Staff writer Rebecca Rosén goes through her Oscars 2023 predictions, including frontrunners and potential surprises within the categories Best Animated Feature Film, Best Cinematography, Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature Film, and more.
Best Animated Feature Film
- Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, Gary Ungar, and Alex Bulkley
- Marcel the Shell with Shoes On — Dean Fleischer Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan, and Paul Mezey
- Puss in Boots: The Last Wish — Joel Crawford and Mark Swift
- The Sea Beast — Chris Williams and Jed Schlanger
- Turning Red — Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins
While this category has been dominated by Disney and Pixar since its introduction in 2001 — they’ve won a combined 15 times out of 30 nominations — this year’s winner will come from elsewhere. Nonetheless, Turning Red marks the first Pixar feature film solely directed by a woman — namely by Domee Shi, who previously won Best Animated Short Film with Bao (2018). However, despite a vibrant yet heartfelt story about puberty and generational trauma, Turning Red is unlikely to be the winner — which only underlines the high quality of the category.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the sequel to the spin-off film Puss in Boots (2011) and the sixth instalment in the Shrek franchise, proved to critics and viewers alike that some franchises can get better with age. Employing the hybrid style of animation popularised by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which won the category at the 91st Academy Awards), the film is a visually captivating and fast-paced adventure featuring everyone’s favourite feline. The film has been a success, with many claiming it to be one of the best films in the franchise (which, with one win, is the most nominated in the category with four films). Speaking of success, do not write off the delightfully charming and beloved Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, featuring small-scale stop-motion and a story about tiny inhabitants with big adventures and hearts alike.
This year’s lineup also focuses on streaming, specifically Netflix, which makes its presence known through nominees The Sea Beast and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. The Sea Beast, directed by animation veteran Chris Williams (who has earned three nominations and one win for co-directing Big Hero 6), is an adventure for all ages as a young girl joins a group of sea monster hunters to reach uncharted waters and new perspectives in life. However, despite the strong competition of beautifully crafted films and engaging stories, this Oscar is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio to lose.
A longtime passion project for two-time Oscar winner del Toro, the film is a stunning retelling of the classic story about a wooden boy magically brought to life, set in fascist Italy. Its position as a frontrunner is only solidified by its seemingly unstoppable force this awards season, sweeping five awards at the Annie Awards (including Best Feature and Best Direction) and a BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Animated Film. If it wins, it’ll mark the first win for Netflix in the category.
Best Animated Short Film
- The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse — Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud
- The Flying Sailor — Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby
- Ice Merchants — João Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano
- My Year of Dicks — Sara Gunnarsdóttir and Pamela Ribon
- An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It — Lachlan Pendragon
With a strong lineup comes several likely winners, and the predictions for this category lean towards three nominees. My Year of Dicks received unexpected attention when Riz Ahmed’s recitation of its title became one of the most talked-about moments during this year’s nominations announcement, and it’s a name anyone would enjoy hearing read out as the winner A blend of mixed media and styles, My Year of Dicks is a comedic journey of self-discovery in the 1990s as a stubborn 15-year-old is determined to lose her virginity. A story employing eminent inventiveness, the short beautifully emphasises the clash between imagination and real life within its medium, and it will likely interest voters enjoying adult animation.
While interest in My Year of Dicks rose after its nomination, the campaign for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and its story about an unlikely friendship has been massive. With its four Annie wins followed by a BAFTA, it positioned itself as a frontrunner and will most likely earn Apple its first animated short Oscar win. However, another beautifully crafted short that might challenge it is João Gonzalez’s Annie winner Ice Merchants, a heartfelt exploration and ode to the relationship between a cliff-jumping father and son. Featuring a stunning colour palette and no dialogue, the story within Ice Merchants is simple yet highly impactful and universal in its visual language.
Whilst beautifully crafted and highly creative, the remaining two nominees have taken the backseat leading up to Sunday. Australian stop-motion short An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It — written, directed and animated by student filmmaker Lachlan Pendragon — tells the story of a young telemarketer uncovering the truths about the universe he lives within after an encounter with a talking ostrich. Besides featuring a surprisingly higher amount of penis than My Year of Dicks, The Flying Sailor — inspired by the devastating Halifax Explosion of 1917 — explores the fragility of life and one man’s unexpected existential voyage through a sailor’s near-death experience.
