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Lessons From The 2024 Best Picture Oscar Nominees



Feature by Nathan Osborne

We are currently in the midst of the film industry’s most pivotal moments in quite some time. Once fail-safe genres are now, indeed, failing, streamers and theatrical distribution continue to duke it out for industry dominance, and the very definition of a movie star is being called into question through the various strikes that upended the 2023 movie calendar and will cause ripples in the years that follow.

There is one thing that we know and accept to be true: every year, the Academy Awards will hand out their statues to what they perceive to be the very best of the best. One of the categories is particularly illuminating regarding the industry’s mindset, offering a fascinating insight into their current interests, concerns and behaviours. Its very brightest accolade, the Oscar for Best Picture, has ten nominees vying for contention, each holding the key to understanding an ever-evolving institution.


I mean this lovingly, if a little judgmentally, and with the recognition that I’m somewhat guilty of endorsing it too: the Academy has always fancied themselves for their self-importance. They frequently reward films that spotlight the craft of filmmaking and embrace those that celebrate the intricacies of their various professions.

It’s the writers this year, with American Fiction, that have chosen to celebrate their art form, with Cord Jefferson’s multi-nominated film centering a writer reckoning with his own identity and understanding of a culture he holds at arm’s length, alongside society’s expectations of him, as a writer of colour. The film is essentially a layered character study of Jeffrey Wright’s protagonist, exploring how his talent and intelligence conflict with what the public appears interested in, and the sacrifices he has had to make for his craft to balance what is true to him and what is wanted by others.

Such a message feels in keeping with today’s current film landscape, where creatives are struggling to get their most creative and original work seen by the masses who seem mostly interested in the biggest blockbusters and IPs.

ANATOMY OF A FALL – International Confusion

Anatomy of a Fall has had one of the most abundantly successful award-season runs of any film in contention this year. From the moment it picked up the Palme D’Or in Cannes, it was on an upward trajectory, collecting trophies left, right and centre, with five nominations at these Academy Awards. Many, however, were shocked when the French-language legal drama was omitted from the Best International Feature line-up, confounding given its presence in Best Picture.

Now, there are a couple of important things to note here. With Best International Feature, the submitting country is allowed to put forward only one film per year and, if they come out on top, they win the Oscar – not any specific individual tied to the actual production of the film. France, this year, ultimately submitted Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things for consideration, meaning Anatomy of a Fall was ineligible for a nomination in this category – but could be nominated elsewhere. The Taste of Things made the shortlist but failed to secure a position in the final line-up of five, failing to extend the country’s record of the country with the most nominations in the International Feature category.

It’s clear after an incident like this that the category requires an overhaul. Not only would it prevent this type of confusing incident, and prevent the selection process from being mired in controversy as it is from time to time, but it also feels limiting to suggest a country’s hopes for success should be pinned on one film, when the international market is literally bursting with talented filmmakers and impressive productions that deserve the attention an Oscar nomination thrusts upon it.

BARBIE – Sometimes, You Can Be Bigger Than The Academy Awards

When Barbie fever swept the globe last summer, no one was immune to its pink glossy charm – including, so its eight nominations indicate, the Academy. With a greater self-awareness in recent years, the Academy has become more willing to recognise blockbuster features in above-the-line categories – particularly when they resonate with audiences beyond just money-making principles.

Following in the footsteps of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the two Avatar films to date, and 2023 Best Picture nominee Top Gun: Maverick, Barbie struck a real chord with audiences across the world, transcending the silver screen – and indeed the Academy itself – by capturing the hearts and minds of many, and dominating the cultural conversation since – a Best Picture nomination was the cherry on top. There’s an indelible pink mark on the world because of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s Barbie.

When Robbie commented on the perceived snub of Gerwig in the Best Director category at a recent Q&A, she said: “(Barbie’s impact) is truly the biggest reward that could come out of all of this”. So while it’s good and right and true that the film picked up the nominations it did, there’s nothing a win in Best Picture could give the film it hasn’t already experienced in the months since its release.

THE HOLDOVERS – Nostalgic for Yesteryear

As previously mentioned, there’s a real disruption in the film industry as they attempt to balance the line between defending their traditions and evolving with the changing interests of consumers. It’s fair to say many have been reluctant to embrace such a change.

Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers provides them with the opportunity to relish in filmmaking practices of yesteryear, as close to a 1970s film as a film made in 2023 could be. By utilising filmmaking techniques of the era – from the vintage portrait look to the 70s stylisation of title cards, the film’s colour palette to its sound being mixed in mono – The Holdovers oozes an irresistible nostalgia, a now sadly rare type of filmmaking whose simplicity is one of its greatest asset.

The Holdovers offers a rare opportunity for the industry to bask in their preferred era of filmmaking. After all, they don’t make them like they used to!

THE KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON – A Truce In The Theatrical vs Streaming Debate?

The streaming vs theatrical debate has raged on for many years now, and there isn’t a soul in the industry without a strong opinion on it. Most filmmakers seem adamant about protecting the sanctity of the theatrical experience, spearheaded by the likes of Christopher Nolan, Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, and as such, the Academy are reticent to let the streamers into the party – CODA’s surprise win two years ago notwithstanding.

