By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

The Best Picture power rankings: Can anyone beat ‘Oppenheimer’?

The 96th Academy Awards are right around the corner, and the race simultaneously feels decided, yet… close? It’s the general consensus that Christopher Nolan’s historical epic “Oppenheimer” is all but guaranteed to sweep. So why does it feel like a couple other movies have a chance? 

This is going to be my final Gold Rush piece before the ceremony, there will be nothing next week as instead I have a very, very special – perhaps spice-inflected – review planned for then. So I figured I would act as if I’m submitting my ballot for best picture, and give you all my power rankings of the best picture class of 2024. 

I truly am a fan of each and every movie nominated for best picture this year, and while these rankings are based on my enjoyment of the films, they are also indicative of the chances I think each movie has of winning best picture. They’re all at least four-star movies. It’s a mix. It’s complicated. I don’t know. Don’t @ me. 

Note: I am yet to see “The Zone of Interest.” Hopefully I will see it this weekend, but I imagine it will place right in the middle of my rankings based on word of mouth. 

9 – Maestro

I loved Maestro. I’m the leader of the “Maestro” army. It was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The visuals on a big-screen were gorgeous and truly reminded me of classical old Hollywood productions, Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan’s performances were totemic, and the sound blasting from the speakers was incredible and really added to the visceral experience. 

But I’m one of the few people who saw it in a theater. Most people – including most of the Academy voting body – saw it on Netflix. And most of the response since it’s been on Netflix has been middling at best. Admittedly, I have come down on “Maestro” since I saw it initially, the high of seeing it has worn off, and I can acknowledge some of the flaws of the movie, and I haven’t had much of an urge to rewatch it despite it being available at home. For all these reasons and more, I have it at nine. 

8 – American Fiction

While I think that there is a dark horse chance for “American Fiction” to win some of the major awards, specifically Best Adapted Screenplay, I don’t think that its chances for Best Picture are quite as sound. Not to say that I didn’t love it though. I was surprised at the nuance throughout the entirety of the movie, not just regarding Monk’s (Jeffery Wright) journey as an author, but also with the family dynamics with him, his brother, played by Sterling K. Brown and their mother. 

Also, one of the funniest movies of the 2023. Legitimately had me and the one other guy in the theater laughing out loud throughout. An amazing debut for writer and director Cord Jefferson, but sadly the nominees this year are so top-heavy that it’s hard to see it doing anything other than making some noise. 

7 – Barbie

This is where the hard choices start to be made. Seeing “Barbie” on opening night was one of the best movie-going experiences of my life. Looking at the lobby of the Bridgeport Village theater in Portland packed to the brim with pink filled my heart. Every joke in the movie landed, the “I’m Just Ken” scene rocked the house. It was perfect. 

But they don’t give Oscars out for experiences. They give them out for movies, and with the questionable absence of Greta Gerwig in Best Director and Margot Robbie in Best Actress, I think “Barbie” might have a hard time breaking through to the top of voters ballots. 

Beyond this, films rooted in intellectual property (IP) have always struggled to be properly recognized by the Academy and as good as “Barbie” is, the second act is pretty much a Chevrolet commercial. So. 

6 – Anatomy of a Fall

Now, here is where it really gets heated. “Anatomy of a Fall” shocked the world when it won Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes, and pushed itself into the conversation in a real way. Personally, I thought “Anatomy of a Fall” was absolutely riveting, and the Best Screenplay win at the Globes was completely deserved. It balances being an excellent courtroom drama with being a deep and intense study of the central relationships of the film immaculately. 

The foreign nature of the film might be a barrier of entry for some Academy voters (which is sad, but unfortunately true), but Sanrda Huller’s powerful and complex performance and Justine Triet’s excellent direction might help push it over the edge. There has been a lot of love for this one, and I expect it to be near the top of a lot of ballots. Just keep an eye on it. 

5 – The Holdovers

When “The Holdovers” first debuted, it seemed like it was the number one film to possibly take the crown away from “Oppenheimer.” It’s very warm, cozy and easy to digest, while containing three fascinating central characters that work off of and challenge each other really well. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is essentially a lock to win Best Supporting Actress, and Paul Giamatti is still likely the only person who could take away Best Actor from Cillian Murphy. But for me, the missing piece here is the absence of Dominic Sessa in Best Supporting Actor. 

