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Oscar Experts Typing: What is No. 2 to ‘Oppenheimer’ in Best Picture?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we discuss Best Picture, which still feels like “Oppenheimer‘s” to lose post-nominations.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! Welcome, one and all, to our first official chat of Phase 2. I don’t know how about you, but I thought it was so encouraging to see everyone react in such a calm and normal fashion to this week’s Oscar nominations — particularly after last year’s Oscar nominations were so fraught with discourse, outrage and controversy. I am, of course, being silly. The Hot Take Industrial Complex saw Andrea Riseborough’s surprise 2023 Oscar nomination and said “hold my beer” when Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie were snubbed in, respectively, Best Director and Best Actress for “Barbie.” Can you imagine what would’ve happened if they didn’t receive actual Oscar nominations for the blockbuster masterpiece (Gerwig for writing, Robbie for producing)? Fortunately, we’re not here to relitigate the last 72 hours but instead, turn our gaze toward the Best Picture race. As most everyone expected, the Producers Guild of America Awards’ field of 10 carried over to the Oscars’ top category, and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is the overwhelming favorite to win at both ceremonies. “Oppenheimer” paced the Oscar field with 13 nominations and every time I think it might suffer from frontrunner fatigue, another “Oscar villain” rears its head to take the heat. “Barbie” is the current leader in the clubhouse on that front, but I feel like we’ll soon get takedowns of “The Holdovers” and “American Fiction” just because those are the two movies that stand the best chance of pulling off the Best Picture upset. Right now, I’ve got “American Fiction” in my runner-up spot: It over-performed with the academy, landing five total nominations including Best Supporting Actor for Sterling K. Brown and Best Original Score. It’s a late-comer among the nominees, meaning it’s best positioned to be the “discovery” of Phase 2 — even if it has been winning audience awards at film festivals since September. It’s also “about something” and has a strong family component, two unofficial criteria the modern academy seems to value in picking the year’s Best Picture (see: “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “CODA,” “Nomadland,” and “Parasite”). Since it’s nominated for ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it could also follow the “CODA” playbook of winning there against a “colder” masterpiece and taking that momentum all the way to March 10. Yet even with that case laid out in perfect narrative form, I’m hard-pressed to believe anything can stop “Oppenheimer.” You’re more of a believer in “The Holdovers” than I am, so do you think that’s the alternative to “Oppenheimer” — or does the academy’s growing international membership make “Poor Things” or even “Anatomy of a Fall” the better bet?

joyceeng: I think the top five is “Oppenheimer” in first, and then “Poor Things,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “American Fiction” and “The Holdovers” in whatever order you want. The order doesn’t really matter because “Oppenheimer” is so far out in front and what we’ve seen this season is that no film has been able to firmly establish itself as No. 2. And I’m not even sure if voters want to look for an alternate. “Oppenheimer” is beloved and admired across the board. “American Fiction” can surge like “CODA” — and as I’ve said before, it’s already outpaced where “CODA” was at this time — but “Oppenheimer” is not “cold” and remote like “The Power of the Dog.” Like you said, it has avoided frontrunner fatigue so far. One of the funniest things about this week is how there was zero discourse about “Oppenheimer.” It was like, “Oh, it got 13 nominations? Sounds about right. Moving on.” It’s just chugging along while we’re forced to see endless brainworm “Barbie” takes against our will. I think “Anatomy of a Fall’s” popularity is still underestimated. It’s one of three Best Picture nominees that also earned directing, acting, writing and editing nominations, the others being “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things.” If you go by nominations alone, “Poor Things,” with 11, is ostensibly second. There was some concern early in the season that the film might be too weird, among other things, to be embraced by the academy, but that’s clearly not the case. “American Fiction” and “The Holdovers” are missing directing bids — less surprising for the former than the latter since Alexander Payne made it in the last three times his movies were nominated for the top prize. “The Holdovers” did make the editing cut (no pun intended), while “American Fiction” did not. I’ve long said that if there were a Best Picture and Best Director split, Nolan would win the latter and Best Picture would go to a smaller film, like “The Holdovers” or “American Fiction.” But at this stage, I don’t think anyone is anticipating a split. At the moment, the Best Picture odds match four of my top five, with “American Fiction” in seventh, which looks like a mistake, but nope, that’s where it is. It’s wild to me how hesitant people have been to predict “American Fiction” since its TIFF win and subsequent audience awards. I immediately put it in Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay after TIFF, but it took a while for it to crack the predicted lineups in the first two categories. I know “American Fiction” hasn’t been widely seen yet — it’s expanding to more than 1,700 theaters today with $8.7 million already in the books — but not having seen a movie has never stopped anyone before from predicting a critically acclaimed crowd-pleaser. And with its SAG and Oscar over-performance, there’s a stronger case to be made for “American Fiction” being a top five movie than a bottom five. “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Barbie” are the two films currently ahead of it, but I don’t see either as win-competitive. “Killers” missed two above-the-line nominations and feels, as we’ve said, more respected than loved. And “Barbie,” well, yikes. People have tried to push the “sympathy win” narrative, but the toxic nonsense this week has gotten completely out of control. Plus, there’s nothing Oscar voters hate more than being told what to do and how to feel.

