2024 Oscars: A ridiculously early look at the possible contenders
The 2023 Oscars have been over for a few hours now, so you know what that means — it's already time to start thinking about the 2024 race. Let's take a much-too-early look at the films that could be major players next year, at least until the contenders we never saw coming swoop in to shake things up.
The Color Purple
This upcoming film isn't a remake of Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple from 1985; rather, it's based on the 2005 musical adaptation of the lauded novel of the same name, which revolves around Black women in the early 20th-century South. The original Broadway production was nominated for numerous Tonys, and a revival starring Cynthia Erivo won Best Revival of a Musical in 2016. In the movie, Erivo's role will be played by singer Fantasia, who looks like an early Best Actress frontrunner. Colman Domingo could also compete for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Mister," while Taraji P. Henson and/or Danielle Brooks may be in the mix for Best Supporting Actress. The Color Purple hits theaters on Dec. 20, 2023.
Dune: Part Two
Not only was 2021's Dune nominated for Best Picture, but it also won six Oscars, the most of any movie that year. So it stands to reason that the sequel, which adapts the second half of the novel, will compete in the Best Picture field so long as it's not dramatically worse. Denis Villeneuve famously wasn't nominated for Best Director for the first movie, but the Academy could feel compelled to right that wrong by giving him a nod for the sequel. Like part one, expect Dune: Part Two to have a major presence in the below-the-line categories, though acting nominations are likely a long shot considering the 2021 film didn't receive any. Part two hits theaters on Nov. 3, 2023.
Alexander Payne's most recent film, 2017's Downsizing, was a miss with critics. But before that, he directed three Best Picture nominees in less than a decade: Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. So could his new movie, The Holdovers, mark a comeback? Starring Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers follows a "universally disliked professor at a prep school" who bonds with a troublemaking 17-year-old student and a cook when they all stay on campus over the holidays, per the film's studio. After a screening of The Holdovers at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, "one attendee left feeling that he had seen the best movie playing" there, The Wrap reports, noting a source described the project as "touching, funny and very emotional." That said, the film's Oscar prospects could be impacted by the fact that, in 2020, Rose McGowan accused Payne of statutory rape. He denied the allegations.
We all know the Academy loves biopics, and one of 2023's most anticipated is Bradley Cooper's Maestro, in which the actor transforms into Leonard Bernstein and plays the famed conductor across many years of his life. Cooper also directs in his follow-up to 2018's A Star Is Born, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Given the Academy's history of honoring actors' transformations into real people, Cooper already looks like an early Best Actor frontrunner, and his shocking Best Director snub for A Star is Born could inspire the Academy to make it up to him with a directing nod, as well. Carey Mulligan, meanwhile, is a possible Best Actress contender for her role as Berstein's wife, as is Matt Bomer, who plays Bernstein's lover, for Best Supporting Actor. But there's likely to be some The Whale-style controversy around the film, as there was backlash to photos showing Cooper, who isn't Jewish, wearing prosthetics to portray a Jewish man.
Speaking of biopics, Colman Domingo leads this one centered on Bayard Rustin, the openly gay civil rights leader who was an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin "dedicated his life to fighting against a world entrenched in both homophobia and racism — and was always kept on the outskirts of the civil rights movement he helped build," said Netflix, which will release the film. Domingo, who has been racking up one acclaimed role after another, recently won an Emmy for Euphoria but has never been nominated for an Oscar. Playing a real person in a socially relevant biopic, though, may change that. Rustin is directed by George C. Wolfe, whose previous film, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, garnered nominations for Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis, and produced by Higher Ground Productions, the production company of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
Domingo might not be the only Euphoria star in the 2024 race — Zendaya stars in Challengers, a new sports film from Call Me By Your Name's Luca Guadagnino. According to the director, Challengers is a "fairly fizzy, sexy movie" that follows three tennis players "who knew each other when they were teenagers as they compete in a tennis tournament to be the world-famous grand slam winner, and reignite old rivalries on and off the court." Zendaya is the lead, so the momentum from her two recent Emmy wins may carry her to an Oscar nod, depending on how meaty the role is. Actors Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor could also be contenders. The film opens Aug. 11, 2023.
