top of page

We’ve Got Your Oscars Pre-Game Right Here

Updated: Mar 25


Ahead of Sunday evening’s Academy Awards ceremony, we rounded up an esteemed cast of creators, journalists, and executives to get real about this year’s Oscar hopefuls.

UpRising: In your opinion, what makes for an award-worthy performance?

Nekesa Mumbi Moody (Co-Editor-in-Chief, The Hollywood Reporter): A great performance stays with you. You can't stop talking about it. It's something that makes you recommend that movie. The performance really lifts the movie. It captivates you. You’re spellbound by it.

Trey Mangum (Managing Editor, Shadow & Act/Blavity): That one monologue or bit of dialogue where it just stands out. I think that’s what led America Ferrera to her [Best Supporting Actress] nomination [for Barbie]. Of course Ryan Gosling got nominated [for Best Supporting Actor] and Margot Robbie didn’t [get nominated for Best Actress]. Barbie was a cultural moment, but what you're going to remember is when Ken became radicalized and went back to Barbie World. Margot had a great performance—but what's her moment? America's monologue is indicative of those standout moments.

What are some other scenes or sequences from this past year that have stuck with you since you saw it?

Aristotle Torres (Director/Co-Writer, Story Ave): Off top, the beginning of Killers of the Flower Moon, where [Martin] Scorsese goes into the slow-motion frame rate of when the Osage Tribe discovers oil. I thought that was a really beautiful and effective character introduction and worldbuilding. There's an overhead shot of them all in a circle; those frames and sequences really establish the tone. And it does a lot of heavy lifting for the viewers, because they understand the pacing going into the film. It said so much without any dialogue.

One thing I really loved about Poor Things is when they go to an eight-millimeter or 16-millimeter fisheye sequence. That choice of shot represents adolescence. Every time we cut to that perspective, it's to remind the audience of Emma [Stone]'s character's innocence. After her surgery, she’s playing the piano—smashing the keys with her feet—and we see this sequence through this fisheye angle. I thought that was really smart. 

James Lopez (President, MACRO Film Studios): In Past Lives, when our lead female character says goodbye to her childhood love on the street, she walks back towards her brownstone where her husband is waiting for her, and she just collapses in his arms and cries. It made me wonder what all those characters are feeling in that moment and what Celine [Song] intended when she wrote it. Is she crying because she settled [and] didn't go with her heart? The sadness and sense of loss made me wonder, how's that couple going to move forward? How did he feel about that? You're hugging your wife, who's crying over this guy. There's a lot of complicated emotions in that scene.

What was your favorite performance to watch from any of the Oscar nominees?

Moody: Danielle Brooks was amazing [in The Color Purple] because she took a role that was so iconic and made it her own, which is incredibly difficult. The scene in the jail, [she] just took it in a different way. She was great. Paul Giamatti’s role in The Holdovers was heartbreaking in many ways, but he played that character so well. It just shows his range and depth. I love Lily Gladstone, her performance [in Killers of the Flower Moon] blew me away. 

Mangum: Definitely Sterling K. Brown, from American Fiction. As soon as that movie premiered, it immediately dove into the conversation—and kept going, against many formidable opponents. When we think about films with a Black-led cast, I don't think during the fall we would've said American Fiction would've been that movie. If there were a Best Supporting Actress [nominee] from that film, it would've been Erika Alexander. But Sterling K. Brown and Colman Domingo are having those moments where the timing was right for them to receive nominations. One performance I would've liked to see recognized [for Best Lead Actress] is Teyana Taylor from A Thousand and One.

Moody: What I loved about Nyad is that Annette Bening’s character is actually kind of annoying [laughs], but it's something you can't look away from. Da'Vine [Joy Randolph] made you emotional watching her in The Holdovers. Dominic Sessa—he's not nominated—but he's so great that my annoyance with the character just carried over. It was just like, “Oh my God, that kid was so annoying!” But it shows how great he was. Cillian Murphy and Leonardo DiCaprio in Flowers of the Killer MoonJeffrey Wright—his performance kind of just sat with you. To me, it was understated, but brilliant. Sterling K. Brown—it was just such a different take for him, but hilarious and also touching and poignant. Colman Domingo in Rustin blew me away.

