Screen’s editor, Americas editor and executive editor for reviews and new talent look ahead to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony and calling a wrap on the 2022-23 award season.

Oscars chat 2024

Source: Warner Bros / Disney / Universal

[Clockwise from top left] ‘Barbie’, ‘Poor Things’, ‘Oppenheimer’, ‘The Holdovers’

Matt Mueller (editor): Here we are heading into Oscar weekend, a mere 15 months after we first started talking about this year’s awards season at Sundance 2023! That’s when Past Lives first popped onto our radar as a film likely to be a contender. And we kind of haven’t stopped talking about awards season since then, from Cannes through to Venice and Toronto, and the summer releases of Oppenheimer and Barbie. By the time we reach this point, there can be an air of inevitability about how Oscar night will play out. What do you both think is in store this weekend – is it an Oppenheimer sweep, or will there be surprises?

Fionnuala Halligan (executive editor, reviews and new talent): It was a really unusual year in that, by early July, we had three films – Killers Of The Flower Moon, Oppenheimer and Barbie – that we already knew were going to make best picture unless something really weird happened, and it was clear that at least two of them would be front-runners: Killers and Oppenheimer. That almost never happens.

Jeremy Kay (Americas editor): I agree, there’s been a few big titles that we’ve been talking about all the time. And from the Hollywood perspective Barbie launched on the same day as Oppenheimer last summer [July 21] and was a huge hit. It was an amazing feat at the box office, and I think people were talking about that film’s Oscar credentials for a long time in Hollywood. As the season progressed and we saw the other heavyweight contenders, it became clear that Barbie might compete in fewer categories than people initially thought. But yes, those core films have been there in the talking points for quite a long time.

Mueller: Warner Bros got on the case quickly with Barbie in terms of positioning it as an awards contender and their big Oscar hope. But it did seem to fade in the second half of the season up against the Oppenheimer juggernaut.

Kay: When people took stock of the season and looked at what we had and looked at which films were strong in certain areas, the thinking coalesced around your Oppenheimers and Holdovers, Poor Things, Anatomy Of A Fall, Past Lives as best picture contenders and in other categories, too – performance, directing… Many people believe that Greta Gerwig should have got a directing nomination for Barbie. There’s so much love for that film simply because of what it’s done for the industry in terms of its huge box office – the rising tide floats all boats. It instilled a lot of confidence and optimism in the industry last summer. That can sometimes mistranslate into awards potential. There’s no doubt it’s an awards-potential film in certain categories but I think once we saw Oppenheimer, and then with the fall festivals other films coming in like Poor Things and The Holdovers, pundits coalesced around the higher awards potential of other films. That initial enthusiasm for Barbie subsided somewhat, although it’s still a strong contender for song, production design, maybe one or two others.

Mueller: And who’s not excited by the prospect of Ryan Gosling performing ‘I’m Just Ken’ at the ceremony?

Kay: That’s genius. And having a film like Barbie being so prominent in the nominations generates its own momentum. Having a film like that that people have a stake in – they’ve seen it, they know it, it’s perhaps not regarded as too esoteric – is meaningful, and that might reflect well on the ceremony because people will want to tune in to see those performances, like Ryan Gosling. I’m expecting the ratings to go up on last year, when they averaged 18.7 million viewers [in the US]. That’s up on the previous two years, down on pre-pandemic 2019, which was 29.6 million. The highest ever is the year of Titanic, 1998, when they averaged 55.3 million viewers. I don’t think we’ll get there but I do expect to see a rise this year.

Mueller: I saw some research recently that broke down how different age demographics engage with the Oscars, and it revealed that younger demographics aren’t watching the ceremony live, they’re engaging with it on social media during the live ceremony or watching social media clips the next day. So they’re still quite invested in it, according to this research, but they’re not going to sit down to watch a three-and-a-half, four-hour ceremony in that traditional way.

