(Image credit: Universal Pictures/Focus Features/Warner Bros)
Tuesday 23 January sees awards season move into top gear as the Academy Award nominations are announced. Culture’s two film critics reveal who they think will be in the running.
Killers of the Flower Moon (Credit: Apple TV)
Caryn James: There are only four films with any real chance of winning: Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon, which are likely to battle it out for the prize, along with the audacious Poor Things and the smart commercial juggernaut that is Barbie. For any other films, the cliché is actually true this time: the nomination is the real honour. The Holdovers, American Fiction and Anatomy of a Fall are likely nominees, possibly along with The Zone of Interest and Maestro, even though that has been losing traction. It would be terrific if Celine Song’s jewel-like Past Lives snuck in instead. But the most serious omission is likely to be Ava DuVernay’s stirring film about caste and race, Origin, which hasn’t been part of the awards conversation. DuVernay has been making a strong public-relations push to correct that recently – but it might have come too late.
Nicholas Barber: In recent years, the Oscars have favoured such quirky independent films as Coda, Nomadland and Everything Everywhere All at Once, but this will be the year of high-profile, high-budget Hollywood hits. The nominations – including best picture – are bound to be split between Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Barbie and Poor Things. Of the other contenders, the one I’d most like to see on the list is Jonathan Glazer’s staggering Holocaust drama, The Zone of Interest. And this category now has room for 10 nominees, so look out for American Fiction, The Holdovers, The Color Purple, Anatomy of a Fall, and The Boy And The Heron.
Anatomy of a Fall (Credit: Le Pacte)
Caryn James: Nolan, Nolan, Nolan. Christopher Nolan has never won, and Oppenheimer, the perfect mix of art and commerce, has made the Oscar his to lose this time among an exceptionally strong group. The revered Martin Scorsese is Nolan’s main competition, along with Greta Gerwig for her richly imagined, billion-dollar hit, Barbie, and Yorgos Lanthimos for his dazzling Poor Things. The one slot left may well go to Alexander Payne, who so deftly directed The Holdovers. His nomination for the Directors Guild Award is a strong indicator. And although the Golden Globes are not a strong indicator, Justine Triet’s wins there for screenplay and international film put her and the bold Anatomy of a Fall on Hollywood’s radar in a big way at just the right time. It would be great if she claimed that fifth spot.
Nicholas Barber: Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan are guaranteed to be nominated for their three-hour non-fiction sagas, Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer, respectively. Poor Things is so dazzlingly inventive that its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, should join them in the line-up, and Bradley Cooper (Maestro) and Greta Gerwig (Barbie) are likely to fill the remaining slots. They’d all be worthy nominees, but Alexander Payne (The Holdovers), Justine Triet (Anatomy of a Fall) or Celine Song (Past Lives) might sneak in, and it would be wonderful if the mighty Hayao Miyazaki was included for what he says will be his final Studio Ghibli anime, The Boy and the Heron.
American Fiction (Credit: Claire Folger/Orion Pictures)
Caryn James: This is the wobbliest major category. Oppenheimer’s Cillian Murphy is a sure thing, along with Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers, and Jeffrey Wright for American Fiction. And then there’s Bradley Cooper and the most talked-about prosthetic nose since Nicole Kidman won her Oscar as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. His imitation of Leonard Bernstein in Maestro (which to me and some others seems too studied) is the kind of acting Oscar voters seem to go for every time. The fifth nominee is likely to be either Leonardo DiCaprio for Killers of the Flower Moon or Colman Domingo, whose passionate performance towers over the conventional Rustin. But it should go to Andrew Scott for his wrenching, eloquently underplayed performance in All of Us Strangers.
Nicholas Barber: Cillian Murphy is the man to beat for Oppenheimer: it’s the role of a lifetime in one of the films of the year, and he’s already won the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama. Paul Giamatti’s own Golden Globe win, for best actor in a comedy or musical, should secure him a nomination for playing the curmudgeonly-yet-lovable hero in The Holdovers. He will probably be joined by Bradley Cooper for Maestro and Leonardo DiCaprio for Killers of the Flower Moon. As for the last name on the ballot, I’d pick Jeffrey Wright for American Fiction (another lovable curmudgeon), but it could be Colman Domingo for Rustin, Andrew Scott for All of Us Strangers, or Barry Keoghan for Saltburn.
Poor Things (Credit: Searchlight Pictures)
Caryn James: This race is actually between two extraordinary, totally different performances: Lily Gladstone’s, as the strong but subdued heart of Killers of the Flower Moon, and Emma Stone’s brash, kaleidoscopically comic turn in Poor Things. Margot Robbie will be nominated for bringing Barbie to life, along with Carey Mulligan, widely praised as the best thing about Maestro. Annette Bening has been campaigning hard for her title role in the underwhelming Nyad, and her Screen Actors Guild nomination is a good omen. But I think and hope that Sandra Hüller will get that fifth spot for her uncompromising depiction of a not always likeable murder suspect in Anatomy of a Fall.