When discussing runtimes, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is the longest nominee with 34 minutes, while The Flying Sailor is the shortest with eight minutes. Despite the potential advantage of a shorter runtime — there hasn’t been a winner in the category over 16 minutes since 2007 when Peter & the Wolf won with its 33 minutes — it seems like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse will win. If it doesn’t, My Year of Dicks will be the surprise win.
- All Quiet on the Western Front — James Friend
- Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — Darius Khondji
- Elvis — Mandy Walker
- Empire of Light — Roger Deakins
- TÁR — Florian Hoffmeister
Judging solely based on the nominees that have created the most buzz, the battle in this category appears to be between All Quiet on the Western Front’s James Friend and Elvis’s Mandy Walker, the latter of whom recently made history when she became the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Feature Film award at the ASC Awards. This certainly gives her an edge, but it’s worth noting that it happened in the middle of the final voting process, which might work against her chances. Moreover, the Australian cinematographer also became the first woman to win a cinematography award at the AACTA Awards following her work on Elvis. She is only the third woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography, following Rachel Morrison (Mudbound, 2017) and Ari Wegner (The Power of the Dog, 2021). If Walker wins, she will continue her history-making path and become the first woman to win an Oscar in the category.
Working against Walker’s chances is All Quiet on the Western Front, which with its BSC and BAFTA wins continues the film’s undeniable momentum. However, as 1917 (2019) won the category just a few years ago, voters might be searching for something different not relying on the horror of war. Furthermore, if All Quiet on the Western Front wins, it’ll follow Glory (1989)and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) as only the third winner not recognised by ASC.
Neither Empire of Light nor Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths have great odds going into Sunday’s ceremony, despite featuring work by veterans Roger Deakins and Darius Khondji. Deakins has two wins (Blade Runner 2049 and 1917) out of sixteen nominations, while Khondji, whose credits include Se7en (1995) and Uncut Gems (2019), is yet to win in the category. Although this year, their seniority will not offer any advantages.
When speaking of potential correlations, there’s also a correlation between Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, especially since some voters see cinematography itself as being pretty visuals within the technical accomplishment of filmmaking. Some examples of this are evident in the wins for Gravity (2013), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), 1917 (2019), and Dune (2021). However, as Avatar: The Way of Water is the unquestionable and near-unchallenged frontrunner to win Best Visual Effects, this year moves away from that connection.
Furthermore, Best Cinematography has also correlated with Best Director lately, as evident in the wins for Gravity, Birdman (2014), The Revenant (2015), La La Land (2016), and Roma (2018). However, if applying that mindset this year, that would mean that TÁR could enter the race with an advantage against all other nominees. Speaking against Florian Hoffmeister, who recently won Best Cinematography at the Independent Spirit Awards and the top prize at Camerimage, is the fact that TÁR is to most viewers first and foremost a showcase for Cate Blanchett’s acting, which might overshadow its more technical crafts.
For any undecided voter, it’s much easier to be influenced by the more talked-about nominees, like All Quiet on the Western Front and Elvis. From the thrill of seeing the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” throughout the decades to the harrowing journey through muddy and bleak battlefields, the two films might be different thematically, but they both feature a strong visual language. And, in the end, Walker might ultimately have the surprise win of the night despite her competition.
Best Documentary Feature
- All That Breathes — Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann, and Teddy Leifer
- All the Beauty and the Bloodshed — Laura Poitras, Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Nan Goldin, and Yoni Golijov
- Fire of Love — Sara Dosa, Shane Boris, and Ina Fichman
- A House Made of Splinters — Simon Lereng Wilmont and Monica Hellström
- Navalny — Daniel Roher, Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, and Shane Boris
Despite big titles, this category is a surprisingly open race as most of the films have scored influential nominations and awards leading up to the ceremony. All That Breathes follows two dedicated brothers who devote their lives to rescuing and treating injured birds falling from the polluted skies in India. A House Made of Splinters, unravelling in a war-torn part of eastern Ukraine,follows children anxiously awaiting court custody decisions as caretakers do their best to provide stability and normalcy. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed explores the life and career of photographer and activist Nan Goldin and her efforts to hold Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic in the United States. A Venice Golden Lion and Independent Spirit Awards winner, this riveting documentary that’s both big and intimate will surely appeal to voters.