The movie doesn’t work without Sessa. His performance is it’s heart and soul, and it doesn’t work nearly as well if he isn’t playing on the same level as Giamatti. But, he didn’t even get a nomination, and to me that is indicative of “The Holdovers” maybe not being as big of an undertaker as we initially thought. And while I thought that the movie was delightful and incredibly charming, I’m unsure if there is much meat on the bone for viewers to chew on beyond the three performances, so if the most important performance doesn’t even get a nomination, what does that say? 

4 – Killers of the Flower Moon

It’s time to talk about the big boys, and Martin Scorsese might be the biggest boy of them all. Coming into 2023, it was pretty much consensus that “Killers of the Flower Moon” was the biggest Oscar contender of the year. And then the year unfolds, we learn about more movies, Barbenheimer happens, and now it stands here at fourth on my rankings. 

Now, in favor of “Killers” is ranked choice voting. This is going to be near the top of a LOT of voter’s ballots. The respect for Scorsese among the Academy is immense, and we don’t know how many more films from him we have left, especially compared to someone like Christopher Nolan. Perhaps the recognition for him could come in Best Director, but I wouldn’t be shocked if come March 10, Scorsese walks out of the room with the biggest award of the night. 

Not to mention, the love for Lily Gladstone’s performance is real, and she is competing hard with Emma Stone for Best Actress. The momentum for her could transfer over to the film as a whole. I think it would be cool if it did. Let Marty get his!

3 – Past Lives

My favorite movie of the year for the majority of the year was “Past Lives,” and I’m disappointed that it’s taken me this long to be able to talk about it with significance. “Past Lives” took my heart, put it in a blender, put it back together and then put it on the curb and stomped on it for twenty minutes. 

An excerpt from my Letterboxd review accounts how I felt about it in the moment, which I think still resonates: “This must be what it felt like for my parents to see ‘Before Sunrise.’ I feel deeply seen and also deeply attacked, which I think equates to being deeply understood.” 

I imagine most of the Academy voters have long lost lovers, and “Past Lives” takes a look at what those people mean to us on a level that reaches our bones. One knock for it could be that it is only nominated for two awards, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. But, in 2022 “CODA” won Best Picture while only being nominated for three awards, those two and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur. I believe. 

2 – Poor Things

Since it debuted at the Venice International Film Festival last September, “Poor Things” had always been lingering. The talk of the town. “Watch out, ‘Poor Things’ is coming.” And now it’s here, and been in theaters for about two months, and yeah. “Poor Things.” Wow. 

Just a totemic piece of work. Career-best works from pretty much everyone involved; Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, director Yorgos Lanthinmos. It’s hard to deny. Stone especially is just sensational in the movie. This movie plays with a lot of the same themes and ideas as “Barbie,” but it is just naturally a lot more intellectually inclined and plays to both average movie-goers who might be looking for something a little more challenging, and to voters who have come to expect this type of work from Lanthimos. 

In any other year, this would be the runaway Best Picture front-runner. It’s a stunning production, with great performances, cinematography, direction and music. But, it’s not any other year. It’s the year of… 

1 – Oppenheimer

What else would it be? 

I know at the beginning of this piece, I said that the race might be closer than we all think. And I think that’s true! But, that doesn’t change who is still the top dog. The perfect blend of prestige and entertainment, a propulsive, heavy, stuffed to the brim study on the man who changed everything, his reckoning with that and the weight he – and in turn the world – carries. 

Do you know how hard it is to make a movie that is simultaneously the most supremely entertaining movie of the year, as well as the most well-made movie of the year? I don’t. I think there are maybe three people on the planet who do. Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan. 

I’ve seen “Oppenheimer” five times now, four times in theaters. It gets better each time. It gets easier to digest, and easier to sink your teeth into each time. The jarring editing becomes more natural and fascinating each time. Cillian Murphy’s performance becomes more revealing each time. With all of this, the true achievement of what Nolan accomplished here becomes more apparent each time.

“Oppenheimer” is the unstoppable force of this year’s Oscars. Is there anything that could be an immovable object in its way? I’m unsure. The Academy set a precedent of inevitability last year with “Everything Everywhere All At Once” sweeping the awards, a sweep that was well tracked in the months prior, and it’s been assumed for a while now that it was “Oppenheimer” or bust. And while I can’t say I would be thrilled if “Oppenheimer” walked away with every award it was nominated for, I also couldn’t be mad.

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