Sunday, April 21, 2024

How Passion Is Keeping “Past Lives” Alive In The Oscar Race

When Celine Song’s directorial debut “Past Lives” premiered at Sundance in January of this year, it was met with rave reviews and immediately entered the early awards season conversation. After limited screenings in the early summer, the film was released internationally and became a modest box office hit, with critics hailing Song’s screenplay and directing, along with the cast’s performances.

Following the summer and fall film festivals, “Past Lives” seems to have receded out of view for now in most Oscar pundits’ predictions. This is to be expected; with huge films such as “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” and “Poor Things” being screened across the world in the past few weeks, it would be surprising if they didn’t dominate the awards conversation. But even amid these films, “Past Lives” is still holding strong and certainly has the potential to be recognized in the Academy Award nominations early next year.

Historically, films released closer to the winter season are the ones that stick in Academy voters’ minds when it comes to receiving nominations. 

However, since the Academy started to broaden its selection of members, the statistical patterns around prediction methods have begun to change. Last year, for example, we saw A24 take indie darling “Everything Everywhere All At Once” all the way to a Best Picture win using word of mouth and a brilliant marketing campaign that spanned a whole year. Despite being a crazy, funny, sometimes bawdy genre film, it was beloved and celebrated by audiences from around the world and won 7 Academy Awards from its massive list of 11 nominations.

Past Lives,” like “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” is a relatively small A24 spring release that became a sensation through stellar reviews and audience adoration. For months, “Past Lives” was the film everyone was talking about, and now, A24 has the chance to create another incredible campaign that could take it to the Academy Awards and perhaps even give it a win.

Best Actress
Best Actress is one of the most stacked categories this year. Between Lily Gladstone, Carey Mulligan, Sandra Hüller, and Emma Stone, as well as the unseen performance from Fantasia Barrino in “The Color Purple,” the list of potential nominees seems endless, with each performance deserving of recognition. Upon the release of “Past Lives,” Greta Lee’s quiet, heartfelt performance filled audiences with longing and left many in tears. Her character, Nora, represents so much: stories of immigration, growing up, discovering who you are, and dealing with love. Greta Lee plays this character with such delicacy and care; her presence is a comfort throughout this film, and there is truly no other performance like it this year.

Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, it isn’t easy to gauge this race. Actors are currently making limited, if any, promotional appearances and the fall film festival season has definitely felt different without a majority of the actors there to discuss the films. This may give Greta Lee an advantage in this race; due to the early release of “Past Lives,” the cast was able to do some promotional work pre-strike. At the time of writing, discussions between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP appear to have broken down, with the AMPTP walking away from the negotiation table. However, “Past Lives” has an interim promotional agreement with SAG-AFTRA, thus allowing the actors to campaign, which should help keep Lee’s name higher in the conversation than otherwise.

Best Supporting Actor
Both John Magaro and Teo Yoo give beautifully devastating performances in this film, stealing the hearts of audiences as they portray two opposing sides of heartbreak. In the same way that their characters divided audiences, they have the potential to cancel each other out with nomination votes. In a year where the competition includes heralded performances from Robert Downey Jr. (“Oppenheimer“), Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things“), Ryan Gosling (“Barbie“), and Robert DeNiro (“Killers of the Flower Moon,” awards recognition may not be in Magaro and Yoo’s futures, as deserving as they both may be.

Best Original Score
The “Past Lives” score is unlike anything else in contention this year for Best Original Score. Following the recent trend of songwriters and band members turning to film to explore the medium, Grizzly Bear’s Christopher Bear and singer-songwriter Daniel Rossen combine synthetic sounds with somber strings to evoke the feeling of change and longing throughout the film. Understated, it blends seamlessly into the film and is definitely deserving of Academy recognition. With “Dune: Part Two” being pushed to next year, the main competition would be Ludwig Göransson’s “Oppenheimer” score, Robbie Robertson’s final work on “Killers of the Flower Moon” score, and newcomer Jerskin Fendrix for “Poor Things.” While it is almost a certainty that Ludwig Göransson’s “Oppenheimer” score will take the prize, should “Past Lives” receive a Best Picture nomination, it still would have a strong shot at a nomination alongside the other heavy-hitters.

Best Original Screenplay
Best Original Screenplay might be the best chance for an Academy Award nomination for “Past Lives” and win. Song’s screenplay is undoubtedly one of the best of this year. The first act sets up the story of childhood sweethearts separated and reunited in a way reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy. The devastation of this screenplay really begins to shine in the third act when Magaro and Yoo’s characters are united, leading to some of the most devastatingly heartbreaking and bittersweet yet funny scenes in recent memory.

With many of this year’s big films going into Best Adapted Screenplay, “Past Lives” current competition seems to be the behemoths of “Barbie” (which may or may not move back to Adapted depending on the Academy’s decision on the category placement) and “The Holdovers.” At this point, a nomination is almost guaranteed, and a win is certainly possible if A24 and Celine Song can pull out a memorable campaign over the coming months.

Best Director
Best Director is one of the most competitive categories this year. While Song’s direction is outstanding (especially for a feature directorial debut), it will be a long and challenging road to nomination morning. With only five spots available and multiple narratives already in place for Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Yorgos Lanthamos, Jonathan Glazer, and, of course, Martin Scorsese, it will be a tough competition over the coming months. Song is also up against the fact that the Academy has only nominated more than one woman in this category once, in 2021 (for Emerald Fennell and Chloe Zhao). With many women directing brilliant films this year, it’s impossible to ignore Song will be in direct competition with the likes of Greta Gerwig, Justine Triet, and Emerald Fennell. However, if Song can gain favor through the precursors and potentially secure a DGA nomination (outside of the assured first-time category), it is possible the Academy will follow suit.

Best Picture
As it stands, “Past Lives” is likely receiving a nomination for Best Picture. Amongst this year’s historical biopics and adaptations, “Past Lives” is one of the few original films that has found its way into people’s hearts. There is nothing else like it in this year’s awards season as it represents the little indie darling that could of the year, and its success is bound to have staying power. It is a film that makes people feel good, something Academy voters love but isn’t corny or contrived. Its word-of-mouth success has proved it to be a favorite for many people, and the level of skill and craft that went into making this film is undeniable.

While “Past Lives” has seemingly dipped out of the conversation in the last month or so, the Oscars are still five months away. Last year’s biggest winner proved that longevity and word of mouth, backed by an A24 campaign, could be the path to victory in a changing academy. And much like last year’s Best Adapted Screenplay winner (“Women Talking“) showed, you can still make it into Best Picture with just a screenplay nomination, which is still “Past Lives’” best overall shot at a nomination. With a film of this quality that is so loved by audiences, it would be a big mistake to count it out of the race completely.

How many Oscar nominations do you think “Past Lives” will receive? Do you have it winning anything? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Katie and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @katiedoesfilms

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