Andy Ray Picks the 2023 Oscars

Lately, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has bestowed its Best Picture honor on several films that I did not consider to be best picture material.  I didn’t have major qualms with “Parasite,” “Coda,” or last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” but I certainly didn’t think any were worthy of the honor, nor did I include any of them on my annual Top Ten lists.  This year will likely be different, as a slew of very good nominees awaits us.  Last summer’s sensations “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” are both nominated, as is Martin Scorsese’s excellent “Killers of the Flower Moon.”  My two favorites of the nominees are “The Holdovers” and “American Fiction.”  Yorgos Lanthimos’ best film to date, “Poor Things,” is another strong contender.


Oscar for Best Picture

I still have a beef with the academy for nominating ten films for Best Picture, but only five directors for Best Director.  Are the other five not worthy?  And if their films are good enough to qualify for Best Picture, what did the directors do wrong?  What they’re really doing is whittling down their Best Picture list for us, as the Best Picture winner almost always comes from one of the five films up for Best Director.

Because of this, we can eliminate my two favorites, as neither Alexander Payne (“The Holdovers”) nor Cord Jefferson (“American Fiction”) have been nominated for Best Director.  While “American Fiction” is Jefferson first feature length film, the omission of Payne is a bit odd, given the fact that he’s responsible for some of the best and most innovative films of the past twenty years – “About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants,” and “Nebraska” were all fresh and original – as is “The Holdovers.”

Assuming the Best Picture winner will come from the list of films also nominated for Best Director, my prediction is that the academy will honor “Oppenheimer.”  Christopher Nolan has been active for a long time, and this is his best effort yet.  Plus, “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” were responsible for prompting many viewers to return to their local cineplex for the first time since Covid.  Yes, the academy likes to celebrate small films, but they also have a knack for honoring the occasional “big hit” movie – like “The Sound of Music” or “Titanic.”  “Oppenheimer” is a very good film, and it was a big hit.  I say it wins Best Picture.

My personal choice is “The Holdovers.”  I like “American Fiction” a lot, but I believe it suffers from a weak ending.  “The Holdovers” is just about as perfect as anything I’ve seen so far this decade.


Oscar for Best Director

Easy choice for the academy here:  They’ll double-honor Nolan for “Oppenheimer.”  My choice?  Well, I can’t pick Payne for “The Holdovers,” so I’ll take Yorgos Lanthimos for “Poor Things.”  This is the first Lanthimos film I’ve liked.  And while it suffers from his trademark up-close “wince” moments (such as the cutting and sewing of flesh), the story is very original, the acting (particularly by Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe) is top-notch, and the cinematography is excellent – a wide-angle lens throughout, and the first act is shot in a somewhat creepy black-and-white.


Oscar for Best Actress

Since we just mentioned Emma Stone, I suppose we should transition to the Best Actress award, which is a surprisingly easy call this year.  Stone has won before (2016’s “La La Land”), and actors don’t often win twice, but her performance in “Poor Things” made the oddball premise believable.  Indeed, hers is perhaps the best performance given by anyone in any film this year.  The academy will award her, and I agree with that choice.

Of the five nominees, the only one who might have an outside chance of knocking off Stone is relative newcomer Lily Gladstone, who played an Osage native in Scorsese’s “Flower Moon” – and in her understated manner, managed to upstage both Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio.  She’s new enough it’s very unlikely she’ll knock off Stone.  But it will be interesting to follow her career trajectory.  Will she start getting roles based on the fact that she is a great actress, or will she be pigeonholed as one who can play only Native American parts?


Oscar for Best Actor

Although Jeffrey Wright was great in “American Fiction,” this is essentially a two-man race this year.  Irish actor Cillian Murphy hit the proverbial ball out of the park with his serious and thoughtful turn as American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.  Murphy’s performance held together a long and involved film, with a lot of moving pieces.  A lesser actor could have let Nolan’s “spectacle” upstage the story.

