Friday, April 12, 2024

The 2023 Best Actress Oscar Race May Determine Who Has The Edge Against “Oppenheimer” For Best Picture

The shockwaves of “Killers Of The Flower Moon’s” Lily Gladstone going from the unanimous Best Supporting Actress frontrunner to a Best Actress contender are still ringing out. But beyond the questions over whether Apple just denied Gladstone a historic Oscar or whether it can actually deliver her an even more historic victory, the bigger questions for the Best Picture race – and which film has the best chance to overtake “Oppenheimer” – have now become just as murky.

If “Oppenheimer” is agreed upon as the current Best Picture frontrunner, then general wisdom would be that “Killers Of The Flower Moon” is in the second slot. Or at least, that was the wisdom until “Poor Things” stormed to the Venice Golden Lion and placed Emma Stone to the top of the Best Actress prediction charts along with it. Or at least, Stone was assumed to be the new frontrunner until Gladstone was bumped up to Lead alongside her.

If it can be assumed that Gladstone will at least still get a Best Actress nomination – which was briefly in doubt for Michelle Wiliams when she went from Best Supporting Actress frontrunner to Best Actress afterthought last year – then the question is whether Best Actress is a battle of the “Stones” now. But suppose Best Actress does become a Stone vs. Gladstone showdown. In that case, it can blow up into a proxy war for an even bigger showdown between “Killers Of The Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” – and perhaps not the only proxy war between them in a significant category.

If either “Killers Of The Flower Moon” or “Poor Things” is going to be the next Best Picture winner instead of “Oppenheimer,” they need to win as much as they can above the line to have a chance. Until Gladstone moved, the easy assumption was that each movie would get an Actress win and possibly break the above-the-line tie between them in their showdown for Best Adapted Screenplay. In this scenario, if either “Killers Of The Flower Moon” or “Poor Things” won in Screenplay after winning an Actress trophy, then that winner would undoubtedly be the last film in the way of “Oppenheimer” before the final envelope was opened.

Even then, it could still be a longshot, provided “Oppenheimer” does win Best Director for Christopher Nolan, take at least a few technical categories, and rack up its own acting wins for Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., or both. With Gladstone out of Best Supporting Actress, Emily Blunt is back in the running to ride the coattails of a Best Picture winner, just like Jamie Lee Curtis did last year. Unless something happens to knock “Oppenheimer” off its pedestal, despite how nothing knocked it off during its summer box office rampage, it may be that the likes of “Killers Of The Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” will only fight for second place after all. Yet if there is a chance for one of these two films to knock it off, then Best Actress has now become one giant showdown to determine who it could be.

If Stone holds on to win Best Actress after all and ensures that “Killers Of The Flower Moon” did throw away its best chance for an Oscar win, then “Poor Things” would have to be right behind “Oppenheimer” all on its own. And if it turns out to win Best Adapted Screenplay as well over both “Oppenheimer” and “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” then a “Poor Things” Best Actress + Screenplay combo, combined with potential tech wins, can well knock off Nolan’s nearly billion-dollar behemoth for the top prize on Oscar night.

But on the other hand, “Killers Of The Flower Moon” still has the same strategy it has always had to win it all, even with Gladstone in a new category. If Apple’s big gamble does pay off, not only will Gladstone break just as many barriers in Best Actress as Michelle Yeoh did last year, but it will also directly block “Poor Things” from the biggest win it needs to steal Best Picture. Then, if it takes Best Adapted Screenplay too, it will have the Gladstone + Screenplay win combo it was aiming for all along and give it the best chance to knock off “Oppenheimer” at the end.

These aren’t the only proxy battles between “Killers Of The Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” in major categories since they are both likely to have Best Supporting Actor contenders in Robert De Niro and Mark Ruffalo. Yet that competition could be a wash for both since “Oppenheimer’s” Robert Downey Jr. is considered the favorite in that category – if not “Barbie’s” Ryan Gosling. The same could be said for Best Director, even if Martin Scorsese and Yorgos Lanthimos get in since Nolan has practically had his first Best Director trophy already engraved by most pundits.

If “Oppenheimer” does indeed get wins for Nolan and at least one actor, then anyone else with Best Picture hopes needs two major category victories of their own, at the minimum. As such, if “Killers Of The Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” split the Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay races, then that probably won’t be enough for either of them to rally back. In all likelihood, any hopes for either film require winning both categories – which is why the newfound Stone vs. Gladstone battle has now become a newfound Best Picture semifinal between their two movies. That is, assuming that one of them actually does win.

There is another way Best Actress could determine who has the best chance of upsetting “Oppenheimer.” At the moment, the largest contender left that no one has seen yet – not festival audiences or Oscar pundits – is “The Color Purple.” If Warner Bros is indeed finally done trying to prolong the strikes and fully commits to leaving “The Color Purple” in its Christmas release date, then it has the last chance to truly shake up the foundation of the race – in Best Picture and fields like Best Actress.

Should the film hit big, then Fantasia Barrino will surely come with it and charge in as a possible Best Actress spoiler to both Stone and Gladstone. If that happens and she pulls off a historic win of her own – to say nothing of whether co-stars Danielle Brooks and/or Taraji P. Henson storm the suddenly wide-open Best Supporting Actress field too – then “The Color Purple” will have its own last-minute case made for Best Picture.

The Color Purple” probably won’t be a Best Adapted Screenplay frontrunner, even if it sneaks in and takes the last available nomination, so its hopes for above-the-line wins rest in the Actress categories. Maybe a Best Supporting Actress victory will be enough of a “collective” win for the movie, just like it was for recent musicals “West Side Story,” “Les Miserables,” and “Dreamgirls.” But if it does what those musicals couldn’t and takes a Lead Actress win instead – or one in addition to a Best Supporting Actress win – it might well be the last film standing in “Oppenheimer’s” way at the grand finale.

In that scenario, all eyes really will be on Best Actress as the major bellwether for Best Picture, or at least for Best Picture’s other finalist. A Stone vs. Gladstone vs. Barrino showdown would go the longest way to determine if “Poor Things,” “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” or “The Color Purple” pulls ahead to face “Oppenheimer” in the final showdown. Or if it is just Stone vs. Gladstone after all or even Stone vs. Barrino, that would also go a long way to settle what is the real No. 2 in the big race – or maybe No. 1.

Either that or while Stone, Gladstone, and Barrino cancel each other out, voters retreat to a much more conventional “overdue” actress from a far more conventional biopic, like Carey Mulligan for “Maestro” or Annette Bening for “Nyad,” to upend the whole thing that way. In that scenario, “Oppenheimer” wins it all for certain and makes Best Actress irrelevant in the Best Picture conversation, as it was almost every year until recently.

No Best Picture also won for Best Actress between 2004 and 2020, until “Nomadland” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won both in 2020 and 2022. Maybe by that newfound even year pattern, the coming odd-numbered Best Picture winner won’t need to worry about Best Actress this year, especially since “Oppenheimer” has all the other acting races covered and more. And yet winning Best Actress seems to be the best if not only, hope for its biggest competitors to win it all.

Now that “Killers Of The Flower Moon” has put all its high hopes into Best Actress instead of Best Supporting Actress, “Poor Things” is now holding on tighter to do the same, and “The Color Purple” is waiting in the wings to sneak up on both of them, the winner of Best Picture could well be set in stone – one way or another – the second Brendan Fraser announces the Best Actress winner.

Between “Poor Things” and “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” which film do you think stands the better chance of competing against “Oppenheimer” for Best Picture? Who are you predicting will win Best Actress? 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.

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

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