Let’s talk about the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees. Which one captivated you the most this year?

Lopez: One that comes to mind immediately is American Fiction—just brilliant writing by Cord Jefferson. Funny, poignant, and very personal to me. As a person of color working in entertainment, what he was portraying is something we've all dealt with as executives, as producers, writers, directors, in terms of others' perceptions of the Black experience. What is Black enough? What isn't Black enough? There's no such thing. It's by virtue of being who we are. To see that depicted on screen reminded me of so many different meetings I've been in [in] the past, whether in the film business or in my previous life, when I was in the music business. Having conversations and dealing with people who are not of the community commenting on what they feel is Black—and their reactions to the various degrees of what they feel Blackness is—was captured perfectly in Cord's script.

Mangum: I saw it back at Toronto [International Film Festival] and it was a weird experience watching it with a crowd of mostly white people. Some of the jokes I was like, I understand why I would laugh, but I don’t understand why y'all laughing [laughs].

Lopez: They're all great films with different writing styles and execution. Greta [Gerwig] made me care about Barbie. Being a Black male in my ’50s, I went into it very skeptical. The subversiveness in the writing and the messages around gender and self-affirmations were absolutely amazing and totally unexpected. She did a brilliant job.

I enjoyed Oppenheimer and Poor ThingsZone of Interest is interesting in that it's very sparsely written in terms of dialogue, which is not easy to pull off. To infuse the tension within the script and utilize the audience's imagination and knowledge of what happened during the Holocaust without showing it, I'm sure that was not easy to write. You have to be overly descriptive because a lot of the atrocities are not playing out on camera. That was impressive. But I hope Cord’s writing gets recognized this Sunday. For Best Original Screenplay, Past Lives was my favorite.

Are there any trends that stand out with this year’s Oscar nominees? 

Mangum: We're seeing actors that may not necessarily have been nominated previously, but they're the front-runners. Cillian Murphy, America Ferrera, Colman Domingo. This is [Paul Giamatti’s] time because he’s been in it so long and he’s remained the front-runner throughout most of the award season. The same goes for Da'Vine Joy Randolph for The Holdovers. There seems to be a lot of goodwill towards people who may not have garnered major awards attention before.

Moody: You have two hugely successful box office films; we don't necessarily always have that. We had that with Top Gun [in 2022], but this is a continuation of that. There will likely be more people watching the Oscars because of these box office successes.

Torres: The beautiful thing about this year in particular is the Best Picture nominees, for the most part, were very personal works. Poor Things is Emma Stone's portrayal of what it is to be a woman—her and [director] Yorgos [Lanthimos] do it through this magical surrealism—but the heart of that film is the realities of being a woman and navigating a male-dominant world, similar to Barbie. The most impactful films challenge the viewer and the world around them. For myself, as a man, when I watch films like Past LivesPoor ThingsBarbie, and Killers of the Flower, I'm learning about what it is to be a woman—which makes me a better man and a better artist. I'm proud to be part of this industry, that these films are challenging people—and also generating money.

Sometimes it can be good and bad. Coming off the success of Barbie, some studio heads were like, “We need more movies about toys!” I understand that thinking and that algorithm. But what we really need is more stories told by women.

Watch the 96th Academy Awards this Sunday at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific on ABC. If you're on the go you can livestream the show. 


The UpRising newsletter is a mixtape for your mind filled with information that's intellectual and irreverent—no skips. Whether it's film, music, art, food or the culture full stop, UpRising will serve as the starting point to your deep dives.


Commenting has been turned off.
Subsribe (newsletter)
bottom of page