Fire of Love, about French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died whilst doing the very thing both of them loved so dearly in life, will likely attract voters with its incredible story and use of stunning archival footage. But while All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and Fire of Love carry mainstream appeal, the politically timely Navalny appears to be the one to beat. Navalny, which is as gripping as any great thriller — but more terrifying since it’s not fiction — is about the fight against authoritarianism. The film takes a deeper look at the poisoning of Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020, and the months-long recovery and subsequent shocking discoveries unravelling after the event.
Best Documentary Short
- The Elephant Whisperers — Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga
- Haulout — Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev
- How Do You Measure a Year? — Jay Rosenblatt
- The Martha Mitchell Effect — Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison
- Stranger at the Gate — Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones
If starting with the less likely winners, there’s How Do You Measure a Year? from Jay Rosenblatt, who was nominated last year for When We Were Bullies. Despite its exploration of a father-daughter relationship and how it evolves in all its complexities with time, the nowadays unoriginal concept of asking a subject the same questions every year to see how their answers change works against its chances. Equally less likely to win is the polarising Stranger at the Gate. With Malala Yousafzai attached as executive producer, the film tells the story of a U.S. Marine who plots a terrorist attack on a local mosque, only to have his plan take an unexpected turn when he comes face-to-face with the people he planned to murder.
Netflix, who has won the category before, has two contenders this year: The Elephant Whisperers and The Martha Mitchell Effect. Told through archival footage, The Martha Mitchell Effect centres on Martha Mitchell, the Cabinet wife who spoke out during Watergate and the Nixon administration’s campaign to gaslight her into silence. Combining the political with personal might prove successful with voters. Besides, the documentary’s themes echo even louder today than in the 1970s as Mitchell was punished for speaking up, having her claims publicly attributed to mental illness and dismissed as being neurotic.
One of two documentaries with an environmental angle is IDA winner Haulout. Written, directed and produced by sibling duo Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva, Haulout follows Russian scientist Maxim Chakilev, who observes the life of walruses at Cape Serdtse-Kamen. Featuring stunning imagery and a timely message told with fitting urgency, few other Oscar-nominated films this year boast more powerful images (or sounds). Haulout features a reveal that’s nothing short of jaw-dropping, something that leaves an aftertaste much more harrowing than any horror film. In contrast, the heartwarming core of The Elephant Whisperers feels like a more easily digestible alternative. Set in the Mudumalai National Park in southern India, the documentary tells the story of the bond that forms between an Indigenous couple and the orphaned baby elephant given into their care.
Despite many compelling portraits and stories, this year feels like something more environmental might prove successful. Even though The Elephant Whisperers tackles climate change and how human interference causes harm to animals, it’s more hopeful than the unflinchingly dark and existential Haulout.
Best International Feature Film
- All Quiet on the Western Front (Germany) — directed by Edward Berger
- Argentina, 1985 (Argentina) — directed by Santiago Mitre
- Close (Belgium) — directed by Lukas Dhont
- EO (Poland) — directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
- The Quiet Girl (Ireland) — directed by Colm Bairéad
War is hell, unless it’s Oscar season. With knowledge of the long-standing love affair between the two — the first official Best Picture winner was Wings (1927), about World War I pilots falling for the same woman — maybe the success following the first German language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war novel isn’t too surprising. Set during World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front follows the life of an idealistic young German soldier as he finds himself exposed to the realities of war.
Even though the film’s reception was mixed in its home country, it’s the apparent frontrunner. With strength across several branches, All Quiet on the Western Front is the second most nominated film, its nine nominations tying The Banshees of Inisherin. Its status as the most-honoured non-English-language film in the British Academy’s history with seven wins (including Best Film) further solidifies its likelihood to win. If it wins, it will mark the second win for Netflix after 2018’s Roma and the first for Germany since 2006’s The Lives of Others.
