For months, as the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes rolled on in Hollywood, there was a sense of uncertainty hanging over the 2024 Oscars—was there any chance at all that the industry’s biggest night of the year could go ahead as planned? Now, with a deal struck and the new contract ratified, we know it will be—and the contenders’ campaigns are kicking into high gear. Among those jostling for a spot on the nominations list? A spate of surreal comedies, steely thrillers, a few ambitious biopics, and a pair of crowd-pleasing blockbusters.
Ahead of the ceremony on 10 March, these are the 13 releases you need to have on your radar.
Since Cord Jefferson’s hysterically funny feature debut blazed out of the Toronto Film Festival on a wave of rave reviews and with the showcase’s prestigious Audience Award in tow, it has cemented its status as a Best Picture frontrunner. A blistering satire about Black representation in fiction, film and beyond, it stars Best Actor hopeful Jeffrey Wright as a novelist frustrated by an industry which implores him to write tales of African-American trauma for white audiences. He pens a searing parody, filled to the brim with misguided tropes—but then, is shocked to find that it’s a roaring success. It makes for a razor-sharp comedy that is as audacious as it is timely, holding up a mirror to contemporary society’s glaring blind spots.
In Yorgos Lanthimos’s joyous, hallucinatory Golden Lion-winning fantasy, Emma Stone gives the performance of a lifetime as Bella Baxter, a Victorian woman resurrected by an eccentric scientist (Willem Dafoe) who replaces her brain with that of a baby. She slowly finds her feet, begins to yearn for adventure and then embarks on one: a mind-bending romp through Europe and North Africa on the arm of a notorious rake (a scene-stealing Mark Ruffalo). Expect to see nods for Tony McNamara’s whimsical screenplay, as well as Holly Waddington’s extraordinary costumes, Shona Heath and James Price’s meticulous production design, and Robbie Ryan’s trippy cinematography, which come together to create a bewildering world that you won’t want to leave.
Anatomy of the Fall
When Trần Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things was chosen as France’s entry for Best International Feature over Justine Triet’s sensational Palme d’Or recipient, it prompted an uproar and speculation that the auteur had been snubbed due to her recent criticism of the French government. Still, the resulting controversy could boost its chances of making the Best Picture shortlist, and it certainly deserves a place on it—this is a taut, icy, flawlessly-executed courtroom drama with a masterful script and a truly inscrutable lead turn from Sandra Hüller, the dark horse in this year’s Best Actress race, as a writer suspected of killing her husband.
Gorgeously shot, morally murky and shockingly funny, this gloriously soapy melodrama is quintessential Todd Haynes: the thorny story of Elizabeth (a preening, thrillingly deranged Natalie Portman), a ruthless actor who’s preparing to play a real-life figure: Gracie (Julianne Moore), a baker who found herself at the centre of a tabloid scandal decades ago, when she, aged 36, embarked on an affair with a 13-year-old co-worker. Now, the couple (with the latter embodied by Best Supporting Actor contender Charles Melton) are happily married with three kids—that is, until Elizabeth enters their lives and, through the course of her research, sheds disturbing new light on the origins of their forbidden relationship.
A delightful showcase for its three charming leads—newcomer Dominic Sessa, the always commanding Paul Giamatti, and the current favourite for Best Supporting Actress, Da’Vine Joy Randolph—Alexander Payne’s cosy Christmas-set heartwarmer is the kind of misty-eyed, old-school Best Picture contender that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Centring on a surly student, a curmudgeonly classics professor, and a no-nonsense cafeteria administrator, all of whom are left behind at a grand New England boarding school over the winter break of 1970, it’s a touching meditation on loss, lifelong regrets and the joys of finding your chosen family in the most unexpected of places.
