Elvis
Elvis

In the opening paragraph of our Oscar predictions last year, I talked about diversity and inclusivity turning out to be the actual winners of the night, not the talent.

Little may change this year at the 95th Academy Awards; in fact, the momentum of setting things right by inviting young blood artists and filmmakers of diverse ages, colours and genders, to an overwhelmingly white, male, 50-something average-age members that mostly made-up The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ nearly 10,000- strong vote bank, will likely reflect on Oscar night tomorrow.

As things seem at the time of my jotting down my forecast in the final week of Oscar voting, Everything Everywhere All at Once — an indie film with a primarily Asian cast — will trump the once Oscar-favourite All Quiet on the Western Front, a German anti-war movie based on an acclaimed novel set during the Second World War, whose prior adaptation won Best Director and Best Production in 1930, and which is considered one of the best movies ever made by the American Film Institute.

The change in direction The Academy — and the Hollywood industry for that matter — is vying for will likely help its popularity with the audience (the ratings of the television broadcast have been on a downward spiral for years now), but it also robs the night of some deserved winners.

Besides some upsets here and there to keep things interesting, generally we will have a predictable Oscar ceremony celebrating ‘moderately good’ filmmaking again this year at the 95th Academy Awards

Taking the change into consideration, in my 18th year of predicting the Oscars on these pages, I have decided to not judge the films on my gut feelings alone. Rather, my assumptions will largely reflect the decisions the various guilds and prior award shows have made so far.

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

This is not my preferred way, but the decision, I feel, is forced upon me by the nominees themselves.

Like last year, few titles and artists truly rise to the pedestal of being worthy of being nominated, let alone win awards. Now don’t get me wrong; most of the 39 titles in the 20 categories are fine films (I have watched 36 titles so far), but are they really award-worthy?

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once

I think our predictions for the 95th Oscars are safe bets, given the way Hollywood is tilting.

The results may not outshine Icon’s last year’s forecasts, when we aced 18 out of 20 categories — a career second-best in terms of predictions (we had a perfect score in 2014, the year Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won her Oscar for Saving Face) — but then again, given that I am merely tracking guild award winners, and then applying the process of elimination for those who have already won Oscars, I may just get them right.

Argentina, 1985
Argentina, 1985

As it happens every year, there are one or two titles with real chances of winning. My forecasts divide the percentages between the top contenders, as per the dramatic changes in the award season — but we’ll talk more of this in the categories below.

So, without further ado, here are the predicted winners of 95th Academy Awards, airing early tomorrow morning, Pakistan time.

Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water

Best Picture

A few months ago, All Quiet on the Western Front — a good-enough Oscar contender, though far from the best — was pegged as the would-be winner. The film has won the Bafta which, by and large, has been used as a predictor for the Oscars by some pundits — though not us. The outcome, though, seemed to change as the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild (WGA), began awarding Everything Everywhere All at Once — an okay-ish film about relationships and multiversal doppelgangers — left right and centre.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once

If voters had any doubts about Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Independent Spirit Awards, where the film had a landslide winning streak, will likely have forced those apprehensions aside. The Spirits, which celebrate indie movies, often happened on the very day of the Oscars. However, this year, they were shifted a week early, during the last week of Oscar polling.

If the Spirits do not indicate the change in the way Hollywood thinks (the young voters average at 40 years), and still All Quiet on the Western Front wins, then that means that the old mindset at the Academy still reigns…for the time being.

Everything Everywhere All at Once: 60%

All Quiet on the Western Front: 40%

Best Director

Let’s look at this logically: Martin McDonagh already has an Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, even though he deserves a win for The Banshees of Inisherin, and Steven Spielberg, nominated for his own biopic The Fabelmans, just has too many. Todd Field (Tár) and Ruben Ostlund (Triangle of Sadness), have been pushed on the backseat throughout the award season. By process of elimination, even if one doesn’t count their DGA win, the ones to win here will be Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as ‘The Daniels’ (yes, the moniker they use is as quirky as their work).

Bardo
Bardo

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert: 100%

Best Actress

While Cate Blanchett had been a good bet to win the leading actress award last month for her exceptional performance in Tár, the sudden love Michelle Yeoh is getting from the awards circuit is hard to dismiss.

The performance, however nuanced, we feel, was fine — though it doesn’t hold a candle to what Blanchett did (without the actress, there is no Tár). Blanchett, however, already has two Oscars from The Aviator and Blue Jasmine, and Yeoh’s Screen Actors win, coupled with the push for awarding on account of racial diversity, will surely give the actress her Oscar. In a personal capacity, we couldn’t be happier.

Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Michelle Yeoh: 80%

Tár, Cate Blanchett: 20%

Best Actor

Forgetting his career-best performance for a second, Brendan Fraser has the miraculous comeback story to back his nomination (as well as the SAG win), and Austin Butler is just too young to win for Elvis, despite his dead-on portrayal in the Bazz Luhrman-directed film. The industry, post the Bafta win, however, pegs Butler as a candidate to look out for. We think (and say, unreservedly): give the trophy to Fraser.

The Whale
The Whale

The Whale, Brendan Fraser: 60%

Elvis, Austin Butler: 40%

Best Supporting Actress

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

If given on merit (as per our own preference), Kerry Condon deserves the Supporting Actress trophy. Angela Bassett, nominated for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (a title that doesn’t deserve the praise it is getting, let alone the nominations), however, seems to be the favourite. This is the actress’ second nomination after 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It. However, it is also Jamie Lee Curtis’ first, in a career of nearly 50 years. While Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t particularly wow us in Everything Everywhere All at Once, her win in the same category at the SAG Awards compels us to put her in the top spot, though by a small margin. We still feel Condon should win, but realistically speaking, the vote bank would be small for the actress.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Jamie Lee Curtis: 50%

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Angela Bassett: 40%

The Banshees of Inisherin, Kerry Condon: 10%

All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Supporting Actor

If Fraser’s nomination is a comeback story, then Ke Huy Quan’s is one tenfold. People may remember the actor from his work as a child-star in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Goonies, but few knew — that is, before his nominations this year — that the years following his hits haven’t been kind. The actor left acting because of a lack of opportunities, pursed work as an action choreographer (he did the fighting sequences in the first X-Men movie, and the Jet Li starrer The One), became an assistant director, and eventually returned to acting when he saw rising prospects for Asian actors after the success of Crazy Rich Asians. On merit, Ke Huy Quan is one of the best aspects of Everything Everywhere All at Once, and his unanimous wins in every award show this year, shows the love Hollywood is giving him. This category is a no-brainer.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Ke Huy Quan: 100%

Best Screenplay, Adapted

Pinocchio
Pinocchio

Actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Women Talking is all but assured a win this year. She has won both the WGA and USC’s Scripter awards, which are a dead giveaway. All Quiet on the Western Front, the second-best bet in the category, has been steadily losing momentum. Personally, I would have voted for Living, Kazuo Ishiguro’s adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ikiru — but the film, I feel, has no chance.

However, I would be ecstatic if Living wins. Ishiguro is the screenwriter of The White Countess and the novelist of Remains of the Day. In my fantasies, the win would have completed the picture of the James Ivory-trio winning this prestigious trophy. Ivory’s go-to screenwriter Ruth Prawar Jhabvala won two Oscars in this partnership, and Ivory won his only Oscar for penning the screenplay Call Me By Your Name. He never won an Oscar for directing. One can dream though.

Women Talking, I feel, is an okay film. Perhaps, given the story of the novel, which was adapted from a real-life incident, and the timely relevance of the material, are reasons enough for the win.

Women Talking: 80%

All Quiet on the Western Front: 20%

Best Screenplay, Original

Last year, I was blindsided by Belfast’s unexpected win (it was one of the two I didn’t predict). This year, the choices are simpler. The two titles in competition are Everything Everywhere All at Once, which won the WGA, and The Banshees of Inisherin, which won the Bafta. By any measure of logic, this is a 50-50 split. My personal preference is Banshees, however. It would have my vote if I were in The Academy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once: 50%

The Banshees of Inisherin: 50%

Babylon
Babylon

Best Cinematography

Herein lies one of the biggest uncertainties in this year’s Oscars race. According to the American Society of Cinematographers, Elvis is the one to beat (it won their ASC award). As per the Baftas, the winner will be All Quiet on the Western Front.

Roger Deakin’s work in Empire of Light — a film nominated in all three awards — is pedestrian work in comparison. Also, the once long due cinematographer already has two Oscars to his name now.

While Elvis and All Quiet on the Western Front had engaging cinematography, it is my gut (which I’m going with in this category) that Darius Khondji’s work in Bardo may win the award — even though it is not on the radar.

Argentina, 1985
Argentina, 1985

Khondji is a veteran, whose work includes Se7en, Panic Room, Amour and Evita, which was also his only prior Oscar nomination. Florian Hoffmeister’s work in Tár is also worthy of applause, though he and the other first-time nominees are young (as far as age goes). Let’s see where the ballots fall in this one.

Bardo: 40%

All Quiet on the Western Front: 40%

Elvis: 20%

Best Editing

The Banshees of Inisherin
The Banshees of Inisherin

Again, a split, that also falls into a category I didn’t get right last year. My reasons this year, however, are entirely dependent on the soundness of the rationale.

The editing, sound and the visual effects will likely be the only categories where commercial films like Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick will win. We have seen past wins (Dune, last year) that celebrate more commercial films in this category.

