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  • Pierce Budnyj

Oscar Predictions - 2024 (Part 3)

Thank you for reading my articles on the Oscar race so far. If you’re a tad lost, then please read the opening of my first article on this to better understand what kind of approach I’m going for. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, I am yet to see many of the films that have been nominated. Even though I have paid £1.99 to rent ‘Barbie’ on Amazon Prime, I have been too busy (or, to be more apt, lazy) to get around to watching it.

As a bit of an addendum to my first article, which I wrote prior to the recently-announced SAG Awards, I would now just reinforce my belief that Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a lock to win Supporting Actress and that Robert Downey Jr. is in a similar boat, in regards to likelihood, contrary to what I wrote before. 

Best Actor

Nominees: Bradley Cooper (Maestro), Colman Domingo (Rustin), Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers), Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer), Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction)

This is a category that has become far easier to write about, since the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs, which have confirmed what many anticipated... Cillian Murphy is indeed the frontrunner to win this award for his lead role in one of the biggest movies of the year - ‘Oppenheimer’. He has won Best Actor at every major award body, aside from the Critics’ Choice. Thankfully for Murphy, that awards body is quite unreliable - particularly with the Best Actor category. After all, they are the same organisation that gave an award to Christian Bale’s chameleon-like turn as Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’ over Rami Malek’s otherwise award-sweeping portrayal of Freddie Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

The only real threat to Murphy, it would seem, is Paul Giamatti, who is in contest for his curmudgeonly teacher role in ‘The Holdovers’. On paper, Giamatti seems like a more obvious choice to win this award than Murphy, due to Giamatti having already been nominated and this role being something of a comeback role for him. In the early mid-2000s, Giamatti had a very compelling run of movies. Many of which were major awards-players, such as ‘American Splendor’ and ‘Cinderella Man - the last of which was when he was actually Oscar-nominated and could well have won, were it not for George Clooney receiving a ‘career-win’ for his underwhelming performance in the pretty dull ‘Syriana’: a film which I doubt many people even remember watching. Even by the point of his ‘Cinderella Man’ nomination, there had been an argument that Giamatti already deserved to have won for his performance in ‘Sideways’ - regarded as one of the more egregious examples of the Oscars not nominating a great performance in the 21st Century. Notably, that film was directed by Alexander Payne, who’s latest offering is ‘The Holdovers’, which reunited him and Giamatti as actor and director for the first time since ‘Sideways’. As I said, on paper, this makes more sense as a performance to win Best Actor than Murphy’s but, due to it being such a surprising box office juggernaut, an unusual crowd-pleaser and a critical darling, ‘Oppenheimer’ seems to be indestructible during this awards season.

Prior to the release of any of these films, it was often speculated that Bradley Cooper’s performance as iconic composer Leonard Bernstein would be the frontrunner because of its very Oscar-baity premise. However, this valiant attempt to win an Oscar has ended up in vain. The main accusation is that he’s simply trying too hard. I can’t really agree or disagree as I haven’t seen the movie, but there does appear to be a bizarre anti-Bradley Cooper sentiment brewing. I say ‘brewing’, but that would imply that it hasn’t really had much of an impact and is only some niche conceit when, in reality, I think it has completely buggered his awards chances. I don’t think the initial accusation of ‘Jewface’ about his performance helps. His efforts do come across as more-than-a-little ‘try hard’ and this is coming from someone who has long-been a big Bradley Cooper fan.

I genuinely believe he should have won an Oscar already - ideally for 2013’s ‘American Hustle’, which I think has ended up being a quite sadly underrated movie over time. In that film, he gave a ridiculously entertaining performance as a manic, unstable FBI investigator, who’s confrontational ways lead to many of the film’s most entertaining sequences. He has also been excellent in a plethora of other movies in a whole range of genres. Among his best works are ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (a very entertaining romcom about mental illness - it works a lot better than it sounds), ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ (a crime drama with epic scope), ‘The Hangover’ (a raunchy comedy), ‘American Sniper’ (a war film), ‘Nightmare Alley’ (an exceptional neo-noir), ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ (one of the best Marvel films) and ‘A Star Is Born’ (the third remake of a famous musical from the ‘30s). With such a range of films, and range of acting too, it does seem more than a little underwhelming for such an obviously talented actor to gurn for awards the way Bradley Cooper appears to be doing with ‘Maestro’. It’s a typical formula, too... The Hollywood leading man portrays somebody with some kind of subversion to their usual persona, and throws in a bit of physical transformation too. Then - BANG - you’ve won an Oscar. This method could be argued as having been pioneered by Tom Hanks, who won two Oscars back-to-back: first for playing a gay man suffering with AIDS, then playing a man with learning difficulties the following year. I’m not criticising Hanks’ acting, by the way. I actually think he’s very good, particularly in ‘Forrest Gump’, but I’m more illustrating the frustration with Cooper’s choice to cast himself in the role of a closeted gay man in heavy prosthetics. I’m sure he delivers some great acting in the film but I think, particularly after Brendan Fraser’s win last year, a lot of people are sick of played-out performances winning these awards.

