Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

61° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



The 96th Academy Awards: The race for Best Picture

Illustration by Danny O’Grady
From “Past Lives” and “Oppenhiemer” to “Poor Things” and “Barbie,” the race for Best Picture continues.

From the powerful pink takeover of “Barbie” to the delicate world-building of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” and the breathtaking realism in “Oppenheimer,” it’s no debate that each of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award are qualified to vie for the crown of best movie of the year. 

But which movie holds the perfect combination of strengths that will collect enough of the Academy members’ votes to secure the coveted Oscar? 

A24’s “The Zone of Interest” follows a similar trend as 2020 Best Picture winner “Parasite,” collecting nominations for Best International Feature Film and Best Director after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival to much acclaim. The film captivated audiences with its haunting story and impressive display of Jonathan Glazer’s directorial skill.

However, it’s also accompanied by “Anatomy of a Fall,” the other international film nominated for Best Picture. “Anatomy of a Fall” is propelled forward by an outstanding performance by Sandra Hüller, who also starred in “The Zone of Interest.” Despite Hüller’s Best Actress nomination for “Anatomy of a Fall,” it is unlikely that either film will see a win, as the presence of two international features takes away some of the glamour.

The nostalgic character study in “The Holdovers” was charming to say the least, and the film was especially strengthened by its powerful leading cast of Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and breakout star Dominic Sessa. But even with the adoration the movie is receiving from viewers and critics, its slower pace and coming-of-age arc may not help it stand out from the rest.

In another tear-jerking film, “Past Lives” reminded audiences why we go to the movies. This nominee accomplished something that distinguishes the true beauty of a film: Despite its unique story, the characters were deeply relatable. I believe the mark of the “Best” is creating that level of empathy, one that touches every different person, reminding us of the power that well-told stories have. Judging by its lack of nominations elsewhere, it is not a top contender, but “Past Lives” was my favorite movie of the year.

Both “Maestro” and “American Fiction” — neither of which have a strong chance of securing many members’ votes — seem to have fallen to the wayside of the Oscars’ buzz, particularly in a year with multiple strong contenders. 

Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan earned nominations for their leading roles in “Maestro,” and the film further proved Cooper’s ability to go beyond his typical role as a charming supporting actor. Mulligan commanded the scenes she was in, giving depth and personality to the pair’s bittersweet love story. That said, the biopic holds little weight in this year’s crowded Best Picture category, especially when standing next to the success of “Oppenheimer.”

“American Fiction” was sweet like a midday matinee, and its sharp wit earned it five nominations across the 23 categories. Yet, compared to its opponents, the film is rather superficial, and cleverness alone has rarely been enough to take home the gold.

“Barbie” conquered the world, broke box office records and stole audience members’ hearts. Its success poses the question of whether popularity and revenue are large enough factors to sway the Academy. However, the lack of nominations for director Greta Gerwig and lead actress Margot Robbie show that it is unlikely to fare well with voters, if only for its less prestigious subject matter.

The showdown will ultimately be a race between three pictures: “Killers of the Flower Moon,”  “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things.”

Martin Scorsese’s nearly 3.5-hour epic, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” was a superb example of storytelling, and it may win over the votes of traditional film fans that are nostalgic for grand productions of this length. The film’s spotlight of an Indigenous story, combined with the success of lead actress Lily Gladstone, are additional strengths. 

“Oppenheimer” seems to be the frontrunner, and it is true that Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster offers every aspect Academy members love: an all star cast, protagonist vs. antagonist framing and skillful storytelling exhibited by Nolan’s signature overlapping timelines. 

Bella Baxter’s (Emma Stone) exploration of the human experience through the eyes of director Yorgos Lanthimos in “Poor Things” may offer more competition than critics are expecting. The film weaves humor, theatrics and world-building into a hilariously profound story with impressive performances. 

The defining factor may come down to flashiness, as we saw with last year’s winner, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” To some degree, “Oppenheimer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” are becoming old news. Don’t forget — members of the Academy are real people who are consuming these films in a similar way that we are, influenced by media and trends.

“Poor Things” has crept into the running, and its ability to drastically stand out from the other nominees may prove to be its greatest strength. The awards have never been and never will be a science, but I expect the crown to be given to Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @elenamarielll

Related Stories: 

Reel Thoughts: ‘The Holdovers’ is a heartwarming success

Reel Thoughts: Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is a harrowing masterpiece

Reel Thoughts: Barbie is too much…but aren’t all women?

More to Discover