If the past is any indication, the Academy appears more eager to embrace a Christopher Nolan film when it's grounded in historical events rather than heady sci-fi ideas (he earned his first directing nomination with Dunkirk). And fittingly, Nolan's next movie, Oppenheimer, centers on the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Manhattan Project. If it's any good, expect to see the film nominated for Best Picture and Nolan for Best Director. Leads Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt may also be in the Best Actor and Actress mix for their roles as Oppenheimer and Oppenheimer's wife, respectively. And if nothing else, Oppenheimer should perform well in the below-the-line categories, especially because Nolan reportedly recreated a nuclear weapon detonation without CGI. The film opens July 21, 2023.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans going home empty-handed this year despite looking like an early frontrunner taught pundits a hard lesson about overestimating films simply because they come from legendary directors. Still, Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon — one of 2023's most anticipated movies — could make a big splash in the awards race. Based on a non-fiction book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon revolves around an investigation into the murder of members of the Osage tribe in the 1920s. Three out of Scorsese's last four films were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, so it's a reasonable bet that this one will be, too, especially since it's backed by Apple, the first streamer to win Best Picture with CODA. Also look out for Leonardo DiCaprio to earn yet another Best Actor nomination, while Jesse Plemons and/or Robert De Niro could be nominated again for Best Supporting Actor. Lily Gladstone, who plays the wife of DiCaprio's character, is also a possible first-time nominee.
Director Todd Haynes' 2015 film Carol was one of the most surprising Best Picture snubs in 2016, despite still earning six nominations, including acting nods for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Haynes' latest project is May December, which takes place 20 years after the scandalous romance of Gracie and Joe — a married couple with a 23-year-old age gap — "gripped the nation." "When Hollywood actress Elizabeth Berry comes to spend time with the family to better understand Gracie, who she will be playing in a film, family dynamics unravel under the pressure of the outside gaze," the plot synopsis says. Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, and Natalie Portman play Gracie, Joe, and Elizabeth, respectively. Since Carol earned nominations for both its stars, Moore and Portman, two past Oscar winners, are well-positioned to compete.
Four years after Ford v Ferrari competed for Best Picture, might another Ferrari movie join the Oscar race? This upcoming project from Michael Mann stars Adam Driver as Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari, who, in the summer of 1957, "decides to counter" his quickly-accruing financial losses "by rolling the dice on one race — 1,000 miles across Italy, the iconic Mille Miglia," the synopsis says. Driver is quickly becoming an Academy favorite, having earned nominations for BlacKkKlansman and Marriage Story, so look for him to pull ahead of his competitors in the Best Actor category. Other possible nominees include Penélope Cruz, who plays Enzo's wife.
In space, no one can hear you scream about Adam Sandler's Oscar snubs. The Sandman was one of 2020's most infamous omissions for his work on Uncut Gems, nor did he get in this cycle for Hustle. But maybe 2023 will finally be his year thanks to Spaceman, in which he portrays an "astronaut sent to the edge of the galaxy to collect mysterious ancient dust." But when our hero "finds his earthly life falling to pieces," he "turns to the only voice who can help him try to put it back together," which "just so happens to belong to a creature from the beginning of time lurking in the shadows of his ship," per Netflix. Past nominees Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano also star, meaning they might also earn nods — assuming, of course, this isn't the movie Sandler threatened to make "so bad on purpose."
Romantic drama Past Lives, a potential contender many have already seen, was immediately a possible 2024 juggernaut following its debut at Sundance. From Celine Song, the film follows the relationship between two childhood best friends who reunite after many years, à la Before Sunset. It earned raves out of Park City, with IndieWire's David Ehrlich saying it's "delicate yet crushingly beautiful" and "destined to be" one of the year's best. It also comes from A24, the studio behind Everything Everywhere All at Once. Could the team there score two Best Picture wins in a row following Everything Everywhere's big victory?
Another film that earned early buzz out of Sundance was Magazine Dreams, which sounds like a strong acting showcase for Jonathan Majors. He stars as an aspiring bodybuilder desperate to become a superstar, and the role has been compared to Robert De Niro's in Taxi Driver. Critics heaped praise on Majors after the Sundance premiere, with Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson describing his as a "towering" performance, and Deadline's Valerie Complex calling Majors a "revelation." Reviews for the film itself, though, may be a bit too muted for it to be a significant Oscars player beyond a nod for its lead actor.
Emerald Fennell proved she's a promising young director with her debut Promising Young Woman, which earned five Oscar nominations in 2021, including Best Picture. So watch out for her follow-up, Saltburn, which stars Barry Keoghan, Rosamund Pike, and Jacob Elordi. We don't know much about the plot except that it's a "story of obsession" and reportedly involves an aristocratic English family, but there have been rumors of very positive reactions from test screenings. Keoghan is allegedly the stand-out, meaning he could score back-to-back nominations after his 2023 The Banshees of Inisherin nod. Pike could also earn her first nomination since she was up for Gone Girl in 2015.