Halligan: They’re doing the same with the stars. They know all about them, the younger audiences, they know who the actors are, but they don’t necessarily always see the films. The awareness level [of film] is really high over the last year, and I think Barbie’s massive marketing campaign helped in that.

Killers Of The Flower Moon

Source: Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese on the set of ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

Mueller: Finn, I’m curious for your thoughts on Killers Of The Flower Moon, because coming out of Cannes last May we were going, “Make some space on your mantelpiece, Marty.” Strong film, incredible true-life story, powerful performance from Lily Gladstone… Of course we don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday night, but it definitely lost its early momentum.

Halligan: It did fall off but at the same time it’s got a fair amount of love behind it. Let’s not dismiss it completely like, “Oh, it was considered to be a great film and now it’s not anymore” – I think it still is, it’s just that there are others that maybe had wider appeal.

Perhaps the problem with Killers on a more general level is that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is so incredibly difficult to get behind over a three-and-a-half hour film. That’s what caused a lot of hurdles. Perhaps critics and people in the business and fans of Scorsese didn’t have that issue, but general audiences couldn’t quite go with him over that length of time as enthusiastically as other sectors did. But it all goes back to one fact, which is, What a year. What a year where you’re so spoilt for choice that you’re hovering your finger over The Holdovers versus The Zone Of Interest versus Past Lives. I mean, it’s just riches, you know? It’s going to go down as one of the great years and no harm to anyone. Do you think Lily will win best actress, Jeremy?

Kay: It’s such a tight race between Lily and Emma Stone for Poor Things. Both are deserving but I have a hunch that Emma is going to win it.

Mueller: What about best actor? That’s also looks like a two-horse race between Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer and Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers. Cillian has the momentum, having won at Bafta and the SAGs. But a lot of US execs I spoke to over Bafta weekend felt Giamatti is in with a very strong chance.

Kay: I think Cillian is the frontrunner, especially after that SAG award which is such a reliable indicator. But I’m going to be a contrarian again and I agree with you, I’m going to go for Paul Giamatti. There’s a lot of love for him and, of course, everybody remembers how he didn’t get nominated for Sideways, and the Academy does sometimes regard itself as a platform to rectify wrongs of the past. And if Giamatti were to win, he would get it for a magnificent performance in The Holdovers; it’s not as if it’s a dud performance.

Mueller: At the SAGs, Oppenheimer also won the cast award which is a reliable indicator for best picture winners, given the substantial size of the acting contingent in the overall Ampas membership.

Kay: Oppenheimer also won the top award at the PGA awards.

Mueller: Is it a foregone conclusion then that Oppenheimer wins best picture or does the US Academy’s preferential voting system in this category leave a gap for another film to come in and snatch the top prize.

Kay: The preferential voting system could do that, it certainly ensures that the least disliked film wins. Most of the American awards pundits are picking Oppenheimer, but you also see The Holdovers, Past Lives, Anatomy Of A Fall quite high up in their selections. I just get the sense that Oppenheimer is riding towards a really glorious night. Hard to see an upset in that category.

Mueller: As for Christopher Nolan, he got the DGA award, the Bafta, the BFI Fellowship. Surely he’s finally about to get that long-awaited recognition from his US industry peers as well.

Halligan: And that’s great. Just because we’ve been sitting in this awards race for a year, and you think, “It looks like it’s going to be a very predictable night”, it doesn’t make it any less exciting and brilliant for him to have achieved everything that he did with that film. I think there would be very few people to stand up and say, “Oh, I’m not sure about that.” It would be a popular choice as well as the most likely choice.

Kay: I think he’s been one of the award-season winners actually because we’ve also seen a slightly lighter side to him in the US, on some of the talk shows and at the awards ceremonies. Universal and their award strategists very cleverly paired him with Robert Downey Jr. at a lot of events, who’s obviously a laugh and allowed this rather sombre, serious, brilliant man to show a lighter side of himself to voters. It seems like it’s his year.

