Friday, April 19, 2024

What Is “Oppenheimer’s” Biggest Challenger For Best Picture?

The BAFTA awards on February 18th may have only been a prelude to the big SAG/PGA doubleheader ahead on February 24th and February 25th. Still, the BAFTAs took a significant step towards eliminating all shreds of doubt about “Oppenheimer” winning Best Picture – and not because “Oppenheimer” won BAFTA Best Film and six other awards that day. More importantly, the BAFTAs also all but closed the only paths its remaining competitors had left to rally back.

Before the BAFTAs, the only films left with any lingering hope of catching “Oppenheimer” for Best Picture were “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” and “American Fiction.” “Barbie” doesn’t count since the Academy made it very clear it will only honor it to a point, “Killers of the Flower Moon” continues to have no win competitive categories but Best Actress – and even that is teetering – and “The Zone of Interest’s” three surprising BAFTA wins likely came too little, too late for that surging film.

Even if “Oppenheimer” swept the BAFTAs and Best Film, there still could have been some suspense left if either “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers,” or “Anatomy of a Fall” won the categories it needed in order to stay alive. Instead, the BAFTAs all but eliminated each of them in one day, leaving only the BAFTA Adapted Screenplay winner and potential SAG Ensemble favorite “American Fiction” with any chance of gaining the slightest ground before Oscar night.

It might be strange to say “Poor Things” was eliminated by the BAFTAs since it was the second biggest winner of the day behind “Oppenheimer.” With Emma Stone taking a big step towards her second Best Actress Oscar, with potentially telling wins in Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Makeup, and with an extra win in Best Visual Effects despite missing that category at the Oscars, “Poor Things” had what seemed to be a very successful day – except in the one category it couldn’t afford to lose.

Even if Stone holds on to Best Actress, “Poor Things” has no hope of winning Best Picture without a Best Adapted Screenplay victory. As such, winning the Adapted BAFTA was its best and perhaps last chance to gain an edge in that crowded category. But instead, it lost to a film that didn’t have any other BAFTA nominations in “American Fiction” – and quite frankly, if that could beat “Poor Things” in BAFTA of all awards shows, then it really doesn’t bode well for the Oscars.

If anything, “Barbie” is “American Fiction’s” best competition left for Adapted at the Oscars, and that is only because they haven’t gone head-to-head in that category yet this season. “Oppenheimer” could also rally back for an Adapted Oscar win if its sweep becomes that overwhelming – but just like with “Poor Things,” it really says something that it lost at BAFTA to “American Fiction” anyway. Either way, “Poor Things” is now a distant second or third at best for the Adapted Oscar and, therefore, is in the exact same boat for Best Picture now.

Just like “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers” put all its Best Picture chips on a Screenplay victory, only to have BAFTA nearly shut the door on that too. In this case, “The Holdovers” lost the BAFTA Original Screenplay to “Anatomy of a Fall,” which was a bit less surprising than “American Fiction” beating both “Poor Things” and “Oppenheimer.”

Nonetheless, even if Paul Giamatti rallies from his BAFTA Best Actor loss to Cillian Murphy and takes both SAG and the Oscar, his and Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s winning will mean nothing to “The Holdovers” without Best Original Screenplay to go with it. Unless it rallies back over “Anatomy of a Fall” at the Oscars, the very best “The Holdovers” can do is join “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Fighter” and “Dallas Buyers Club” as films that won two acting Oscars, but not Screenplay or Best Picture, in this era.

By kicking off the BAFTAs with its Best Original Screenplay win, “Anatomy of a Fall” kept its own Best Picture hopes alive for a few more hours. From then on, it played the waiting game until Best Actress, the category it had to have to prove it could win much more. Since Sandra Hüller wasn’t nominated at SAG, it left BAFTA as her last chance to gain ground on Stone before the Oscars. Yet if she had, and if “Anatomy of a Fall” had won both Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay at the BAFTAs, the chances of an Oscar repeat and a potential Best Picture surge would have stayed alive until Oscar night.

