The 95th Academy Awards: Who Should Win (Part I)

Rants and Raves
Published in
15 min readMar 9


Image copyright: ABC/AMPAS

On March 12, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold the 95th Academy Awards and reveal their selections for the best in film from the past year. In this article, I rank the contenders in each of the four acting races while delving into my take on the relative merit of the contenders.

To find out who I think should win in the other major categories — including Best Picture — check out Part Two of this article.

Click here to find out who I think will win in all 23 categories.

Although I unabashedly adore the glitzy ceremony, behind-the-scenes drama, near-century of statistics and milestones, and flat-out fun of predicting the eventual winners, I care about the Oscars each year primarily because I love movies. I love watching movies, reflecting on movies, and debating the merits of movies. I believe that the art of filmmaking has shaped my life — and our culture — in profound ways.

Each year I make sure to see each film nominated in the “top eight” categories (Best Picture, Best Director, the four acting categories, and the two screenplay categories), along with as many of the others as I can squeeze in. Below, I rank the five nominees in each acting category from weakest to strongest based on my evaluation of the quality of the respective performances.

Click here to read my reactions to this year’s Oscar nominations.


5.) Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans (1 prior nomination — Supporting Actor for Ordinary People). Last year, many were shocked when the well-respected, never-nominated Caitríona Balfe was omitted from the Best Supporting Actress for her critically adored performance in Belfast in favor of her legendary, previously nominated co-star Judi Dench, who gave a decidedly less acclaimed and substantive turn. A very similar scenario played out this year when the Academy nominated Judd Hirsch for The Fabelmans over his co-star Paul Dano. Although Dano was not a presumed frontrunner like Balfe was, it was still a head-scratcher given that Dano has a sterling film resume that includes Oscar favorites like 12 Years a Slave, There Will Be Blood, and Little Miss Sunshine and gives a much longer, more nuanced, and more integral performance in the film than Hirsch. But just because many would have preferred to see Dano nominated over Hirsch, doesn’t mean Hirsch gives a bad performance. In fact, I question whether the Emmy- and Tony-winner is capable of giving a bad performance. When he enters The Fabelmans as our protagonist’s mysterious Great Uncle Boris, he injects the film with an eccentricity, a lightness, and a vivacity that the rest of the film is notably lacking. As big and strong an impression as Hirsch makes in his brief screen time, however, I ultimately found it to be a glorified cameo. Fun Facts: Judd Hirsch’s is one of the shortest performances ever nominated in the category by time (7th shortest) and percentage (4th shortest) and the 32-year gap between his nominations for Ordinary People and The Fabelmans mark the longest gap between acting nominations ever.

4.) Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin (1st nomination). Brendan Gleeson is one of those actors who has delivered such consistently interesting work in well-liked films over such a long period of time that it is a bit hard to fathom that this is his first Oscar nomination. The Banshees of Inisherin reunites Gleeson with his In Bruges co-star Colin Farrell and the film’s writer-director Martin McDonagh and the trio defy the odds by making a film that’s even better than their terrific initial collaboration. Gleeson is perfectly cast as the gruff Colm Doherty, whose abrupt decision to end his friendship with Farrell’s Pádraic sets the film’s plot in motion. His performance is superb, but I found his role to be the least interesting and nuanced of the principal quartet.

3.) Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway (1st nomination). The intimate character study Causeway was clearly intended to serve as a showcase for Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. As good as she is as Lynsey, a soldier forced to return home to recover from a traumatic brain injury, Brian Tyree Henry is even better as James, a mechanic in her hometown who is navigating emotional trauma of his own. The two form an unlikely bond that is the emotional core of the highly affecting film. It is unsurprising that Henry is as good as he is given that in the last 5 years he has turned in superb work on the big screen (If Beale Street Could Talk), the small screen (Atlanta), and the Broadway stage (Lobby Hero). He imbues the character with a charm and warmth that belie the emotional detachment that has resulted from his traumatic past. It is a compelling and inspired performance that I am delighted the Academy recognized.

2.) Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin (1st nomination). Although he is on screen for a full 20 minutes less than his co-star Brendan Gleeson’s, I found Keoghan’s performance as Dominic Kearney to be significantly more impactful. In fact, not a single one of the 20 acting nominees had an acting clip make as big of an impact on social media this year as his heartbreaking “There goes that dream” speech did. Keoghan imbues what could have been a one-dimensional “village idiot” role with profound tenderness and empathy. He begins as comic relief and evolves into a truly tragic figure and Keoghan masterfully executes every mannerism and line delivery along the way.

