Could American Fiction & Zone of Interest Upset Oppenheimer at Oscars?

With just four days remaining until final Oscar voting officially opens, the race has taken a few unexpected turns at the BAFTA Awards.

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” a biographical drama about the father of the atomic bomb, has continued to surge ahead after seven wins, including best film and director. Its trajectory towards a triumphant night on the Dolby Theatre stage on March 10 seems assured.

However, surprises abound with other awards contenders making pronounced showings. Yorgos Lanthimos’ sci-fi black comedy “Poor Things” garnered four prizes, including leading actress for Emma Stone, production design, special visual effects, costumes and makeup and hair. The unexpected success, particularly in makeup, could foreshadow a possible upset for presumed favorite “Maestro” at the upcoming Academy Awards. Notable, since Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan missed out on their respective lead acting prizes, signaling the Netflix feature will need a rebound sooner rather than later.

ReadVariety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

In the realm of visual effects, “Poor Things” finds itself without an Oscar nom, leaving the field wide open for speculation. As for a potential winner, I’m inclined to place my bet on “Godzilla Minus One” but throw a dart at any of the other four candidates.

Emma Stone’s winning streak, bolstered by victories at BAFTA, CCA and the Golden Globes, significantly enhances her chances. With her closest competitor, Lily Gladstone from “Killers of the Flower Moon” (which was also shut out), absent from the BAFTA lineup, Stone appears unstoppable, unless Gladstone pulls off a SAG-winning moment, similar to Michelle Yeoh’s last year for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” who also walked into Oscar night with just a Globe and SAG win. However, another question remains: How many Oscars can “Poor Things” actually secure? That’s a matter still up for debate, but that could be between zero and six, which is a wide range to consider.

BARBIE, Margot Robbie as Barbie, 2023. © Warner Bos. /Courtesy Everett Collection
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

On the other hand, the meta-comedy “Barbie” left the Royal Festival Hall in London empty-handed, missing out on the original screenplay award. The Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach script lost out to another Hollywood couple: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari for “Anatomy of a Fall.” Although “Barbie” holds a nod for adapted screenplay at the Oscars, the competition remains fierce, especially with Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction” pulling off a surprise victory at the BAFTAs. It’s the second film with a Black writer to win in any writing category after “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) with scribes Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott. Moreover, Jefferson is the first solo Black writer to ever win at the BAFTAs. The Amazon MGM and Orion production now has CCA to its credit, and potential future victories coming up at the USC Scripter Awards. The same studio pulled off a wonderful (and surprising) victory for Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” last year. Nevertheless, “Barbie” still holds strong with wins from CCA (in original).

Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” made history at BAFTA by clinching both outstanding British film and film not in the English language (the first film ever to win both categories), while also upsetting Nolan’s film in the sound category. Despite BAFTA’s track record of predicting Oscar success, recent years have seen a few surprises in this regard. “Oppenheimer” is still in the discussion but perhaps not as assured as it once seemed.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s remarkable performance in “The Holdovers” secured her the supporting actress award, maintaining her sweep of the awards season. The film also claimed the prize for best casting, underscoring its strength. With her co-star Paul Giamatti narrowly edged out by Cillian Murphy from “Oppenheimer,” the stage is set for a tense battle akin to last year’s best actor race where Austin Butler (“Elvis”) won both Globe and BAFTA, while Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) had CCA and SAG. We’ll see if the SAG Awards present the same setup.

GKids’ “The Boy and the Heron,” which became the first non-American production to win the animated film category, has created a neck-and-neck race between itself and Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which swept the Annie Awards on Saturday night. Expect the PGA Awards to stamp the eventual winner for either Hayao Miyazaki, who would be the oldest winner of the category ever at the age of 83, or the blockbuster “Across the Spider-Verse,” which would be the first non-Disney sequel to take home the prize.

Additionally, “20 Days in Mariupol” appears poised to clinch the documentary Oscar, particularly after its recent DGA victory, while international feature is locked up for “Zone of Interest.”

Looking ahead, the WGA Awards will announce nominations on Wednesday, Feb. 21, just before final Oscar voting commences on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 9:00 a.m. PT. The weekend will see the 30th annual SAG Awards on Saturday, followed by the Film Independent Spirit and Producers Guild of America Awards on Sunday. Final Oscar voting will close without winners revealed from the Cinema Audio Society, American Society of Cinematographers and ACE Eddies, leaving anticipation high until the grand reveal.

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