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Will ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ or ‘Barbie’ Be Crowned Best Picture? – Monomaxos

Many industry folks, some of whom are no doubt Oscar voters, are grateful to Nolan for all that he’s done for the business: tethering auteur-ish prestige to marketability, vocally resisting the streaming incursion. That, coupled with the fact that Nolan is widely seen as overdue for his first Oscar, makes him a strong best director contender. But Oppenheimer as a whole should not be discounted. It may not be as screener-friendly as some of its competitors, but Oppenheimer has enjoyed one of the defining film narratives of 2023. A best picture win would be a fitting end to that story.

As for the other half of the summer box office equation, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie made more money than Oppenheimer, most of it without the advantage of IMAX pricing. It’s not a weighty, masculine affair like Oppenheimer—which better fits the traditional best picture mold—but Barbie’s difference is probably its greatest asset. Gerwig’s film created a new version of branded filmmaking, swaddling its IP commercialism in sociopolitical commentary. If 2023 becomes known for one film, it will be Barbie, a movie that leaned into its cynical origins hard enough that it broke through to some other realm.

But maybe the Academy, or at least enough of the Academy, isn’t quite ready for that seismic shift. They could, instead, turn to Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, a Leonard Bernstein biopic that is comfortably recognizable as an old-fashioned awards movie while still taking artistic swings. Cooper is mesmerizing in the lead role, as is his costar, Carey Mulligan. While reviews for the film may be somewhat muted, the stars have been almost universally praised. Which might mean that Maestro’s best chances are in the acting categories—or, the film, buoyed by its beloved performances, could snatch best picture as a popular tiered-ballot second choice.

At this year’s Venice Film Festival, Maestro was perhaps the glitziest competition entry. But it had a bit of its thunder stolen by Yorgos Lanthimos’s sex-happy bildungsroman Poor Things, a movie originally scheduled for release in early September but that was, in a bit of strange luck, pushed to the more prestigious climes of December. Poor Things is in much better position now, with time to build on the momentum created by its top-prize victory at Venice and sustained good notices from subsequent festivals.

All of the filmmakers I’ve thus far mentioned have directed best picture nominees in the past. So what of the new class? First-time filmmaker Celine Song had a debut for the ages in Past Lives, a Sundance breakout that was a modest summer hit for A24. A decades-spanning romantic drama, Past Lives is gauzy and gentle but far from insubstantial. It offers a bleary, soul-stirring consideration of immigration and aging, animated by lovely performances from Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro.

Jonathan Glazer is perhaps one of the cinéaste world’s most respected filmmakers, despite having made only four films. His latest is The Zone of Interest, a Holocaust movie focused on the perpetrators rather than the victims. Glazer’s film is harrowing, operating at a clinical remove but certainly not spare in style or effect. The Zone of Interest is such a visceral statement of artistic vision that even the more art-film-averse members of the Academy might embrace it. The Zone of Interest took second place at Cannes; the Palme d’Or winner was Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, an electrifying drama starring best actress contender Sandra Hüller, who also plays a supporting role in Glazer’s film. Anatomy has played like gangbusters at subsequent film festivals—a frequent Telluride talking point, a hot-ticket sensation at Toronto—and may be the best positioned of any non-American film.
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