Instead, Stone’s victory at BAFTA all but knocked out Hüller, barring a truly remarkable comeback. Yet, at the moment, Best Actress looks like it will be down to Stone and Lily Gladstone after all, as projected all season – though a Stone win at SAG could even settle that showdown early. Regardless, just as Hüller’s chances may have been finished off at BAFTA, so too may end “Anatomy of a Fall’s” chances to win anything except Best Original Screenplay.

With “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” having had their Best Picture paths close long ago, “The Zone of Interest” having emerged too late to open a winning path up, and with “Maestro” and “Past Lives” lucky just to hold onto their Best Picture nominations, “Oppenheimer” had half of its competition eliminated long before the BAFTAs. Now, thanks to the big BAFTA losses by “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers” and “Anatomy of a Fall” – none of which were caused by “Oppenheimer” itself – the rest of the field is all but taken care of as well.

As it stands, there is only one film left that has any real chance to gain ground before Oscar night – and it has the narrowest possible path.

American Fiction” is now more than likely the solid Adapted Screenplay favorite at the Oscars. For that matter, it is one of five films up for SAG Ensemble on February 24th, against “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “The Color Purple.” While “Oppenheimer” could easily win SAG Ensemble and take another step towards a sweep that way, it doesn’t necessarily need it. And since “American Fiction’s” Adapted surge proves it is peaking at the right time – unlike “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” – a SAG Ensemble win would not be an upset at this point.

The only way “American Fiction” can win Best Picture is to win for just Picture and Screenplay only, which only “Spotlight” has done in the modern era. However, “Spotlight” also proved itself by winning SAG Ensemble first, and clearly wasn’t affected by having Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams lose individual races at the Oscars. Likewise, an ensemble win for “American Fiction” could likely offset individual losses for Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown on Oscar night.

If “American Fiction” wins SAG Ensemble after pulling ahead in Best Adapted Screenplay, it will indeed be the only non-“Oppenheimer” movie left that is surging perfectly, right when it needs to. “Poor Things” can’t say that after losing its big chance at Adapted Screenplay, and “The Holdovers” can’t say that after losing its foothold in Original Screenplay either. “Anatomy of a Fall” could make a case, considering its newfound lead in Original Screenplay and its newfound extra attention thanks to Snoop/Messi the dog’s appearance at the Oscar luncheon. But since none of that seems to have made a difference for its biggest human star in Hüller, it looks like the only award “Anatomy of a Fall” can get now.

Of course, even if “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Poor Things,” or “The Holdovers” had over-performed at the BAFTAs, it might have only made a small dent. No matter what happened at BAFTA and what may happen at SAG this coming Saturday night, all “Oppenheimer” likely really needs to wrap this up is a win at the PGAs the very next night. By all accounts, winning the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and the PGA should be enough to finish the job, even without a SAG Ensemble win.

Yet despite all that, the BAFTAs could have left some way forward for any other film to stay in the running. Even if “Oppenheimer” does win on the PGA preferential ballot, we might have made a case that there is a silver of a race left – whether a mere 1 percent sliver or not – if one or two BAFTA results were different.

Instead, as it turned out, “Anatomy of a Fall” severely damaged “The Holdovers‘” best chance to complete its Best Picture resume before “American Fiction” did the same to “Poor Things” and before “Poor Things” did the same to “Anatomy of a Fall.” That might well sum up the 2023 Best Picture race in general, as “Oppenheimer” pulled away at the BAFTAs, and likely at the Oscars, not just because of its own overwhelming advantages – but because all other possible contenders took each other out before they got a chance to take aim at Oppy.

Which film is no. 2 to “Oppenheimer” for Best Picture following BAFTA? Can anything possibly rally at this point? What do you think will win PGA and SAG Ensemble this weekend? 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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