2022 was the year of the donkey, and Poland’s submission EO — inspired by Robert Bresson’s 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar — puts a grey donkey experiencing both the brutality and kindness of humans in focus. However, when looking for intimate and achingly beautiful stories centering humans, look no further than Belgium and Ireland’s submissions. The Quiet Girl — part of the Irish wave that swept the nominations this year — is a small story that leaves a big impact, following a withdrawn nine-year-old girl (the incredible Catherine Clinch) who spends the summer in the Irish countryside with distant relatives. Close is a coming-of-age tale following two teenage boys whose close friendship is thrown into disarray when their schoolmates question their intimacy. If either Close or The Quiet Girl wins, it would be a first-time win for either country in the category.
Besides being a huge success in its home country, Argentina, 1985 might appeal to anyone taking pleasure in historical legal dramas, since despite its subject matter, it’s a crowd pleaser with its underdog story. Based on real events, Amazon Studios’ Golden Globe winner follows the Trial of the Juntas, when a team of lawyers took on the leaders of Argentina’s bloody military dictatorship.
When the academy supports a non-English language feature in both International Feature and Best Picture, it’s historically a good indication that it’ll win for International Feature. With examples including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Roma (2018), and Drive My Car (2021), the exception is Parasite (2019), which won both categories when it became the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture. Thus, even though Argentina, 1985 beat All Quiet on the Western Front for the Golden Globe, the bludgeoning war epic will be hard to beat at the Oscars as it’s considered the favourite to win this category.
Best Live Action Short Film
- An Irish Goodbye — Tom Berkeley and Ross White
- Ivalu — Anders Walter and Rebecca Pruzan
- Le pupille — Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuarón
- Night Ride — Eirik Tveiten and Gaute Lid Larssen
- The Red Suitcase — Cyrus Neshvad
While the previous winners have leaned more dramatic — last year’s winner was The Long Goodbye, the short film accompanying Riz Ahmed’s second studio album of the same name, which took a look at racism and Islamophobia in the UK — this year’s winner might be a little lighter, yet still nuanced, in tone. Despite room for surprises in the international category — all but one of the nominees are in languages other than English — the ones to beat appear to be An Irish Goodbye and Le pupille. Set in rural Northern Ireland, BAFTA winner An Irish Goodbye is a film balancing humour and death in the story of a pair of estranged brothers reuniting following their mother’s death. However, as this year’s Best Director lineup is exclusively male when it comes to features, Le pupille offers the chance to let a female director walk away with an award.
Alice Rohrwacher’s beautifully shot coming-of-age fable about mischievous girls at a strict Catholic boarding school before Christmas might be the lightest in tone out of all the nominees — but it more than makes up for it with its crafts and wondrous story about how rebellion can start at any age. Besides being the first live-action short film released by Disney+ nominated for the award, Le pupille has an edge in being produced by four-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, which (along with Rohrwacher) alone might prove advantageous on the name recognition alone.
If neither were to win, The Red Suitcase seems like the next likely contender with its story of a 16-year Iranian girl frightened to leave the baggage claim and face her fate waiting beyond the gate at Luxembourg Airport. Out of the remaining two nominees, Night Ride — telling the story of an unexpected tram ride home after a night out — is less likely to win, along with Ivalu. Unravelling in the immense Greenlandic landscape, Ivalu tells the story of a girl desperate to find her missing sister whilst their father seems surprisingly unbothered. Ultimately, despite having a strong contender in An Irish Goodbye, crowning Le pupille as the category’s winner is too attractive an opportunity to pass on for the Academy.
Best Original Score
- All Quiet on the Western Front — Volker Bertelmann
- Babylon — Justin Hurwitz
- The Banshees of Inisherin — Carter Burwell
- Everything Everywhere All at Once — Son Lux
- The Fabelmans — John Williams
While any one of the nominees could walk away with the Oscar and it wouldn’t be too surprising, this year’s lineup is also a reminder of how one of last year’s best original scores didn’t even receive a nomination. Michael Giacchino’s brooding score for The Batman — particularly the theme he composed for the titular character — shines the brightest, with a western feel that works beautifully within the film.