Turning the well-worn biopic formula on its head, Bradley Cooper’s inventive take on the life and career of esteemed conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, as played by the filmmaker himself, is an exuberant flight of fancy—a wonderful, magically realist sprint through his early biography that leads us swiftly to his first meeting with his future wife, the captivating Felicia Montealegre (a never-better Carey Mulligan). Its powerhouse performances will doubtless be recognised, but also deserving of acknowledgment are Matthew Libatique’s luminous cinematography, and the staggering hair and make-up, which takes Bernstein and Montealegre from fresh-faced youth to the end of their lives.
Whatever you think of Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of female characters in his explosive biopic of the titular theoretical physicist and father of the atomic bomb (a formidable Cillian Murphy), its scale, scope and ambition are impossible to deny. Robert Downey Jr seems a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor for his depiction of vindictive government official Lewis Strauss, while the sweeping epic’s exacting production design, eye-popping cinematography, zippy editing, booming sound, and spine-tingling score could yield statuettes, too. Beyond that, it might also mark Nolan’s first Best Director win, after five Oscar nominations earned over the past two decades for the likes of Memento, Inception and Dunkirk.
Killers of the Flower Moon
The incomparable Lily Gladstone is among the frontrunners for Best Actress, just as her co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, for their domineering turns in Martin Scorsese’s nerve-jangling, eye-opening western. It recounts the tragedies endured by the oil-rich Osage people, who in ’20s Oklahoma were some of the wealthiest in the world, before being systematically murdered by their envious white neighbours. Everything about this awards season juggernaut is impressive—from the jaw-dropping cinematography and lavish production design to the costumes crafted by Jacqueline West, which pay tribute to traditional Native American designs—and it could easily rack up a string of wins.
After her candy floss-pink picaresque made over $1 billion and became a verified cultural touchstone, not to mention the highest-grossing release of all time by a solo female filmmaker, Greta Gerwig looks well on her way to her second Best Director nod. Although a victory there seems unlikely, the hotly debated behemoth should dominate elsewhere: its script, co-written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, is hilarious; the production design flawless; the costumes immaculate (and widely imitated); and the songs as catchy as can be, from Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” and Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” to Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” Oh, and there’s also Ryan Gosling, who has all but secured his spot on the Best Supporting Actor shortlist, with his co-star Margot Robbie a strong Best Actress possibility, too.
The Zone of Interest
Jonathan Glazer’s terrifying German-language thriller following the commandant of Auschwitz (Christian Friedel) and his cold-blooded wife (Sandra Hüller, once again on extraordinary form) as they raise their young children in a flower-filled idyll on the borders of the concentration camp, is easily one of the best and most innovative films of the year. With Anatomy of a Fall absent from the Best International Feature category, it appears to have a clear path to victory there, but it could very well show up in Best Picture, too, as well as the directing, adapted screenplay, cinematography and sound categories.
The Colour Purple
With its stunning sets and sumptuous costumes, Blitz Bazawule’s buoyant big-screen rendering of the toe-tapping, Tony-winning stage musical based on Alice Walker’s seminal classic should loom large in the craft categories, with buzz also building for its barnstorming performances: Fantasia Barrino’s incredible lead turn, and the likes of Danielle Brooks, Taraji P Henson and Halle Bailey in supporting.
Broadway fixture Colman Domingo, who has long been an electrifying screen presence in everything from Selma and If Beale Street Could Talk to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Zola and Euphoria, may finally get his due with his Best Actor-worthy portrayal of civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, the organiser of the 1963 march on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I have a dream” speech. Under the direction of George C Wolfe, this rousing biopic sees the indefatigable activist push for large-scale action, win countless more supporters to his cause and press on in the face of government opposition, his almost irrational optimism acting as a beacon for all of those who follow.
Despite premiering at Sundance at the very start of 2023, Celine Song’s tender, gentle feature debut, the tear-jerking story of a playwright (a wistful Greta Lee) who reconnects with a beloved childhood friend (Teo Yoo) decades after a painful separation, has remained in the public consciousness thanks to its subtly brilliant performances, deft direction and poetic screenplay. Look out for it in the Best Picture race, too, where it remains this year’s wild card.
This story was originally published on British Vogue.