Films starring Oscar Buzz in 2023 (so far): ‘Air’, ‘Past Lives’

Romance stories, period dramas, sneaker origins and a multiverse blast are among the standout films from the first half of 2023 that might have the legs to make it to next year’s Oscars.

As we enter the middle of the calendar year, we turn our attention to films that seem worthy of Academy recognition, based on critical acclaim and buzz surrounding the contenders. The list considers films that had theatrical releases and stood out in 19 of the 23 Oscar categories.

Read: Variety Awards Circuit for the latest Oscar predictions across all categories.

Among the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2023 so far, Sony Pictures’ animated show “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (currently sitting in third place with $319 million) has the best shot at reaching the coveted best range of images. Other big earners on the list could have potential in various artisan categories such as makeup and hairstyling (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”), sound (“John Wick: Chapter 4”), visual effects (“The Little Mermaid”) and the original song (“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”).

No one should be surprised anymore, but the animation industry has been on fire for the past few years with innovative techniques and supreme stories. Aside from “Across the Spider-Verse” in all eligible categories (and which includes directing, adapted screenplay, production design, film editing, sound, visual effects and score), Netflix has a charmer in his hands with “Nimona,” which seems destined for one of five animated feature slots if it can hold attention for the next few months.


Pixar’s “Elemental” didn’t blow up the box office, but reviews are pretty solid nonetheless. However, as the year continues with more releases, such as its Walt Disney Animation counterpart “Wish” or legend Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming “How Do You Live,” it may drop down the charts as new discoveries are made.

Another streaming contender is Ben Affleck’s highly entertaining “Air” from Amazon Studios, in which he stars alongside his friend Matt Damon. A solid box office (in over 3,000 theaters) and very strong reviews from critics should keep it in the discussion for quite some time and it could be one of the safest and easiest picks among voters.

As the Academy announces it’s focus on expanding theatrical releases from the 2025 ceremony, all eyes are on independent studios, with plenty rooting for their successes as they continue. to find the best way to navigate this difficult time for theater chains. A24’s “Past Lives” from debut director Celine Song is clearly the darling of the indie scene so far after premiering at Sundance. Now in theaters, he has what it takes to be an all-around awards player at the end of the year.

Focus Features’ Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” got off to a strong theatrical start. However, despite a star-studded cast (Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, etc.), the author’s foray into a sci-fi theme seems to be in line with his previous effort “The French Dispatch” (2021) , who was dropped from the Oscar race. I’d say “City” will fight over a technical name or two, but not much else, but you can never really be sure.

We should salute films that debuted at film festivals but open later in 2023, such as Cannes standouts like Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Todd Haynes’ “The Zone of Interest,” “May December” and the Palme d’Or “Anatomy of a Fall” by Justine Triet – and Sundance players like – “A Little Prayer” from Sony Pictures Classics, “Fair Play” from Netflix and “Flora and Son” from Apple. We’ll likely hear more about it in the months to come.

Read the list of likely contenders below in each of the 19 respective Oscar categories. Please note that to provide the opportunity to nominate more films, a film is only mentioned once as a highlight, even though it may be in contention in more than one race.

**All crew members listed are unofficial. The Academy ultimately decides on the credits.

Read: Variety Awards Circuit for the latest Oscar predictions across all categories.

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