2024 Oscar Preview - Ranks 14-6: The Heavyweights
With the dust cleared in 2022 and Everything Everywhere All at Once reigning supreme, it’s time to pick ourselves back up and trek into the unknown of 2023. And what better way to prepare for our journey than mapping out the awards prospects for dozens of films that have Oscar gold in their sights.
Of course, trying to predict and outline how the season will go at this exact moment is a bit of a fool’s errand. To quote Julia Garner from Ozark: “I Don't Know Shit About Fuck.” Who could have predicted Everything Everywhere All at Once and All Quiet on the Western Front to combine for 11 Oscar wins a year ago? Definitely not me, that’s for sure. But then there was also Women Talking, which I had pegged as the frontrunner for Best Adapted Screenplay from the get go, so some stuff on paper does pan out.
This new six-part series (can I submit it for an Emmy?) will give a scouting report on fifty films that I think will factor into the upcoming awards race. Bit by bit, I’ll work my way down from the fringe contenders all the way to heavy hitters, using past precedent and the intel available to guide my beliefs. At the end of it all, I’ll give my first predictions for the season.
The Goliaths have now entered the scene. While not all of these movies are expected to vacuum up a ton of nominations, they’re all in contention in quite a few categories, especially the ones above the line. Many of the directors and stars featured here have already established their relationship with the Oscars, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to return to the competition this year.
Read Part 1 - Ranks 50-42: The Wildcards
Read Part 2 - Ranks 41-33: The Outsiders Peaking In
Read Part 3 - Ranks 32-24: The Middle of the Pack
Read Part 4 - Ranks 23-15: The Clear Contenders
14. Blitz (Apple)
Apple is already at high capacity with both Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Steve McQueen’s newest film waits another year, especially with filming just finishing. No matter what time it releases, it has both the premise (follows Londoners during the World War II Nazi bombings) and cast (Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickinson, Stephen Graham) to be a big contender.
13. Napoleon (Apple/Sony)
Although he’s won Best Picture with Gladiator and received three career nominations for Best Director, we tend to forget that Ridley Scott misses with Oscar more than he hits. Just in 2021, he had two huge contenders on paper with The Last Duel and House of Gucci, only to receive a single nomination between them. Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role does inspire confidence, and Vanessa Kirby’s role as his wife Josephine sounds to be substantive. She’s in the Oscar club after her nomination for Pieces of a Woman.
There’s also the double-edged sword of having Apple as a distributor. We all know they have unlimited money and the capability of creating a Best Picture winner, but it remains to be seen how they can handle multiple titles at the same time. Killers of the Flower Moon will be their lead horse, so we’ll have to see what kind of treatment this gets as the second priority.
12. The Killer (Netflix)
Similar to Ridley Scott, David Fincher is sometimes hard to pin down in the Oscar conversation. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network remains his biggest players, with Mank not far behind. But then he’s gotten totally (or nearly) blanked for equally great movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, and Gone Girl.
His newest film (from Netflix) is a reteaming with Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker about an assassin reaching his psychological tipping point, which hints that it may have more in common with his “colder” movies that the Oscars have been hesitant to accept. There’s the possibility for some craft nominations in categories such as Sound and Film Editing, but it’s hard to immediately see landing spots for anything above-the-line outside of maybe Fincher himself.
But now with a set total of 10 nominees for Best Picture, Fincher would be the most likely this year to take the Nightmare Alley and Avatar: The Way of Water route of just getting enough below-the-line support to sneak in.
11. May December (TBA)
Given all the acclaim he’s garnered from critics and respect from fellow industry figures, you would think Todd Haynes would have more than one Oscar nomination to his name (Best Original Screenplay for Far From Heaven). Luckily for Haynes, he’s reunited with Julianne Moore, and brings in Natalie Portman, for his new film about an actress (Portman) who comes to research the past tabloid romance of a married couple (Moore, Cory Michael Smith). Haynes has a great track record with actresses, so Portman and Moore should be considered potential heavyweights. A distributor hasn’t been announced, keeping a question mark looming over who will slot it into their slate.
