NEW YORK — There were, admittedly, some notable distractions at last year's ceremony, so you might have missed it: The old Oscar rules have gone out the window.
A film, streamed by Apple TV+, won Hollywood’s top award without a penny of box office. But this year — plot twist! — there isn’t one streaming title in the hunt for the Academy Awards’ major prizes. When nominations are announced Tuesday, popcorn will be on the menu. “Top Gun: Maverick,”“Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Elvis” all look assured of best-picture nods.
But after a seesawing movie year where every pronouncement about the future of theatrical movies was plausible at different times — Audiences are back! No they’re not! — the film Hollywood will crown the best of 2022 may, ultimately, be neither a streaming title nor a box-office smash.
Recent nominations from the industry's top guilds have strongly suggested there are just three films with a realistic shot at best picture. The sci-fi indie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the Irish dark comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Steven Spielberg's fictionalized memoir “The Fabelmans” were the only films nominated for the top prizes of the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild. As much as some would like to see “Top Gun: Maverick” buzz the Oscar tower, striking out with the actors' guild has almost always been a death knell for best picture chances.
WHAT ARE THE FAVORITES?
The strongest support seems to be for Martin McDonagh's “The Banshees of Inisherin" and Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once." Along with nods for direction, screenwriting and best picture, both films could score as many as four acting nominations Tuesday. “Everything Everywhere All at Once" star Michelle Yeoh is the frontrunner in the formidable best actress category, while her co-star, Ke Huy Quan, the former child star, appears to be running away with best supporting actor. “Banshees” star Colin Farrell is probably the stiffest competition for Brendan Fraser ("The Whale") and Austin Butler ("Elvis") in best actor, while Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan may all score supporting nods.
WHAT IS ‘THE FABELMANS’?
That was the answer no “Jeopardy!” contestant could come up with in a recent episode, a chastening moment in an otherwise much-celebrated run for Spielberg's Golden Globe-winning coming-of-age drama. “The Fabelmans” has been a frontrunner since its award-winning Toronto International Film Festival premiere, but there are some cracks in its campaign beyond unanswered gameshow clues. Michelle Williams surprisingly missed out on a SAG nomination, but expect the academy (which has nominated Williams four times before) to remedy that. More challenging is that, unlike “Everything Everywhere All at Once" or “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans” ($14.4 million domestically) underperformed at the box office. Ironically, the filmmaker who helped create the modern blockbuster will have to win despite the faint whiff of theatrical disappointment. Spielberg, though, appears headed for his ninth best director nomination, and very likely, his third win in the category.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THOSE BLOCKBUSTERS?
With $1.5 billion in ticket sales, “Top Gun: Maverick” helped bring moviegoers — especially older, more hesitant moviegoers — back to theaters after two-plus yeas of pandemic. Expected it to be rewarded with a best picture nod, as well as many nominations in the technical categories. Getting six IMAX cameras into the cockpit of a fighter jet, as cinematographer Claudio Miranda managed, is the kind of filmmaking feat that's hard to ignore. James Cameron's “Avatar: The Way of Water” (approaching $2 billion) will be in the mix in many of the same categories, too. And for the first time, a Marvel movie is poised to land an acting nomination: Angela Bassett, for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." She'll also likely win.
Some would say that the Oscars could use such box-office hits. Ratings have tended to be higher in years where widely watched films are vying for best picture. In recent years, Oscar producers have vainly tried to add prizes for “best popular film” and Twitter-voted winners, and mostly only gotten mockery for their efforts. At the same time, more modest films — “CODA,” “Nomadland,” “Parasite," “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” — have usually triumphed.
WHAT ROUNDS OUT BEST PICTURE?
Ten films will be nominated for best picture, and seven of those slots feel like locks: “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans," “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Tár,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Elvis.” I'd expect to see Darren Aronofsky's “The Whale" and, maybe, Sarah Polley's “Women Talking,” which scored a best ensemble nod from SAG. That would leave films like “Triangle of Sadness,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” hunting for the the last spot.
WHAT'S WITH THE ‘GRASSROOTS’ CAMPAIGN FOR ANDREA RISEBOROUGH?
With Yeoh, Blanchett, Williams, Viola Davis ("The Woman King"), Ana de Armas ("Blonde") and Danielle Deadwyler ("Till"), the best actress category is already ultra-competitive. But a late-breaking, celebrity-backed campaign has pushed Andrea Riseborough forward for her performance as an alcoholic West Texas mother in the little-seen October release, “To Leslie." Riseborough wasn't seen as in the awards mix but she did land a nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. Instead, it's been a host of A-listers including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Aniston whose promotion of Riseborough suddenly put her on the Oscar map.
WHAT ELSE TO LOOK FOR?
Jamie Lee Curtis ("Everything Everywhere All at Once") could land her first Oscar nomination. So could Adam Sandler ("Hustle"), who was nominated by SAG for his Netflix basketball drama. The favored international film may not be the Indian sensation “RRR” (which wasn't selected by India but is competing in other categories, including best song). The German entry “All Quiet on the Western Front,” coming off its strong showing in the BAFTA nominations and aggressively pushed by Netflix, may be the foreign film that racks up multiple nominations Tuesday.
WHO WON'T BE BUT SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED?
The academy's policy that international films are submitted by the governments of their origin countries has had a chilling effect on filmmakers working inside oppressive regimes. Jafar Panahi's lauded “No Bears” will be absent only because Iran, which imprisoned Panahi earlier this year, predictably chose not to submit it. Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun,” my pick for best film of the year, may find some well-deserved academy love for Paul Mescal but could surely contend in many categories, especially if they gave Oscars for “Best Needle Drop." I might have also voted for Tilda Swinton in “The Eternal Daughter,” Keke Palmer for “Nope,” Steven Soderbergh's “Kimi” for best film and “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” for best screenplay. Plus, how are we not throwing awards at Daniel Craig for one of the year's funniest performances in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery"? He deserves it, if for nothing else, for the swimwear.