Thursday, February 29, 2024

What (If Anything) Can Beat “Oppenheimer” For Best Picture At The Oscars?

Once people eventually stop talking about Oscar nominations and misses, the conversation will go back to who will actually win the Oscars on March 10th. Regarding Best Picture, about 99% of that conversation begins and ends with “Oppenheimer,” as most are convinced the big prize already has been engraved for it. Yet nine other films are technically still in the running for Best Picture – though only four are left with a path to pull an upset.

Barbie” is no longer among those films since the Academy clearly proved it won’t let it go beyond a certain ceiling. “Killers of the Flower Moon” isn’t among them either. However, the Academy showed far more leniency towards Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro for their film’s declining Best Picture hopes than they ever thought to for Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie. But since the former frontrunner is clearly either winning for Lily Gladstone or nothing at all, that shrinks the field of potential “Oppenheimer” spoilers even further.

There is a very slim chance that something other than “Oppenheimer” will win Best Picture. Nevertheless, with the BAFTAs approaching on February 18th, the SAG Awards on February 24th, and the PGA Awards on February 25th, this is what the last four challengers must win to the letter to at least have that chance.

Unlike “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Poor Things” had no major red flag misses on nomination morning, trailing only “Oppenheimer” with 11 total nominations. As such, it has the most opportunities for a credible Best Picture-winning package that can rival “Oppenheimer’s.”

Such a path must begin at BAFTA, where Emma Stone can pull ahead in Best Actress by beating a field that doesn’t include her biggest challenger, Lily Gladstone. More importantly, “Poor Things” must win in Best Adapted Screenplay as well, though there would be an asterisk because it doesn’t have to face “Barbie” in that category yet. Nonetheless, even if it doesn’t win Best Film too, a Best Actress/Best Adapted Screenplay combination at the BAFTAs and one or more tech awards would be the perfect combination to repeat at the Oscars.

With the exceptions of “The Father,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Django Unchained,” and “Precious,” films with both acting and screenplay Oscars in this era are fast-tracked to Best Picture – like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “CODA,” “Green Book,” “Moonlight,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Artist,” and “The King’s Speech.” But since “Oppenheimer” will likely have Best Director and at least one acting win on its own resume, it might not matter, although blocking it from winning Adapted, too, would put a crack in its armor.

It would make a bigger statement if “Poor Things” beat “Oppenheimer” for Best Film at the BAFTAs or won the PGA the following week. Yet if it loses both, it still has a chance at the end – however slim – if Stone and the script win their Oscars. After all, as Stone herself would remember, “Moonlight” used its acting and screenplay Oscar wins to upset “La La Land” despite that film sweeping the PGA, DGA, and BAFTA first.

The Holdovers” hit its own ceiling on nomination morning by missing out on Best Director and Best Supporting Actor recognition. But just like “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers” can still hit this era’s time-honored acting and screenplay Oscar-winning combination. Unlike “Poor Things,” however, “The Holdovers” has two acting nominees with a chance to actually win on Oscar night.

Not only is Best Supporting Actress leader Da’Vine Joy Randolph ready to complete one of the most overwhelming season-long sweeps in history, but Paul Giamatti’s Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins have pulled him neck-and-neck with “Oppenheimer’s” own Cillian Murphy in Best Actor. With another win at BAFTA, SAG, or both, Giamatti would be poised to make “The Holdovers” a rare double acting winner at the Oscars and put it one step away from much more.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Fighter,” and “Dallas Buyers Club” all won two acting Oscars in the expanded era, yet they couldn’t win Best Picture because those were their only above-the-line wins. But if “The Holdovers” does what those films couldn’t and wins Best Original Screenplay as well, it would have a Best Picture package that’s almost unbeatable in any other year – and maybe even in this year, too.

Nonetheless, even with wins for Giamatti, Randolph, and David Hemingson’s script, “The Holdovers” would need at least one significant win in a pre-Oscars Best Picture competition before feeling confident. Since it isn’t up for SAG Ensemble, a BAFTA or PGA Best Film upset will be needed to send a more vital message. Without that, Giamatti, Randolph, and Hemingson must all be perfect until the end for “The Holdovers” to stay alive by the time the final award of the evening is announced.

