2024 Oscars Best Picture Nominees Ranked

5. Poor Things

Poor Things Review

Typically expressionistic and aesthetically as deep into the arthouse as any of 2024’s Best Picture nominees, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things is a timely dissection of sexualisation and gender politics that is awash with creativity and detail; a unique filmmaking achievement.

The Greek filmmaker’s first feature directorial project since his equally as interesting and at times peculiar 2019 Best Picture nominee The Favourite, Poor Things tells of Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter, a kind of Frankenstein’s monster with the brain of a child coming to understand the objectifying nature of the real world, as well as the inherent contradictions that come with the sexist ideologies that underpin it. She is sexualised but cannot be seen to be sexual, she is spoken about as a gift but cannot seen to be confident, and most of all she is at the behest of men but is always seeking to be her own.

There are clear thematic similarities between Poor Things and fellow 2024 Best Picture nominee Barbie, only Poor Things tends to skew older and appeals more to those who might favour a European filmmaking style – both are comedies, but Poor Things’ more explicit thematic undertaking ensures a more visceral experience. Emma Stone stands out in a stellar ensemble as the lead through whom we experience the entire narrative, her performance big, loud and physical but also nuanced and detailed when the moment calls, and Mark Ruffalo’s performance is about as funny as any put to screen in 2023. Each high quality portrayal is representative of Lanthimos’ talents as a director of actors, just as was the case with The Favourite, but this is a film that will be remembered for how it looks above all else.

Year-topping costume work from Holly Waddington (Lady Macbeth) is combined with some of the most expressionistic set design in recent mainstream filmmaking to create a visual palette that is more akin to the filmmaking of Europe’s silent era than many of today’s studio films. These elements, when combined with the fish eye lenses of cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s lens, ensure a visually eccentric film; one that looks like nothing else nominated at the Oscars in 2024.

An untidy final act and some fairly basic characterisation do somewhat undermine the ingenuity on offer elsewhere, thus placing Poor Things just outside of the frontrunners in this list, but make no mistake that this is another special feature from one of the world’s most remarkable filmmakers, a film that is so many parts genius it will no doubt become beloved by many.

4. The Holdovers

The Holdovers Review

The Holdovers is 2024’s quiet classic, the more accomplished American Fiction, a moving and detailed and very unique presentation from one of the United States’ most unique filmmakers, Election and Sideways screenwriter-director Alexander Payne.

Telling of a private school history teacher played by Paul Giamatti in one of the most outstanding performances of the year and one of the actor’s best-ever presentations, and his unwilling relationship to a student he is charged with caring for over the Christmas break (played by Dominic Sessa in one of the great screen debuts of the 21st century), The Holdovers is off-kilter funny, emotionally resonant, and has dialogue that comes faster than a train. It is an authorial vision of heartwarming humanity that proves that even the most ugly of personalities might have a beating heart of warmth somewhere deep inside.

Alexander Payne has long been acknowledged as a master of character, dialogue, and finding tension in the mundane everyday. The Holdovers is so well-made that it has quickly become one of his career’s leading examples of this, enhancing his reputation for making the kinds of atmospheric, every-word-has-meaning cinema that is more often associated with the films of Europe but in Payne’s case is no-less American. There are cold and foggy landscapes, grand but largely empty interiors, and messages of warmth, acceptance and love that ensure a piece without any major action or comedy set pieces, or Hollywoodised story beats, is still able to resonate as powerfully and beautifully as the year’s best.

The Holdovers is by no means forcing the form of film forward like the entries to come on this list, nor is it truly attempting to contextually evaluate cinema or culture to the depths that many of its fellow nominees are, but as a piece of art that can act as a force for empathy, this film is a powerful watch.

Recommended for you: Alexander Payne Films Ranked

3. Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Review

Christopher Nolan is arguably the most famous and powerful filmmaker of the current generation, his films always earning big budgets and big audiences, and therefore all the scrutiny that comes with them, no matter the genre. For Oppenheimer, he adapted a literary work based on a true story and still earned almost $1billion at the global box office, his half of the Barbenheimer equation being a ginormous reason for audiences to visit the cinema even against the common industry rhetoric that true-to-life, complicated, serious stories don’t sell. Especially ones with such dour outlooks.

Oppenheimer is an all-star ensemble piece centred on the father of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by the outstanding frontrunner for the Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, Cillian Murphy. It tells of Oppenheimer’s adult life, from his time in college to the evaluations of his scientific research, focusing almost entirely on his experience developing the first atom bomb for the United States government and the ways in which doing so came into conflict with his own existential philosophies. Supported by some of the year’s finest performances, including some of the best-performed brief appearances of the decade by the likes of David Krumholtz, Murphy is a powerhouse unto himself, but Christopher Nolan certainly knows how to present him.

Shot in IMAX film stock by regular collaborator (and 2024 Oscars nominee) Hoyte van Hoytema, Oppenheimer is a film that grows conceptually and therefore visually as the story grows in size and each action grows in consequences. The photography van Hoytema offers enriches so many of the darker scenes of the first act, and offers an almost classic Sirkian palette to the domesticity of parties, relationships and affairs presented early on, whilst the film later embraces practical effects over CGI to ensure that you’re not taken out of the story in its most important moments. Beyond this technical excellence, Nolan expands upon his own authorial traits, embracing a more expressionistic style that has the thoughts of the characters manifesting visually in a manner similar to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (notably Florence Pugh appearing in the centre of frame mid-interrogation), and even implementing first-of-its-kind black and white IMAX photography to highlight a simultaneous narrative occurring beside the actions of the central narrative, one focused more on our current perceptions of the man as opposed to the actions that led to Hiroshima. It’s a well-considered step away from formula for a filmmaker whose style has never failed to feel fresh, and one that encourages a deeper understanding of the form, ensuring that Oppenheimer is not just unique and purposeful on the screen but is contextually meaningful too.

You’re not going to feel like the world is at your fingertips and everything is going to be okay once you finish Oppenheimer, but you are going to appreciate just how outstanding the filmmaking is. There are at least three Best Picture nominees that share Best of the 2020s status in 2024, and on every level Oppenheimer is one.

Recommended for you: Christopher Nolan Films Ranked

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