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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

2024 Oscar Preview - Ranks 50-42: The Wildcards

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.

This first part of this series finds us venturing into the deep fog. The questions run rampant when discussing these movies, either because of their predicted quality or the attention they’ll struggle to garner. The chances of any nominations seem pretty small, but not small enough for them to be completely forgotten. So, let’s give them their fair shake and dive into what we could expect.

50. The Boys in the Boat (MGM)

The sight of George Clooney in the director’s chair has lost a lot of its luster over the years. There’s been quite a few disappointments and outright bombs since his last Oscar contender The Ides of March, which also slightly underperformed. His new film will tell the underdog story of the 1936 American Olympic rowing team. It doesn’t sound too exciting/memorable, so I’m keeping a skeptical eye on how MGM positions it. A good box office run during the holidays would be ideal, but that’s a tall order for any non-franchise film these days, and also something MGM already abandoned with Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives last year.

49. Long Day's Journey Into Night (MGM)

Renowned playwright David Lindsay-Abaire adapts Eugene O’Neill’s landmark play, which was already adapted into a film by Sidney Lumet in 1962. All of the roles are quite showy, creating the potential for leads Ed Harris and Jessica Lange (who won a Tony for this performance) to return to Oscar glory, and supporting actor Ben Foster to finally make it into the club. Stage director Jonathan Kent makes his feature debut behind the camera, reuniting with Lange after their 2016 Broadway run with the material.

Florian Zeller remains one of the only stage directors to successfully adapt to film within the past few years with The Father, with most of that goodwill lost after The Son last year. A good festival launch is key to this film finding any success. A TIFF slot would potentially get eyes on it, but there’s also the big risk of it being drowned out by everything else there.

48. Spaceman (Netflix)

The love for Adam Sandler continues to grow since Uncut Gems, as was illustrated by his surprise SAG nomination for Hustle. Sandler stays on Netflix for a supposed drama where he plays the first Czech astronaut. Chernobyl director Johan Renck will helm the film, with Paul Dano and Carey Mulligan in supporting roles. It sounds to be more of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster rather than an awards movie (not that those two are mutually exclusive). If anything, it could produce even more goodwill for Sandler as he gears up for his next Safdie Brothers movie in 2024.

47. A Little Prayer (Sony Pictures Classics)

Over the years, Sony Pictures Classics have become the masters at getting veteran actors nominated through under-the-radar campaigns. The next beneficiary could be David Strathairn for A Little Prayer, which SPC picked up out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Strathairn has been a steady presence for decades now, with his nomination for Good Night, and Good Luck is his only Oscar recognition. A campaign could be crafted around how it’s time to recognize him again.

While all the movies that SPC has worked wonders with are small, A Little Prayer is even smaller and will require a lot of muscle to keep in the conversation. And unlike The Father or Living, there doesn’t seem to be anything else for A Little Prayer to be nominated for.

46. Nightbitch (Hulu)

You only have to read the premise to see how this could easily not be something the Academy immediately latches onto: A stay-at-home mom begins to worry that she may be turning into a dog. But the presence of Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) as writer/director and Amy Adams in the lead role means you can’t count it out.

But then there’s also the problem of Hulu as a distributor, who, to their benefit, were able to get some traction for Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande last year. We’ll have a much better sense of the prospects once the trailer is released.

45. Beau Is Afraid (A24)

Just watching the trailer should be enough to understand why this film will have a hard time being embraced by Oscar voters. But we did just have an A24 movie featuring dildo fights and hot dog fingers win Best Picture, so the question of what is too weird for the Academy is now in flux. Even so, Ari Aster’s self-described “nightmare comedy” does look like it might be a bit much, and will likely need to be overwhelmingly praised by critics to survive the year. And then there’s also the threat of Joaquin Phoenix’s other movie this year, Napoleon, likely playing much closer to voters’ sensibilities.

44. Wonka (Warner Bros.)

Lionsgate remains the only distributor to get three films into a Best Picture lineup in a single year since the expansion of the category, doing it in 2016 with Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, and La La Land. Warner Bros. already has three big all-around Oscar contenders in Dune: Part Two, The Color Purple, and Barbie, so Wonka will have to really exceed expectations to get the attention needed.

Of course, it could be a major craft contender with its sets, costumes, and makeup, and potentially for its original score and songs provided by Neil Hannon. Paddington director Paul King does inspire faith in the project, which will need to be quite the crowd-pleaser to justify the reported $125-150 million budget.

43. The Outrun (TBA)

Despite being led by Sandra Bullock and Viola Davis, Nora Fingscheidt’s English-language debut The Unforgivable didn’t make the splash Netflix expected it would in 2021. Fingscheidt is returning to similar territory as Saoirse Ronan stars as a woman that has to reconnect with her family and personal past after getting out of rehab. On paper, Ronan seems to be the only card the film will play, with the role potentially being juicy enough to get her another nomination.

42. Shirley (Netflix)

Netflix is doubling down on civil rights activist biopics in 2023 as they also have John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) writing and directing this retelling of the life of America's first Black congresswoman. Four-time Emmy winner and Oscar-winner Regina King plays the titular character, with Lance Reddick, Terrence Howard, André Holland, and Lucas Hedges rounding out the cast.

Ridley’s previous directorial effort was 2021’s Needle in a Timestack, which was quickly lost in the shuffle of the pandemic. Even if the movie doesn’t land with critics, King could easily find herself in the Best Lead Actress conversation.

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