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Saturday, February 24, 2024

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How “The Holdovers” Could Win Best Picture At The Oscars

As the New Year turns and the guilds, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice prepare to speak up, the likes of “Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Barbie” and “Poor Things” are still held up as the most likely Best Picture winners. Lurking behind all of them is “The Holdovers” as it has since its runner-up finish at TIFF – yet the path is right there for it to have the same time-honored winning path that “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight,” “Green Book” and “CODA” had. But if it doesn’t work out that way, then the big question will be whether “The Holdovers” is universally liked enough to win like “Spotlight” did.

So far in precursors, “The Holdovers” has the most wins out of all Best Original Screenplay frontrunners and the most wins by far in Best Supporting Actress for Da’Vine Joy Randolph. As “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight,” “Green Book,” and “CODA” proved, all it often takes in this era to win Best Picture is to win a Supporting and Screenplay Oscar only. Yet there is still lingering doubt as to whether Randolph can beat “The Color Purple’s” Danielle Brooks in the major televised awards, starting in the next two weekends with the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards.

If Brooks starts rallying back, and if there isn’t a big enough split between Cillian Murphy and Bradley Cooper for Paul Giamatti to slip through in Best Actor, then “The Holdovers‘” only path to Best Picture is one only “Spotlight” has used in modern times. Namely, winning a Screenplay Oscar and absolutely nothing else before winning the big one.

Spotlight” showed a clear template for making this happen, in that it was 2015’s only major contender that everyone at least liked – or not hated loudly. While the likes of “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” had their fans and vocal detractors, and “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” fans weren’t loud enough to overcome any voter bias against blockbusters, “Spotlight” glided along as the ideal compromise option in the end.

Like “Spotlight,” the top competition for “The Holdovers” may be an unlikely blockbuster that could take both Best Director and an acting award – in this case, “Oppenheimer” instead of “The Revenant.” And like “Spotlight,” “The Holdovers” is also facing a blockbuster from Warner Bros with a feminist-driven narrative, but is still not usually the kind of film that wins Best Picture – in this case, “Barbie” instead of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It also faces a highly stylized comedy/drama with a divisive director but with a potential path to win for Adapted Screenplay – in this case, “Poor Things” instead of “The Big Short.” There’s also “Killers of the Flower Moon,” but it first needs to prove it can win other categories besides Best Actress.

Like “Spotlight,” “The Holdovers” is a much smaller film than its competitors. Still, it has bigger audience scores and conventional Academy-friendly elements – which may become more comforting for certain voters to unite behind than the competition. Nonetheless, “Spotlight” also had certain advantages that “The Holdovers” doesn’t seem to have at the moment. For one thing, “Spotlight” was the biggest winner in the critics awards season before it started to lose ground with televised awards and the guilds. In contrast, “The Holdovers” isn’t exactly sweeping Best Picture with critics thus far, despite all its wins for Randolph and the script. And while its competition might be similar to “Spotlight’s“, it might also be less vulnerable.

The Revenant” and “Oppenheimer” were both surprise box office smashes despite having darker tones and subject matter than typical blockbusters. Yet while “The Revenant” rampaged theaters in the dead of winter, it didn’t come close to “Oppenheimer’s” record-setting haul this past summer. Most of all, it had nothing remotely close to the universal critical acclaim “Oppenheimer” has had for months on end.

As for “Poor Things,” it and Yorgos Lanthimos might test the limits of some voters’ tastes and senses, like “The Big Short” and Adam McKay did. But both critics and audiences have gone along with it so far, and thanks to Emma Stone, it is as much of a threat for the all-important acting/screenplay-winning combo as “The Holdovers” is – something “The Big Short” never seriously threatened for.

Meanwhile, “Barbie” hasn’t exactly had the universal raves of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but it has enjoyed a much bigger box office. It was ultimately too improbable for the fourth film in a blockbuster franchise to win Best Picture in 2015, and some would say the idea of a Barbie film winning Best Picture is just as outlandish. Nevertheless, after the likes of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “CODA,” “Nomadland,” “Parasite,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Moonlight” won these last several years, there isn’t much that seems too unlikely to win Best Picture anymore – not like there was in 2015.