And while Martin Scorsese has never shied away from wading into certain debates regarding the current state of the industry, he turned to the streamers to finance his latest endeavours, Apple with The Killers of the Flower Moon and Netflix for The Irishman before that, comes as a shock to many. But the beloved marquee director is respected by all parties, and led to a considerable difference in how Killers of the Flower Moon was rolled out in comparison to streaming stablemates – it was treated, first and foremost, as a genuine theatrical event movie.

With a sizeable theatre count, a substantial promotional campaign (including the festival circuit) and a three-month theatrical-to-streaming window that most major films nowadays simply do not receive, Scorsese’s presence was seemingly key in striking an agreement that may be the key to evolving an industry conscious of changing public consumption.

MAESTRO – Oscar Bait Will Still Catch Them

Generally speaking, this Best Picture line-up is a fairly diverse one. Variety is the spice of life, and this crop of nominees reflects the diverse tastes of an expanding industry.

But Oscar Bait – a colloquial term to categorise films that feel solely designed to attract a certain type of voter, and earn the filmmakers some gold for their mantelpiece – has been a thorn in the Academy’s side for some time. Maestro takes this year’s crown for the most Oscar Baity title, and while Bradley Cooper’s passion project is one of the better efforts in recent memory, it still feels painstakingly measured to manipulate a certain emotional response from voters and industry folk – transformative performances, flashy practices and all!

Maestro seeks to capture the same sense of nostalgic pining The Holdovers achieves a little more authentically, its black-and-white aesthetic and biographical nature pushing it towards an awards-hungry narrative the Academy frequently fawn over.

OPPENHEIMER – Do You Want To Be The Frontrunner?

There’s always been a danger of being the early frontrunner. Just ask La La Land, The Power of the Dog, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Roma, Boyhood, or any number of the titles that fell at the final hurdle, so close to picking up the prestigious trophy, but just missing out to a perceived underdog when the envelope was opened and the winner announced.

Oppenheimer is as certain to win Best Picture on March 10th as a film can be at this stage – and it is a position Christopher Nolan’s latest effort has held almost unwaveringly since it premiered back in July. Sure, there have been a couple of moments where it looked like the other nominees may have posed a threat, but generally speaking, the Academy would have been safe to start engraving Oppenheimer’s name onto the trophy as far back as Autumn.

Particularly given that last year’s winner Everything Everywhere All At Once also breezed to a Best Picture win with little in its path, is the position of a frontrunner becoming less of a red flag than it was in previous years? Perhaps a shock upset would confirm for us otherwise, but at this moment in the Academy’s history, being a frontrunner isn’t the worst thing in the world.

PAST LIVES – Passion Carries

The love for Past Lives has been clear from the offset when it premiered at 2023’s Sundance Film Festival in January. It steadily built momentum throughout the festival circuit into general release and beyond, into award season as it slowly developed into a genuine contender.

And while its solitary two nominations – Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay – may be somewhat of a disappointment to its most ardent supporters, neither was ever a guarantee. That a small budgeted, decidedly restrained and modestly campaigned (The Zone of Interest was a priority for A24 this year, with Past Lives vying with fellow stablemates Priscilla and The Iron Claw for any extra attention) film manages to stand alongside heavy hitters like Barbie and Oppenheimer demonstrates the importance of passion.

It was the passion that carried this year’s little film that led to Oscar nomination success, and while few would argue it deserved a greater haul, sometimes, taking part is the win.


When Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone joined forces for 2018’s The Favourite, it wasn’t just a superb film that was made. The peculiar period drama earned ten nominations across the board, and while the pair had to settle for their respective nominations instead of wins, they found something even stronger… a creative partnership that looks set to sustain us for years to come.

Reuniting for one of this year’s major contenders, Poor Things has officially trumped its predecessor with eleven nominations, including Lanthimos for Best Director and Stone competing for Best Actress. They have gone from strength to strength, and with Stone stepping up to the role of producer, it’s clear that there’s a great deal of trust and respect between the two, particularly important given the complex themes and characters both of their projects have contained.

While they aren’t the only ones who have reunited in a Best Picture contender this year (Nolan and Murphy, Scorsese and De Niro, Payne and Giamatti), Stone and Lanthimos are the freshest pair of the bunch and look set to continue this cinematic partnership sooner rather than later with Kinds of Kindness starting production in 2022. Cinema certainly looks both safe and exciting in their hands.

THE ZONE OF INTEREST – A Return For Arthouse Cinema

Blockbusters are now finding space in the Best Picture category, which is of course hugely important in representing the breadth of cinema as a whole. But in more recent years, perhaps reflecting their dwindling numbers overall, arthouse films have been notably absent from the prestigious line-up, leaving a hole where our most uniquely artistic endeavours would reside.

The Zone of Interest, helmed by Jonathan Glazer – perhaps the leading voice of the arthouse – is the furthest thing from the mainstream in this varied line-up. A radically challenging picture with a startlingly uncomfortable and distinctive perspective, Glazer’s film – the current favourite in Best International Feature – is celebrated not only for its quality but for what it represents in the category: that there may still indeed be life in these smaller, artistic-minded features.

The Zone of Interest is to the arthouse what Barbie is to the blockbuster, and it is a promising sign that the category is willing to embrace them both.

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