After several crucial fall film festivals, the 2023 Oscar race is officially underway. What film could win Best Picture? Does Netflix have a shot? Will Steven Spielberg score the prize for the first time since the '90s? Let's take a look at the field as it currently stands:
The Oscar pundits giveth, the Oscar pundits taketh away.
Since our first round of Best Picture predictions in August, quite a bit has changed, even if the ostensible frontrunner hasn't. After the Venice International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Telluride Film Festival, a number of films that had looked like sure-fire nominees have seemingly been knocked out of the race entirely.
Most shocking of these was Bardo, the new Netflix movie from Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu about a "renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker." Iñárritu won Best Picture with Birdman, and his last two movies were both nominees, so how could you go wrong? Well, the crowd did not go wild when it premiered in Venice, with Slashfilm calling Bardo an "incoherent" three-hour "monument to [Iñárritu's] own prowess and perspective," while The Guardian said it's "staggeringly self-indulgent." Barring a miracle, it seems this one is a Bardon't.
Similarly, Sam Mendes' Empire of Light, a love story set around a movie theater, sounded like it could actually be a frontrunner to win Best Picture; the Academy loves movies about the magic of the cinema, after all. Yet critics were mixed on Empire of Light out of the Telluride Film Festival, and it's currently rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. Deadline found the film "touching" and Vanity Fair said it's "achingly lovely," but the Los Angeles Times deemed it a "misfire" and The Wrap said it's "frustratingly uneven and often meandering." It will need a serious turnaround to regain momentum in the coming months.
We also had The Son on our original list, as it is the follow-up to Florian Zeller's The Father, a Best Picture nominee. Yet at Venice and TIFF, critics were once again mixed, and the film earned a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. RogerEbert.com said it "cudgels its audience with a manipulative script, some truly misguided performances, and even thin visual storytelling." Hugh Jackman's performance received enough praise that he will probably still be nominated for Best Actor. But otherwise, compared to The Father, the apple apparently falls far from the tree.
Noah Baumbach's White Noise was another entrant on our initial predictions list. Unlike Bardo and The Son, early reviews have been solid, but not euphoric, with some critics calling it uneven and Variety noting it received a "tepid 150-second standing ovation" at Venice. Vulture also described it as "thoroughly, unclassifiably weird," which doesn't exactly scream Best Picture winner. Finally, we thought The Greatest Beer Run Ever could rile up Film Twitter by being a serious contender this year after director Peter Farrelly's previous film, Green Book, shockingly won Best Picture. But the early 36 percent Rotten Tomatoes score should close the book on that; for as much grief as it later received, Green Book did actually draw mostly positive reviews.
On the flip side, glowing reviews have made a few films even stronger contenders than we initially thought. Plus, films like Bardo and The Son disappointing opened the door for a few crowd-pleasers, previously on the outside looking in, to make their way onto the list.
The Academy can't help falling in love with biopics, which is part of why we're predicting Austin Butler will win Best Actor for his performance in Elvis. But could the movie itself also compete for Best Picture? It's very much in play, especially when you consider it's rare for someone to win Best Actor without their film being nominated for Best Picture. It hasn't happened since 2010, when Jeff Bridges won for Crazy Heart.
Elvis has its detractors, particularly those who were turned off by director Baz Luhrmann's very Luhrmann-esque stylistic flourishes, e.g. the visual flair, frenetic editing, and relentlessly fast pace. But it was mostly well-received, and the fact that Butler is so stunning in the lead role may be enough to carry Elvis to a nomination. It doesn't hurt that the film was a surprise box office hit over the summer, and it helps for a Best Picture contender to be viewed as a success story.
Besides, the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was nominated for Best Picture in 2019 despite receiving significantly worse reviews than Elvis, and given the competition this year is arguably weaker, things are looking good for Luhrmann. Just expect this to be one of those "it's an honor just be nominated" contenders.
9. Top Gun: Maverick
Does the Academy feel the need for speed? What once seemed like a long shot, Top Gun: Maverick being a Best Picture-nominated film, is becoming more and more of a realistic possibility.
Maverick received some of the most ecstatic reviews for any summer blockbuster in recent memory, with nearly every critic agreeing it's better than the original, and it's not at all unprecedented for a film of its kind to be nominated for Best Picture. Just in the past few years, we've had blockbusters like Dune, Black Panther, and Mad Max: Fury Road earning Best Picture nominations, so really, why can't Top Gun? Like Mad Max, Maverick is certain to pick up plenty of nominations in the below-the-line categories given its stunning visuals and sound, and it was so widely beloved, it should have support throughout all branches of the Academy.
