Oscars 2024: Best Picture Bets.

By: Jen Shoop

Which movie do you think deserves the Oscar for Best Picture next Sunday (3/10)? ( A full list of nominations here.)

We have an ambitious viewing program to watch several that we’ve not yet seen (or that were just released) over the next ten days, but I want to make a heartfelt plug for “Past Lives,” a quiet, resonant movie written and directed by Celine Song about the people we meet in life, and the connections we make or miss with them. The story asks: can we reclaim the lost ones, and at what costs? The movie’s grappling with the age-old tango between fate and coincidence is refreshingly modern, especially woven as it is into an immigrant story: how can Nora (nee Na Young) choose between a childhood friend-turned-long-distance-confidante, with his ties to their hometown of Seoul, and someone she has learned to love almost out of convenience, or happenstance (she meets her husband at an artist’s retreat, and they advance their wedding date in order to procure her green card)? And is she choosing, anyway? Or is her romantic arrangement pre-ordained? The movie makes much of the Korean concept of “In-Yun,” or the notion that in our incarnations past and future, we have encountered and will encounter certain special people to whom we will be drawn over and over again. Midway through the film, Nora rejects the concept as a romanticization, but Hae Sung’s whole-hearted embrace of “In-Yun” as an explanation for why they cannot be together lodges firm at the other end of the line.

I could not take my eyes off of Teo Yoo (Hae Sung), who acts beautifully with his eyes, and with his body, too. The subtlest movement of his hands — say, the pushing of a suitcase to his side, or their stiff placement at his sides — communicates volumes. I cannot believe he was not nominated for Best Actor. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a Cillian Murphy or a Paul Giamatti, but this was a movie of intimate, artful scale, without much apparatus around its quiet script, and he shone brightly and believably in its center. On this point: the pace is meaningfully slow, and the dialogue dances effortlessly between the convincingly extemporary and the profound. I think it is heartily deserving of its Oscar nomination, though it is difficult to imagine it squaring off against the gargantuan proportions of an “Oppenheimer” or “Barbie.” For this reason, I doubt it will win, but I wish it would. Perhaps Song will win for best screenplay? (I enjoyed “The Holdovers,” which is somewhat similar in scale (dialed in on the dynamics of a relationship) and also nominated for best screenplay, but I find no contest comparing the two on the merits of craft and theme: “Past Lives” is melodic and full-bodied in ways “The Holdovers” is not.)

Of course, reflecting on “Past Lives,” I find yet another instance of Gretel and her breadcrumbs: in one review of “Past Lives,” film critic David Ehrlich draws a connection between Celine Song and Richard Linklater, writing: “On paper, “Past Lives” might sound like a diasporic riff on a Richard Linklater romance — one that condenses the entire “Before” trilogy into the span of a single film. In practice, however, this gossamer-soft love story almost entirely forgoes any sort of “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane” dramatics in favor of teasing out some more ineffable truths about the way that people find themselves with (and through) each other.” Ehrlich concludes: “It’s a movie less interested in tempting its heroine with “the one who got away” than it is in allowing her to reconcile with the version of herself he kept as a souvenir when she left.” Perfectly put, but of course, I would have lacked all reference points were it not for you Magpies, who upvoted the Linklater “Before” trilogy in my recent request for under-the-radar romantic comedies (see the full crowd-sourced list here). Astounding, how often it is that we find the exact words, references, texts we need at the exact right moment. I continue to live by asterism, a realization that feels perfectly at home within the hazy after-math of “Past Lives.”

Please watch!

And circle back to share your thoughts.

What are your bets for the Oscars?

Post Scripts.

+It’s OK if you don’t have the answers.

+If you’re debating jumping into something, take a page out of my Dad’s book: “You’re gonna love it.

+Dear Dad, you were right.

Let’s Go Shopping.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+This $110 skirt looks just like SEA. I’m digging the idea of styling a full white skirt a la Doen, who was running this chic ad I can no longer find of a gal wearing the skirt with a gray sweatshirt like this. You can see me in a white circle skirt from Staud here, too — looks for less here and here.