Top Gun: Maverick, the winner in the dramatic category at the Eddie Awards of the Editors Guild, faces strong competition from Everything Everywhere All at Once, which also won the Eddie Award in the comedy or musical category; the latter, however, also won the Bafta. The award could go either way here.

Top Gun: Maverick: 50%

Everything Everywhere All at Once: 50%

Best Production Design

With wins at both Bafta and the Production Design Guild (the PDG), Babylon’s win is a hard one to dismiss. It is an award the film deserves, without reservation.

Babylon: 100%

Best Costume Design

Despite the industry-wide speculation that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever may be the winner (it certainly had the momentum earlier this year), we think Ruth E. Carter’s prior win for the first Black Panther will shift votes to either Babylon, whose costume designer Mary Zophres hasn’t won any Oscars yet (she has been nominated four times), while Jenny Beavan nominated for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, has won the award three times (she won it as recently as last year for Cruella).

Zophres’ only competition here would be Catherine Martin’s work in Elvis, but she has four Oscars to her name.

This is a tough call, one that will divide the voters. We, however, feel that since Martin’s four wins include her work as a Producer Designer as well (she is director Bazz Luhrman’s wife, and has won both Costume and Production Design Oscars for The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge), voters will choose Zorphres, who has La La Land and True Grit on her credits.

Babylon: 50%

Elvis: 50%

Best Make-up & Hairstyling

The Whale was the one to beat in January, but then Elvis started trending. The competition is quite close, with The Whale visibly utilising more prosthetics and styling; the effect was seamless and perfect. Elvis, however, nailed the icon’s look and feel, and maybe the familiarity with the celebrated singer-actor, will land the film this award. Elvis winning the Make-up and Hairstylists Guild Award and the Baftas also helps the film.

Elvis: 60%

The Whale: 40%

Best Score

Pundits feel that Babylon has the most chances of winning Best Score, despite All Quiet on the Western Front’s win at the Baftas. While we love Babylon’s album, the competition between the two films lies squarely on the appeal of the two competing tracks: Herman’s Hustle (Babylon) and Remains (All Quiet on the Western Front). We think Remains has the slight lead here.

All Quiet on the Western Front: 60%

Babylon: 40%

Best Song

RRR
RRR

The love RRR got from Hollywood, and YouTubers worldwide, is nothing short of stupefying — especially since, in my opinion, South India and the director S.S. Rajamouli have made better films. Naatu Naatu is a phenomenon, and we think it will be an unsurprising win…unless voters back Rihanna’s Lift Me Up from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, or Hold My Hand from Top Gun: Maverick.

RRR, Naatu Naatu: 40%

Top Gun: Maverick, Hold My Hand: 30%

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Lift Me Up: 30%

Navalny
Navalny

Best Sound

Top Gun: Maverick has a major lead here, after winning the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guilds and Cinema Audio Society’s awards. By way of logic, Top Gun is a theatrical release and the sound in cinemas would have given voters the conviction they need to mark the film. All Quiet on the Western Front is a Netflix release, and no matter how good the sound is in your home (or if one has played the movie on cell phones), there is just no competition between what you hear in cinemas versus what you hear at home.

Top Gun: Maverick: 70%

All Quiet on the Western Front: 30%

Women Talking
Women Talking

Best Visual Effects

Avatar’s win is a no-brainer. We see no reason for the Academy to go all indie and not applaud a gargantuan, commercial hit like Avatar: Way of the Water. Also, the visual effects were excellent.

Avatar: The Way of Water: 100%

Best Animated Film

Another no-brainer. The film has swept every award show this year.

Pinocchio: 100%

Best Documentary

Fire of Love
Fire of Love

Given the topicality of the story, Navalny, about the Russian opposition leader, lawyer and anti-corruption activist Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, who has since been imprisoned by Vladmir Putin, has the most chances of winning. However, Fire of Love, about two celebrated volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft who perished in an eruption, has been picking up the pace these past few weeks. Right now, the score is divided, with Navalny winning the Bafta and the PGA while Fire of Love won at the DGA and the Eddies. I think voters will tilt a little towards Navalny. The engaging documentary is also my preference for the win.

Navalny: 50%

Fire of Love: 50%

Best International Film

Personally speaking, Argentina, 1985 should be the winner. The film is original and packs a bigger punch than All Quiet on the Western Front, whose storytelling gist, genre or message we see versions of almost every year. However, since the critically acclaimed film was once pegged as the Best Picture winner months ago, and that it will likely lose to Everything Everywhere All at Once, we believe voters will divide the vote and give the film its win in this category.

All Quiet on the Western Front: 60%

Argentina, 1985: 40% g

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 12th, 2023

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