Oscars Contenders From First Half of 2024: Zendaya, Dune 2 and More

Oscar Contenders From First Half of 2024 (So Far), From ‘Dune: Part Two’ to Zendaya
Oscar Contenders From First Half of 2024 (So Far), From ‘Dune: Part Two’ to Zendaya

The buzz on potential Oscar contenders from the first half of 2024 seems quieter than usual. Nonetheless, stars such as Zendaya, Cannes winner Jesse Plemons and Hollywood’s new “hit man,” Glen Powell, will be among those hoping to stay afloat in the awards conversation until the end of the season.

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Significant financial successes from the top of the box office charts are worth celebrating. Warner Bros.’ sci-fi epic sequel, “Dune: Part Two,” could become the seventh movie nominated in all seven technical categories, following its 2022 predecessor. Pixar’s big comeback, “Inside Out 2,” might vie for more than just a spot in the best animated feature category.

This year also features several one-offs — films hoping for one or two mentions in a year likely to be dominated by legacy studios and streaming giants. As we approach this year’s midpoint, Variety is listing possible awards contenders in 20 of the 23 Oscar categories that could be in the running by the end of the year.

[Editor’s Note: To discuss the most significant number of movies, a film is only highlighted in one category.]

Amazon MGM’s “Challengers,” directed by Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino, boasts an impressive turn from Zendaya in a femme fatale role that could bring the 27-year-old her first Oscar nod. If it can sustain until the fall season, it might also contend for original screenplay or a best picture slot.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s anthology film “Kinds of Kindness” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s typical for the Greek filmmaker’s audacious outings (“The Favourite,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”). After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, the black comedy garnered a best actor trophy for Oscar nominee Jesse Plemons (“The Power of the Dog”). Depending on whether he campaigns for lead or supporting actor, Plemons could earn his second nod. However, anything outside of Plemons might be too tall of an order.

Netflix is also in the running with the animated adaptation of the Japanese superhero “Ultraman: Rising” and, more notably, Richard Linklater’s dark rom-com “Hit Man.” The streamer acquired the film at TIFF in 2023, resulting in another big win for star Glen Powell, who also co-wrote the script adapted from the Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth. Netflix will work to keep it on voters’ minds throughout the year, aiming for at least some Golden Globes traction.

Box office receipts fuel awards campaigns, which is why we might see efforts from studios with franchise movies such as DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 4,” 20th Century Studios’ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” and WB’s “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” among the top 10 domestic grossers so far.

However, money isn’t everything. Sony’s “The Garfield Movie,” featuring Chris Pratt as the world-famous Monday-hating cat, has accumulated an impressive $207 million globally. But that won’t be enough to overcome the film’s critical panning and mount an Oscar campaign.

What happens when a movie doesn’t get audiences in the door? Is the 81% Rotten Tomatoes score enough for Universal Pictures to push for recognition for David Leitch’s action-ode to stunt performers, “The Fall Guy”? Or perhaps a Golden Globes push in the comedy races for stars Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt? It’s worth it, especially for sound and editing, and with a stunt Oscar on the horizon.

The first official best picture rankings will be posted on Monday, July 1.

** Not all listed crew members are official. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its various committees ultimately decide on credits.

International Feature: ‘The Devil’s Bath’

International Feature: ‘The Devil’s Bath’
International Feature: ‘The Devil’s Bath’


While no official country selections have been made yet, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Austrian hopeful “The Devil’s Bath,” which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution, could be a strong contender for the International Feature prize.

Acquired by Shudder, the film follows Agnes in 18th-century Austria as she begins to have evil thoughts while preparing for marriage. As Jessica Kiang for Variety beautifully stated in her review: “If the story is so pitilessly bleak you may want to look away, the filmmaking craft is so compelling that you can’t.”

“The Devil’s Bath” marks another standout entry in what promises to be a stellar year for the horror genre.

Documentary Feature: ‘Frida’

Documentary Feature: ‘Frida’
Documentary Feature: ‘Frida’


Not to be confused with the 2002 drama “Frida” that earned Salma Hayek a Best Actress nomination, Carla Gutierrez’s animated documentary aims to follow in the footsteps of “Flee” (2021), which became the first movie to be nominated in the animated, documentary, and international Feature categories.

Premiering at Sundance, where it won the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award, this magical and engaging portrait of the iconic Mexican artist, told through diaries, letters, essays, and interviews, has the potential to be a multi-hyphenate contender in the awards race. It’s a gorgeous and compelling achievement.

