Saturday, March 2, 2024

Unpacking The Best Picture Nomination Chances For “Past Lives,” “Anatomy Of A Fall,” “All Of Us Strangers,” & “The Zone Of Interest”

With Thanksgiving past us and every significant film finally being screened, the next stage of awards season has officially begun. The Best Picture race begins with a prospective Best Picture field of five locks – “Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Poor Things,” “Barbie” and “The Holdovers” – and of three films half secure at minimum in “Maestro,” “The Color Purple” and “American Fiction.” Therefore, critic awards season will help narrow down how many films are really fighting for those last two slots.

As it stands, four of the most critically acclaimed films of the year look like the most ideal candidates. However, the same critics who raved about them will now need to award them outright over these next several weeks if they hope to separate themselves and make a statement to industry voters. Until then, these four movies start the next stage of Oscar season, all bunched together in the same bubble, looking to gain steam and pull ahead of the other and land one of those coveted spots in the Best Picture lineup.

“Past Lives” – 97% Tomatometer and 9.2 average on Rotten Tomatoes, 94 on MetacriticPast LivesUnder most circumstances, something like “Past Lives” would be a mortal lock to get in. Before the likes of “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” came out in the summer, “Past Lives” was virtually all critics could rave about for the first five-plus months of 2023. Between that and being backed by reigning Oscar champion A24 – which knows how to keep an early release in the Oscar conversation all year – there should be no doubt that it has a Best Picture-like resume.

Like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Past Lives” was thought to be fading from people’s memory, and then it won the Gotham Award last night for Best Feature, which is what the Daniels’ film did last year before it went on one of the most historic awards runs of any film ever. Between stars Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro hanging on to stay onto their respective acting bubbles, Celine Song teetering on the Best Director bubble, and a now precarious frontrunner status for Best Original Screenplay, it needed a major new injection of support, and it got it last night. Now, let’s see if critics can maintain that momentum over the next month.

Everything Everywhere All at Once” swept last critics’ season as an A24 early-year release, yet “Past Lives” likely won’t be that decorated this year. But with enough major nominations, the recent Gotham win, a few significant wins in some Best Picture regionals, and perhaps enough early Screenplay wins over “The Holdovers” and “Barbie,” it can once again start looking like the lock it supposedly was months ago.

“Anatomy of a Fall” – 96% Tomatometer and 8.5 average on Rotten Tomatoes, 86 on MetacriticAnatomy Of A FallJust as “Past Lives” is seeking to repeat some very recent awards season history, so too is “Anatomy of a Fall.” Like “Triangle of Sadness” and “Parasite” before it, “Anatomy of a Fall” looks to be a Cannes Palme d’Or winner from NEON that leaps into the Best Picture field months later. Between Sandra Hüller’s own Best Actress campaign and Justine Triet seeking nominations as both a director and co-writer, there would seem to be a lot that can back up an easy Best Picture nomination.

But its own home country of France struck a big blow against it when it selected “The Taste of Things” as its Best International Film selection. Without that safety net to fall back on, it will be much harder to gain traction with industry voters, especially if Hüller falls off a crowded Best Actress bubble. As such, critics will need to do their part in keeping it on the industry’s minds.

Anatomy of a Fall” needs critics’ wins and nominations to keep it secure as a Best Original Screenplay nominee after last night’s Gotham Award win. Hüller needs to make a big mark in Best Actress races most of all, as she might not wind up the year’s big critical winner, but having the second or third most wins can be a victory in itself. Of course, the likes of Ethan Hawke and Lupita Nyong’o were still snubbed in recent years despite dozens of critical wins, yet they would give Hüller a better chance than coming up nearly empty.

Would surges for Hüller and the script be enough to make “Anatomy of a Fall” NEON’s latest Cannes to Best Picture success story? Ironically enough, it may partly depend on what becomes of Hüller’s other 2023 Cannes premiere.