1.) Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once (1st nomination). Few narratives in recent Oscar history have been as unique and heartwarming as Ke Huy Quan’s. After breaking out as a child star in classics like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, opportunities in front of the camera dried up for him and he took a nearly three-decade long break from acting. He returned to the big screen in a huge way with his performance as Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once. He is instantly charming as the kind-hearted and goofy husband of Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn and father to Stephanie Hsu’s Joy. However, he goes far beyond being merely comic relief or a grounded, amiable counterpart to Evelyn and Joy’s deep wells of anguish. He creates a fully fleshed out and ultimately heroic character that’s impossible not to root for. His awards season sweep to date has been incredibly well-deserved.

Image copyright: A24


5.) Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All At Once (1st nomination). In the nearly 45 years since she made her film debut as heroic babysitter Laurie Strode in the 1978 horror classic Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis has consistently delivered sharp, memorable turns on the big screen. In addition to reprising the role of Strode in numerous Halloween sequels and revivals, she has delivered impressive turns in films like Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies, My Girl, and Knives Out. It is utterly delightful to see her finally getting her due after a career of consistently great work. She delivers a fully committed, vanity-free performance as humorless IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdre and gets the chance to show some considerable range as the film traverses multiple alternative universes. Curtis could very well get a win here given what a beloved icon she is, but I found her performance to be the least substantive of the five nominees here.

4.) Hong Chau, The Whale (1st nomination). After gaining recognition for strong turns in both television (Homecoming, Watchmen) and film (Downsizing, The Menu), the remarkably gifted Hong Chau received her first Oscar nomination as compassionate nurse Liz in The Whale. Darren Aronofsky adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play about the final days of a gay, morbidly obese man is highly offensive, deeply unpleasant, and features notably uneven performances. Although Brendan Fraser got the lion’s share of the attention for his turn in the lead role, far and away the film’s best performance belongs to Chau. She rises above the problematic material in a way that only a person with brilliant instincts and a true command of their craft can. She captures the deep well of compassion, understandable frustration, and suppressed heartbreak of her character with humor and pathos.

3.) Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (1 prior nomination — Actress for What’s Love Got To Do With It?). Although the race for Best Supporting Actress has become exceedingly more competitive in the last few weeks of the season, Bassett’s Golden Globe- and Critics Choice-winning performance as the grieving Queen Ramonda is still the one to beat. And even though it isn’t my favorite performance in the category, I would have no problem with her winning given that Bassett has consistently been turning out brilliant and under-awarded work since the early 1990s heyday that included iconic turns in What’s Love Got to Do With It?, Malcolm X, and Waiting to Exhale. Many expected her to return as an Oscar nominee someday, but few expected her to do so for playing a supporting role in a Marvel sequel. Well, until they saw the film anyway. Although Wakanda Forever is not quite as narratively cohesive as its Best Picture-nominated predecessor, it does a superb job of exploring grief (necessitated by the death of franchise star Chadwick Boseman). Bassett’s performance is a masterful embodiment of raw pain and commanding passion. You simply can’t take your eyes off of her when she is on screen. Fun Fact: This is the first performance in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film to be nominated for an Oscar and one of the few performances from a comic book adaptation ever to be nominated.

2.) Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All At Once (1st nomination). To the surprise of many, Jamie Lee Curtis became Everything Everywhere All At Once’s major awards player in the Best Supporting Actress category over Stephanie Hsu despite the fact that Hsu’s role is far more integral to the film and her performance is much more impactful and has a much higher degree of difficulty. She is equally convincing as Joy, a queer woman frustrated and heartbroken about her relationship with her traditional and impossible-to-please mother, and as Jobu Tupaki, her nihilistic multiverse counterpart hellbent on destruction. Playing both roles requires immense skill and range, both of which Hsu has in abundance.

1.) Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin (1st nomination). Quite simply, I found Kerry Condon’s turn as Pádraic’s sister Siobhán in The Banshees of Inisherin to be one of the most surprising and effective performances of 2022. The role of Siobhán is one we rarely see depicted on stage or screen. She is far too smart, sophisticated, and ambitious for the small, stagnant town she was born into but she fights hard to suppress her dreams in the serivce of the immense love, respect, and devotion she has for her family and neighbors. Her deep affection and repressed frustration with her brother is exquisitely balanced throughout the film’s first half and when she finally starts telling people what she thinks and advocating for herself, it is a thing of startling and unexpected beauty.