Plus, Maverick comes with the narrative that it helped reinvigorate moviegoing itself by being an unprecedented box office phenomenon at a time when theaters needed one. Granted, that was part of the argument for nominating Spider-Man: No Way Home for Best Picture, and that didn't happen. But Top Gun's box office run was arguably even more impressive than No Way Home, considering it brought an older demographic of moviegoers back to theaters.
No one's expecting Top Gun to win, but as box office analysts learned this summer, underestimate Tom Cruise at your own peril.
8. Glass Onion
Netflix thought it was on its way to winning Best Picture all season long last year with The Power of the Dog, only to lose in the end to Apple's CODA. This year, it looks safe to say the streamer once again won't be winning Best Picture, and it may only have one real shot at even being nominated: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Netflix's Bardo and White Noise both underperformed during their film festival debuts, though a White Noise nomination is still in the realm of possibility. But on the other hand, Rian Johnson's Knives Out follow-up earned absolute raves out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was the second runner-up to win the People's Choice Award. This award often helps forecast what will be nominated for Best Picture: In 2019, for example, the TIFF audience award winner was Jojo Rabbit and the runners-up were Marriage Story and Parasite, all three of which became Best Picture nominees, and the latter of which won.
Many critics dubbed Glass Onion superior to the original Knives Out, and because it's an all-new mystery, Academy voters won't even have to have seen the original to enjoy it. Knives Out wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but it was a nominee for Best Original Screenplay, indicating it wasn't so far outside the field. It was one of only two movies nominated for a screenplay Oscar that year without a Best Picture nomination, in fact.
Crucially, Knives Out also wasn't a Netflix movie, while Glass Onion is, and with Bardo and White Noise no longer looking as strong, it would make sense for the streamer to focus its Oscar campaign machine on this film instead. For how much difficulty Netflix has had winning Best Picture, the streamer does tend to do a good job racking up nominations. Now, if only there was an Oscar for best accent, because Daniel Craig would have that in the bag.
7. She Said
Could the Academy underline Harvey Weinstein's fall from king of the Oscars to convicted rapist by giving a movie about his crimes the Best Picture trophy?
Maria Schrader directs this drama based on the true story of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times journalists who reported on sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017. It's a #MeToo-era story with plenty of relevance and even a direct connection to Hollywood and the Academy Awards itself.
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star, and another Best Actress nod for Mulligan seems possible. But let's not forget another film about reporters uncovering sexual abuse, Spotlight, won Best Picture in 2016. Besides, the Academy could jump at the opportunity to symbolically repudiate Weinstein himself — the man who helped turn the Best Picture Oscar race into what it is today — by giving it the win.
The only reason She Said isn't ranked higher on our list is because critics have yet to see the film, as it won't premiere until the New York Film Festival. But assuming it's not a disappointment, this one has awards contender written all over it.
6. The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh competed for Best Picture in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which was probably the runner-up to the eventual winner, The Shape of Water. McDonagh's next film, The Banshees of Inisherin, stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two friends, one of whom, played by Gleeson, suddenly decides to end the friendship for no apparent reason.
It initially sounded like the movie might be a bit too comedic for serious Best Picture contention, more akin to McDonagh's In Bruges. But that was before The Banshees of Inisherin received some of the best reviews of any film at Venice and Toronto this year, earning a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and 90 out of 100 on Metacritic.
Many critics, in fact, liked Banshees better than Three Billboards. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that it's "unexpectedly poignant" and "superbly acted," while Entertainment Weekly said it's McDonagh's "most humane and deeply felt" movie yet, and Slant described it as a "mordantly funny dark fable about men's innate inability to work together for the betterment of society at large."
Farrell and Gleeson both look headed for nominations, at least assuming Gleeson is considered a supporting actor; Gleeson is even set to host Saturday Night Live, which doesn't hurt for visibility. But based on the early reviews, it sounds like McDonagh has another serious Best Picture contender on his hands.
Another one of the most well-reviewed films out of Venice and Telluride was Tár, perhaps the single most talked about movie from both festivals.
Initially, it sounded like Tár might mainly serve as a Best Actress contender for Cate Blanchett, but reviews have been glowing enough that a Best Picture nomination is also looking likely. Blanchett stars as famous classical music conductor Lydia Tár, and critics have described this as one of the finest performances of her career, putting her in the conversation for a third Oscar win. The film currently holds a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is writer-director Todd Field's third feature but first since 2006's Little Children, and Entertainment Weekly raved it "feels very much like a magnum opus," adding that Field's script is "so masterfully formed and Lydia's world so wholly, viscerally realized that the movie becomes a sort of profound immersive experience."