Someone whom, I would argue, is actually ahead of Bradley Cooper is the great character-actor Jeffrey Wright. He has finally found himself a legitimate leading role in a major movie with ‘American Fiction’. I have heard great things about the film from a plethora of sources and have always been a fan of Wright’s intelligent presence within a film. For me, he was probably one of the only good things about Matt Reeves’ maudlin ‘Batman’ movie. It seems he’s now almost at the high-point of his career, working frequently with well-regarded auteurs like Wes Anderson. In respect of ‘American Fiction’, I would wager that Wright could well have won if the film had managed to get some more momentum... In some ways, you could say that it is getting that kind of momentum, being a frontrunner for Adapted Screenplay. However, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s still more likely than Bradley Cooper at this point, though, which is pretty impressive.

The final nomination is Colman Domingo, whose nomination here can be seen as something of a surprise. Many pundits were utterly convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’ would be the one to get in but, much like with some of DiCaprio’s other renowned performances, like ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’, this one did not end up receiving a nomination. I was, frankly, unsurprised to see Domingo usurp DiCaprio, with his performance as black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. I have actually watched ‘Rustin’ and Domingo does, as always, give a very strong performance. It’s not, in my view, a particularly amazing movie, but it does its job of informing one of Rustin’s significance. I also was quite the fan of George C. Wolfe’s directorial stylings. It’s really a hard film to criticise, outside of it perhaps being slightly humdrum in terms of structure. I don’t think he necessarily deserves to be in the Top Five best leading male performances of the year, although I’d imagine he’s probably quite close, but what do I know? I haven’t even seen most of these movies.

Ranking of Likelihood:

1. Cillian Murphy

2. Paul Giamatti

3. Jeffrey Wright

4. Bradley Cooper

5. Colman Domingo

Best Actress

Nominees: Annette Benning (Nyad), Lily Gladstone (Killers Of The Flower Moon), Sandra Huller (Anatomy Of A Fall), Carey Mulligan (Maestro), Emma Stone (Poor Things)

Much of the conversation about the Best Actress race appears to have somewhat devolved into a discussion about the snubbing of Margot Robbie for ‘Barbie’. I will admit that such a snub was quite surprising, as Robbie had managed to get nominated at basically every single awards precursor - even the BAFTAs, who tend to be quite snobbish. However, in my view (and as someone who has not seen ‘Barbie’), the biggest snub for this year’s Best Actress race was almost certainly Natalie Portman in ‘May December’. It is probably the best work she’s done in over a decade - a decade consisting primarily of diminishing returns like ‘Lucy In The Sky’, ‘Jane Got A Gun’ and ‘Vox Lux’, the third of which she is still very good in. This is despite the film’s questionable quality. Alas, Portman (and her film, outside of Original Screenplay) failed to get nominated. In fairness, it’s not really like Portman was delivering some kind of ‘transformational’ performance in the traditional - but her turn as an absurdly artificial, pretentious and dangerously dedicated actress is up there in the higher echelon of great performances in her filmography.

As it stands, Best Actress is ultimately a two-horse race between Emma Stone for ‘Poor Things’ and Lily Gladstone for ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’. I ought to note that I haven’t seen either film, so I suspect my commentary on such a matter will have a level of objectivity to it. Emma Stone won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress, whilst Lily Gladstone won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and the SAG Award for Best Actress. Many pundits have the odds on these two basically tied and it's easy to see why, as they have an equal amount of pros and cons. 

For example, Lily Gladstone does have a very, very compelling narrative built up around her to help win the Oscar. Prior to receiving a call from Martin Scorsese about being cast in the film, she was in the midst of applying for various non-acting jobs. Being hired for a film by such a renowned director appears to have generally turned her life around. It is also good, from the perspective of representation, it being likely that Gladstone’s chances in the acting industry are somewhat restricted due to her Native American heritage - an identity that is not discussed as much as it probably ought to be, one might argue. Indeed, if Gladstone won, she would be the first Native American person to win an Oscar in history. One thing that Gladstone could have going against her is that her screentime is not as substantial compared to the other actresses in this category, which does sound like an odd complaint given that her film is over 210 minutes long. However, Gladstone only appears in a mere fifty-six minutes of the film, compared to her co-lead DiCaprio’s one hour and forty-nine minutes of screentime. This has led to much criticism about category fraud, pertaining to whether Gladstone should have been campaigned in Supporting Actress instead - especially considering that Robert DeNiro only has nine minutes less screen-time than her and has been campaigned as Supporting Actor. Gladstone is also in a tricky situation, in terms of ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’’s general awards performance. At the Oscars, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, owing to a general underperformance. This can be attributed to various factors but, likely, comparisons to ‘Oppenheimer’, particularly in regards to its poor box office performance (in the context of its extravagant budget), are not helping its case.