+If you’re thinking about a low-key Oscars party at home, may I put in a plug for truffle popcorn, Kolsvart candy, and champagne? Theater snacks, gussied up!

+This dress sold out once but was restocked. She’s perfect for spring — very flattering. Runs TTS.

+This striped button-back top is adorable as a part of the matching set, or with white pants/jeans. Also love J. Crew’s just-launched Quinn ballet flat – perfect for those of us curious about the mesh trend but not willing to go all the way.

+As the thaw sets in, I have to mention that I own this top in several patterns, and it’s on sale for 50% in several right now (of course, I also love the full price options…). SO good to tuck into jeans for those first few milder days of spring. This brand runs really big. You can size down one or two sizes. I also lived in one of their Saffron dresses all last summer, and this cheerful pink floral is 50% off ($119!). Also runs really big, FYI. So easy to toss on and go!

+Fun denim silhouette.

+Tuckernuck re-released its ruffle collar Louise dress in a pretty spring floral. A great way to get the Thierry Colson look for less.

+My most-worn bag last summer. Super roomy and no one else has anything like it. I promise you will be the talk of the town! I already pulled it out for the spring/summer season. I’m wearing woven bags now.

+It was mild enough to wear this rain coat / lightweight jacket yesterday! Such fun colors.

+In the fitness lane, currently eyeing these dry-fit tanks, these Vuori sports bras, and this perfect half-zip. I have the Amazon lookalike for the Lulu half-zip, which I love, and which means I do not need another, but…the color!

+These underwear are a splurge and I only have one pair that I compulsively grab out of the laundry basket as soon as clean, but how fun in the new maritime stripe with the matching tank or bra?!

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23 thoughts on “Oscars 2024: Best Picture Bets.

  1. Came back to this post to read the comments after you referenced it in the weekend drafts! As a side note, I am in constant awe by the comments section. Your writings, this community, it fills my cup in ways I didn’t know I needed. So grateful to have come across you a few months ago.

    I couldn’t leave without commenting on Killers. I am from Oklahoma, and I’m also native American so my perspective on this film is deeply personal. I read the book several years ago was astonished that this true story isn’t more widely known- especially in my state. The film doesn’t begin to cover all the complexities of this period and the aftermath that followed. For years natives have been portrayed in Hollywood with ridiculous stereotypes. Our histories have been written for us and often erased. It is a heavy film with brutal themes, but it is a powerful story that needs to be told. There isn’t a happy ending. It won’t make you feel good. But this film is a vehicle, providing a voice to your neighbors who have been silenced for generations.

    I cried so hard when Lily Gladstone accepted her globe for best actress. Finally people are seeing us.

    Much love to you and this beautiful community you’ve created! Yakooke! (Thank you in Chickasaw).

    1. Hi Brittney – Thank you so much for the incredible note. I am also in constant awe at the comments section! This community is so bright, inquisitive, insightful! I learn so much. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Killers – I was so moved to read it and will absolutely watch. Thanks for the nudge.


  2. This is such a good post, Jen! I love this time of year both for the celebration of the film art and the fashion Christmas of it all!

    Regarding Past Lives, irrespective of the other contenders, and purely about it as a cinematic offering, it’s honestly one of the most stunning, subtle films I’ve ever seen. I’ve felt its presence all around me in the last couple of months since watching it with my husband on the sofa of our house in the new country we’ve just moved to.
    I can certainly see how in some ways it’s a love story hence the comparisons to the Before trilogy (one of my equal favourite films of all time, ugh so good!).

    Despite this, and above all, I think it’s a portrait of Nora and her own ghosts and past lives. The subtlety of this emerges because of the timelines of storytelling. We spend more time getting to know the character of her childhood love Teo Yoo because of where their timelines intersected. Equally she left South Korea at a highly formative age hence the signposting of 12-year increments; we understand that what happened then remains highly important to who she is now. We only get a small glimpse of her husband’s character due to when their timelines intersect but the gentle hints of his personality and spirit — like his own work as a writer, gentle and welcoming demeanour, and learning Korean to speak with her family and understand what she’s saying while she dreams — paint a vivid, yet sensitively-restrained portrait of Nora in turn. All of these characters orbit her through the motif of fated love, however she is moving through the world and multiple lives so these other characters almost function to explain her living out of these lives — consciously and unconsciously, decisively and indecisively — in all the ways we as the audience do this in our own lives.

