“Killers Of The Flower Moon” entered the awards season conversation the minute filming began. This is now expected when it comes to a new Martin Scorsese picture. He’s one of the greatest and most important directors ever to live. At this point in his storied career, any new movie from the master is cause for celebration, with or without awards season success. And when said his latest film was revealed to be an epic, tragic Western about the greed-driven murders of wealthy Osage Nation members in the 1920s, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and “Certain Women” standout Lily Gladstone? There’s little wonder as to why “Killers Of The Flower Moon” became an early favorite for the Academy Awards.
And yet, at least for the moment, most of the buzz has concentrated around films that have already been released, such as “Oppenheimer,” and fall festival favorites like “Poor Things.” While “Killers Of The Flower Moon” is generally agreed to be an across-the-board contender by Next Best Picture, it isn’t predicted to win many categories, if any: the one category it was predicted to win, Best Supporting Actress, is now a moot point, as it has recently been announced that Lily Gladstone will campaign for Best Actress instead. Evidently, the performance of Scorsese’s previous film, “The Irishman,” at the Oscars has led people to believe “Killers Of The Flower Moon” will follow in its perpetual bridesmaid footsteps. But is that necessarily the case?
Regarding the Oscars, as with politics, it’s tempting to compare everything to last year’s race, drawing one-to-one parallels that may or may not exist because it’s easier than confronting uncertainty. Is “Poor Things” the new “Everything Everywhere All At Once“? Is “Oppenheimer” the new “Top Gun: Maverick?” What will be this year’s “Tár“? And so on. Because “The Irishman” was shut out despite substantial hype and the might of a streaming giant in Netflix behind it, it stands to reason that the same thing could feasibly happen to “Killers Of The Flower Moon.” The buzz surrounding the film following its Cannes Film Festival world premiere is massive, and this time around, the campaign is being handled by another streaming giant in Apple. Therefore, after two years of frontrunner fatigue and with an assortment of shiny new toys, Oscar watchers may feel safe setting the film aside until its eventual release.
But “The Irishman’s” shutout did not occur in a vacuum: it was a perfect storm of discourse and bad luck. For months, Oscar voters and watchers alike had to deal with chatter about Scorsese’s MCU comments, debates over Netflix and de-aging technology, complaints about the film’s length, and bad-faith arguments regarding Anna Paquin’s screen time. Even those who rightfully appreciated the film as a classic would be forgiven for getting sick of the noise surrounding it. Combined with Netflix’s dual priorities between “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” and “The Two Popes,” as well as unusually stiff competition (this was the year of “Parasite,” “1917,” “Joker,” and “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” after all), the result was the film going home empty-handed on Oscar night.
While this year is shaping up to be just as competitive as 2019, “Killers Of The Flower Moon” is in a very different position from “The Irishman.” Awards contenders from streaming platforms are no longer a novelty, and Apple will likely whip up the kind of campaign that carried Best Picture winner “CODA” to shocking Oscar success. Meanwhile, the film’s robust theatrical release on October 20th (along with an IMAX rollout) will give it a large boost at a time when all other film festival movies will have already premiered, and their buzz is starting to lower.
Aside from the legendary filmmaker at the helm, who can never be wholly discounted from the Best Director conversation, “Killers Of The Flower Moon” boasts what has been called a “career-best” performance from DiCaprio, perhaps our biggest living movie star, as well as a raved-about villain turn from De Niro in a role said to be his best since the early 90s. Gladstone is a major contender even as a lead actress, delivering a highly-praised performance as the film’s moral center; she also possesses an ironclad narrative as the potential first Native American acting nominee for Best Actress. And as always with a Scorsese film, the crafts will be stellar, and players with Academy voters: Best Film Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, and Original Score (the final score from late Scorsese collaborator Robbie Robertson) are all in play along with several others.
It’s possible “Killers Of The Flower Moon” will get dinged with the usual nonsense criticisms that face late-period Scorsese (wah, wah, too long, wah) or its subject matter will be too grim for an Academy that gave Best Picture to two big-hearted crowd-pleasers in a row (albeit very, very different crowd-pleasers). But as it stands, discount the film at your own peril, for Apple has played its cards brilliantly so far by letting the hype cool down, losing its frontrunner status (no studio ever wants to be the frontrunner in September), and waiting for the right moment to strike with what a tremendous film that surely turn the tide in this ever-shifting race.
Do you think “Killers Of The Flower Moon” will re-gain its frontrunner status? Which Oscar nominations are you currently predicting it will receive? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out Next Best Picture’s latest Oscar predictions here.
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