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  • Pierce Budnyj

Oscar Predictions - 2024 (Part 4)

Best Director

Nominees: Jonathan Glazer (The Zone Of Interest), Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things), Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer), Martin Scorsese (Killers Of The Flower Moon), Justine Triet (Anatomy Of A Fall)

At this stage, if you are remotely following the race, then you’ll know that it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Christopher Nolan will be winning the Academy Award for Best Director on Sunday. The astonishing, blockbuster success of ‘Oppenheimer’ is only one of the many reasons for this. Ever since ‘Memento’, he has been regarded as one of the most notable auteurs of our time. With the back-to-back billion-dollar successes of ‘Inception’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, he just about cemented himself as one of the most well-known directors of the modern day - an honour he shares with the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. The glory of ‘Oppenheimer’ can even be seen as something of a comeback, after ‘Tenet’ baffled and underwhelmed many. In terms of genre, ‘Oppenheimer’ can be seen as a return-to-basics for Nolan, who’s films of late have mainly focused on their epic spectacle. That’s not to say that ‘Oppenheimer’ isn’t a film of spectacle - after all, it is about the creation of the first nuclear bomb. However, its budget is noticeably lower than a lot of Nolan’s recent projects, in spite of an A-list cast and painstaking efforts to historically recreate certain locations. A lot of the film consists of well-edited and spliced together sequences in court-rooms, presidential offices, bedrooms and so on. Compare that to his previous WW2-set movie, ‘Dunkirk’, and there is quite a stark difference in the type of movie that Nolan’s trying to make.

Nolan has swept the critics’ guilds, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the DGAs - an impressive feat. I suppose another substantial part of the argument for him being such a ubiquitous winner is that it’s arguably his name-recognition that led to ‘Oppenheimer’ being such a great financial win. Sure, Cillian Murphy is ‘Peaky Blinders’ but, in terms of big-screen success, he’s no Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Cruise - at least, not yet. The film is epic in scope but these kinds of historically significant, adult-oriented dramas have done less and less well at the box office in recent years. Of course, the meme-ability of the ‘Barbenheimer’ spectacle last summer played into it quite significantly but, for it to have become such a great internet reference in the first place, both films needed to have some kind of fandom looking forward to them both. Of course, ‘Barbie’ had the Barbie franchise, as well as two of the most well-known movie stars in the world leading the film. It was also benefited by having a broader audience appeal, in some ways, than ‘Oppenheimer’ - even just by virtue of its lower age-rating. For ‘Oppenheimer’, that fandom was built out of the goodwill for Christopher Nolan, following a great plethora of well-regarded movies over the years. This has led to a not-dissimilar suggestion from one about Tom Cruise last year: that Christopher Nolan has ‘saved cinema’. I don’t necessarily agree with such a statement, but one can’t deny that the sentiment has likely played into his Oscar campaign.

In terms of the other directors, Justine Triet is really quite lucky to be here and it indicates that her movie - ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’ - has been making waves with its campaign. She is a relatively unknown director, who had been nominated at a few critics’ guilds (not as much as the other nominees) and the BAFTAS, but nowhere else. Her nomination is reminiscent of Ruben Ostlund’s for ‘Triangle Of Sadness’ last year. Much like that film, ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’ won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival - an award that, ever since ‘Parasite’ won it in 2019, has found a new sense of reverence in the film world. The nomination is made even more impressive considering that Triet has fended off past nominees with more ‘talked about’ movies by the general public, such as Alexander Payne for ‘The Holdovers’ and, more controversially, Greta Gerwig for ‘Barbie’.

One could even argue that Jonathan Glazer is lucky to be here, but this is a director who seems to have left something of an impression on the cinephile community, with his prior films like ‘Under The Skin’ and ‘Birth’ being talked about as cult films these days. ‘The Zone Of Interest’, generally, has overperformed quite significantly throughout the awards season but, in fairness, even early on in the year, many had anticipated Glazer’s nomination for his directing, regardless of whether the film got into Best Picture or not. One thing that can be seen as both a benefit and a deficit of Glazer’s campaign was the arthouse stylings of his film - something that could be argued as potentially alienating to an audience that desires more crowd-pleasing fare. Instead, it is getting a more cinematically-nuanced audience on its side. The branch of directors at the Oscars, who are the only ones who get to vote on the nominations for this category, tend to veer towards the latter direction. However, the broader Academy, who tend to veer towards the former direction do get to vote for the winner in this category - which I think could yet lower its extremely low chances of winning.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ nomination was quite unsurprising, with ‘Poor Things’ doing very well across the board at the Oscars - but it just doesn’t seem to be his year. Perhaps, if this was not the year that ‘Oppenheimer’ had been unleashed into the world, it might well have been but Lanthimos has received no sort of winning traction, which makes me view his chances here as, probably, the least likely. 