Also in the discussion: “I Am: Céline Dion” (Amazon MGM); “Power” (Netflix)

Original Song: ‘Jeezu’ from ‘The Book of Clarence’

Original Song: ‘Jeezu’ from ‘The Book of Clarence’
Original Song: ‘Jeezu’ from ‘The Book of Clarence’


Writer-director Jeymes Samuel’s sophomore feature effort, following “The Harder They Fall,” showcases the talents of Doja Cat, Kodak Black, and Adekunle Gold with the foot-tapping song “Jeezu” in Sony Pictures’ “The Book of Clarence.”

It’s rare for such an audacious endeavor to have a January release. Modest reviews and tepid box office might impact its Oscar chances, but the contemporary music set against a biblical backdrop offers a unique twist.

Alongside a bold performance by Lakeith Stanfield, Samuel collaborates with prominent Black music artists to maintain the film’s integrity. Any of the tracks from the movie, such as “Hallelujah Heaven,” could be considered for awards. However, rap and hip-hop have often come up short at the Oscars, despite wins like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile” and Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow.”

Original Score: ‘Young Woman and the Sea’

Original Score: ‘Young Woman and the Sea’
Original Score: ‘Young Woman and the Sea’


Talented composer Amelia Warner has shown promise as a future Oscar-nominated musician, with notable works in “Mary Shelley” and “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” She delivers the best musical cues of her career in the crowd-pleasing sports drama “Young Woman and the Sea,” directed by Joachim Rønning and starring Daisy Ridley.

With a big name like Jerry Bruckheimer as a producer, Disney will ensure the film is part of its awards roster later in the year, positioning the music as a key element in its feel-good moments.

Also in the discussion: “Challengers” (Amazon MGM); “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Inside Out 2” (Pixar)

Visual Effects: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’

Visual Effects: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’
Visual Effects: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’


We’ve been here before with the “Planet of the Apes” franchise.

For over 50 years, the visuals have impressed audiences, bringing awe and wonder with its depiction of highly intelligent apes, especially with the 2011 reboot. Though the well-reviewed trilogy has been financially successful, the visual effects Oscar has remained elusive.

20th Century Studios, now under Disney, hopes to change that with well-received continuations that could finally earn the franchise its overdue recognition.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “The Fall Guy” (Universal Pictures); “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Warner Bros.)

Sound: ‘Stopmotion’

Sound: ‘Stopmotion’
Sound: ‘Stopmotion’


How the horror genre isn’t recognized continuously in the sound categories is beyond my comprehension. The mix of live-action and adult animation in “Stopmotion” (not meeting the 75% threshold to be considered in animated feature, unfortunately) boasts an eerie, often spine-tingling aural work that almost feels like it’s infiltrating your DNA.

While IFC/Shudder can do its best to get the Academy voters to recognize this story about an animator who struggles to control her demons, a concentrated effort on the artisans could be enough to get it minimally in the awards race.

Also in the discussion: “The Bikeriders” (Focus Features); “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Studios)

Makeup and Hairstyling: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’

Makeup and Hairstyling: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’
Makeup and Hairstyling: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’


Living in the shadow of a technical masterpiece like “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), which won six Oscars, is challenging. However, “Furiosa” rises to the occasion with its epic scope, featuring Anya Taylor-Joy stepping into Charlize Theron’s iconic role as the titular character. The transformative makeup on Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth’s unrecognizable portrayal of Warlord Dementus ensures the film will likely make the Oscar shortlist for makeup and hair design.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Kinds of Kindness” (Searchlight Pictures); “Young Woman and the Sea” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Film Editing: ‘We Grown Now’

Film Editing: ‘We Grown Now’
Film Editing: ‘We Grown Now’


I love “We Grown Now.” Writer-director Minhal Baig’s bold and beautiful story of two young boys who discover the joys and sorrows of growing up in a public housing complex in 1992 is a sensitive distant cousin to another Oscar-embraced fantasy-esque coming-of-age film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

It encompasses textured editing from Stephanie Filo, already recognized at last year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, giving the film its ultimate heartbeat. Sony Pictures Classics picked it up, and if enough voters discover it, it would be a fine and very worthy addition to the awards race.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “The Fall Guy” (Universal Pictures); “Thelma” (Magnolia Pictures);

Costume Design: ‘One Life’

Costume Design: ‘One Life’
Costume Design: ‘One Life’


Director James Hawes’s British biopic tells the poignant true story of humanitarian Nicholas Winton, portrayed exquisitely by Anthony Hopkins, who recalls his efforts to save groups of Jewish children before World War II.