The category — which includes previously nominated composers and one newcomer in experimental band Son Lux — features four scores from films that are also Best Picture nominees, with an outsider in Babylon. Since 2000, when the category reverted from its past four years of being split between comedy/musical and dramatic scores, the winner of Best Original Score has also often been a Best Picture nominee. The few films that have won the category and not been a Best Picture nominee include Frida (2002), The Hateful Eight (2015) and, most recently, Soul (2020). So, what are the chances for Babylon? Despite its divisiveness, the ambitious and extravagant film features a score that is arguably one of the more memorable as it blends timely elements of the 1920s with a contemporary twist. Justin Hurwitz — Damien Chazelle’s longtime collaborator — has previously won two Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“City of Stars,” with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) for La La Land (2016).
All Quiet on the Western Front is not to dismiss as even though the Golden Globes leaned in favour of Babylon, BAFTA favoured the anti-war epic’s score that beautifully aligns with its harrowing emotional state. Moreover, this is the second time Volker Bertelmann faces Hurwitz in this category, as the former was nominated under his stage name Hauschka alongside Dustin O’Halloran for Lion (2016).
However, never rule out veterans Carter Burwell and John Williams. Burwell has scored all of McDonagh’s films and previously received nominations for his work on Carol (2015) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Then with Williams, there’s a potential sentimental factor to consider, as he holds the record for most nominations within the category with 48 nominations (in total, Williams has 53 nominations, with five for Best Original Song). Out of all these nominations, five have resulted in wins, the latest being Schindler’s List (1994). Additionally, the collaboration between Williams and Steven Spielberg runs deep, as Williams has been linked to the filmmaker ever since 1974’s The Sugarland Express. All things considered, The Fabelmans’ inconsistent awards run doesn’t work in its composer’s favour. Similarly, despite the beautifully haunting folktale-like element of Burwell’s score, it’s equally unlikely to walk away as the winner of this category.
As seniority and previous nominations/wins certainly aren’t of the utmost importance, Son Lux’s unconventional and genre-bending score for Everything Everywhere All at Once undoubtedly has a chance to surprise. The score seamlessly connects and blends the intimate with the big — like its film, it’s something that spans sounds, styles, and universes. Ultimately, the winner will be either All Quiet on the Western Front, Babylon, or Everything Everywhere All at Once, while Hurwitz’s score could be the surprise winner of the group. However, as Babylon isn’t a Best Picture nominee, this might historically speak against its chances, and then a win for All Quiet on the Western Front seems more likely.
Best Original Song
- “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman — Music and lyrics by Diane Warren
- “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick — Music and lyrics by Lady Gaga and Bloodpop
- “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — Music by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler, and Ludwig Göransson; Lyrics by Tems and Ryan Coogler
- “Naatu Naatu” from RRR — Music by M.M. Keeravani; Lyrics by Chandrabose
- “This Is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once — Music by Ryan Lott, David Byrne, and Mitski; Lyrics by Ryan Lott and David Byrne
While this year’s lineup doesn’t feature an uplifting song from an animated film or a James Bond theme, it does feature — along with the near obligatory Diane Warren track — a frontrunner that not even superstars or legends can challenge. With the power ballad “Hold My Hand,” Lady Gaga received her third nomination in this category alone (she won in 2019 for A Star Is Born’s “Shallow”) as Rihanna received her first nomination with the ballad “Lift Me Up”. “This Is a Life,” possibly the more surprising nominee of the bunch, is a first for Ryan Lott and Mitski and the second for David Byrne, who won Original Score for 1987’s The Last Emperor (shared with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su). Yet, while Everything Everywhere All at Once might score big, it seems unlikely to snag a win in this category. Moreover, this year will not be the year to break Warren’s record for most nominations in the category (14) without a win.
Let’s face it: this category is (rightfully) all about RRR’s “Naatu Naatu”. From the moment India didn’t select the three-hour epic as their Oscars submission — instead choosing to submit Last Film Show, which made the shortlist but failed to earn a nomination — it feels only right that the award would go to the film’s monumental song. The hugely successful Telugu-language song has Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards in its trophy cabinet and this is the Academy’s chance to honour the huge breakthrough the film had internationally.