Nicholas Barber: You never know what’s going to happen, but four out of the five names in this category feel like dead certs: everyone loves Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon; Carey Mulligan hits new heights in Maestro; Emma Stone is thrillingly weird in Poor Things; and Margot Robbie is perfect in Barbie, a film she also produced. And the fifth name? Sandra Hüller has been praised for being magnetic and enigmatic in Anatomy of a Fall ever since it premiered at Cannes last year, and Annette Bening deserves a nomination for her swimming as well as her acting in Nyad.
Barbie (Credit: Warner Bros)
Caryn James: Robert Downey Jr is the frontrunner as Oppenheimer’s fierce antagonist, and Ryan Gosling is his strongest competition for his brilliantly tongue-in-cheek performance as Barbie’s boyfriend. Will Robert De Niro get another nomination as the primary villain in Killers of the Flower Moon? Maybe, and he absolutely should for one of his most dynamic performances in recent years. Charles Melton has received some critics awards, but May December doesn’t have much momentum, so the rest of the category is likely to be filled out by Mark Ruffalo and maybe Willem Dafoe for Poor Things. Conventional Oscar wisdom says that two nominees from one film cancel each other out, but since neither is likely to win, both may be nominated even by strategic voters.
Nicholas Barber: Ryan Gosling is really the co-lead of Barbie, but since the film’s producers submitted him for the supporting actor Oscar, then he should be nominated for his adorably silly turn. Robert Downey will be nominated, too, not just because of his spiky intensity in Oppenheimer, but because he helped Disney make zillions of dollars as Iron Man. Robert De Niro could well be recognised for playing the despicable villain in Killers of the Flower Moon, and even critics who had issues with May December singled out Charles Melton’s heart-rending vulnerability. The fifth slot could go to an actor from Poor Things – either Willem Dafoe (who I loved) or Mark Ruffalo (who I loathed).
Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Credit: Focus Features)
Caryn James: Da’Vine Joy Randolph has already received an armful of awards for her vibrantly real performance in The Holdovers, and seems like a lock to win. Danielle Brooks is likely to be nominated for her powerhouse performance, the best in The Color Purple, along with Emily Blunt for her small but effective part in Oppenheimer. The rest is less predictable. Jodie Foster’s SAG nomination for Nyad, along with her long and respected career, may propel her into the race. America Ferrera hasn’t had much awards attention so far, but she should have. As the main human in Barbieworld, she grounds the film, even apart from her much talked-about monologue about women’s roles today.
Nicholas Barber: A tricky category, this one, because the year’s biggest films haven’t had many attention-grabbing supporting roles for women. Emily Blunt could well get a nod for Oppenheimer, not because it’s her most impressive work, but because Oppenheimer will get nominations across the board. Danielle Brooks is tipped for the musical of The Color Purple, partly because she was nominated for a Tony when she played the role on Broadway. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the heart and soul of The Holdovers, and Jodie Foster is a buff, tough delight in Nyad. My own choice for the fifth slot would be Rosamund Pike, who makes her character in Saltburn both pitiable and hilariously awful.
Caryn James: Three glittering, chiselled-to-perfection screenplays are definite nominees in this category: The Holdovers, Anatomy of a Fall and Past Lives. Then there is a gap in quality between them and the other possible but far from certain contenders. That gap, and the fact that the adapted screenplay category is overflowing, makes you wonder how much or how little Hollywood respects originality. May December’s screenplay has been among the most admired elements of the film, and may make the cut. Emerald Fennell won in this category for Promising Young Woman, and may be nominated again for her out-there Saltburn. What should have been in this category? Barbie, but see below.
Nicholas Barber: Aside from Maestro, written by Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer, this year’s most awards-friendly films are adapted from other media, so there’s an opportunity for some smaller films to be honoured in the original screenplay category. A gripping German courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Fall (written by Justine Triet and Arthur Harari), won a Golden Globe for its script, so it’s definitely a favourite. Celine Song’s exquisitely bittersweet Past Lives is in with a chance. The Academy gave Emerald Fennell an Oscar for her Promising Young Woman screenplay, so they might go for her popular follow-up, Saltburn. And while comedies tend to be overlooked at the Oscars, The Holdovers (written by David Hemingson) is too excellent to be ignored.
Zone of Interest (Credit: A24)
Caryn James: It’s hilarious that the thoroughly original Barbie is in the adapted category, as best screenplay based on a piece of intellectual property. (That’s not a joke; being based on a previously existing character landed it here.) Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach deserve a nomination though, along with the other likely contenders: Scorsese and Eric Roth for Killers of the Flower Moon, Tony McNamara for Poor Things and Nolan for Oppenheimer. Cord Jefferson will likely be nominated for American Fiction, but this category will have to leave out other great possibilities. There should, somehow, be room for Andrew Haigh’s transformation of a Japanese novel into All of Us Strangers and for the dazzling way DuVernay turned a non-fiction Book into a personal drama in Origin.
Nicholas Barber: You can put money on Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon being in this section. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s Barbie screenplay counts as “adapted” because Barbie and Ken already existed before the film was written, so that should be on the list, too. The other obvious picks are Tony McNamara’s feverish take on Alasdair Gray’s novel, Poor Things, as well as American Fiction, Cord Jefferson’s sharp adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel, Erasure. Finally, it would be fitting if Jonathan Glazer’s ingenious adaptation of The Zone of Interest was acknowledged, even though he used almost no material from the source novel by Martin Amis.
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