“The Zone of Interest” – 92% Tomatometer and 8.7 average on Rotten Tomatoes, 95 on MetacriticThe Zone Of InterestA24 has not one but two critically worshipped movies from early-season film festivals to juggle this season. Yet “The Zone of Interest” is decidedly less romantic and void of almost any emotion besides hopeless terror at the banality of evil.

Though it didn’t win the Palme d’Or, there’s a chance that “The Zone of Interest” can take the exact path of last year’s Palme winner. Like “Triangle of Sadness,” all it might need is a Best Director nomination and the final spot in Best Adapted Screenplay to get into Best Picture, both of which critics can help with. But unlike “Triangle of Sadness” and especially unlike “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Zone of Interest” is eligible for a Best International Feature Film nomination and win that can put it over the top for certain. Nonetheless, the same big question that has hung over “The Zone of Interest” since Cannes is more vital than ever.

Despite how critics have fallen over themselves to praise Jonathan Glazer’s vision of the Holocaust – or rather, his vision of a family right next door who closed their eyes to it – it may be the ultimate “hard to watch” movie for certain Academy demographics. And now, due to certain real-world events and wars, “The Zone of Interest” could either be seen as more vitally important than ever or too much of a hot-button movie and subject for the Academy to touch. Yet that would primarily be an industry voter issue – and one critics could give them no choice but to work through with enough recognition.

Either way, if A24 didn’t get two movies into Best Picture last year, it certainly won’t this year – so either “The Zone of Interest” or “Past Lives” will have to fall by the wayside in the end, if not both of them. As such, critic awards season results can help A24 decide which one to put all their chips into finally.

“All of Us Strangers” – 97% Tomatometer and 8.5 average on Rotten Tomatoes, 91 on MetacriticAll Of Us StrangersA24 may not have a track record of getting two Best Picture nominees in one year, but Searchlight Pictures does. Therefore, although Searchlight already has “Poor Things” as a Best Picture frontrunner, it could find room to push “All of Us Strangers” into the field too if it has enough backing.

Aside from keeping it on the Best Picture bubble, critics can also boost Andrew Scott as a potential Best Actor nominee spoiler. They might also get supporting cast members on the radar like Jamie Bell, Claire Foy, and Paul Mescal – who critics pushed into Best Actor for “Aftersun” just last year. But most of all, they can create some separation between “All of Us Strangers” and “The Zone of Interest” in their battle for the last Adapted Screenplay nomination.

Perhaps that would just make “All of Us Strangers” favored to be the annual Screenplay nominee with no other nominations. Yet if Searchlight isn’t too distracted by “Poor Things,” and if audiences aren’t too distracted by other late December releases, an LGBTQ+/family themed tearjerker like “All of Us Strangers” may hit a real sweet spot with the industry – if critics help keep it on their radar.

By their raves alone, one would think “All of Us Strangers,” “The Zone of Interest,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” and “Past Lives” would all be shoo-ins for Best Picture consideration. Yet thanks to all the other acclaimed frontrunners and likely hits in the mix, and thanks to an Academy voting body that doesn’t always listen to critics unless they’re really loud – and sometimes not even then – it could wind up a minor miracle if just two of these four films squeeze into the field of ten.

Logically, the final two Best Picture nominees are more likely than not to be from this group of four. But if that’s not the case, there are still other films ready to pounce with the right critic and/or industry boost – like additional A24 prospective contender “The Iron Claw,” Amazon’s spring crowd-pleaser “Air,” Netflix films such as “May December” and “Society of the Snow,” or France’s own International nominee “The Taste of Things” as a potential spoiler again.

Those films might not need a big splash with critic awards groups if they have the proper industry backing. Nonetheless, their road will still be more challenging if critics throw a bunch of awards at “Past Lives,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Zone of Interest,” and “All of Us Strangers” this next month. If they do, perhaps that group really will be the Final Four, fighting all the way until the end to be the Best Picture final two – or even three with extra luck.

Which films do you think will receive a boost in the Oscar race for Best Picture from the critics groups? What do you think will win Best Film at NYFCC this week? 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 Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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