On the other hand, Emma Stone’s film has been quite financially successful. It hasn’t made as much money as ‘Oppenheimer’ or ‘Barbie’, of course, and its total gross is still lower than ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’. But, given the budget is a fraction of those films, that doesn’t really matter. It helps that ‘Poor Things’ is a very different type of film to ‘Oppenheimer’ and its artsy style distinguishes it from most of this year’s other films, making it less inclined towards having unflattering comparisons made. Unlike Gladstone, Stone doesn’t suffer from having a co-lead that has significantly more screen-time than her, and is definitely the protagonist of her movie. What does not help Emma Stone is that she has already won an Oscar in 2016 for ‘La La Land’, and does not have a particularly compelling reason to win again. The only reason one could argue is that she is one of the best actresses of her generation but, by the same token, Stone is only thirty-five. It all seems pretty quick to be winning Oscar No. 2. Winning a Supporting Acting award and then, several years later, winning a Lead Acting award isn’t that uncommon - it’s happened to a lot of the greats, prominently Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett. The opposite (a Lead Acting win, followed by a Supporting Actin win) has been achieved by the great Jack Nicholson. Of course, one could argue that we’ll be viewing Emma Stone as being on that same level of prestige in years to come. But, Emma Stone would be winning two Lead Acting awards in very close proximity. Though, this isn’t as impossible as it sounds. Dustin Hoffman won two lead acting awards within ten years of each other for ‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’ and ‘Rain Man’. The aforementioned Tom Hanks did it in back-to-back years for ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ and, most recently, Frances McDormand achieved her second and third Lead Acting Oscars for ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ and ‘Nomadland’ within four years. McDormand is probably the best barometer of comparison, in some ways, with it being the most recent but ‘Poor Things’ is very unlikely to win Best Picture, whereas ‘Nomadland’ was the frontrunner (and actually did win), which likely played into why McDormand won that year.

So, at the end of the day, it’s pretty much even, but if I had to give one the edge right now I’d go for Lily Gladstone.

But there is a small chance that another contender could overtake both of them. That contender is, of course, Sandra Huller, who’s had a breakout year with her turns in ‘The Zone Of Interest’ and ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’ (for which she has been Oscar-nominated) - establishing her as a big name in European cinema. Prior to this, you’d probably only be familiar with her if you’d been keeping a keen, beady eye on the European film scene, but now, if you’re following the Oscars, it’s been impossible to avoid her. I’d say her chances would go up substantially if she had managed to win at, say, the BAFTAs or Golden Globes, which she did not end up doing. That makes me think it's unlikely that she could pull an upset but stranger things have happened and, when it’s a two-horse race like this category is, there is always the opportunity for the third-place challenger to slide in and win. Much like Adrien Brody did in 2002, when he beat out the much more-established talents of Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis for his performance in ‘The Pianist’.

It would also be surprising, albeit not impossible, for Annette Benning to pull a major upset here for her turn in the drab, unexciting ‘Nyad’, in which she plays the titular role of an ‘inspirational swimmer’. I’m sure there’s an audience who’d love the film, but that audience isn’t me. To me, it was just boring. All the same, Benning has been nominated five times, at this point, with her first nomination being in 1990 in the Best Supporting Actress category for ‘The Grifters’, which many would argue she deserved to win. Being so established, Benning has a chance to pull one of those Jamie Lee Curtis-esque, ‘it’s their time’ kind of wins but, if that was to be the case, I would have expected the SAG Awards to have given her a win. As it is, this is pretty unlikely if you ask me…

Carey Mulligan’s awards performance this season is, to me, almost as amusing as Bradley Cooper’s fall from grace as frontrunner in Leading Actor. Mulligan almost certainly suffers in her chances from the aforementioned anti-Bradley Cooper rhetoric that has plagued the awards conversation. Like Cooper, many predicted that Mulligan’s turn as Leonard Bernstein’s wife was prime Oscar material that would result in her finally winning. Much like her co-star, Mulligan probably should have won before this year - I’d even argue she should have won twice. The first time for Supporting Actress, in Steve McQueen’s best movie ‘Shame’ - where she portrayed Michael Fassbender’s younger, depressive sister - and the second time for Lead Actress in Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’. It does not appear, though, as if she has any chance of finally getting justice by winning for her turn in ‘Maestro’. If anything, Bradley Cooper’s boisterous attempts at campaigning have probably overshadowed any chance she had at winning.

Ranking of Likelihood:

1. Lily Gladstone

2. Emma Stone

3. Sandra Huller

4. Annette Benning

5. Carey Mulligan


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