2024 Oscars shaping up as a 'Barbenheimer' sequel

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A long time ago — relatively, in this short-attention-span age — and at multiplexes not so far away, the simultaneous theatrical release of “Barbie “ and “Oppenheimer” was pretty much all anyone could talk about. Admittedly, this was before Travis Kelce crafted a friendship bracelet for a certain someone, before we were well-versed on SAG-AFTRA interim agreements, before we were re-watching “Friends” through our tears.

And now, nearly half a year and three bags of bite-size Halloween candy later, we’re starting to talk about “Barbenheimer” again. This time, the focus isn’t on the propriety of quoting the Bhagavad Gita during sex or how “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig worked in references to “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Red Shoes” into what, on paper, could have been an extended toy commercial. The conversation has turned to the Oscars, a ceremony that’s shaping up as a sequel to that magical opening weekend.

How big a sequel? Let’s just say bigger than “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and go from there. Or simply note that the producers of the upcoming 96th Academy Awards are probably already working the phones to incorporate some celebrity Ken cameos into a “Barbie” dance number. (Judging from “Maestro,” Bradley Cooper should be game.)

Or we could just put on our thinking caps (fedoras, of course) and comb through the awards categories to chart what’s going to be an (equally?) incredible Oscars for both films.

“Barbie” sold more than $1.4 billion in tickets while winning over most critics, triggering fragile men and launching a thousand think pieces that sifted through the subversive ways Gerwig celebrated and critiqued its namesake toy. That’s enough to cement a nomination. But the “Barbie” team isn’t resting on its laurels, enlisting the likes of filmmakers Todd Field and Judd Apatow and playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner to lead Q&As at recent events. “I think it’s a masterpiece,” Kushner said.

“Oppenheimer,” meanwhile, grossed nearly a billion dollars, remarkable for a three-hour, R-rated drama about the “father of the atomic bomb.” Between the box office, the reviews and its ambitious examination of our history that isn’t as distant as we’d like to think, “Oppenheimer” possesses the pedigree of a best picture winner. It will be difficult to beat.

Nominations: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer”

Christopher Nolan has one nomination as a director (“Dunkirk”), two as a writer (“Memento” and “Inception”) and two as a producer (“Inception” and “Dunkirk”). He has never won an Oscar. That will likely change soon, as voters will have three different categories — director, writer, producer — this year to finally honor him.

Gerwig has never won an Oscar either, earning nominations for writing and directing “Lady Bird” and writing “Little Women.” She’ll probably be nominated again as both a writer and director with original screenplay (see below) offering her the best chance to prevail.

Nominations: Gerwig, Nolan

The only thing that could prevent Margot Robbie from being nominated would be voters failing to appreciate the degree of difficulty in what she pulls off in the film — the comic timing, the emotional depth she brings to the character, the precise body control required to play a plastic doll. It’s a star turn and absolute exquisite acting. It would be a crime if she’s overlooked.

Nominations: Robbie

Just as “Barbie” wouldn’t have succeeded as spectacularly without Robbie, “Oppenheimer” owes much of its power to Cillian Murphy’s terrific turn as the tortured title character. Murphy worked with Nolan on the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception” and “Dunkirk,” a fruitful partnership that will now net the actor his first nomination — and, possibly, the Oscar itself.

Nominations: Murphy

Both films have women delivering a great speech — Emily Blunt, playing Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, laying into the men investigating her husband and America Ferrera’s powerful monologue in “Barbie” in which she laments, “I’m just so tired of watching myself, and every single other woman, tie herself into knots so that people will like us.” Gerwig gives Ferrera a meatier role, whereas Blunt elevates the “long-suffering wife” into something memorable. Blunt’s lengthier film résumé gives her an edge.

Nominations: Blunt

Robert Downey Jr.’s wily, ranging turn as Adm. Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer’s antagonist, is essentially a second lead in the movie. You could also make a case for several of the film’s rad scientists (Benny Safdie is brilliant playing Hungarian-born physicist Edward Teller), but Downey’s presence casts a long shadow.

While I wouldn’t go so far to say that Ryan Gosling stole “Barbie,” his playful, perfect turn as Ken questioning the meaning of his existence was an absolute delight. Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”) and Robert De Niro (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) will offer Gosling and Downey strong competition, but the Oscar should go to one of these two.

Nominations: Downey, Gosling

Gerwig and partner Noah Baumbach’s joyous, inspired take on “Barbie” lands in original; Nolan’s painstaking reworking of “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” will compete in adapted. Both will be among the favorites to win.

Nominations: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer”

Hoyte van Hoytema has one measly Oscar nomination to show for 15 years of indelible images. His spectacular, immersive work “Oppenheimer,” what he calls a “three-hour-long movie about faces,” will earn him another and quite possibly the trophy. “Barbie” cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto also shot Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Voters could (and should) opt for both the beautifully backlit world of Barbieland and the brooding, burnished textures of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” But that might be a reach.

Nominations: “Oppenheimer”

“Oppenheimer” built Los Alamos; “Barbie” created a Dreamhouse.

Nominations: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer”

Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for her last collaboration with Gerwig, “Little Women.” She’s the favorite again for all those fashion packs and accessories she created for “Barbie.” Ellen Mirojnick has a shot for “Oppenheimer” (Those hats! Those power suits!) — but she’s going to have to compete with the headwear in “Wonka,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and the bicorn that Napoleon dude dons.

Nominations: “Barbie”

Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt had never scored a movie before “Barbie,” but you’d never know that from the way their music supports the emotional undertow of the film. Composer Ludwig Göransson, by contrast, already has an Oscar for “Black Panther” and could well win another for the beautiful melodies and disturbing energy he brought to his “Oppenheimer” score.

Nominations: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer”

“Barbie” is submitting three songs, the maximum allowed — Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night,” Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For” and the Ryan Gosling-sung power ballad “I’m Just Ken” — and, per academy rules, at best, two can be nominated.

Nominations: “Barbie,” two (prayers for “I’m Just Ken”)

If, as Van Hoytema says, “Oppenheimer” is a three-hour movie about faces, it’s also a three-hour movie mostly of people talking in rooms. But it goes by quickly! (Your mileage may vary.) That’s superb editing. “Barbie” has its share of transitions — through worlds, tones, textures. It should be nominated, but so should have Nick Houy’s marvelous work on “Lady Bird,” and the academy ignored it.

Nominations: “Oppenheimer”

Between Barbie’s wigs, Ken’s spray tan and Weird Barbie’s Sharpie-fied makeup, “Barbie” should make the cut. And if “Oppenheimer” scores enough points for making Downey almost unrecognizable, it could too.

Nominations: “Barbie”

“Oppenheimer” boasts a small number of visual effects shots, all shot in camera. “Barbie” employed around 1,300 VFX shots, including, of course, that opening “2001: A Space Odyssey” hommage.

Nominations: “Oppenheimer”

“Barbie” has a song in its heart (musicals always do well here), whereas “Oppenheimer” lowers the boom.

Nominations: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer”

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