One of the first major Oscar contenders of 2023 is Past Lives, opening in theaters on June 2. Celine Song’s debut film tells the story of Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), who meet in childhood but then are pulled apart when Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they reunite and find out what could’ve been in their relationship.
The romance drama, which brings to mind Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy in the way it deals with the passage of time between two people who share a deep connection, was my favorite title at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Past Lives will likely be my favorite movie for all of 2023, its beautiful storytelling and powerful performance still haunting me months later. I’m excited for more people to discover it, and I can’t wait to see what kind of impact it will have on the next awards season.
A few potential Oscar contenders have been released so far this year, namely Ben Affleck’s drama Air from April, but Past Lives is going to be the first major 2023 release that has the potential to get into major categories at the Academy Awards next year. What are the most likely categories I see Past Lives getting into at the Oscars? Here are five of them…
1. Best Picture
With ten nominees for Best Picture, you can guarantee that Past Lives will make it into the top category. The A24 release is close to 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been getting raves from critics and audiences since its Sundance premiere many months ago. It’s the kind of deeply emotional story that is going to work its magic on awards voters, and I can see it winning Best Picture from some of the major critic groups at the end of the year. Even if it underperforms on Oscar nominations morning in some of the other categories, I can’t imagine it missing in Best Picture. It’s one of the most affecting films I’ve seen in the last five years, and awards voters are going to feel the same way.
2. Best Actress
The other Oscar nomination I believe with my whole heart will happen is Best Actress for Greta Lee, who is astounding in the role of Nora. A lot of the performance is internal, which might not scream awards to some, but she has a specifically heartbreaking moment at the end, a major cathartic release for her character and for the audience, that will make Lee a major contender for Best Actress. She gives Nora strength and confidence, but also a raw delicateness, her scenes with Teo Yoo as Hae Sung filled with so many complex emotions. She was excellent in Russian Doll and the second season of The Morning Show, but her role in Past Lives is her breakthrough. Look for Lee to make it into the Best Actress final five at next year’s Oscars.
3. Best Original Screenplay
If Past Lives gets into Best Picture and Best Actress at the 96th Academy Awards as I predict, there’s no way it’s missing a nod in Best Original Screenplay. It’s not a showy movie, it’s talky, it’s quiet, it’s not reinventing the wheel, and thus some voters might not put the film’s original screenplay at the top of their minds. However, the three-act structure implemented by writer-director Celine Song is gorgeously orchestrated; those moments early on with Nora and Hae Sung in childhood having incredibly effective payoffs at the narrative’s end. Past Lives not getting into Best Original Screenplay would be shocking, especially if it makes it into Best Picture.
4. Best Supporting Actor
Another performance awards voters are likely going to respond to is John Magaro as Nora’s husband Arthur. The two characters meet and fall in love, and then the way he deals with Hae Sung’s re-entry into Nora’s life is complicated and feels so real moment to moment. He also gives the film some welcome humor and levity, especially toward the end when the emotional stakes couldn’t be higher. Magaro has been consistently excellent throughout the years in Carol, The Big Short, First Cow, and The Many Saints of Newark. Outside of First Cow, Magaro really hasn’t received many nominations from critics or awards bodies, but that I imagine is going to change for his nuanced turn in Past Lives.
5. Best Film Editing
A contemporary drama like Past Lives isn’t going to show up in categories at next year’s Oscars like Costume Design or Production Design, but one technical category I can see it getting into is Film Editing. It doesn’t have flashy editing you always notice, but Academy voters will likely respond to the way the editor Keith Fraase so masterfully plays with passage of time, always keeping the narrative at a steady pace that works wonders for those powerful final scenes. There’s also one incredible cut at the end that, sadly, the trailer has already spoiled, but wow, in the moment, it’s a punch to the gut.
I would also love to see Past Lives get into Best Director for Celine Song, remarkably making her directing debut here, and Teo Yoo for Best Actor, but as of now, the most likely categories we may see the film in next year are Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Picture. I’m not sure if the A24 release will turn into a runaway box office sensation and awards juggernaut like their 2022 title Everything Everywhere All at Once turned out to be, but I have hope, and I’ll be championing the magnificent Past Lives every step of the way.