When the 95th Academy Awards are presented Sunday, March 12 in Los Angeles, the big question may not be what film will win Best Picture, but will fictional lesbian maestro Lydia Tár (Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett) be conducting the pit orchestra? It would be a great career boost for her if she did — but not if she bulldozes her way to snatch the baton out of the musical director’s hand; that would be worse than the Will Smith slapping incident last year.
This year, there are several queer films, filmmakers, and characters competing for an Oscar. The aforementioned Blanchett is up for Best Actress for her tour de force performance in “Tár,” which would earn the chameleon actress and queer icon her third statuette. Oddsmakers have her slightly edging out Michelle Yeoh for her career defining work in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Yeoh’s character, Evelyn Wang, a put-upon wife and mother dealing with an accounting issue, has a brief same-sex relationship with her costar (and Best Supporting Actress nominee) Jamie Lee Curtis in one of the film’s wild multiverse scenarios. (The inventive scene also features hot dog fingers.) Adding to the film’s queer quotient is Evelyn’s lesbian daughter, Joy (Best Supporting Actress nominee Stephanie Hsu). The friction between Joy and Evelyn plays out in weird ways, most notably in a fight involving giant dildos. However, despite their fine work in “Everything,” both Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu will be bested in this category by Angela Bassett for her performance in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
That said, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is currently positioned as the frontrunner to win four top categories: Best Picture, Best Director(s) (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) and Best Original Screenplay (Kwan and Scheinert).
Another big prize, Best Actor, is likely going to be awarded to Brendan Fraser for his commanding performance as Charlie, a severely obese gay man in “The Whale.” Proving yet again that a straight actor taking on a queer role — see Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” Sean Penn in “Milk” and William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” — as a sure way to win an Oscar. Fraser also has two other factors in his favor. First, he donned a (controversial) fat suit for the role, to give one of those “transformative” performances that the Academy members reward. Likewise, his performance is also a comeback, something Hollywood cannot resist honoring. “The Whale” is not a great film, but it does also feature an excellent supporting performance by fellow nominee Hong Chau as Charlie’s late lover’s sister. It is also anticipated to win the Best Makeup and Hairstyling statue.
Alas, Bill Nighy’s subtle underplaying in gay filmmaker Oliver Hermanus’ film, “Living,” is arguably the best nominated performance, but he will lose to Fraser’s showier turn. (Because the Oscars are about the “Most” acting, not the “Best” acting.) And novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has little odds of winning the Best Adapted Screenplay for writing Hermanus’s remake of Akira Kurasawa’s “Ikiru.” The Adapted Screenplay prize is expected to go to Sarah Polley for her drama, “Women Talking,” a strong but talky film that includes trans actor August Winter as well as out gay actor Ben Whishaw in key roles. “Women Talking” was also nominated for Best Picture, but it is a longshot to win.
One queer-themed film expected to win in its category is Laura Poitras’s documentary, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” about artist Nan Goldin, who made a career photographing queer and transpeople — for her landmark exhibition (and subsequent book), “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.” Poitras’ film chronicles not just aspects of Goldin’s career but focuses on her efforts to hold the Sackler family accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic by staging activist demonstrations at museums to call attention to the Sackler family’s legacy.
In the Best International Film category, out gay Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s heartbreaking “Close,” about the friendship between two teenage boys, will likely lose to the German entry, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which has been nominated for 9 Oscars and will probably win at least a second trophy for Best Cinematography.
Another predicted also-ran is Lady Gaga, who has been nominated for her fourth Oscar for her song “Hold My Hand” from the “Top Gun: Maverick” soundtrack. The catchy “Naatu Naatu,” from the spectacular Tollywood bromance, “RRR,” is the runaway favorite in the Best Song. (Can’t wait for that dance number).
Speaking of spectacles, “Babylon” may have fizzled at the box office, but the film, which includes a storyline featuring Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), a lesbian singer, scored three nominations and is trending to pick up statues in the categories of Best Production Design and Best Score, but not Best Costume Design. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is likely going to earn designer Ruth E. Carter her second Oscar; her first award, for “Black Panther,” made her the first African American to win an Oscar for costume design.
In the Best Editing and Visual Effect categories, the box office blockbusters, “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” are practically locks.
The Best Animated Feature is projected to be “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” a stop-motion version of the classic novel.
And rounding out the awards, in the short film categories, the Best Live Action nominee, “Night Ride,” features a trans character who gets harassed on a tram ride, but this satisfying short will lose to the saccharine entry, “Le Pupille,” about a group of young girls at a religious boarding school who are hoping to have a cake for Christmas during wartime in Italy. In the Best Animated Short category, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” has the edge over the provocatively titled, “My Year of Dicks,” and “The Elephant Whisperers,” is the favorite for Documentary Short, but not the best film among the nominees; that would be “The Martha Mitchell Effect,” an all-archival footage retelling of the Cabinet wife during the Watergate scandal.
It will be interesting to see who the Academy rewards this year. And hopefully there will be some surprises this year — like seeing Lydia Tár conducting. We will see on March 12.