Academy voters love history and biopics and serious subjects. This goes without saying. But they also, especially in recent years, embrace originality (see “Parasite” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once”). Hence this summer, on back-to-back weekends, the members lined up around the block at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills to see Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” at the weekly Academy screening, which is rarely full. Both houses were packed and enthusiastic, reflecting the culture at large’s excited return to moviegoing to catch both films. So far “Barbie” (Metascore: 80) has grossed $829 million worldwide (with $1 billion in sight), while “Oppenheimer” (Metascore: 88) currently tallies $440 million for a less overtly accessible film.
Thus while “Oppenheimer” looks and feels like an Oscar contender — and it is — the more commercial and femme-targeted “Barbie” should not be counted out, even if it made more money at the box office. Both are strong contenders in multiple categories.
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Both films are likely Best Picture contenders. Gerwig’s last two films, “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” both nabbed BP nods, while Nolan made it to the BP list with “Inception” and “Dunkirk.” And both are contending for their second Best Director slot. Last time they went head to head was 2018 with “Lady Bird” vs. “Dunkirk.”
And both auteurs will likely compete in the Adapted Screenplay category. Nolan adapted the non-fiction tome “American Prometheus” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, while Gerwig co-wrote Barbie based on existing IP, the Mattel doll, with her partner Noah Baumbach. All three writers have been nominated twice so far for screenwriting.
In the acting categories, “Barbie” star Margot Robbie could land her third acting nomination, her second for Best Actress, depending on the competition. (Many of the fall films will find out their strengths and weaknesses when they are screened at festivals.) She carries the musical comedy, making pitch-perfect transitions from Barbieland’s oblivious Stereotypical Barbie to a more nuanced character discovering the real world. Arguably Ryan Gosling’s Ken is a showier performance: he’s a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, which would mark his third nod. Both are overdue. If “Barbie” lands a Makeup & Hairstyling nod it will be for the outstanding Kens, led by Gosling.
Cillian Murphy is a sure bet for Best Actor (it would be his first nomination) for the cerebral title role in “Oppenheimer,” a demanding high-wire act that required the actor to sequester himself from the cast and give his all. Both he and his charming costar Robert Downey, Jr., a likely Supporting Actor candidate as conniving politician Robert Strauss, will boost the Oscar nomination chances of the film’s Makeup & Hairstyling team. Long overdue for a nomination, Emily Blunt should squeak into Supporting Actress contention for playing Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, who gets to show her gritty stuff during the backroom trial sequence.
In the craft categories, each movie carves out its own space. The visually sumptuous “Barbie” excels in Costume (Jacqueline Durran, 8 noms) and Production Design (Sarah Greenwood, 6 noms), while the IMAX cinematography for “Oppenheimer” should earn Hoyte van Hoytema his second nomination after “Dunkirk.” Editing and Sound could go “Oppenheimer”‘s way, as well as Original Score, which could mark the third nomination for “Black Panther” Oscar-winner Ludwig Göransson, who also composed Nolan’s “Tenet.”
Meanwhile “Barbie” has at least three songs to choose from for Original Song. Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night”? “What Was I Made For?” from Oscar-winner Billie Eilish (“No Time to Die”)? Or Gosling’s popular anthem “I’m Just Ken”? We will likely see at least one of them performed on Oscar night, March 10, 2024.
So how do we tally these numbers? For now, I’m giving “Barbie” nine and “Oppenheimer” ten. But it depends on where these respective summer movies are sitting at year’s end. If it has long coattails, period “Oppenheimer” could land Costume and Production Design nominations, for example, and Matt Damon could sneak into the competitive Supporting Actor category. And similarly, “Barbie” could grab Editing and Sound, and Rodrigo Prieto could score his 4th Oscar nomination for Cinematography.
Right now these are not sure things. But things change.
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