belt but has never been nominated for an Oscar, so the idea that she should finally be recognized is one everyone should be able to get behind. Plus, would you believe Yeoh would become the first Asian woman to ever win Best Actress?
We're also not fully counting out Ana de Armas for the Marilyn Monroe film Blonde. Normally, a transformative performance in a biopic about a famous actress seems like pure Oscar bait that would earn her an instant spot, sight unseen. But in this case, Blonde is rated NC-17 for graphic sexual content, and it sounds like such a tough watch that Academy voters may not be able to even get through it, calling de Armas' chances into doubt. Instead, if someone is to be nominated for a biopic, it's more likely to be Naomi Ackie, who plays Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance with Somebody.
Best Supporting Actor
- Paul Dano (The Fabelmans)
- Brendan Gleeson (The Banshees of Inisherin)
- Brad Pitt (Babylon)
- Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
- Ben Whishaw (Women Talking)
Predicted winner: Paul Dano (The Fabelmans)
Best Supporting Actor seems like the most up-in-the-air of 2023's acting categories. But assuming voters are enthusiastic enough about Everything Everywhere All At Once for a Michelle Yeoh nomination, her co-star Ke Huy Quan should get in too, as he's arguably the heart of the film as the husband of Yeoh's character. Like Yeoh herself, there's also a compelling narrative surrounding Quan's nomination: He was a child star known for films like The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who quit acting for 20 years before returning to wow critics with this performance. That kind of feel-good comeback story should help boost him to a nod, if not a win.
Brendan Gleeson has also been earning high marks for his role opposite Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin, with Deadline saying he "entirely dominates when he's on screen." Early reviews for Banshees have been so strong — it currently boasts a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — that multiple acting nominations seem in play. The only question is whether Gleeson will be campaigned in lead or supporting, as the latter is his only real chance of getting in.
Brad Pitt, meanwhile, won just a few years ago for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But if Damien Chazelle's Babylon is a major player, it wouldn't be surprising to see Pitt rack up yet another nomination for a period piece about Hollywood pairing him with Robbie. That movie hasn't premiered yet, though, so it remains to be seen how his performance is received. In terms of movies that have premiered, the reviews for Women Talking suggest it will be a significant Best Picture contender, and Ben Whishaw is reportedly the standout of the male performers.
But Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans looks set to dominate this season and possibly earn the most nominations of any movie, making Paul Dano an early frontrunner to win. The movie is loosely based on Spielberg's childhood, with Dano playing his father. He's never been nominated for an Oscar — no, not even for There Will Be Blood — but it would be shocking if he isn't this year.
Best Supporting Actress
- Jessie Buckley (Women Talking)
- Claire Foy (Women Talking)
- Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
- Janelle Monáe (Glass Onion)
- Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans)
Predicted winner: Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans)
If Michelle Yeoh looks set to win for Everything Everywhere All At Once, it's easy to imagine Stephanie Hsu getting in alongside her. The film, after all, is fundamentally a mother-daughter story that requires equally strong performances from both of them, and Hsu more than delivers.
Women Talking, meanwhile, features several actresses who could make it into this category. But the early reviews have been so positive, it seems the movie may earn two nominations for both Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. Critics have singled out both women, with Entertainment Weekly saying that if "Foy or Buckley don't get at least one major industry nod, the awards system isn't working." This would be Buckley's second nomination after she was up for The Lost Daughter, but it would be Foy's first.
We're also going out on a limb that Janelle Monáe could pull off a big surprise by sneaking in for Glass Onion, Rian Johnson's Knives Out follow-up. Netflix's Oscar contenders this year, Bardo and White Noise, haven't been performing as well as expected at the fall festivals, leaving open the possibility that neither will get nominated for Best Picture. But Glass Onion has been getting euphoric early reviews, with many critics deeming it superior to the original. So Netflix might have to go all in on pushing this one to make up for Bardo flopping, and critics have identified Monáe as the standout actor among the ensemble. Sure, Knives Out didn't get any acting nominations and was only nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but it also didn't have Netflix's mighty Oscar campaign machine behind it.
A nomination for Vanessa Kirby, who plays the partner of Hugh Jackman's character in The Son, is also on the table, though the festival response to that film has been divisive enough that garnering multiple acting nominations may be tough. The same goes for Sadie Sink, who plays the daughter of Brendan Fraser's character in The Whale, but it's unclear the Academy will embrace that movie enough for more nominations beyond Fraser — so Sink's name may end up on lists of biggest Emmys snubs and biggest Oscar snubs within a year.
But could The Fabelmans be such a strong contender to win not one, but two of the acting awards? Well, it's a Steven Spielberg movie about the magic of movies, so yeah, we're thinking so. Critics say Michelle Williams, as the mother character, is even more impressive than Dano, with The Wrap saying she delivers one of her "most powerful and moving performances" ever. So if only one of them wins, it's likely to be her. Williams has been nominated four times already going back to Brokeback Mountain but has never won, so Academy voters might also feel a win is overdue.
Regardless, between Yeoh and Williams, great ready for 2023 to be the year of Michelle.
For more of The Week's Oscar coverage, check out our 2023 Best Picture predictions.