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Christopher Rosen: The “Barbie” discourse has gotten so bad that I think it could reverse “Argo” any chances Gerwig and Noah Baumbach might have in Best Adapted Screenplay, the most competitive category this year in my estimation. Not great, Bob! You mentioned the collective “Oppenheimer” shrug with its 13 nominations and I also felt that way about “Poor Things.” I’ve seen some suggest it could go home empty-handed on Oscar night and, sure, anything’s possible — but I feel like it’s got a great shot at Best Actress for Emma Stone, I think it can win Best Makeup and Hairstyling over “Maestro,” and it’s at least a possibility for Best Adapted Screenplay too. If it pulls off that trio of wins, it’s absolutely win-competitive for Best Picture — especially, perhaps, because it does the “Barbie” thing but make it weird and arthouse so Oscar voters can feel smart by voting for it over a blockbuster. Yet I don’t think that happens either. As you said, there isn’t really a consensus No. 2 here — it kind of reminds me of last year, when “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was far out in front and nothing really stood out in its rearview. So, I guess we’re done with Best Picture? Bad for us since there are six weeks until the Oscars. Talk to me more about “Anatomy of a Fall.” I agree that it’s highly competitive — it can win Best Original Screenplay and I could see Sandra Hüller being a shock Best Actress winner if Stone and Lily Gladstone spilt the vote, but it feels like it would be the most surprising Best Picture winner ever were fantasy to become reality. We also haven’t really mentioned “Maestro,” “Past Lives,” and “The Zone of Interest,” but those feel like the nominations are the reward. Happy for them, though!

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joyceeng: It’s entirely possible that every Best Picture nominee wins at least one Oscar except for “Past Lives,” unfortunately. It probably won’t be able to fully pull a “Women Talking” by converting its screenplay nomination into a win because it’s at best third in Best Original Screenplay behind “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Holdovers.” Both screenplay categories are competitive in different ways. While “Anatomy” is an industry fave, I don’t think it’ll have enough juice to take down “Oppenheimer” in Best Picture, but the screenplay categories often act as consolation prizes for well-liked Best Picture also-rans. “Anatomy” is also the “cooler” script pick in a similar vein to “Get Out” and “Promising Young Woman.” You can also argue that France’s failure to select it as its international feature submission is a blessing in disguise. It would’ve easily won that category and voters might’ve felt they’ve taken care of the film by voting for it there. But with Best International Feature Film not an option, “Anatomy” heads have to look to other categories if they want to vote for it. Back to “Poor Things,” I’ve seen that 0-11 postulation, but it’s very competitive in five categories: the three you mentioned and Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. “Barbie” is the frontrunner in both, but “Poor Things” could sneak at least one of those, if not both, which would be sad for me and my “‘Barbie’ is ‘Black Panther’ 2.0” theory. Last year, “Elvis” was the favorite in these two categories but lost both (to two different movies to boot) and I could see that happening to “Barbie” if it continues to fade in Phase 2 and/or the discourse never ends. It’s probably still safe in Best Original Song to prevent it from going home empty-handed like “Elvis” did. Five Best Picture nominees didn’t win a single award last year, but even with “Oppenheimer” poised to be the biggest across-the-board Best Picture winner since “The Hurt Locker” (six of “Everything Everywhere’s” seven wins were above the line), it feels like we could avoid that happening this year. Like I said, nine of them could legitimately win something!

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Christopher Rosen: That would be pretty great, especially because 2023 is maybe the best movie year since… 2019? 2007? 1999? Since we’ve typed a bunch already, I’ll leave you to answer this subjective question before I head back into the “Barbie” Wars.

joyceeng: 2023 was great, but you know I like some distance before we appraise film years. I will say that the Best Picture lineup, while highly predictable, is fantastic. YMMV on the films, but there’s a great variety and they’re representative of what ~ cinema ~ has to offer. You’ve got the double feature movie event of the year, international fare, auteur and arthouse work, little indies that could, a historical epic from a legend, a nostalgia dopamine hit and a biopic that’s not a biopic. Not that they don’t already, but the Oscars can pat themselves on the back for this one.

Make your predictions at Gold Derby now. Download our free and easy app for Apple/iPhone devices or Android (Google Play) to compete against legions of other fans plus our experts and editors for best prediction accuracy scores. See our latest prediction champs. Can you top our esteemed leaderboards next? Always remember to keep your predictions updated because they impact our latest racetrack odds, which terrify Hollywood chiefs and stars. Don’t miss the fun. Speak up and share your huffy opinions in our famous forums where 5,000 showbiz leaders lurk every day to track latest awards buzz. Everybody wants to know: What do you think? Who do you predict and why?

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