Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Chasing the Gold: Barbenheimer

Two of the year’s biggest hits, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were finally released on July 21, and both films have received significant Oscar buzz in the days since. They are likely to do well at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, including in the top eight categories. Barbie has a good shot at getting into Best Adapted Screenplay for Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, along with Best Picture. Oppenheimer will probably perform even better, with nominations predicted for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director for Christopher Nolan as well as Best Picture.

But what about the acting categories? Does anyone in the Barbie cast have a chance at hearing their names called on Oscar nominations morning? And despite Heath Ledger being the only actor in a Christopher Nolan movie to ever manage an Oscar nomination (and win) for The Dark Knight, might some of the talent from Oppenheimer receive acting Oscar nods? Here are the five actors from the two movies who can do it…

1. Robert Downey Jr., Best Supporting Actor for Oppenheimer

The most surefire contender from the two films is Robert Downey, Jr., who gives one of the best performances of his career as Lewis Strauss, the government official who did not see eye-to-eye with Robert Oppenheimer. His character goes through a fascinating arc, cool and confident in his earlier scenes, and losing his patience to dramatic effect in the third act. A moment near the end when his character goes berserk in an angry rant is particularly memorable. The character allowed Downey Jr. to flex his acting chops in a way he hasn’t done in years, and with two Oscar nominations behind him—for Chaplin in 1993 and Tropic Thunder in 2009—look for Downey, Jr. to enter the Best Supporting Actor Oscar race as the presumed frontrunner in early 2024. 

2. Ryan Gosling, Best Supporting Actor for Barbie 

It is extremely difficult to make it into the acting categories at the Academy Awards for a comedic performance, but Gosling’s hilarious, high-spirited turn as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s film is too much of a delight to pass up. If his character was only allowed to act silly and idiotic, he wouldn’t necessarily be a contender, but Gerwig takes Ken into unexpected directions, including giving him a long segment of the movie to sing his heart out and build more complexity into the character. Gosling already having two Oscar nominations behind him doesn’t hurt either—for Half Nelson in 2007 and La La Land in 2017. With Barbie’s massive popularity, the Academy is going to want to reward at least one of the cast members with a nomination, and the same way Melissa McCarthy was deemed worthy of an Oscar nod for Bridesmaids in 2012, Gosling will make the final cut next year for Best Supporting Actor.  

3. Cillian Murphy, Best Actor for Oppenheimer

Murphy not making it in for his impressive lead performance in Oppenheimer would be one of the craziest snubs in recent years. Nolan’s epic rests on his shoulders, Murphy in almost every scene of the three-hour running time. He has never been nominated before, which could put doubt in people’s minds, but he’s never had a juicy role like Robert Oppenheimer to sink his teeth into and show what he’s made of as an actor. It’s not a colorful performance the way Ken is in Barbie, and Murphy isn’t given a ton of showy moments the way Robert Downey, Jr. is in Oppenheimer’s third act. However, Murphy is essentially the entire movie, and given Oppenheimer’s behemoth box office and massive critical acclaim, you can bet on a Best Actor nod for Cillian Murphy. 

4. Margot Robbie, Best Actress for Barbie

If Greta Gerwig’s warmly embraced film can get into Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, is it possible the star of the film gets left off the Best Actress list? Unlike Cillian Murphy, who is almost guaranteed a Best Actor nod for Oppenheimer, Robbie’s best shot at getting into Best Actress for Barbie comes down to how competitive the category will be next year. It’s difficult for comedic performances to get into the supporting acting categories, and it’s nearly impossible for them to make it into Lead Actor or Lead Actress. Her character goes to some moving and dramatic places in the second half, which should help Robbie’s chances, as will her two previous Oscar nominations for I, Tonya in 2018 and Bombshell in 2020. Whatever happens, Robbie is likely to get at least one Academy Award nod for Barbie—even if she doesn’t make it into Best Actress, a producing nod is likely for Best Picture.  

5. Emily Blunt, Best Supporting Actress for Oppenheimer

The immensely talented Emily Blunt has done great work in films like The Devil Wears Prada, Sicario, and A Quiet Place, and yet she still has never received an Oscar nomination. Will 2024 finally be the year Blunt receives some much overdue recognition from the Academy? Although she doesn’t have a big role in Oppenheimer as Robert’s wife Kitty, many of her scenes in the film’s first half being brief and with little dramatic power, she’s given a few excellent moments in the second half. Her back-and-forth with Murphy show frustration and longing, and her riveting interrogation room scene near the film’s conclusion might be enough for Blunt to find herself with her first Academy Award nomination.

The only other person I could see being a potential spoiler in the acting Oscar categories is America Ferrera in Barbie for Best Supporting Actress. Her one beautifully delivered monologue she delivers about the frustrations of being a woman could be her ticket to a surprise Oscar nomination if the category isn’t super competitive. Overall, look for both Barbie and Oppenheimer to show up on Oscar nominations morning in the acting categories. The race in Best Supporting Actor between Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Gosling is especially going to be a fun one!

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