The last nomination here is a little bit tragic. Martin Scorsese for ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’. Prior to the release of ‘Oppenheimer’ in July, many pundits were utterly convinced that Scorsee would finally win his second Oscar for Best Directing this year. This clearly hasn’t panned out in the way many that anticipated, and reminds one of a similar scenario last year: many pundits suspected that Best Director was Spielberg’s to lose for his (ostensibly) autobiographical drama ‘The Fabelmans’, a suggestion furthered by Spielberg winning a Golden Globe for his efforts. Scorsese didn’t even win the Golden Globe. The reason I describe this as ‘a little bit tragic’ is because Scorsese is surely one of the great directors of our day. Unlike many so-called ‘hot takes’, this one is actually quite broadly agreed upon. Even the Oscars love him, having granted ten nominations within this category over the course of his career - the rub being that he has only ever won once, for ‘The Departed’. It doesn’t help that a lot of the more egregious snubs for Scorsese in this category have been against films that no one really talks about, in comparison to his masterpieces. His directing in ‘Raging Bull’ was beaten out by Robert Redford’s in ‘Ordinary People’, and his directing in ‘Goodfellas’ was vanquished by Kevin Costner’s three-hour borefest ‘Dances with Wolves’. Now, I don’t think Scorsese’s going to win his second Oscar here and, if I’m being honest, considering his age, I don’t think he ever will. 

Ranking of likelihood to win:

1. Christopher Nolan - ‘Oppenheimer’

2. Martin Scorsese - ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

3. Jonathan Glazer - ‘The Zone Of Interest’

4. Justine Triet - ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’

5. Yorgos Lanthimos - ‘Poor Things’

Best Picture

Nominees: American Fiction, Anatomy Of A Fall, Barbie, The Holdovers, Killers Of The Flower Moon, Maestro, Oppenheimer, Past Lives, Poor Things, The Zone Of Interest

Much like the previous category, ‘Oppenheimer’ is almost certainly winning here. It won Best Drama at the Golden Globes, Best Film at the BAFTAs and Critics’ Choice. It won at the Producers’ Guild of America, as well as a large majority of the critics’ awards.

Referring to my initial article on this subject, in which my extensive introduction detailed the way a film needs to win at least one, usually two, of the so-called Big Eight categories at the Oscars that aren’t Best Picture: well, it looks like ‘Oppenheimer’ is leaning towards the upper-end. It’s basically locked to win Best Director, Best Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It might even win Best Adapted Screenplay, although it looks like it will probably end up being ‘American Fiction’ that wins that award. Even without that last category, ‘Oppenheimer’ will be winning fifty-percent of the total awards in the Big Eight categories. That isn’t even including below-the-line categories, such as Best Film Editing and Best Sound - which it is very much inclined to win. This kind of sweep indicates the trajectory of awards discourse when taken into account alongside ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once' at the Oscars last year. It won six of the Big Eight awards. The film that wins Best Picture now seems to win more awards than they did during the 2000s and 2010s - a period where a film like ‘Spotlight’ could win with just one other award, and ‘Green Book’ only needed to win Director and Screenplay. The reason for this is likely due to what I would describe as ‘hype culture’. To win Best Picture, a film must now capture the cultural zeitgeist of the film community to such an extent that it wins a majority of the awards that evening. Of course, films have swept the Oscars before, such as ‘Titanic’, but it is nearly unheard of for films to win a majority of the acting categories, as well as the directing and writing ones too.

Given it's such a lock to win this category, discussing films other than ‘Oppenheimer’ might seem like a waste of time and, let’s be honest, it kind of is. All the same, it might be worth thinking about the extremely unlikely chance that ‘Oppenheimer’ doesn’t win Best Picture. What film is most likely to dethrone it?

To rule out a few, ‘Maestro’ hasn’t got a chance of winning Best Picture. As alluded to in the previous articles, the film has become synonymous with the public’s perception of Bradley Cooper and the film is just seen as a glorified vanity project. In years to come, it’s easy to imagine people only referencing this film in the context of a suggestion that a movie star is willing to do anything to win an Oscar.

Similarly, ‘Past Lives’ isn’t going to win here. It’s lucky to have been nominated in the first place, given that it has only received one other nomination than Best Picture: ‘Best Original Screenplay’. It has the potential to surprise and win that award, but I would argue that it's very, very unlikely to happen. The film generally underperformed, not receiving nominations for any of the actors, nor for the cinematography, nor for director Celine Song. This tends to indicate that a film has done quite poorly with the Academy. It is surprising, given that this film performed very well at various critics’ guilds and a few of the televised, precursory award shows.

‘The Zone Of Interest’ seems very unlikely to win Best Picture, due to it only mustering two above-the-line nominations, and it seems like it's very unlikely to win either of those - leaving it with no pathway to win Best Picture. As mentioned in the previous section, the film’s arthouse stylings are likely a major factor in this. Remember, the Oscars are the same organisation that famously gave Best Picture to ‘Forrest Gump’ over ‘Pulp Fiction' - no hate to ‘Forrest Gump’, I’ll add, but I just don’t think it’s quite as good as Tarantino’s masterpiece. It is the same organisation that recently awarded ‘Coda’ and ‘Green Book’ Best Picture - I’ve not seen the former but the latter is a decent film, despite not being the most cinematically daring movie of all time.

