What 2024’s Oscar-nominated films taught us about Hollywood


After a few very tough years throughout the pandemic and the rise of streaming services, the past 12 months have actually looked pretty bright for Hollywood. And now, it’s that time of year again. With nominations announced and locked in, the 2024 Oscars are upon us. The Oscars have always been the pinnacle of awards in Hollywood and as such, they tend to reveal a thing or two about the industry. So, what can we learn from 2023’s memorable batch of Oscar-nominated films? 

Cinema ain’t dead

There’s no doubt that the cinema industry has been through utter turmoil in recent years. The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, which kept cinemas closed nationwide for years and halted productions, alongside the continued rise of various streaming rivals (which were, of course, buoyed by the stay-at-home nature of lockdown), has meant that the industry was hanging on by a thread. 

Then comes along a special, culturally significant moment – Barbenheimer. This meme that grew legs and snowballed uncontrollably ensured that the two films Barbie and Oppenheimer grossed over $2 billion worldwide. To have this many people visiting cinemas and paying for tickets again was a huge moment for Hollywood. It’s clear that when the films are good and they’re marketed right, cinema ain’t dead. There is still hope for the industry. 

Long runtimes, don’t mind!

In the hyper-competitive, over-saturated world of unlimited content on social media, there’s often the notion that audience attention spans are getting worse. While there may be truth and science in that, Hollywood hasn’t been afraid to go big with their runtimes and clearly, this hasn’t been a detriment to the success of the films.  

Six of the ten nominations for best picture run over the 2-hour mark, with Oppenheimer touching 3 and Killers of the Flower Moon running for a colossal 3 hours and 26 minutes:

It appears that audiences aren’t particularly dissuaded by longer runtimes and increasingly, directors and editors aren’t shy of them either. If a story needs three hours to be told, then so be it.

Film is alive and well

You’d be forgiven for thinking shooting Hollywood blockbusters on analog film was a thing of the past. While digital does remain the overall format of choice, more and more filmmakers are reverting back to film. This has been well reflected in this year’s Oscar nominations for best cinematography. Four out of the five nominees (Oppenheimer, Maestro, Poor Things, Killers of the Flower Moon) were shot on Kodak film. 

This is the first time this has been the case since 2010, marking the revival of the medium. Some filmmakers feel so strongly about this they’ve gone as far as creating brand-new film stocks, as was the case for Oppenheimer. “Film, I think, is uniquely suited to pulling an audience into a subjective experience…the way a film camera records light onto its emulsions – that’s as close as you can get to the way the eye sees,” gushes director Christopher Nolan to Kodak.

Going forward, expect to see more and more cinematographers opting to shoot film rather than digital. 

A masterclass in cinematography

To be nominated at the Oscars for best cinematography, you have to do something pretty special. With Oppenheimer, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema really did pull out all the stops. As mentioned above, he shot the film using 65mm KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 for exteriors and brighter day interiors and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for low-light and night scenes. 

But in order to support the different storylines, they also shot in EASTMAN DOUBLE-X Black & White Negative Film 5222 – a film stock created explicitly for this film. The nominated DP tells Kodak “that filmstock was unfamiliar to everyone, had never been run through IMAX or System 65 cameras, and required the reconfiguration of a 65mm film processor at the lab…It became quite a complex engineering process – encompassing things like the thickness of the backing for the film emulsion and making new gates and pressure plates in the cameras so as to avoid scratches.”

As if the careful handling and creation of film stocks from scratch wasn’t enough, Van Hoytema was also juggling a complex lens equation. Having established that 50mm and 80mm are the sweet spots when shooting in IMAX, but not wanting to be stood so far away from actors and needing to shoot in low-light situations, the cinematographer had a problem. These kinds of lenses don’t really exist.

He turned to Panasonic’s “lens guru,” Dan Sasaki, for help. “He tweaked existing lenses or re-engineered others from the ground up…he even built a special, waterproof snorkel lens for use with the IMAX cameras that didn’t exist before”. A range of different lenses from Hasselblad and Panavision were eventually used on the IMAX MKIV, IMAX MSM 9802 and Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio cameras.

Hoyte Van Hoytema’s dedication to his craft is exceptional. Rather than simply accepting the answer “no,” he found ways to engineer brand-new film stocks and lenses to suit his specific needs. It’s a worthy winner if we’ve ever seen one. 

Game changers

The VFX category is a really exciting one this year because it contains game-changers that potentially alter how Hollywood does things. Great VFX doesn’t necessarily mean huge budgets. Who knew?

The Creator, directed by Gareth Edwards, is the shining beacon for run-and-gun filmmakers. Looking at the stunning nature of the VFX in this beautifully crafted sci-fi world, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the budget for this thing was eye-wateringly large. Astonishingly, the film cost just $80m to make.

