As Matt Neglia himself pointed out as far back as last summer, “Oppenheimer” sweeping its way to Best Picture in 2023/24 would echo how “Schindler’s List” did the same in 1993/94. Just as the Academy finally coronated Steven Spielberg for dramatizing one of WWII’s great atrocities, so too is Christopher Nolan on track to do so after his own years of box office hits and notable Oscar snubs. But that isn’t the only potential way the 2023 Oscars can repeat history from 30 years ago. When “Schindler’s List” won it all 30 years ago, it made “The Piano” the runner-up despite how it won two acting awards and a screenplay Oscar – commonly a Best Picture-winning combination in any other year. Yet ever since, no movie has lost Best Picture despite winning multiple acting Oscars and a screenplay Oscar – perhaps until “The Holdovers” next month.
Thanks to Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s near record-setting Best Supporting Actress sweep so far, Paul Giamatti pulling into a virtual tie with “Oppenheimer’s” own Cillian Murphy for Best Actor, and David Hemingson’s script also being neck-and-neck for Best Original Screenplay, “The Holdovers” is not far off from a double acting and screenplay combination that would normally make it the Best Picture favorite. But in the year of “Oppenheimer,” all it might get “The Holdovers” is runner-up status, in a way no runner-up has done since “The Piano” three decades ago.
There aren’t many other similarities between “The Piano” and “The Holdovers” to speak of. After all, “The Piano” broke Jane Campion through the Academy glass ceiling, while “The Holdovers” nearly had a director who was once accused of sexual assault make Best Director an all-male lineup. And while “The Piano” had a mute Holly Hunter win Best Actress and then 11-year-old discovery Anna Paquin win Best Supporting Actress, “The Holdovers” had Giamatti as a far more colorfully verbal character, while its own young discovery Dominic Sessa was overlooked from the Best Supporting Actor field. Yet if “Oppenheimer” does become the next “Schindler’s List” at the Oscars, it would make “The Holdovers” the equivalent of “The Piano” if it maxes out and still can’t win Best Picture. Moreover, it would make “The Holdovers” join a select group of other films that met the same outcome.
Although it has been 30 years since any film won three combined acting and screenplay Oscars without winning Best Picture, it was somewhat more common in the 30+ years before 1993. In fact, seven other movies before “The Piano” had the same Oscar night resume, all between 1960 and 1987. It actually happened in back-to-back years in the mid-80s, both from comedies in the same vein as “The Holdovers.” “Hannah and Her Sisters” did so in 1986 when Michael Caine, Dianne Weist, and writer Woody Allen all won Oscars, despite the film falling short in Best Picture to “Platoon.” A year later, “Moonstruck” won Oscars for Cher, Olympia Dukakis, and writer John Patrick Shanley but was a distant runner-up in Best Picture to “The Last Emperor.”
Both “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Moonstruck” lost to historical epics that won both Best Picture and Best Director, just like “Schindler’s List” did and just like “Oppenheimer” is predicted to do. However, “The Last Emperor” was a far more overwhelming sweeper, winning nine total Oscars, while “Platoon” only won four total the year before. Yet while “Hannah and Her Sisters” was presumably closer to “Platoon” in 1986, that year’s most acclaimed and decorated comedy was not put in the same class as a sweeping war-time drama/tragedy – a story that may repeat 37 years later.
This outcome happened another time in the 80s, as “On Golden Pond” swept the lead acting categories for Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn and took an Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1981 but lost Best Picture to “Chariots of Fire.” That little movie that could upset a massive historical epic and Best Director winner in Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” leaving “On Golden Pond” to mainly serve as a final calling card for both Fonda and Hepburn.
In 1978, another movie swept the lead acting categories and Best Original Screenplay before losing Best Picture. In that case, “Coming Home” lost a battle of Vietnam movies to “The Deer Hunter” after winning acting Oscars for Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. The year before, the WWII drama “Julia” swept the supporting acting categories for Jason Robards and Vanessa Redgrave, took the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but couldn’t come through in Best Picture against “Annie Hall” and other runners-up like “Star Wars.”