    In order to better understand Past Lives, I would actually point to the film adaptation of Brooklyn rather than the Before trilogy. In that 1950s film we see the protagonist Eilish pulled between her past in Ireland, her new life and flourishing in New York, and then returning to Ireland as the Irish-New Yorker. We see certain resonant conflicts though we must allow for the differing cultural and historic moments between the films. I feel that it’s reductive simply to look at Past Lives as being about love stories when there’s so much more happening with our protagonist.

    Perhaps what I perceive as the core theme of Past Lives hit me harder than the love theme because I regularly think about past lives as a bigger reality of the onward movement of our lives. This whole thing inspires and haunts me as a reality of our journey as adults. Any time we make a decision/choice we splinter the timeline and parallel realities emerge; this is true of everything from universities and jobs chosen to falling in love, moving away, and even how we build our families. We are all surrounded by these past lives and particularly so when we connect with people from other times in our lives and return or visit places we’ve lived.
    For me it hits home more deeply again due to the immigrant story and how this creates past lives. As my dad has emphasised to me as his mother, my grandmother, emphasised to him when he was 19, “Everyone here [in your hometown] is the same, it’s you that’s changed.”
    Teo Yoo says to Nora that she’s a person who leaves and in that we see that she’s courageously going out into the unknown again and again — South Korea to Canada, Canada to the U.S. In that way, it’s no surprise that after the immigration transit from SK to Canada, we don’t actually see Nora’s family onscreen again though we get glimpses of them in other ways.
    I personally relate to this part of my life — and my mother’s own experience as an immigrant — when you live out of the country where your immediate family is. Who you are is constantly shifting and how you identify with it, live it, and reconcile it is a deeply faceted, ever-evolving topic. In fact, with Nora, we see the strength it’s taken to keep going and to make these wrenching sacrifices when she breaks down in her husband’s arms — he’s the home she’s chosen — and he loves who she is, past lives and all. (Ed. note: both my husband and I sobbed watching this scene because we both relate to it so much, and I’m so choked up writing this now).

    We see so much of Nora’s internal world play out in relation to these other characters. It’s a rare and emotionally astute way to do this. I would point towards this thought-provoking and insightful essay from Petya K Grand on Lifequakes that explains more about this aspect of the immigrant journey in terms of inter-cultural identity, language, communication, and self-expression as it unpacks even more of the gentle, evocative construction of the scene at the bar*.

    Lastly, I’ll quickly say that Greta Lee who played Nora, shared in this wonderful conversation with Andrew Scott that her mother called her after the she watched the film and said that Nora’s story was *her* story. As a now immigrant, I can imagine having precisely the same conversation with my mum who was an immigrant to my country of birth.
    Past Lives is a butterfly of a film that requires us to lean in and sit in the rawness of our experiences — we cannot simply foist a lens of “love stories” on it to understand it. In this way, it requires active, patient, and committed viewing hence I think it’s a tricky watch emotionally to be in such a vulnerable space when perhaps we want to be entertained. Ultimately Celina Song has given us a textbook example of, “Show, don’t tell”, and for that, I would absolutely award this film in every category. It’s truly exceptional writing, directing, and picture execution that feels like an elegy to those eponymous Past Lives.

    Greta Lee & Andrew Scott:

    *this is behind a subscriber wall, fyi, though I thoroughly recommend!

    1. Aoife – What a beautiful reading of the movie. I loved the way you captured the movie’s multivalence — a love story, yes, but more powerfully a portrait of Nora and her own ghosts / past lives. “Sensitive restraint” is such a great way to describe the movie’s tone and approach. Another Magpie below mentioned that “the restraint felt very reflective of our cultures [the Magpie is Korean and her husband Japanese], especially the choices that Nora and Hae Sung end up making in the end.” Such stirring additional context for me.