Image copyright: Searchlight

Click below to check out my rankings of the Oscar acting nominees at recent ceremonies:

94th Academy Awards

93rd Academy Awards

92nd Academy Awards

91st Academy Awards


5.) Brendan Fraser, The Whale (1st nomination). It is hard not to root for Brendan Fraser. From the early 1990s through the 2010s, he was a high-profile Hollywood star that delivered memorable turns in films ranging from silly comedies (Encino Man, George of the Jungle) to blockbuster action films (The Mummy trilogy) to arthouse dramas (Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American, Crash). However, the fallout from a sexual assault allegation against the head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association combined with health concerns and personal problems led to a significant downturn in his career. The remarkably likable star came back in a big way with his turn in The Whale, which brought him his first Oscar nomination. As a gay, morbidly obese English teacher with crippling shame and days to live, Fraser delivers a convincing performance that at times manages to find real emotional honesty and empathy. Unfortunately, the prosthetics are so distracting and the film is so problematically written and directed that it undercuts his performance significantly.

4.) Paul Mescal, Aftersun (1st nomination). Critical darling and relative newcomer Paul Mescal was a somewhat surprising nominee for Best Actor for his turn in Charlotte Wells’s experimental film debut Aftersun. His turn as Calum, a divorced father vacationing from Edinburgh to a Turkish resort with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) is so subtle and naturalistic that it is at first hard to figure out why he was singled out for awards attention over the showier work of Corio and the brilliant directorial work of Wells. As the film progresses, however, Calum’s deep mental anguish becomes more visible to Sophie and the viewer and the remarkable skill and power of his performance becomes truly evident.

3.) Bill Nighy, Living (1st nomination). Although he is perhaps best known for his comic turn as the past-his-prime, debaucherous rocker seeking a Christmas #1 hit in Love Actually, Nighy actually has a remarkably long and impressive filmography that includes turns in Notes on a Scandal, The Constant Gardener, Shaun of the Dead, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and a Harry Potter film. (He also has done a great deal of acclaimed stage work.) He received his first Oscar nomination ever this year for his turn as British bureaucrat Rodney Williams, a man whose subdued nature was compounded by the repression of 1950s England. When he is given six months to live, Rodney decides to start finally living (hence the title). He goes AWOL from work for several days, forms a bond with a young woman, and decides to defy the status quo and instigate actual progress within his farcically ineffectual government office. Nighy fully embodies the deep well of pain that his character is in not because he is dying, but because he realizes that he has never really lived. It is an achingly honest performance of quiet heartbreak.

2.) Austin Butler, Elvis (1st nomination). In a refreshing change from the Oscars usual affinity for any and all biopics regardless of quality, only two of the twenty nominated performances this year feature actors portraying real people. But, interestingly, those that were nominated for biopics are playing arguably the two most iconic and recognizable figures in Hollywood history — Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley. As the “King of Rock & Roll,” relative newcomer Butler delivers a performance that transcends imitation and feels like the full embodiment of a complicated icon. Much has been made of Butler’s (admittedly ridiculous) insistence on continuing to use his “Elvis voice” in public appearances long after filming had wrapped, but his performance is about much more than nailing Elvis’s voice or even his iconic mannerisms. He manages to inhabit his swagger, his charisma, and his profound sadness. It ranks with Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line, Renee Zellweger in Judy, and Taron Egerton in Rocketman as one of my favorite musical biopic performances of the past two decades.

1.) Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin (1st nomination). Colin Farrell has turned in consistently interesting and impressive work for more than two decades, with highlights including his performances in In Bruges, Saving Mr. Banks, Minority Report, and The Lobster. Somewhat shockingly, however, this is the first time he has been nominated for an Academy Award. At least when his 1st Oscar nomination finally came, it came for arguably his greatest performance to date. He fully immerses himself in the role of Pádraic, a middle-aged Irish man with a pleasant demeanor, limited sophistication, and no great ambitions, whose life is thrown into utter chaos when his best friend and drinking buddy Colm (Farrell’s In Bruges co-star Brendan Gleeson) decides he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. In response, Pádraic experiences denial, bewilderment, obstinance, frustration, despondency, heartbreak, and rage. Farrell delivers each phase of his grief with exquisite precision and indelible emotional impact. He manages to avoid making Pádraic a weak or pitiable figure, which is perhaps the main reason the film works as well as it does.