Halligan: The same with Cillian. Having watched Cillian over the years be incredibly uncomfortable in front of the cameras and the press – not because of anything, just because he’s a modest kind of guy – to see him doing all these red carpets and photocalls and costume changes, it’s been nice. Obviously he’s made a decision, they’ve all made a decision they’re going to completely support the film, they’re going to go for it, they’re going to do everything that they possibly can, which is great and there’s been no slacking off. That’s really nice to see.

Mueller: And no one’s taking that statuette from Robert Downey Jr. Or Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Those supporting races are locked down. Looking at screenplay, we had an interesting result at Bafta where American Fiction took adapted screenplay in the only real upset of the night, considering the other contenders in that category. Does that bode well for Cord Jefferson’s chances on Sunday, Jeremy?

Kay: Absolutely, it’s his to lose. In original screenplay, I think Anatomy Of A Fall will win, but again, it’s such a strong category with The Holdovers, May December, Past Lives. But I’ve got a feeling Justine Triet and Arthur Harari are going to get that Oscar.

Mueller: People might vote for them just to get their speech, they have been hilarious throughout awards season including at the Baftas. That’s probably Anatomy Of A Fall’s main shot for an Oscar, especially given they’re not competing in international feature – where, surely, it will go to The Zone Of Interest.

Halligan: Not to impute anything, because, you know, [Zone Of Interest producer] Jim Wilson went up and delivered a fairly steady speech at the Baftas, and if anyone’s going to say anything about the Holocaust, or what’s happening in the Middle East, then obviously it’s more appropriate for a guy who’s made a film about it to do that. But as we’ve just seen at the Berlin Film Festival closing night, that was just a fiasco and terrible for the festival, terrible for cinema and terrible for the ceremony. Is there any worry, Jeremy, that in these febrile times, anything like that is risked at the Oscars?

Kay: I haven’t got any inside information but I imagine the show producers wouldn’t want to see too much by way of political speeches. They don’t want to see anything becoming too disruptive. But they can’t stop it so we’ll see.

20 Days in Mariupol

Source: IDFA

‘20 Days in Mariupol’

Mueller: Given it’s the director who accepts the international feature Oscar on behalf of his or her country, it would likely be Jonathan Glazer accepting for The Zone Of Interest should it win that category. He might use the platform in a different way than Jim Wilson did.

Kay: I think we’ll see some kind of political statement in the documentary feature category where 20 Days In Mariupol seems to be the favourite…

Mueller: …and industry support for Ukraine is still strong. So rounding up the season, have the studios regained the upper hand a little bit over the streamers? We all agree Universal looks set to have a strong night. But although they received multiple nominations, in particular for Maestro, it seems Netflix might come away empty-handed.

Kay: Universal, Warner Bros, Focus, Searchlight, A24, Neon – they’re all up there, and they have been in recent years too, but we did see a few more streamer best picture nominees in recent years. But these things are cyclical and it depends who’s got what. And in a way, the streamers are still outnumbered by the studios, they haven’t got that volume of awards contenders that you can get from the studio fold or from the theatrical distributor fold. It only takes one or two really strong contenders, and they could be back next year, or the year after. Obviously Apple won with CODA a few years ago so a streamer has planted the flag.

But yes, a great year for the studios, and backed up by fantastic box office, which creates that excitement around the awards show. If the Academy can play on that and make viewers feel they have a stake, we could see a really fun show, and one with high ratings as well.

Halligan: I’m excited for it, are you excited Jeremy?

Kay: Yes I am excited. As you said earlier, it’s just an extraordinary year in terms of the quality and the range of storytelling. It’s been good to see so many personal stories pushed to the fore this year – you mentioned Cillian Murphy, but also Lily Gladstone and Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Sandra Huller, who is known to us and known to European audiences. She can do anything, and Hollywood is going to come calling.

Mueller: Here’s to an exciting night on Sunday. I’ll be in Hong Kong so I’m going to have to take a page from the youth and watch the Youtube highlights the following morning. But I look forward to catching up with you both next week once the dust on this year’s award season is well and truly settled.