The year before that, “Network” set a historic record for a Best Picture runner-up that still hasn’t been matched. Unlike the other examples, it won three acting Oscars for Best Actor Peter Finch, Best Actress Faye Dunaway, and Best Supporting Actress Beatrice Straight, along with an Original Screenplay Oscar for Paddy Chayefsky. Yet unlike with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” last year, four combined acting and screenplay Oscars were not enough for “Network” to win Best Picture over “Rocky.”
To that point, “Network” was only the second film to win at least three acting and screenplay Oscars, not Best Picture. The first took place 16 years earlier – not quite a 30-year gap – in 1960 when “Elmer Gantry” won Oscars for Best Actor Burt Lancaster, Best Supporting Actress Shirley Jones, and Best Adapted Screenplay winner Richard Brooks. Yet in that case, a dramatic multi-Oscar winner lost Best Picture to a comedy/drama, as “The Apartment” won it all along with Best Original Screenplay and Best Director wins of its own.
As of now, only eight movies have won three or more acting and screenplay Oscars and lost Best Picture because they were unlucky enough to face classics like “The Apartment,” “Rocky,” “Annie Hall,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Platoon,” “The Last Emperor,” and “Schindler’s List.” If “The Holdovers” becomes the ninth, it’s because it was also unlucky enough to come out in the same year as a juggernaut, in this case, “Oppenheimer.”
An additional reason this sort of thing hasn’t happened in 30 years is that films with two acting Oscars and a screenplay win are rarer these days. Since 1993, films like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Fighter, “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Mystic River,” and “As Good as It Gets” got two acting wins, but still fell short in screenplay and therefore couldn’t get the momentum to win Best Picture. “Million Dollar Baby” did get an extra above-the-line win with its two acting Oscars to take Best Picture in 2004, but that was for Best Director.
One film that did take Best Picture with two acting victories and a screenplay win was “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998. “Shakespeare in Love” was a late-storming comedy/drama that upset a heavily favored WWII film/summer blockbuster in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” just as “The Holdovers” hopes to do against “Oppenheimer.” In that context, maybe the most fitting historical parallel for the 2023 Oscars would be a ceremony from 25 years ago rather than 30 years ago. Of course, since “Shakespeare in Love” had the Harvey Weinstein machine in its corner and Spielberg had already been coronated five years earlier for “Schindler’s List,” it made its upset bid a little easier. In addition, it won three other technical Oscars, while “The Holdovers” is only nominated for one in Best Editing.
Either way, all of this is meaningless if “The Holdovers” can’t reach the two actor + screenplay combination to begin with, and that is in no way guaranteed. While Randolph is a near lock, all it would take is a Murphy rally at BAFTA, SAG, or both to regain momentum in Best Actor, especially if “Oppenheimer” cements its Best Picture credentials there, too. And even if both Giamatti and Randolph become acting frontrunners, it puts all the more pressure on Hemingson to finish the job in Best Original Screenplay – a category in which “Anatomy of a Fall” and maybe even “Past Lives” are still significant threats.
Given the budding momentum for “Anatomy of a Fall,” beating “The Holdovers” for BAFTA’s Best Original Screenplay on February 18th could be enough to make it the new Oscar favorite. In that case, the most “The Holdovers” can do is become just another film that wins two acting Oscars and nothing else, a relatively common outcome these last few decades. At the least, it is far more common nowadays than a film that wins two acting Oscars, a screenplay Oscar, and nothing else.
Still, if “Oppenheimer” does do what “Schindler’s List” did exactly 30 years ago, maybe it’s fate if “The Holdovers” also does what no film has done since “The Piano” exactly 30 years ago. Another alternative is that “The Holdovers” does what “The Piano” couldn’t 30 years ago and upsets a WWII favorite/Best Director winner who seemed poised to sweep the entire ceremony. Yet, up to this point, 2023 has copied 1993 fairly accurately so far.
Do you think “The Holdovers” will overtake “Oppenheimer” for Best Picture? Or does Nolan’s latest have this in the bag just as Spielberg did thirty years ago? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Also, please check out their latest Oscar winner 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