Now, let's just hope Academy voters don't shut off their screeners when Tár begins with a "lengthy scroll of all the tech personnel and international entities involved in the production" for its opening credits, Deadline's Todd McCarthy notes. "This proves indicative of the film as a whole," McCarthy adds, "which gets off to a rather overdrawn start but eventually clicks into high gear and stays there."
4. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Everything Everywhere All At Once is probably the movie that film critics will be most passionate about this season, and as the year's contenders take shape, a nomination is looking locked. Can the Academy possibly ignore one of the most well-reviewed, creative films of the past few years, let alone 2022?
The imaginative multiverse adventure starring Michelle Yeoh is both a critical darling and a major crowd-pleaser, having become studio A24's highest-grossing movie ever. The big question is whether the film, which among other things includes a sequence that heavily involves butt plugs, is a bit too out there and chaotic for the Academy to embrace. Then again, it wasn't that long ago that this group gave Best Picture to a film about a woman who has sex with a fish.
Even more than Best Picture, Everything Everywhere is a serious contender for Best Actress, where Yeoh is an early frontrunner, and a screenplay nod is also probably guaranteed. Whether this is the universe where it also wins Best Picture, though, remains to be seen.
3. Women Talking
Based on Miriam Toews' 2018 novel, this drama from Sarah Polley follows women in a religious colony who "struggle to reconcile their faith with a series of sexual assaults committed by the colony's men," per Deadline. It stars a cast of awards favorites, including Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, and Claire Foy.
Toews' novel, which was inspired by real events in Bolivia, was one of the most well-received books of that year. As Vox's Constance Grady explained at the time, the book offered a "kind of allegory for the position in which women find themselves in the wake of #MeToo: Something awful has happened. The perpetrators have been brought to light. So now what?"
The film version screened at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival and received some of the best reviews of the fall festival movies, significantly boosting its odds. IndieWire described it as "electric" and "gripping," and Pajiba wrote that it's an "ode to women's power, the beauty of storytelling, and a truly optimistic view of a way through life after the most abhorrent struggles." It sounds like the kind of #MeToo-era story that could make a big splash with the Academy, likely for its performances but potentially throughout numerous categories.
Crucially, Women Talking was also the runner-up to win the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Based on this and on the early buzz, a Best Picture nomination looks like a lock, and it should be considered one of the early frontrunners for a win.
Damien Chazelle's La La Land won the Best Picture Oscar in 2017 ... for about two minutes before the right winner, Moonlight, was revealed. But could Babylon give Chazelle the prize for real this time? Starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, the film is set in 1920s Hollywood amid the industry's transition to talkies from silent films.
Movies about Hollywood and the magic of movies are like catnip for the Academy, and the Oscars even previously gave a Best Picture statuette to a movie about the silent-film-to-talkies transition with The Artist. There's only one problem: rumors suggest Babylon is quite graphic, to the point that it could even receive an NC-17 rating, which may turn the Academy off. The trailer teases plenty of drug-fuelled party sequences and even opens with Robbie snorting the Paramount logo. Then again, The Wolf of Wall Street had similar sequences and still managed to earn a Best Picture nomination.
So unless it's a complete whiff, expect Babylon to be a contender given the Oscar-friendly subject matter — and don't be surprised if it scores Robbie her first Oscar, the same way Chazelle's La La Land did for Emma Stone. Like She Said, the film hasn't yet premiered, but the expectations going into its first screenings will be high.
1. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans was this year's presumed Best Picture frontrunner before anyone had even seen it. Now that it's premiered, it's looking stronger than ever.
Spielberg movies have had mixed success at the Oscars in recent years, and none have won Best Picture since Schindler's List in 1994. But The Fabelmans may have what it takes to go over the finish line, especially considering it looks like the most personal work of the director's career.
The film is loosely based on Spielberg's own childhood, a "coming-of-age story about a young man's discovery of a shattering family secret and an exploration of the power of movies to help us see the truth about each other and ourselves," per the official plot synopsis. Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen star. That's right: it's another contender about the Magic of the Movies. But this one could also benefit from voters' desire to honor one of the greatest directors who has ever lived near the end of the 75-year-old's career.
The Fabelmans premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and reviews were as glowing as expected. Crucially, the film also won the TIFF People's Choice Award, which has previously gone to eventual Best Picture winners like Nomadland, Green Book, and 12 Years a Slave.
After what happened with CODA, we'd never claim the race is a done deal until the envelope is opened. But for now, it's looking like Spielberg's Oscar to lose.