Oscar Season Is Slow To Start With Few Contenders In First Half Of 2024

The other night I was having dinner with a couple of industry veterans, both Oscar voters, who told me they had been talking to a top producer-financier who had seen two big studio movies coming out later in the year and both were fantastic.

The producer very enthusiastically praised Ridley Scott’s Gladiator II, said Paul Mescal was terrific and Denzel Washington extraordinary in it. He also saw the new Robert Zemeckis film Here, which stars and de-ages Tom Hanks and Robin Wright, also reuniting them from the 1994 Zemeckis film Forrest Gump. Both that one and Scott’s 2000 Gladiator took Best Picture and now it appears both veteran directors will be back in the race — big time. Scott still has yet to win an Oscar, having been overlooked four times in the director race.

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Tom Hanks and Robin Wright in Here movie
Tom Hanks and Robin Wright in ‘Here’

Paramount releases Gladiator II in November, the same month Sony is expected to launch Here. The two Academy voters were excited to finally have something Oscar worthy coming down the pike because so far this year the going has been very slow to say the least. A look at the lineup of official Academy screenings every weekend at its Samuel Goldwyn Theatre has been disheartening, with a lot of smaller movies members say they haven’t even heard of.

So here we are on the first of July. Believe it or not six months, fully half the year of eligible 2024 contenders, has gone by, and what do we have to show for it? Not much. This isn’t all that unusual: It is rare to have films that opened to the public in the first half of the year have much of an impact in the Oscar race. The common wisdom is the season really gets going with the emergence of fall and all those festivals like Venice, Telluride, Toronto that can be king-makers. The fact that 2022 winner Everything Everywhere All at Once was a March opening is an outlier, while this year’s Best Picture winner, Oppenheimer, was almost was with us in the first half of 2023 (it opened July 21, same day as another eventual Best Picture nominee, Barbie) — but you have to say these are exceptions. My colleague Michael Cieply even is suggesting earlier today that the Academy stipulate at least one of the Best Picture nominees be mandated to come from films released before August 1. That’ll never happen.

It is interesting to note that last year not a single nomination in any category went to any film that opened before May, and in fact the only May release that got a mention was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 for Visual Effects. Other than that from the first half of the year were June releases Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Elemental and Nimona (animated feature nominees); best song nominee “The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot; Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (for John Williams’ music score); and Past Lives, which was nominated for its screenplay and as the only Best Picture nominee released in the year’s first half. Nothing from the first half of the year would eventually become an Oscar winner.

'Dune: Part Two' box office
Timothée Chalamet, Austin Butler & Zendaya in ‘Dune: Part 2’

Now there are plenty of films I have already seen, whether at festivals like Sundance or Cannes or elsewhere, that I think will definitely be in the Oscar race. They haven’t been released yet, so in this survey we are only considering those films actually opened between January 1-June 30, 2024.

So what about 2024? Most pundits point to Dune: Part 2, which until Inside Out 2 had been the year’s box office leader and is following the 2021 first part which won six Oscars and was a Best Picture contender. At this point it appears to have the best chance of any film from the first six months of 2024 to land in the Best Picture race, especially if the lineup continues to be rather sparse. Some are now saying Inside Out 2 should also be considered for Best Picture, not just as Animated Feature. It is the first billion-dollar grosser since Barbie and the industry might want to reward it just for that. However, no animated film since Toy Story 3 in 2010 has received a Best Picture nomination, and before that only Up managed one in the era that the Animated Feature category has existed. Voters like to ghettoize animation, it seems.

George Miller’s Furiosa looked to be a contender before it opened. Critics and early audience reaction was strong, and this prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road looked like it was on course to have a shot at replicating its predecessor’s 10 Oscar nominations (with six wins in crafts categories like Dune). The weak box office reception, though, seems to have deflated those hopes, but I can tell you the film’s official Academy screening was gangbusters with an impressive 600 or so attending.

Other big titles like Godzilla x Kong, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and A Quiet Place: Day One aren’t likely to jump out beyond a couple of crafts nominations here and there. Animated entries like the successful Kung Fu Panda 4 and Netflix’s new The Imaginary (opening in the same streaming slot as the streamer’s last nominee, Nimona) could land a ‘toon nod along with Inside Out 2. Kevin Costner’s epic four-part Western Horizon is an anomaly, but can’t count on much for its Chapter 1 which is all we have seen so far. Chapter 2 coming in August will also be eligible, but so far other than Cinematography there doesn’t appear to be awards buzz coming out of the ambitious project, which hasn’t helped its cause at the box office thus far.

June Squibb in ‘Thelma’
June Squibb in ‘Thelma’

Acting-wise, Magnolia is likely to launch a campaign for 94-year-old June Squibb, who delights in Thelma, and a Comedy Golden Globe nomination could ignite her Oscar chances. I thought Marisa Abela was tremendous as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black, but the movie came and went. Similarly, Kingsley Ben-Adir could find recognition for playing another music icon, Bob Marley, in Bob Marley: One Love, which was a hit in February. I doubt the stars of The Bikeriders, particularly Jodie Comer who was very fine, will get much traction for that film that was originally scheduled to compete in last year’s awards season. Daisy Ridley was good in Young Woman and the Sea, but it hasn’t had a lot of attention that the performance deserves. I would hope A24 can drum up some momentum for Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her stirring dramatic turn in Tuesday, but the film hasn’t caught on in theatrical release. Jesse Plemons can hope to ride his Cannes Best Actor win to a campaign for Kinds of Kindness, but the film has drawn mixed response and needs to stay alive. It had a promising June opening to be sure.

Kinds of Kindness movie
‘Kinds of Kindness’

Bleecker Street’s One Life had a fine supporting turn by Anthony Hopkins and the film was well-liked by older audiences in particular. The same goes for their touching Ezra. Netflix could reasonably try to launch Regina King into the conversation as Shirley Chisolm in Shirley, or Glen Powell who was so good in June’s Hit Man — maybe a Golden Globe Comedy nomination there, which could also be the case for Oscar-friendly Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley in the very funny Wicked Little Letters, and for Anne Hathaway in Amazon’s The Idea of You. If cats can compete, the pair that play Frodo in A Quiet Place: Day One should get their acceptance speech ready.

‘Civil War’
‘Civil War’

Two movies from notable directors also might find some traction in a light year. Alex Garland’s controversial Civil War drew a crowd, but A24 will have to wage a significant campaign to light its fire for awards season. Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, another film that had a release delay due to the actors strike, was highly entertaining and gave star Zendaya a nice showcase, plus a nifty supporting role for Josh O’Connor. If there was a stunts category I would say The Fall Guy might have it in the bag, but alas there isn’t.

Challengers movie starring Zendaya
(L-R) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor in ‘Challengers’

If IFC Films can put some money behind Sundance breakout Ghostlight, there is a sensational lead actor performance by veteran Keith Kupferer that is just waiting to be discovered, the kind of role actors will really respond to if the distributor can get it seen by the right eyes. I also was very impressed by both Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson in their two-hander Daddio and would hope Sony Pictures Classics finds a way to keep their memorable cab ride alive way into Oscar season. Johnson did her best work in it.


Overall though, this nascent Oscar season is a wait-and-see affair. We will have to wait to see what shows up down the road in the year’s second half because what has been seen already is unlikely, for the most part, to be what we are talking about when Oscar nominations are announced January 17, 2025.

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