Among the familiar genre of Holocaust-themed films, the memorable costumes of this drama stand out. Costume designer Joanna Eatwell, a two-time Emmy nominee for “Wolf Hall” and “Carnival Row,” brings her finest attention to detail, significantly contributing to the film’s artistry.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Warner Bros.); “Kinds of Kindness” (Searchlight Pictures)

Cinematography: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’

Cinematography: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’
Cinematography: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’


Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s surreal horror film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, showcases a visually compelling aura thanks to cinematographer Eric K. Yue. While the indie circuit is more likely to embrace elements from the genre (you can too, Academy), it’s remained on my mind with its powerful meditation on the trans experience, and an often hypnotic framework that shows beauty through terror.

Also in the discussion: “Civil War” (A24); “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “We Grown Now” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Production Design: ‘Civil War’

Production Design: ‘Civil War’
Production Design: ‘Civil War’


Alex Garland’s divisive but poignant look at a dark vision of the future in the U.S. gathers some strong contenders, notably star Kirsten Dunst’s remarkable turn. However, she faces an uphill battle with a competitive landscape ahead.

But that places the film’s technical merits, such as creating a dystopian America by production designer Caty Maxey, which centers on a frightening and believable nation filled with bombed-out buildings and abandoned cars. It acts as another central character.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Warner Bros.); “Wicked Little Letters” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Animated Feature: ‘Inside Out 2’

Animated Feature: ‘Inside Out 2’
Animated Feature: ‘Inside Out 2’


The box office success of Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” continues to dominate headlines and offer hope to a worried Hollywood industry. It positions Pixar as a strong contender in the animated feature category, a status it hasn’t held since its last win for “Soul” (with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto” winning in 2021). This potential comeback story could generate significant excitement in the race, and all Kelsey Mann’s film needs to do is maintain its current positive momentum. It should be easy-peasy.

Also in the discussion: “Frida” (Amazon MGM); “Kung Fu Panda 4” (DreamWorks Animation); “Ultraman: Rising” (Netflix)

Adapted Screenplay: ‘Hit Man’

Adapted Screenplay: ‘Hit Man’
Adapted Screenplay: ‘Hit Man’


It’s been a while since Richard Linklater was in the awards discussion. A three-time screenplay nominee for “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood,” his darkly comedic rom-com presents his most entertaining effort in years. Adapted from Skip Hollandsworth’s article and co-written by rising megastar Glen Powell, Netflix will be positioning the film for some awards attention after picking it up at last year’s Toronto festival.

Can the Writers’ Branch embrace something as quirky and comedically-leaning as this? The Golden Globes voters will likely find it enticing.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.); “Inside Out 2” (Pixar); “Young Woman and the Sea” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Original Screenplay: ‘Evil Does Not Exist’

Original Screenplay: ‘Evil Does Not Exist’
Original Screenplay: ‘Evil Does Not Exist’


“Evil Does Not Exist,” the follow-up feature to writer and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s best picture-nominated “Drive My Car,” is incredibly profound. It creates richly complicated characters within its eco-thriller setting.

The Japanese auteur is a master of ensuring none of his characters are one-note and trusts his audience to engage with the fable, regardless of background and geographic location. The winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the Janus Films acquisition has already played a part in the awards circuit last year, submitted for BAFTA consideration (where it was ignored). Perhaps they can mount a revival tour for the worthy drama.

Also in the discussion: “The Bikeriders” (Focus Features); “Challengers” (Amazon MGM); “We Grown Now” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Supporting Actress: Anjana Vasan

Supporting Actress: Anjana Vasan
Supporting Actress: Anjana Vasan


The opening night movie at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics’ romp is a delight thanks to the performances of Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley and breakout star Anjana Vasan.

This British period version of “Mean Girls” is anchored by Vasan’s subtle and well-constructed portrayal of Gladys, a police officer skeptical of the vulgar letters that are “terrorizing” one of the town’s citizens. Vasan lights up the screen, and while she may be a longshot for a nomination, her performance will hopefully lead to more opportunities in dynamic roles.

Also in the discussion: Helena Bonham Carter (“One Life”); Maya Hawke (“Inside Out 2”); Emma Stone (“Kinds of Kindness”)

Supporting Actor: Richard Roundtree

Supporting Actor: Richard Roundtree
Supporting Actor: Richard Roundtree


Magnolia’s small but mighty action flick “Thelma,” starring 94-year-old June Squibb and featuring Richard Roundtree in his final on-screen performance, has garnered a legion of die-hard fans. Roundtree, who died in October at 81, delivers a charming performance as Ben, a friend of the titular electric-scooter-riding grandma who embarks on an adventure to find her lost grandson.