Coming off Mank, which led the Oscar nominations in 2021 and won two, David Fincher directs this thriller in which, "after a fateful near-miss," an "assassin battles his employers, and himself, on an international manhunt he insists isn't personal." Mank was classic Oscar fare given it was a story about Hollywood itself, so The Killer may be more akin to something like Fincher's Gone Girl. But that movie did earn star Rosamund Pike a nomination, so Michael Fassbender, who plays The Killer's assassin, could be in the Best Actor conversation.
Next Goal Wins
Another Fassbender project that could be in the mix is Next Goal Wins, the new film from Taika Waititi. Waititi's last non-Thor movie was Jojo Rabbit, a major Oscar contender that won Best Adapted Screenplay. Next Goal Wins is an "underdog story that follows the national football team of American Samoa and their coach, Thomas Rongen, as they try to transform from perennial losers into a FIFA World Cup-qualifying outfit," according to The Hollywood Reporter. Could this be to the Oscars what Ted Lasso has been to the Emmys? The film has been long delayed, partially because Armie Hammer had to be replaced in reshoots, but it's getting a September release from Searchlight, which has won Best Picture numerous times with films like 12 Years a Slave and Birdman.
Ridley Scott's last major Oscar contender was 2015's The Martian; his most recent two films, The Last Duel and House of Gucci, were almost completely shut out. But this latest, Napoleon, sounds right up the Academy's alley. From Apple, Napoleon is a historical drama starring Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte. It's described as a "personal look at the French military leader's origins and swift, ruthless climb to emperor" viewed "through the prism" of his "addictive, volatile relationship with his wife," Joséphine, played in the film by Vanessa Kirby. When it comes to the Oscars, never count out Phoenix, who has been nominated four times and won Best Actor for Joker.
Speaking of Apple, yet another potential contender from the streamer is Blitz, the new film from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. Blitz is a World War II film that follows "a variety of Londoners during 1940 and 1941 as they navigate a new normal," according to Variety. Saoirse Ronan is set to star, making it distinctly possible she could earn a fifth Oscar nomination before she's even 30. That being said, it hasn't been confirmed that Blitz will receive a 2023 release.
Kate Winslet has been nominated for a whopping seven Oscars, but she could be coming for her eighth with Lee, which sees her play the real-life war correspondent Lee Miller. Deadline reports that while the film is not described as a biopic, it focuses on how, "as a middle-aged woman, [Lee] refused to be remembered as a model and male artists' muse and defied expectations by traveling to Europe to report from the frontline," where she "used her Rolleiflex camera to give a voice to the voiceless." The cast also includes Marion Cotillard, Andy Samberg, Alexander Skarsgård, and Andrea Riseborough, the latter of whom can potentially help Winslet earn a nomination for a "small film with a giant heart."
Could two Elvis movies have a presence at the Oscars two years in a row? Sofia Coppola directs this biopic based on Priscilla Presley and her memoir, Elvis and Me. Cailee Spaeny stars in the lead role, while Jacob Elordi stars as Elvis. It sounds like Priscilla could produce a strong Best Actress contender just as Elvis did with Austin Butler in Best Actor, and perhaps unlike Butler, Spaeny could even go all the way for a win, though Elordi may have big shoes to fill with the Elvis performance. The only question is whether Priscilla will be released by the end of the year, but it seems possible given it was shot in 2022.
The Favourite led the Oscar nominations in 2019 (tied with Roma), so it's worth taking a close look at what director Yorgos Lanthimos does next. Poor Things, his newest project, stars The Favourite's Emma Stone as a woman who drowns herself to escape her abusive husband, only for her brain to be replaced with that of her unborn child. "Essentially, Poor Things is a re-imagining of Frankenstein in which the monster has been replaced with a beautiful, volatile erotomaniac," Collider reported in 2021. That premise may be a bit too out there for the Oscars, leaving maybe just a screenplay nod on the table. But after the Academy eagerly embraced a movie with a butt plug fight scene, let's not be too quick to write off a film's chances based on its weirdness.
No, we're not kidding. Under the right circumstances, the live-action Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, could legitimately rack up multiple Oscar nominations — including Best Picture. That's also assuming it's as subversive as critics are expecting given it's directed by Greta Gerwig and written by her and her partner, Noah Baumbach. Gerwig's last two films, Little Women and Lady Bird, were both Best Picture nominees, and Baumbach was in the mix with Marriage Story in 2020. Assuming they have a clever, feminist take that elevates the material à la The Lego Movie, it's easy to imagine the Academy embracing Barbie as this year's big crowd-pleaser. If Toy Story 3 can be nominated for Best Picture, is it really so far-fetched? There's even been talk of Barbie playing at the Cannes Film Festival. Dread it, run from it, the #BarbieSweep arrives all the same.