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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

2024 Oscar Preview - Ranks 23-15: The Clear Contenders

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 prospects are getting brighter, and so is the weight of expectations. We’ve now entered the territory where we spot Best Picture contenders, as well as potential winners in key categories. Expect many of these buzzy projects to announce themselves to the world through splashy festival premieres and/or big box office numbers.

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

23. Lee (TBA)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cinematographer Ellen Kuras and star Kate Winslet reunite for this biopic of Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, an acclaimed war correspondent during World War II. Kuras is making her narrative feature directorial debut with the film, with The Post and The Dropout co-writer Liz Hannah as part of the writing team. The supporting cast behind Winslet is also spectacular: Alexander Skarsgård, Andrea Riseborough, Andy Samberg, Marion Cotillard, Noémie Merlant, and Josh O’Connor.

The obvious comparison for this film is 2018’s A Private War, which marked documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s narrative debut. Rosamund Pike received a Golden Globe nomination, but the film underwhelmed all season on account of its poor box office performance and a tiny distributor in Aviron Pictures backing it. With bigger names in the cast and a (potentially) more robust distributor behind it, Lee could be a moderately successful player this season.

22. The Bikeriders (TBA)

While writer/director Jeff Nichols has always been a critic's favorite, he’s yet to land on the Academy’s radar, with Ruth Negga’s lead performance in Loving being the only nomination within one of his films. The Bikeriders could be a game changer with its large cast of actors on the Academy's radar like Austin Butler, Michael Shannon (a Nichols favorite), Tom Hardy, and Jodie Comer. An outside chance at some nominations for acting and/or Best Adapted Screenplay is possible.

21. The Iron Claw (A24)

Flashes of Pablo Larraín’s Jackie and Spencer come to mind when envisioning Sean Durkin’s take on the true story of the Von Erich family wrestling dynasty. There’s little doubt that Durkin will deliver something unique and appealing to critics, but he has yet to be caught on the Academy’s radar. There is hope for Jeremy Allen White, who could be a recent Emmy winner for The Bear just as he’s about to start campaigning for this movie. There’s also Maura Tierney and Holt McCallany as the parents, who enter the conversation in the supporting categories.

20. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Disney)

The Indiana Jones franchise has experienced Oscar success before, most notably for John Williams’ score and the sound / visual effects. Williams originally said that he would retire after The Dial of Destiny, but he’s been a bit more hesitant about reconfirming that position. Even if the 91-year-old composer doesn’t decide to hang it up, he hasn’t won an Oscar since Schindler’s List. He’s been nominated 22 times since then, so there’s bound to be a push for him to get some sort of final recognition for one of his most iconic franchises.

19. The Book of Clarence (Sony)

The Harder They Fall writer/director Jeymes Samuel has recruited an all-star cast for his sophomore feature about a Jerusalemite who tries to piggyback off the fame of The Messiah. LaKeith Stanfield will play the clout chaser, with Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Alfre Woodard, Teyana Taylor, and David Oyelowo also attached. Sony has positioned the film for a September 22 opening, with rumors swirling about a possible premiere in Venice.

18. Air (Amazon/Warner Bros.)

The unofficial rule that a Best Picture nominee/winner has to release in October-December seems to have been made less important over the past few years, with both CODA and Everything Everywhere All at Once taking the long road from the spring festivals. The reviews and box office numbers have been better than expected so far for Ben Affleck’s sports drama, with Viola Davis being the film’s best chance at a nomination.

17. Next Goal Wins (Searchlight)

Taika Waititi took a bit of a beating from Thor: Love and Thunder, but he’s still only a few years removed from winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit. And with a November release date already set by Searchlight, it seems that Next Goal Wins will try to replicate that successful formula with a world premiere at TIFF a few months earlier. The story of the American Samoa soccer team is heartwarming and funny, so it’ll be right up Waititi’s wheelhouse.

16. Rustin (Netflix)

Colman Domingo is finally getting the spotlight role he deserves in this biopic about black gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. There’s a clear narrative set for him to reach the next level, , as he recently won an Emmy for his guest appearance on Euphoria and received tons of praise/awards from various critics groups for his supporting role in Zola.

Acclaimed theater director George C. Wolfe is helming the project after garnering two lead acting performances for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Dustin Lance Black is writing the script, with an all-star supporting cast of Chris Rock, Glynn Turnman, Jeffrey Wright, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Audra McDonald, who is the most awarded performer in Tony history with six awards, so look for her to potentially make a splash in the Best Supporting Actress race.

15. Asteroid City (Focus)

Anderson has returned to Focus Features after his last three films were distributed by Searchlight. Focus also has Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, which they paid a record $30 million to acquire, so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle two big campaigns. They were able to get both Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread into the Best Picture lineup in 2017.

No actor has been nominated for their role in an Anderson film, with the gargantuanly sized cast likely to keep everyone’s screen time to a minimum. A strong presence in the craft categories would be the most likely path to a Best Picture nomination. After the unexpected shut-out of The French Dispatch, we’ll have to see if the Academy has become tired of Anderson’s aesthetics, or if they just needed a short break.

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