10. Barbie (Warner Bros.)
The widespread passion for Greta Gerwig and cultural footprint for this movie could make it this year’s Top Gun: Maverick. Of course, the expectations are a little higher for this as Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach have been regular Oscar players.
The only thing we have to go off of right now is the trailer, which hinted at some imaginatively grand production values. A slew of craft nominations should be expected, along with the possibility of a Best Original Screenplay nomination. If Gerwig or any of the actors can break into their respective above-the-line categories, then we have a major player on our hands.
9. Poor Things (Searchlight)
Simply by looking at his eclectic output in a vacuum, it’s hard to think of Greek Weird Wave director Yorgos Lanthimos as an Oscar player. But The Lobster got a Best Original Screenplay nomination and The Favourite earned a total of ten nominations, including a win for Olivia Colman’s lead performance. Poor Things is set to be a mini-reunion for a few of those from that last endeavor, with Emma Stone leading the cast and Tony McNamara adapting the script.
Willem Dafoe will be playing Frankenstein to Stone’s monster, a role he will no doubt handle with ease. Academy voters have signaled their love for Dafoe with recent nominations for lesser-seen films like The Florida Project and At Eternity’s Gate, so a big supporting turn as a mad scientist could be the kind of on-brand thing that finally gets him a win.
As with any Lanthimos film, there’s the risk that the film will be too weird for the Academy. But with a cast this large, the craft-friendly Victorian England setting, and a great distributor in Searchlight, there's no denying that the ceiling is very high for this one.
8. Past Lives (A24)
There’s usually at least one Oscar contender that breaks out from Sundance, with even more eyes on the indie festival now that CODA got over the hump to win Best Picture. Celine Song’s Past Lives looks to be the biggest contender after its rave reviews at both Sundance and Berlin. A Best Original Screenplay nomination is most likely, which Women Talking proved is enough to get into the Best Picture lineup. A24 will be pushing this hard within the indie awards and critics groups, where it will hopefully pick up steam for the larger awards. The June release could make or break those chances, as it could have enough time to build organically, or could be around for too long and get drowned out later in the season.
7. The Color Purple (Warner Bros.)
Similar to how Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story was not a remake of the 1961 film, but of the original stage production, Blitz Bazawule’s The Color Purple is a musical adaptation of the novel instead of being a remake of Spielberg’s 1985 film, which famously went 0-11 at that year’s Oscar ceremony.
Grammy-winning singer Fantasia will reprise her role as Celie from the stage. She’s joined by a large ensemble cast: Colman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Louis Gosset Jr., and Aunjanue Ellis. I expect at least one of the supporting performers to attract Oscar buzz, with my eye specifically on Henson and Domingo in more expansive roles.
Warner Bros. was able to get King Richard into Best Picture along with Dune in 2021, and I expect they’ll try their hardest to replicate that success this year with The Color Purple and Dune: Part Two. A slight cause for concern is the recent poor performance of movie musicals, although most of that occurred when the pandemic was more of a threat. If The Color Purple can make a splash at the box office, then I’d expect it to be an all-around player.
6. The Holdovers (Focus)
As reported by The Wrap, a few buyers who saw the film at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival thought they had seen the best film at the festival, even though it wasn’t part of the official selection. A bidding war ensued, with Focus Features snatching it up for a reported $30 million, making it the largest acquisition in festival and company history. Coming off their success with Todd Field’s Tár, Focus will be pushing the film hard, with an expected fall festival tour and full-scale theatrical release in November.
Payne has quietly been an Oscar perennial, being nominated three times for Best Director and winning twice in Best Adapted Screenplay. The all-around disappointment of his previous film, Downsizing, does add a little hesitancy, but a reteaming with Sideways star Paul Giamatti makes for incredible potential.