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Oscars Party Crashers: How ‘The Color Purple,’ ‘The Iron Claw’ and ‘Napoleon’ Could Affect Awards Season

A late-release awards contender can move through Oscar season like a cat. It crouches low, waiting patiently for the right moment to pounce.

With the deployment of a skillful campaign, yet-unscreened films waiting in the wings — notably “The Color Purple,” “The Iron Claw” and “Napoleon” — might execute the perfect strike, catching established front-runners like “Oppenheimer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” by surprise.

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Throughout the expanded best picture era (post-2009), second- and third-quarter release dates have been the sweet spot for eventual Academy winners. Memorable examples are 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” (May) and last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (April). As October draws to a close, few of the contenders initially screened on the fall festival circuit have been critical flops. That means upcoming prospects hope to break into a race already stacked with two dozen worthy candidates.

ReadVariety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

The truth is, the last-minute Oscar juggernaut is rare these days, but strategists often cite one standout precedent: In early October 2004, Warner Bros. announced that Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” would come to theaters on Dec. 17. Awards watchers were skeptical, but the boxing drama famously knocked out front-runners “The Aviator” and “Sideways” for the best picture title.

This year, odds favor critical picks like “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” but the alchemical combination of buzz, praise and appeal could propel a few stragglers into the awards stratosphere.

Napoleon
Napoleon

At 85, four-time nominee Ridley Scott still lacks a statuette. His next attempt at conquest will be with “Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and co-distributed by Apple and Sony Pictures. The period epic depicts the French emperor’s origins and climb to power; those who’ve seen early cuts say it features “unbelievable action sequences.” While that’s an inarguable selling point, the legendary director’s recent outings haven’t exactly been lighting up the box office or Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, there was the best picture nom for “The Martian” (2015) and a supporting actor mention for the late Christopher Plummer for “All the Money in the World” (2017). But it’s hard to ignore the mixed-to-awful receptions for “House of Gucci” (2021), “Alien: Covenant” (2017) and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014). Still, with the respect of the industry on his side, Scott could outflank a field of contenders.

When the first tense trailer for A24’s sports biopic “The Iron Claw” dropped, it ignited talk of a late surger. Helmed by Sean Durkin and starring Zac Efron, the film was absent from the festivals, which had pundits speculating it wasn’t very good. On the contrary, according to two sources who viewed early cuts, the drama is “heartwrenching” and “far and away Sean Durkin’s best movie.” Despite shutouts for the indie director’s previous outings, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “The Nest,” it’s highly possible this American family story will be his Oscar turning point.

Warner Bros.’ “The Color Purple” is another cinematic outing on the bubble, with popular source material to get people interested. Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel and the Tony-winning musical, Blitz Bazawule’s fantastical take must make believers out of admirers of Steven Spielberg’s 1985 version, which landed 11 Oscar noms.

Remaking best picture darlings can be playing with fire in Oscar land. Look at the critical destructions of the reimaginings of “Rebecca” and “All the King’s Men.” Then again, embraces of the Coen brothers’ retelling of “True Grit” and last year’s German-language adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front” have shown an openness to new interpretations. Spielberg’s own redo of 1961’s “West Side Story” picked up seven nods and a win for Ariana DeBose. His name as a producer on this version of “Purple” will lend it some weighty cred with voters.

Do any of these party crashers have the goods to unseat “Barbenheimer” or the other long-running favorites in the race? The weeks ahead will tell us which of them underpromised and overdelivered.

Read the latest prediction updates below.


Current Oscars Tracking
(Oct. 27, 2023)

Best Picture
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“May December” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Origin” (Neon)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

Director
Greta Gerwig — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Jonathan Glazer — “The Zone of Interest” (A24)
Cord Jefferson — “American Fiction” (MGM)
Christopher Nolan — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Martin Scorsese — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper — “Maestro” (Netflix)
Leonardo DiCaprio — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Colman Domingo — “Rustin” (Netflix)
Cillian Murphy — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Jeffrey Wright — “American Fiction” (MGM)

Best Actress
Lily Gladstone — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Sandra Hüller — “Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)
Natalie Portman — “May December” (Netflix)
Margot Robbie — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Emma Stone — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Supporting Actor
Robert DeNiro — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Robert Downey Jr. — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Ryan Gosling — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Charles Melton — “May December” (Netflix)
Mark Ruffalo — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
America Ferrera — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Julianne Moore — “May December” (Netflix)
Rosamund Pike — “Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)
Da’Vine Joy Randolph — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)

Original Screenplay
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“May December” (Netflix)
“Past Lives” (A24)

Adapted Screenplay
“All of Us Strangers” (Searchlight Pictures)
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Animated Feature
“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids)
“Elemental” (Pixar)
“Nimona” (Netflix)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
“Trolls Band Together” (DreamWorks Animation)

Production Design
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Cinematography
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Napoleon” (Apple Original Films/Sony Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Costume Design
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Lionsgate)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Film Editing
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)

Makeup and Hairstyling
“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)
“The Iron Claw” (A24)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Sound
“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

Visual Effects
“Blue Beetle” (Warner Bros.)
“The Creator” (20th Century Studios)
“The Little Mermaid” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

Original Score
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Origin” (Neon)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

Original Song
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot” (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures)
“I Am” from “Origin” (Neon)
“Better Place” from “Trolls Band Together” (DreamWorks Animation)
“This Wish” from “Wish” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Documentary Feature
“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)
“American Symphony” (Netflix)
“Anselm” (Janus/Sideshow)
“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures)
“They Shot the Piano Player” (Sony Pictures Classics)

International Feature
“Perfect Days” from Japan (Neon)
“The Taste of Things” from France (IFC Films)
“The Teachers’ Lounge” from Germany (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Peasants” from Poland (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Zone of Interest” from U.K. (A24)

Animated Short
“Ashkaska” (Distributor TBA)
“Backflip” (The New York Times Op-Docs)
“Once Upon a Studio” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“Peter and the Wolf” (HBO)
“Way Better” (Distributor TBA)

Documentary Short
“The ABCs of Book Banning” (MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+)
“Between Earth and Sky” (POV Shorts)
“Camp Courage” (Netflix)
“Deciding Vote” (The New Yorker)
“The Last Repair Shop” (Searchlight Pictures)

Live Action Short
“The After” (Netflix)
“The Old Young Crow” (Distributor TBA)
“The Shepherd” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“Take Me Home” (Distributor TBD)
“Troy” (The New Yorker)

Oscars Predictions Categories

BEST PICTURE | DIRECTOR | BEST ACTOR | BEST ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT

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