With “Barbie” moving into Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, Best Original Screenplay is seemingly down to just “The Holdovers” and “Anatomy of a Fall” for the win. As it stands, their showdown may be the equivalent of a Best Picture semifinal/elimination match, although “Anatomy of a Fall” needs more than that to keep its surge going.

Since Sandra Hüller wasn’t nominated at SAG, BAFTA is her only chance to close the gap on Stone and Gladstone in Best Actress. If she can do that, and if the script can beat both “The Holdovers” and “Barbie” at BAFTA, then a Best Film BAFTA victory isn’t out of the question either. After all, late surging foreign favorite “All Quiet on the Western Front” won the BAFTAs over eventual Oscar sweeper “Everything Everywhere All at Once” last year.

If “Anatomy of a Fall” is the big BAFTA winner, there may be enough momentum to pull a PGA surprise as well. Even if it can’t go that far, BAFTA acting and screenplay wins will keep it alive for the same combination at the Oscars – something “All Quiet on the Western Front” never had the chance to do last year.

Maybe if Hüller and the script win in their respective categories at the Oscars, all “Anatomy of a Fall” will do is cement itself as this year’s runner-up. In that scenario, France’s decision not to submit it for Best International Film will loom even larger, as a film that won Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Film is the kind of film that could have won Best Picture, too.

Winning the BAFTAs and repeating for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars might still get the job done, although it would remain unlikely. But it would be the best shot “Anatomy of a Fall” has – and it has defied the odds more than once already this season.

American Fiction” is one of the few films that didn’t hit any speedbumps to end the nomination stage. Between Sterling K. Brown surging into Supporting Actor at SAG and the Oscars, a Critics Choice upset win for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a surprise Best Score Oscar nomination, there is a very slim but still mathematically possible chance for “American Fiction” to keep going beyond anyone’s expectations.

It would really help if Jeffrey Wright challenged Murphy, Giamatti, and Bradley Cooper for a Best Actor win, yet it would take a cataclysmic shock at BAFTA, SAG, or both to make that possible. Failing that, the biggest statement “American Fiction” can make is cementing itself as the new Best Adapted Screenplay favorite at the BAFTAs and pulling off a win at SAG for Best Ensemble – neither of which would be shocking.

Given how “Parasite,” “CODA,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “Spotlight” took large steps towards Best Picture with their SAG Ensemble wins, “American Fiction” would at least stay alive with a win of its own. Of course, “Parasite,” “CODA,” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” needed multiple important Oscar wins afterward to complete their Best Picture resumes – but “Spotlight” didn’t.

In a year where “Oppenheimer” is favored to sweep and where “Poor Things,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” and “The Holdovers” need multiple above-the-line wins to have a chance, this might not be the year where something can pull a “Spotlight” by winning Best Picture and Screenplay Oscars only. Yet that is the only path “American Fiction” has, although if it gets SAG Ensemble and BAFTA Adapted wins to go with its other recent promising signs, it can’t be said it is 100% impossible.

However, “American Fiction” and all other contenders need one thing above all else – a shocking Best Picture win at the PGAs over “Oppenheimer.” Since only “Spotlight,” “Moonlight” and “Parasite” have won Best Picture in the preferential ballot era without winning the PGA first, any serious challenger to “Oppenheimer” needs a win on the PGA’s preferential ballot to prove this race isn’t over yet. Barring that, they cannot lose any other significant race they need to win before the final envelope is opened.

Perfection in the next few weeks, or the closest thing to it, is what it will take to beat “Oppenheimer.” A month from now, we will know if any of its four remaining threats still have that or anything else as a tangible possibility.

Which one of these scenarios do you think is most likely to happen to take down “Oppenheimer?” Or is Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece going to cakewalk to the Dolby Theater with a guaranteed Best Picture win? 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

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