Posthumous acting nominations are rare in the Oscar space. Only two have been recognized in the supporting actor category: Ralph Richardson for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984) and Heath Ledger, who won for “The Dark Knight” (2008). Both received acting mentions alongside technical nominations for their movies. “Thelma” may struggle in those spaces despite worthy consideration for editing, sound and original score.

Despite this rarity, Roundtree’s performance is worthy of consideration and could garner some mentions from critics’ awards.

Also in the discussion: Willem Dafoe (“Kinds of Kindness”); Tom Hardy (“The Bikeriders”); Josh O’Connor (“Challengers”)

Actress: Lily Gladstone

Actress: Lily Gladstone
Actress: Lily Gladstone


The afterglow of Oscar recognition for an actor coming after a win or near-win has benefited many actors. Consider back-to-back nominees such as Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”), Denzel Washington (“Fences” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man” and “The King’s Speech”).

Lily Gladstone, who made history as the first Native American nominated for Best Actress for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is back in the running for her role as Jax, a woman caring for her niece after her sister’s disappearance. Although the role is small, it will receive strong support from Apple, which has a manageable slate this year and can provide the drama with a focused campaign. Additionally, if Gladstone secures an Emmy nomination for her performance in Hulu’s miniseries “Under the Bridge,” it will keep her competitive in a category filled with worthy performers.

Also in the discussion: Kirsten Dunst (“Civil War”); Regina King (“Shirley”); June Squibb (“Thelma”); Zendaya (“Challengers”)

Actor: Jesse Plemons

Actor: Jesse Plemons
Actor: Jesse Plemons


Jesse Plemons is poised for a well-deserved acting nom run for his role in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark anthology “Kinds of Kindness.” The film features Plemons in three distinct vignettes: as Robert, a man controlled by his boss (Willem Dafoe); as Daniel, a policeman whose wife (Emma Stone) returns under strange circumstances after a research trip; and as Andrew, a devoted cult follower.

Plemons’ rise in Hollywood is the stuff of dreams for any aspiring artist. The Texas-born actor has built a remarkable career, starting with hit TV series like “Breaking Bad” and moving on to memorable film roles in “Game Night” (2018), “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020) and “The Power of the Dog” (2021), which earned him his first Oscar nomination for supporting actor, alongside his real-life partner Kirsten Dunst.

Plemons could be a strong contender in the acting race, depending on his categorization. His standout scene in Alex Garland’s post-apocalyptic “Civil War” will further bolster his chances. However, the film’s narrative structure might pose a challenge, as the Oscars are less inclined to embrace anthologies compared to the Emmys.

Also in the discussion: Kingsley Ben-Adir (“Bob Marley: One Love”); Anthony Hopkins (“One Life”); Glen Powell (“Hit Man”)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Director: Denis Villeneuve


Denis Villeneuve brings his talent to the “Dune” franchise again with the second installment. The first film in the series made history when it became the sixth movie to be nominated in all seven technical categories. It stands a strong chance of repeating this success. With a previous directing nomination for “Arrival,” Villeneuve’s vision in “Dune 2” is among his finest work yet.

In the history of the Oscars, only two trilogies — “The Godfather” and “The Lord of the Rings” — have had all their entries nominated for best picture. “Dune 2” aspires to join this elite group, with “Messiah” on the horizon, carrying the hopes of the science fiction genre and aiming to secure its place in cinematic history. However, as many may recall, in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” Peter Jackson was left out of the director lineup. Hopefully, Villeneuve won’t suffer the same fate.

Also in the discussion: Minhal Baig (“We Grown Now”); Luca Guadagnino (“Challengers”); Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Evil Does Not Exist”);

Best Picture: ‘Challengers’

Luca Guadagnino’s homoerotically charged love triangle drama, penned by Justin Kuritzkes, is hands down the sexiest movie of the year. The dynamic trio of Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor bring passion and ridiculous good looks to their multi-layered characters. And it could very well put the 27-year-old Zendaya in the running for her first acting nom.

Nonetheless, after social media was buzzing, the film was ultimately elevated by solid reviews, an illustrious score by Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and a well-earned and memorable ending. Whether Amazon MGM can revive its buzz after an early March release (delayed due to the Hollywood strikes last year) will be a significant test for the studio.

Also in the discussion: “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros); “Evil Does Not Exist” (Janus Films); “Inside Out 2” (Pixar)

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