Typically, with VFX on this scale, you’d need to build it all from scratch. Green screens and studios would be the order of the day, costing a lot of money in the process. Gareth Edwards and the team went about things differently, opting to first shoot everything in real-world locations, edit the footage into the story they wanted, and then send it to ILM (Industrial Light & Magic). ILM was then tasked with effectively “painting over” the frames, adding in sci-fi aspects afterward. The fact that they could integrate the CGI so seamlessly is phenomenal work and saved a lot of money in the process.

The Japanese film industry has made similar inroads. Godzilla: Minus One rightly received a nomination for best VFX, too. The stats speak for themselves: just 35 VFX artists, 610 shots, 8 months and a total film budget of just $15m. It’s hard to call who ends up winning this category, but it’s an exciting landmark moment for the VFX industry.

Less can be more

Though often overlooked, sound is absolutely critical to the success and quality of a film. James Mather (already an Oscar winner for his sound supervising work on the excellent Top Gun: Maverick) has earned another nomination for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. What caught our ear here was that, in many cases, Mather found that less sound can actually be more impactful.

Speaking with A Sound Effect, Mather admits that nowadays, the audio for most films has every little detail filled in, but for this production, he and Tom Cruise decided to go in a different direction… “it’s a distraction if there’s so much sound in a piece, whether it’s percussion in the music or footsteps in the sound design. If there’s no need for it, then don’t have it.”

How far to take this theory was up to the talents of the sound designer, who revealed that, more often than not, “we started with an awful lot more sound, which we then peeled away until we were in a place where we recognized what was happening.”

Masterfully, Mather and his team also used sound design as a way of aiding the story. “They wanted to highlight the fact that the train was out of control. They wanted these big bangs and jolts to remind the audience that they were on a runaway train. Earlier on, when you are with The White Widow, it’s very quiet. They wanted the train to sound very luxurious and smooth. So there’s quite a lot of work in the train sounds to subliminally remind the audience of where we are in the arc of the storyline for that section.”

Black and white as a storytelling tool

The category for best editing is a tough one to call this year, but one thing stands out in two of the nominations. 

In Oppenheimer, first-time nominee Jennifer Lame masterfully balances interlocking subjective points of view from both Oppenheimer himself and antagonist Admiral Lewis Strauss. Despite the film effectively having a lot of people talking in rooms, the tension and pacing are handled beautifully by Lame, who reaps the benefits of using black and white to cover and differentiate Strauss’ storyline.

Similarly, in Poor Things, editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis manages the sudden shifts in style and tone by using black and white, then various shades of color that mark out and define Bella’s journey. Color isn’t the be-all and end-all of editing, but it certainly makes its presence known in this year’s category.

Poor Things’ Image © Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things’ Image © Searchlight Pictures

Interestingly, Maestro (nominated for categories including best picture and best cinematography) also adopted the use of black and white to showcase the different time periods and storylines, as well as going even further in switching up aspect ratios. It did not get the nomination for best editing, which may reflect the feedback from some audience members that the aspect ratio change was actually quite jarring.

Subtitles? No problem

This was a big year for non-English-speaking films. Through previous nominations, we’ve seen the likes of Roma, Parasite, Minari, Triangle of Sadness and All Quiet on the Western Front all win big (and rightly so). In 2024, for the first time, there’s more than one movie nominated for best picture that is primarily not spoken in English (Anatomy of a Fall, Past Lives, The Zone of Interest).

While many movie-goers may have turned their nose up at foreign language films and the idea of having to read subtitles not so long ago, that trend appears to be less and less existent. Nowadays, perhaps in part thanks to global streaming services such as Netflix, it seems that audiences are much more willing to watch a film from any part of the world, and they don’t mind at all if it isn’t spoken in their native language. 

This appetite for non-English speaking films has ensured a fairer distribution of budget, consequently unearthing plenty of gems that may have yet to see the light of day ten or twenty years ago. Long may it continue.

All hail the king

You have to appreciate greatness while you have it. At 81, Martin Scorsese has made history by becoming the oldest nominee for best director. He’s now overtaken fellow legendary director Steven Spielberg as the most Oscar-nominated director with 10 nominations overall. 

Like a fine bottle of wine that gets better with age, Marty appears to be at the height of his powers. Killers of the Flower Moon is being hailed by some as his best picture to date, and he certainly considers this his most important thus far. To undertake such large, influential and important projects at his age is phenomenal and worthy of the highest praise. We can only hope he has a few more left in him.

Martin Scorsese

A wealth of talent

When you take a moment to scroll through all of the nominations, what you’re looking at is an astonishing wealth of talent. These awards are about celebrating and recognizing that talent because, without them, we simply wouldn’t get these amazing movies.