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December Oscar Frontrunners: What’s Ahead for Best Picture

It’s only the start of December, but prizes have already been handed out by groups like the Gotham Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle, with many more to follow. Nothing is an exact predictor for the Oscars, but they’re still informative precursors for the eventual nominees, check out our “December Oscar Frontrunners.”

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Read below for the films that, at this point, are the best bets to populate the ten films cited for Best Picture.

Killer of the Flower moon
Courtesy Apple Original Films

Killers of the Flower Moon has been off to a great start, picking up two prizes at the Gothams and winning Best Film and Best Actress at NYFCC. Martin Scorsese is no stranger to Oscar love, helming nine past Best Picture nominees and winning Best Director in 2006 for The Departed. While his previous film, The Irishman, scored zero wins out of ten Oscar nominations, voters still love him and are sure to fete his latest project. Pairing his two longtime muses, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, with the exceptionally talented Lily Gladstone is a recipe for success that will definitely amount to plenty of Oscar fanfare.

Oppenheimer
Courtesy Universal Pictures

The double-feature that revitalized moviegoing, Barbie and Oppenheimer, is also sure to find ample representation in above-the-line and technical categories. Greta Gerwig is one of just seven women to be nominated for Best Director and she’s been responsible for two Best Picture nominees, Lady Bird and Little Women. Her live-action celebration of one of the world’s most popular toys will definitely land in a big way. And then there’s the three-hour portrait of one of the most influential scientists of the last century.

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Somehow, Christopher Nolan only has one Oscar nomination for directing, but he’s made two Best Picture nominees, Inception and Dunkirk, and he’s going to be back for another outing that, as of this writing, feels likely to win him that elusive prize.

The Holdovers, Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti
Courtesy Focus Features

Some filmmakers don’t make movies all that often, but when they do, they earn acclaim. Alexander Payne reunites with his Sideways star Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers, a winter-set period piece about the uncomfortable relationship between an entitled boarding school teacher and his miserable pupil. In addition to Sideways, Payne has also helmed Best Picture nominees The Descendants and Nebraska, and his newest effort feels like exactly the kind of fare that will bring him back to the Oscar table, especially after his questionably-received (but underrated) previous film Downsizing.

Maestro
Courtesy Netflix

Actors-turned-directors sometimes have an easy shot straight to the top, winning Oscars on their first try. Others make beloved films but just miss out on a Best Director bid, like Bradley Cooper did with A Star is Born five years ago. His second feature, Maestro, seems likelier to do even better as he pours himself fully into his performance as accomplished composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. The fact that Netflix is giving it a strong push also helps, and Maestro is set to enthrall a large audience of enthusiastic Oscar voters.

Poor Things
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

He’s newer to the Oscar game, but Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos commands respect and manages to do something refreshingly new with each new project while still maintaining his signature strangeness. Following Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film in 2010 for Dogtooth and for Best Original Screenplay in 2016 for The Lobster, Lanthimos directed his first Best Picture, The Favourite, in 2018. His newest feature, Poor Things, is even weirder than anything he’s done before, but he still seems primed for Oscar attention based on its mesmerizing visuals and dazzling performances.

The Color Purple
DANIELLE BROOKS as Sophia in Warner Bros. Pictures’ bold new take on a classic, “THE COLOR PURPLE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Eli Ade´ Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Remakes don’t always land in the way they should, but initial reactions to The Color Purple have been extremely warm. The original film directed by Steven Spielberg scored eleven Oscar nominations back in 1985, and though it didn’t win any, there’s plenty of excitement around this musical version that maintains some of the Broadway cast. Musicals don’t always delight Oscar voters, but another recent Spielberg-related remake, West Side Story, did just fine two years ago.

Past Lives
Courtesy A24

While the Sundance Film Festival has only produced one Best Picture winner, 2021’s CODA, it has led to numerous nominations over the years. That’s expected to continue this time with Celine Song’s astounding feature debut, Past Lives, a tender story of a decades-long international romance complicated by the couple’s circumstances. It’s a much smaller film than most of the other contenders, but it has the backing of A24, which did extremely well last year and can probably get enough attention on it to break through to the big leagues. Its Gotham win for Best Feature is a great start.

American Fiction
Erika Alexander stars as Coraline and Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison in writer/director Cord Jefferson’s AMERICAN FICTION. An Orion Pictures Release. Photo credit: Claire Folger © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

There’s another debut director in the mix whose film land with a big splash at a festival: Cord Jefferson, whose American Fiction premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. His sharp satire is arguably the lightest film that has a serious shot at a mention for Best Picture, featuring a great script and strong cast led by Jeffrey Wright. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s quite clever and feels like a safe addition to this lineup.

Anatomy of a Fall
Courtesy of NEON

Four out of the past five years have produced a foreign-language film also nominated for Best Picture. This year, that honor may go to a film that, unlike all those others, isn’t its country’s official submission for Best International Feature.

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While France opted to go with the Juliette Binoche-led The Taste of Things, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall has earned near-universal acclaim and might be able to utilize its ineligibility for the prize many think it should have earned to score a spot in the top category instead.

Follow along over the next few weeks for more awards season coverage here at CinemaDailyUS.com!

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzerhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.

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