Both ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’ and ‘Barbie’ have slowly but surely underperformed throughout the awards season. ‘Killers’ failed to receive anticipated nominations in both Adapted Screenplay and Lead Actor, while ‘Barbie’ failed to receive anticipated nominations in both Director and Lead Actress. Additionally, in spite of early buzz for both, neither DeNiro or Gosling look likely to win Supporting Actor and the films in general appear highly unlikely to win any of the above-the-line categories that they were nominated for. This is quite surprising to me, personally, as early in the awards season I had hypothesised that ‘Barbie’ would take Best Picture, due to it capturing the cultural zeitgeist and making the most money. Though if cultural zeitgeist was a factor, then you’d think that ‘Saltburn’ would actually have received an Oscar nomination. I’m also surprised by the performance of Scorsese’s film, topping a sizable portion of major critics' Top Ten lists. The underperformance of both of these is notable and (in the case of ‘Barbie’) has become quite contentious. Who knows, though? Maybe, the next films from Gerwig and Scorserse will benefit from many thinking that their films got snubbed when it came to the Oscars.

In terms of the films that I think have a fractional fighting chance of winning the award, the first that comes to mind is ‘The Holdovers’ which, at one stage, had a pretty compelling trio of awards. Currently, it only has one of those awards locked - Supporting Actress. At one stage, it looked like Paul Giamatti had overtaken Cillian Murphy as frontrunner to win the Oscar, with his affable speech at the Golden Globes, along with his win over Murphy at the Critics’ Choice, making him look poised to win. But, in the last month or so, Murphy seems to have taken the momentum over Giamatti. ‘The Holdovers’ also appeared like a strong contender to win Best Original Screenplay but, as with Cillian Murphy and ‘Oppenheimer’, the script for ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’ looks like the inevitable winner. Now, I do think there is a chance that it could steal Original Screenplay, which would give it a killer-combination to win Best Picture. The film is, additionally, a major crowd-pleaser but it looks very unlikely to win Original Screenplay.

‘Poor Things’, at one stage, also looked like it could have something of a winning combination, due to its chances in Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. In the latter category, its chances have almost entirely diminished - again, due to the overriding threat of ‘Oppenheimer’, the increased traction of ‘American Fiction’ and the category flipping of ‘Barbie’ from Best Original Screenplay to Best Adapted Screenplay. As for Best Actress, that category is a complete coin toss. The only thing that ‘Poor Things’ really has in its favour, at this point, is that it triumphed over films like ‘American Fiction’, ‘Barbie’ and ‘The Holdovers’ to win the award for Best Musical Or Comedy at the Golden Globes. But, I would argue that, since then, the momentum has dwindled.

The two films with the biggest fighting chance to beat Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ are ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’, which have both surged in visibility and popularity as we come to the end of this Oscar season. ‘American Fiction’ received surprising nominations in both Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score, and has also become a clear frontrunner to win Best Adapted Screenplay. Cord Jeffreson’s debut feature is also helped by, much like ‘The Holdovers’, being a crowd-pleasing movie, even if the subject matter might appear to be somewhat contentious at first. The only problem it really has is that it seems unlikely to be able to win any awards outside of Best Adapted Screenplay. I think there is a microscopic chance that it could win Best Supporting Actor or Best Lead Actor, but those categories are so sewn up by ‘Oppenheimer’’s two central male performers that it just seems terribly unlikely. It doesn’t help that ‘American Fiction’ is so much less visible than ‘Oppenheimer’. One is a mammoth box office juggernaut with tons of movie stars. The other is a small independent movie with a good amount of credible B-list talent, who seem primed to break into the A-list with a budget of less than ten-million dollars.

‘Anatomy Of A Fall’ has a slightly stronger chance. It is poised to win Adapted Screenplay and, notably, received surprise nominations in both Best Director and Best Film Editing - the latter of which has historically been seen as something of a barometer for how well a film is performing. Much like ‘American Fiction’, its problem is in regards to visibility compared to ‘Oppenheimer’, as well as its chance to win in any other category. However, I would rate Sandra Huller’s chances at winning Best Actress higher than Jeffrey Wright’s to win Best Actor. Sure, her chances are still negligible, but likely than Wright’s odds.

All the same, this discussion is somewhat trivial and fruitless. It seems inevitable that ‘Oppenheimer’ will steamroll its competition on March 10th.

Ranking of likelihood to win:

1. Oppenheimer

2. Anatomy Of A Fall

3. American Fiction

4. The Holdovers

5. Poor Things

6. Barbie

7. Killers Of The Flower Moon

8. The Zone Of Interest

9. Past Lives

10. Maestro

Final predictions for the Big Eight categories

Best Picture - ‘Oppenheimer’

Best Director - Christopher Nolan (‘Oppenheimer’)

Best Actor - Cillian Murphy (‘Oppenheimer’)

Best Actress - Lily Gladstone (‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’) 

Best Supporting Actor - Robert Downey Jr. (‘Oppenheimer’)

Best Supporting Actress - Da’Vine Joy Randolph (‘The Holdovers’)

Best Adapted Screenplay - ‘American Fiction’

Best Original Screenplay - ‘Anatomy Of A Fall’


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