Not only were films like “The Revenant,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Big Short” all too vulnerable, “Spotlight” also had the advantage of its urgent true story about exposing systemic abuse in the Church and about the power of newspapers. With “The Holdovers,” while it has its own meaningful themes, the likes of “Oppenheimer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” – and even “Barbie” and “Poor Things” in a way – tackle more hard-hitting topics and relevant issues in politically charged climates. Maybe that could work against them if voters are in an escapist mood by March, but until then, “The Holdovers” can’t count on the kind of thematic edge that “Spotlight” had.

With all these obstacles, perhaps “Spotlight’s” example isn’t really one “The Holdovers” can fall back on. Maybe it can take some inspiration from the 2012 Best Picture “Argo” – the only other winner in this era that had Screenplay as its only other above-the-line Oscar win. Still, “Argo” also had one below-the-line win for Best Film Editing, which “The Holdovers” probably can’t count on.

But “Argo” benefited from a split field in 2012, once early frontrunner “Zero Dark Thirty” collapsed under controversy, and “Lincoln” couldn’t garner momentum beyond Daniel Day-Lewis’s Best Actor sweep. That year was so divided early on that all “Argo” really needed was a late surge – and backlash over Ben Affleck’s Director snub – to sweep the industry awards. As for this year, the precursors are evenly split thus far in a way rarely seen since 2012, to the point that maybe something like “The Holdovers” can pull through if the field stays scattered a while longer.

Like “Argo” and many other recent winners, “The Holdovers” has benefited from not being seen as a big frontrunner early on. It had various opportunities to get that early bullseye on its back. Still, its loss at TIFF to “American Fiction” and its failure to win other major early precursors kept it under the radar to this point. Of course, that can all change very soon at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice, and with SAG, DGA, and PGA nominations looming as well.

Yet the minute “The Holdovers” becomes an actual threat to win big at the Oscars, everything about how it is viewed and discussed will change too. The minute it wins a major Screenplay award, more people will start noticing how it could become the only Best Original Screenplay nominee written solely by a man – and yet still be the biggest favorite to win. The minute director Alexander Payne becomes a real threat to steal a Best Director nomination – and possibly snub someone out like Greta Gerwig or Lanthimos – it may finally make people revisit some ugly accusations from his past. And the minute “The Holdovers” wins a major Best Picture prize over “Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and other Film Twitter approved darlings, it will bring about all the targets on its back that it has sidestepped for four straight months.

In that context, “The Holdovers” has been blessed by avoiding all this so far and staying in its own little corner. Maybe it will stay that blessed a while longer since it wasn’t even nominated for Best Screenplay at the Globes, and it may well be an underdog in Best Comedy/Musical against “Barbie” and “Poor Things.” Even if it does better at the Critics Choice Awards the following weekend, there’s still plenty of doubt over how much the Critics Choice really counts towards the bigger picture. As it stands, it may take until the PGA awards to know where the race really stands, as it does most every year.

Until then, it can’t be ruled out that “The Holdovers” stays unsullied enough to win Best Picture and Screenplay only, like “Spotlight” did – but it might require greater luck and breaks than “Spotlight” ever needed. At the moment, it seems just as likely that “The Holdovers” still wins for Screenplay but takes nothing else or that Randolph becomes its sole collective winner instead. It’s even possible, if probably unlikely that both Giamatti and Randolph win, but the film can’t pull out Screenplay or Best Picture anyway – just like with multiple acting winners “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and “The Fighter” in this era.

With audiences finding or revisiting “The Holdovers” on Peacock over the holidays, and with the memories of many Best Picture winners past lingering, anything from a total shutout to a “Spotlight” or “CODA” like Best Picture win is still on the table. But considering the movie itself, maybe it is fitting if it has a more bittersweet ending instead after the holiday break – and maybe such an outcome is the best thing for a film like “The Holdovers” in the long run if not the most Oscar-laden outcome.

What Oscars do you think “The Holdovers” can win? Do you think it could win Best Picture? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Also, please check out their latest Oscar predictions here and the 2023 precursor awards tally here.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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