Image copyright: Searchlight


5.) Ana de Armas, Blonde (1st nomination). Films as bad as Blonde have been nominated at the Oscars before. Films as offensive as Blonde have also been nominated at the Oscars before. But it’s hard to remember any instance in history when a film as simultaneously bad and offensive as Blonde has ever scored a major Oscar nomination. Andrew Dominik’s profoundly misogynistic, exploitative, reductionistic, and dramatically inert retelling of the life of Marilyn Monroe is perhaps the single most unpleasant film-watching experiences I have had in years. The fact that I made it through the excruciatingly long 166 minute runtime is a testament to Ana de Armas’s skill as an actress. She gives a remarkably committed performance and there are moments when she physically and emotionally embodies the late great star impressively. But the writing and direction are so profoundly problematic that the potential power of her performance is undercut in every scene. (You can only do so much as an actress when the script makes you spend excessive amounts of time prancing around topless seductively calling every male figure “daddy.”) Fun Fact: Ana de Armas’s turn in Blonde is the 7th longest performance to a score a Best Actress nomination in history.

4.) Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans (4 prior nominations — Actress for Blue Valentine and My Week with Marilyn; Supporting Actress for Brokeback Mountain and Manchester by the Sea; she has never won). 25 years ago when she was gracing the small screen on the iconic teen soap Dawson’s Creek, few would have guessed that Michelle Williams would become one of the most talented and acclaimed actresses of her generation. Although I would argue that her role in The Fabelmans is actually a supporting one and suspect that the role might have been more effective had it been played by a Jewish actress, I can’t begrudge her nomination here given that she gives a fully committed and highly effective performance as an emotionally unstable concert pianist struggling to find contentment with her domestic life. Few people can do raw emotional vulnerability like Williams can and The Fabelmans is a great showcase for it.

3.) Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie (1st nomination). After barely factoring into the Best Actress race during most of awards season, a grassroots campaign organized by several members of the Hollywood elite successfully resulted in an Oscar nomination for character actress Andrea Riseborough. The nomination was so out-of-left-field that it generated significant controversy and actually prompted the Academy to investigate it. However, the issue here is that the campaign took place outside of established awards season avenues, not that it resulted in an undeserving performance getting nominated. Riseborough is extraordinary in the film, in which she plays a single mother in West Texas who wins $190,000 in the lottery only to squander it over the next 6 years. During this time, she abandoned her son, descended into alcoholism, became homeless, and alienated virtually everyone she knows. The story and themes feel very familiar to anyone who has watched a character study of a recovering addict in a small town, but Riseborough’s performance elevates it immensely. It is a thoroughly lived-in, vanity free performance, with raw, visceral emotion abound.

2.) Cate Blanchett, Tár (7 prior nominations — Actress for Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blue Jasmine, and Carol; Supporting Actress for The Aviator, Notes on a Scandal, and I’m Not There; she won Actress for Blue Jasmine and Supporting Actress for The Aviator). Writer-director Todd Field conceived of his first film in 16 years specifically with Cate Blanchett in mind for the title role. And, honestly, it is hard to imagine anyone in the role of Berlin Symphony conductor Lydia Tár. The role is a remarkably juicy and profoundly challenging one that requires her to almost single-handedly command the screen for a sprawling run time of nearly 160 minutes. Blanchett can play exceptionally brilliant artist and profoundly cruel narcissism better than just about anyone and she is so electrifying and captivating that it renders the film surprisingly entertaining given its style, subject matter., and length. Blanchett could very well take home her third Oscar for the role and while she comes in a close second for me, I couldn’t begrudge her a win for this remarkable work here. Fun Fact: Cate Blanchett’s turn in Tár is the 2nd longest performance to a score a Best Actress nomination in history, behind only Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind.

1.) Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once (1st nomination). The role of Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once is the crowning achievement of Michelle Yeoh’s remarkable, boundary-breaking career. After making a name for herself in a number of Hong Kong action films in the 1980s, Yeoh started a successful career as an international film star, headlining films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Memoirs of a Geisha. She has long been beloved by audiences and respected by the film industry, but she has never had a showcase quite like this. To be fair, though, few actresses ever get a showcase quite like this. As a middle-aged Chinese immigrant who is suffering under the crushing weight of unfulfilled dreams and dealing with the immense frustration of an IRS audit, Yeoh is wholly believable and deeply effective. But when she starts traversing the multiverse and goes on an epic journey of self-discovery, her performance becomes extraordinarily versatile, vivacious, and powerful. It is an absolute knockout of a performance that Yeoh is uniquely capable of pulling off.

Image Copyright: A24



Rants and Raves

Passionate cinephile. Music lover. Classic TV junkie. Awards season blogger. History buff. Avid traveler. Mental health and social justice advocate.