But my pick is veteran actor Paul Giamatti, who played the curmudgeonly prep school professor in ‘The Holdovers.”  Giamatti has been on top of his game for many years, he chooses his work wisely, and he always sinks deep into his characters.  His balding, sad-sack face is not typically the stuff of leading men.  But much as with Frances McDormand, Giamatti can play anything save for the suave, leading man role – but even then, he’d probably find a way to pull it off.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think the academy will choose Giamatti over Murphy.  Much as with Lily Gladstone, Murphy is still relatively young.  He’ll have more opportunities ahead of him.  Giamatti was so strong in “The Holdovers,” I think he’ll win this one.  And he should.


Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

And while we’re on the subject of “The Holdovers,” Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress.  She plays the campus chef, who spends Christmas break with Giamatti’s professor character and an unfocused student played by newcomer Dominic Sessa – who probably should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but I’m sure he’ll have his chance later.  Randolph has won this award from every other major source this year.  She’ll also win the Oscar.  And again, she should.

Of the other nominees, I can’t help but wonder why Danielle Brooks is nominated for playing Sofia (the old Oprah Winfrey role) in the musical version of “The Color Purple,” when Taraji P. Henson (singer Shug Avery) practically steals every scene she’s in, and is not nominated.  Did any of the academy members actually see “The Color Purple?”


Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

This one’s a little tougher call.  My pick goes to Robert Downey Jr. for his portrayal of U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss in “Oppenheimer.”  Practically driven to madness over Robert Oppenheimer’s resistance to further develop nuclear weaponry, Downey’s Strauss is reminiscent of F. Murray Abraham’s jealous composer Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus.”  His performance is the stuff Oscars are made for.  Plus, Downey has come back from a history of drug abuse, which the academy likes.  And since they’re likely going to award Best Actor to Giamatti over Murphy, Downey’s will be an acting award for “Oppenheimer.”  (As a “serious” film, “Oppenheimer” can’t just win all the technical awards; it will have to win something else – a screenplay Oscar, or an acting Oscar.)

Now, why do I consider Supporting Actor a little tougher call?  Because there’s an outside chance Sterling K. Brown could win for his role as the gay, plastic surgeon brother to Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction.”  This film is strong enough it should win something.  Then again, it’s a “black” film, and we know how well they do at the Oscars.

My beef with this category is that Mark Ruffalo is nominated for playing the rich and clueless suitor to Emma Stone’s character in “Poor Things.”  Ruffalo wasn’t bad, but the brilliant supporting performance here is that of Willem Dafoe, who plays the mad scientist that brings Emma Stone’s character to life.  Dafoe has deserved to be awarded for many years.  This should be his year.


Screenplay Oscars

Here, the Best Adapted Screenplay award is very likely to go to Christopher Nolan for adapting Martin J. Sherwin’s biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”  And that’s an excellent choice.  I’d pick it too, were it not for the fact that Tony McNamara is also nominated for adapting Alasdair Gray’s dark novel “Poor Things” for the big screen.  I’ve said Emma Stone’s performance is the best of the year, but she has an excellent screenplay to work with.  The premise, look, and feel of “Poor Things” is so off-the-wall, a strong screenplay is the difference between a great film and one that is merely ridiculous.  It’s a fine line, and McNamara walks it perfectly.  He’s my choice, but the academy is likely to go with Nolan.

Original Screenplay is an easier call.  David Hemingson wins this one for “The Holdovers,” although it’s interesting that director Alexander Payne did not write this screenplay.  Typically, he does pen his own.  My second choice here is Samy Burch, who wrote the screenplay for the tragically underseen “May December,” the story of an actress playing a tabloid figure who left her seemingly perfect marriage to start a new family with a 13-year-old boy.  For the life of me, I cannot understand why this is its only nomination.  It should also be up for Best Picture, Best Director (Todd Haynes), Best Actress (either Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, or both), and Best Supporting Actor (Charles Melton).



This will be a big year for “Oppenheimer,” and that’s fine by me.  It was one of my Top Ten films of the year.  And I’m very glad to predict a big night for my favorite nominee, “The Holdovers.”  As they say, it’s about damn time an Alexander Payne film did well at the Oscars.  And the same goes for Paul Giamatti.  As far as “Barbie” is concerned, it is very likely to win some technical and music awards.  So don’t fret, “Barbie” fans.  It won’t be shut out.





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