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Awards Update: Critics, Critics, and more Critics

December 28, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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Welcome to an ongoing series where I cover the 2023/2024 awards season. On a regular basis, I will update my Oscar predictions, taking into account the new information that has been received since the last update. Full predictions in every category can be found on the Home and Awards page.

We’ve seen an avalanche of precursors over these past few weeks, so much so that some races have been won, lost, and won back again in record time. As an act of organization, I’ll break down this update between the critics' groups, televised awards, and Oscar Shortlists, starting with the former.

While I intend no shade on the state/regional critics groups (of which I am part), the only two that play a factor in the awards season are the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA). Tangentially connected are the National Board of Review (NBR) and the American Film Institute (AFI). Killers of the Flower Moon has been the critical darling so far, taking top honors from NYFCC and NBR. Lead (or supporting if it were up to LAFCA) actress Lily Gladstone has also been the critical sweeper, leading me (see what I did there?) to put her in the top spot in her respective category à la Michelle Yeoh last year. Emma Stone and Carey Mulligan are bigger names in bigger roles, so it’ll come down to the televised awards for this race.

Also sweeping with the critics is Anatomy of a Fall. It won best foreign language / non-English film at NYFCC, LAFCA, and NBR. It wasn’t eligible at AFI (although it would have likely received the Special Award had the group done it this year), so its stock has drastically risen from being an outside contender to a firm finisher in the #6-8 slots.

All talks of Paul Giamatti being possibly snubbed (always total hogwash in my opinion) were swiftly quelled with his win at NBR. The same could be said for director Jonathan Glazer and The Zone of Interest after their victory at LAFCA. The passion is strong for Glazer and Zone, with both on the inside hanging on for dear life. It’s the best position they’ve had all season, with no sure signs of them losing it.

Notable losers from the critics were Air and The Color Purple, which seemed like prime candidates to receive love from the more populist NBR and AFI. Luckily for both of those films, they were given a life preserver in the form of a nomination at either the Golden Globes or Critics’ Choice Awards. It would seem that Air got a little more wind in its sails as it was able to get in the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy category at the Globes while The Color Purple was shockingly left out. It’s hard to glean a ton from the Critics’ Choice Awards as their voters seemed to have just checked off the top contenders on Gold Derby in nearly every category without any thought as to whether they deserved it. Barbie for Best Cinematography and Best Score? Wish in Best Animated Feature? And hardly any mentions of Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest, two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. C’mon guys…

The one category that we’re still a bit unclear on is Best Director. We have three near-certain locks: Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Yorgos Lanthimos. And then we have four high-profile contenders: Bradley Cooper, Jonathan Glazer, Greta Gerwig, and Alexander Payne. Each of them has both pros and cons hanging over them. Cooper’s direction is exactly what the branch appreciates, but he’s been snubbed before, so it’s not a far-fetched idea for him to miss again. Gerwig directed the biggest cultural event of the year, but one only has to look at Denis Villeneuve (Dune) and Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick) to know that the director’s branch doesn’t tend to go for populist work in big blockbusters. At this moment I’m going with the more director-friendly names of Cooper and Glazer, with Gerwig ready to be subbed in if she makes both the DGA and BAFTA lineups. She’ll have appeared at every precursor possible, which makes it impossible for me to not predict her despite what history tells us. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility of a Justine Triet surprise.

Finally, The Academy announced its shortlist of eligible contenders in ten categories – Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound, Visual Effects, International Feature Film, Documentary Feature, Original Score, Original Song, Animated Short, Live-Action Short, and Documentary Short. There’s no time (or need) to go through every category, so we’ll just take a look at the overall sentiments.

Spain’s Society of the Snow replaced France’s The Taste of Things as the biggest threat to The Zone of Interest’s domination of the Best International Feature category. The J. A. Bayona-directed feature appeared in the Visual Effects, Original Score, and Makeup categories. Although it was surprisingly left off the Sound lineup, this decent haul closely emulates what All Quiet on the Western Front did last year.

Barbie again had the most mentions with five in total, buoyed by three in Original Song (only two can be nominated). The Color Purple was able to get two songs in, but was blanked in both Makeup and Sound, two categories that tend to favor big splashy musicals. Also snubbed were Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in Makeup and Oppenheimer in Visual Effects, with the latter being announced a few weeks back. It now seems that Poor Things will likely be the only Best Picture nominee in the Visual Effects category.

This will be the final awards update until I make my final Oscar nomination predictions on January 21. Until then, we’ll have a bevy of guild nominations (DGA, PGA, Make-Up Guild, Costume Designers Guild, etc.), televised awards (Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice), and BAFTA nominations.

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