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The narratives of an awards season tend to unfold over months as festival winners and various film groups anoint front-runners and winners, but this is a year that couldn’t settle on just one storyline. And that’s an encouraging and hopeful message and story for everyone to latch onto.

One trend: The return of the blockbuster. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” from 20th Century Studios and distributed by Disney, and Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” are two films that can re-engage the public with the Oscars, which used to have a strong track record with big-budget spectacles. Indeed, 25 years ago, the highest-grossing film of all time, “Titanic” (1997), ran away with 11 statuettes. Even afterward, the Academy didn’t hesitate to reward epics including “Gladiator” (2000) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) or crime sagas ranging from “The Departed” (2006) to “No Country for Old Men” (2007). Sprinkle in the potentials for Netflix’s “Glass Onion” and Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and the Academy has the ingredients for a delicious ceremony.

Another great storyline: The comeback kids. Brendan Fraser showing everyone that he’s not only a star but a terrific actor in “The Whale” and Ke Huy Quan’s return to movies in such an emotional and crowd-pleasing role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” are great stories. 

Yet another welcome back: Todd Field. It took 16 years for Field to return to the director’s chair after blazing onto the awards scenes with “In the Bedroom” (2001) and “Little Children” (2006), and now with Focus Features’ “Tár,” he has one more shot at Oscar gold. 

Veteran actors also provide a good narrative for this awards season as artists such as Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) are all well-positioned to receive their first Oscar noms. 

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who made an outstanding debut over 20 years ago with “Love & Basketball” (2000), seems in line to receive her first Academy Award nomination for her action epic “The Woman King.”

RRR, (aka RISE ROAR REVOLT), N.T. Rama Rao Jr., 2022. © Raftar Creations /Courtesy Everett Collection Courtesy Everett Collection

International names and titles are being embraced in a significant way. Go to any social media platform and type in “RRR” from surprise NYFCC winner S.S. Rajamouli, and you’ll be greeted with a barrage of song memes and passionate fans of the Indian feature. Cinephiles have long known about German actor Nina Hoss, who gave indelible performances in “Barbara” and “Phoenix.” Now, seeing her as the fragile yet stern wife to Cate Blanchett in “Tár,” Hollywood is finally catching onto the secret many of us have known for years — Hoss is one of the best in the game.

And let’s not forget about the music. Aside from historical potentials such as the first Black woman finding recognition in original score — Chanda Dancy for Sony’s “Devotion” — the original song race is full of the biggest pop stars in the world — Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Joe Jonas, Billie Eilish and the Weeknd — are all angling for a trip to the Dolby Theatre.

The Academy has learned a lot over the past decade. It expanded its membership following #OscarsSoWhite, it knows to never put lead actor last during an awards ceremony and now knows that if an eventual winner slaps a presenter, organizers should probably show the door.

I’d say there’s a lot to cheer this year. 

See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective. To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.

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