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January/February 2024

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Page 14 of 39 13 POST JAN/FEB 2024 OSCAR PICKS While Oppenheimer leads the field, a number of high-profile films are presenting sti— competition BY IAIN BLAIR W ith all the strikes and labor disputes, still-sparse post-COVID audiences, and ongoing threats from streamers and AI, 2023 was a trying year for the business industry of Hollywood. On the bright side, the 96th Academy Awards are almost here, the nominations are in and everyone can agree that 2023 turned out to be a great year for movies. Exhibit A? The double-headed, critically-acclaimed, box-o¬ce jug- gernaut (over $2 billion and counting) and cultural phenomenon "Barbenheimer," which showcased two hugely ambitious films that couldn't have been more di©erent. At the serious end of the spectrum is Oppen- heimer, a tense drama, directed by Christopher Nolan, that tells the story of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and follows the work of his team of scientists during the Manhattan Project, leading to the development of the atomic bomb. Starring Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, it features an all-star ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Kenneth Branagh. It dominated the competi- tion with 13 nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director. At the fun end of the spectrum is Barbie, surely the most unlikely invite to the Oscar party ever (we assume it was all tied up with a big pink ribbon). The biggest hit of the year was helmed by pre- viously Oscar-nominated writer/director Greta Gerwig (Little Women, Lady Bird), stars Oscar- nominees Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and is a joyful celebration of girl power that e©ortlessly manages to combine frothy romance, sharp satire, stylish musical numbers, wacky car chases and warm-hearted comedy. It scored eight nomina- tions, including Best Picture, but in one of the biggest surprises, director Gerwig and Robbie, its star and producer, were both snubbed. Apparently, voters just couldn't bring themselves to take a bril- liantly inventive and subversive comedy seriously enough, and assumed that it just directed itself. Yorgos Lanthimos' lavish and audacious Poor Things scored an impressive 11 nominations, while Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese's epic his- torical crime drama about murder, racism, the Osage Nation and their oil wealth, received 10 nominations, including Best Director for Scorsese, who, at 81, made history as Oscar's oldest directing nominee. Another Oscar first? Three of the Best Picture contenders — Barbie, Past Lives and Anatomy of a Fall — were helmed by women, although only one of those filmmakers, Anatomy's Justine Triet, earned a Best Director nomination. With all that in mind, we now present our annual look at some of the nominees. BEST PICTURE/ BEST DIRECTOR You could be forgiven for thinking that the Oscars have recently begun to seem more like an in- die film celebration, with top honors going to such small-budget, quirky films as Nomadland, CODA and last year's surprise winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once. But this year it looks like the natural order has been restored, as sever- al big-budget, high-profile, high-concept films, including Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Barbie and Poor Things, battle it out for the top prizes. Oppenheimer, the de facto frontrunner, ticks all the boxes. It's a prestige project with an all-star cast that also boasts a stellar creative team, includ- ing Nolan's go-to director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC (Dunkirk, Tenet), and editor Jennifer Lame, ACE (Black Panther: Oppenheimer is Oscar's frontrunner.

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