Wednesday, October 4, 2023

How “Barbie’s” Move To Best Original Screenplay Shakes Up The Oscar Race

Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” has become a global phenomenon, the highest-grossing film of the year, and now has its eyes set on Oscar gold. After Warner Bros. officially delayed “Dune: Part Two” to 2024, it’s no secret that “Barbie” has become the studio’s number one priority this awards season. Warner Bros. is already planting the seeds for a successful awards campaign, and that includes its first major move: “Barbie” will be officially campaigned in Best Original Screenplay instead of Best Adapted Screenplay. This is a significant development as it not only shakes up both screenplay races but it could also have ramifications on the Best Picture race. Here are some ways this move could alter the Academy Awards nominations this year…

Let’s look at the Best Adapted Screenplay race “Barbie” was originally competing in. This year’s competition is stacked as you have likely Best Picture contenders in films like “Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and “Poor Things.” From a strategy standpoint, it makes sense for “Barbie” to move to the Best Original Screenplay category, where its competition is nowhere near as challenging and filled with fewer Best Picture contenders. Now that “Barbie” is gone, all of these other films will be fighting for the top prize.

All the talk around town is about Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which is now the current frontrunner for Best Picture. Many consider it the best screenplay Nolan has written since “Memento.” While it stands a good chance at winning Best Adapted Screenplay (there was a lot of noise surrounding how the screenplay was written in the first person – an unconventional practice for any screenwriter), Nolan could receive his first Oscar win in the Best Director category, leaving him vulnerable in Best Adapted Screenplay, especially with all this competition.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Poor Things” is surging at the right time as it debuted to rave reviews after the Venice and Telluride film festivals. Many think the film is the real deal and could be a potential Best Picture spoiler to “Oppenheimer.” Many felt screenwriter Tony McNamara should’ve won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “The Favourite” in 2018; this will be their chance to make that up to him.

There’s also “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which has only been screened at the Cannes Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews and is planning a worldwide theatrical release in late October. Apple could be playing their cards right while waiting for the perfect time to jump back into the conversation and re-declare themselves as the Best Picture race’s frontrunner. The film is topical and could give Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth their second Academy Awards. At this point, it seems any of these three films are not only vying for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay but also Best Picture. We’ll just have to wait and see as the awards season progresses.

Barbie” moving to the Best Original Screenplay category now pushes the film into the winning conversation for that particular Academy Award. For the longest time, Celine Song’s screenplay for “Past Lives” has been considered the frontrunner in the category. Still, if this change officially gets accepted by the Academy, it could be a “kill two birds with one stone” situation where Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach would win their first Academy Awards as co-writers by winning for “Barbie.”

You also have films like “The Holdovers” and “Anatomy of a Fall” circling as potential nominees in the category, but the win potential doesn’t seem as tangible for those films right now. “Past Lives” potentially losing its frontrunner status in this category is tough to swallow as this could hurt the film’s chances of scoring a Best Picture nomination. “Past Lives” has benefitted from coming out early enough in the year that people could see the film and rave about it for months as time passed, though as more films have been released, the conversation has drifted away from it. It is helpful that SAG-AFTRA just permitted the A24 film to have its cast campaign for this awards season. This means that Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro will be on the campaign trail and be able to promote the film, which would help to give it the necessary exposure it needs to put up a fight against “Barbie.” Still, categories that “Past Lives” seemed stable in earlier this year, such as Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor, all could end up not panning out. A24 could also switch to give “Priscilla” their number-one focus in their awards season campaign. There’s now an open slot in Best Adapted Screenplay, and Sofia Coppola is a former recipient of a screenplay Oscar for “Lost In Translation.” Knowing “Past Lives” had nowhere near as much competition in Best Original Screenplay gave the film the push it needed to become the frontrunner and solidify its Best Picture chances at a nomination. Now, with “Barbie” in Best Original Screenplay, it would be hard for the Academy to resist not awarding two beloved creatives, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, which may put Celine Song and her film out of voters’ minds.

Also, if we’re looking at this from a more cynical point of view and less merit-based lens, the Academy will want “Barbenheimer” as a talking point at the ceremony. The dual release of these two major studio films was one of the most organic film-going phenomena in the past few decades, and they will want it to grace the stage at the Academy Awards. Think of the ratings boost for the telecast and all the social media hits it will get. Sure, this is not what the Academy Awards are supposed to be about, but if you look at this from all angles, it makes too much sense and might be too much for voters to resist, especially those who feel the Oscars need to reclaim some sort of relevancy. There is also a chance the Academy will reject this notion and keep “Barbie” in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Despite being an original film, it is based on a property that has existed for decades and has been in other forms of media before. Warner Bros.’ goal is clearly to emulate what they attempted for “The Lego Movie,” but the Academy has reversed campaign decisions for far less. “Moonlight” is a recent example of a film that was pushed as an original screenplay only for the Academy to decide it was adapted. Now it’s a waiting game for the Academy to respond, but Warner Bros. wouldn’t attempt this move if they didn’t think it had a good chance of working out for them. Who knows how this will play out, but as of now, “Barbie” is being campaigned as an original screenplay and is here to shake up the race!

Is “Barbie” the new Best Original Screenplay frontrunner? Will the Academy reject this submission and keep “Barbie” as an Adapted Screenplay? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

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