      I can imagine that this film would be particularly profound and moving as an immigrant / expat / any person who has multiple cultural “homes” or “identities.” Thanks for sharing your lovely thoughts! I’m so glad other Magpies enjoyed this film as much as I did!


      1. PS – I agree with your point that the movie should not only be read from a “love story lens” but I was also so powerfully rooting for Hae Sung to get the girl at the end — I couldn’t help it!! That scene with the luggage at the curb waiting for the taxi was excruciating. My hopes kept rising and dying with the ambient sounds of street traffic. It was perfectly done — the way their “will they / won’t they” moment ended not with a bang but with a wordless departure.


    1. Oh, and re: Barbie. I believe critic Sam Sanders said in Vibe Check (my favorite podcast!) that a huge story telling issue with Barbie is there really isn’t a clear protagonist. In his view, America Ferrera SHOULD be the protagonist — after all she delivers THE SPEECH — but we know next to nothing about her. So that doesn’t work. And then what happened? Ken stole the show. And I believe Saeed Jones on that same podcast was arguing that Ken stealing the show is a SCRIPT ISSUE. He referenced Toni Morrison, who apparently would talk about characters “threatening to take over her books.” But, Toni wouldn’t let them. She knew who she was centering and why. So if you’re writing a script positing to center women, don’t LET a male take it over. Reign him in. I just found those observations so dead-on (not to mention fascinating as a writer).

      And….without getting full blown feminist theory, I will offer one critique along those lines. In Barbie, the *solution* to the problem of misogyny/patriarchy is The Stating of the Problem. I.e. The Speech. In life, there are many many many steps between stating a problem and solving one. Ask any activist. Ask any person who has ever solved any big problem. Of all the “political” issues with the movie (the fact that it’s very difficult to critique patriarchy without critiquing capitalism and it’s very difficult to critique capitalism in a film that could be considered a very long ad for a product comes to mind), I am personally most bothered by this jump. Stating a Problem Clearly is not the same thing as Solving a Problem!! I guess the optimist in me thinks maybe we’d have more resolutions if that was something people realized.

      1. Such great points, Joyce – you’ve helped me better unpack the technical problems that led to the overall feelings of blurriness / unfocusedness / over-the-top-but-not-well-supported-ness.

        Thanks for sharing!


  3. I loved Past Lives and I love your review. My husband I watched it during a rare day date and we were both so moved by the story that we had to have a drink after to process together, ha! For me, an added layer of the past life/what if themes stretched beyond the love story and into the relationship that Nora has with herself as a former Korean native/present US immigrant. I’m also from a Korean immigrant family and one of the unknowable questions of my life/identity has always been to wonder, what if my family had stayed in Korea? How would our lives have been better or worse? I’ve always grieved losing my fully Korean identity while also embracing and being grateful for my life as an American. I think that specific tension was so beautifully represented in Nora’s feelings for Hae Sung. I suppose that’s what the reviewer you quoted was referring to.

    Also funny– the complaint that the movie was slow or dragging was something that my husband (who is Japanese) and I both really appreciated. The restraint felt very reflective of our cultures, especially the choices that Nora and Hae Sung end up making in the end. Extra love for the movie for just feeling seen in its story. Thanks for highlighting this film!

    1. Hi Iris – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially the interesting context around the culturally-inflected “restraint” in the film. As you were describing how you related to Nora’s questions of self, identity, past lives, etc, I was thinking of that moment where she talks about feeling “more Korean” / “less Korean” when she’s with Hae Sung. I was so struck by that – how people from a returned-to home town can make you feel both outsider and insider at the same time?

      Thanks so much for writing in – glad to find so many fellow fans of Song out here!

      P.S. Love the idea of your rare day date with your husband!

  4. Home-run comments here – Past Lives wasn’t fully realized. There are far better Asian romances or Romances that deal with past loves/lives. Past Lives tried too hard. The Before Sunrise trilogy is untouchable – Masterpiece(s).We meandered those Paris streets every 9 years, from ’95-2013, to witness if they could *finally* express their love Before it was too late. In The Mood For Love – the ultimate love unrequited. (The Worst Person in The World is *great* as is Joachim Trier’s full Oslo trilogy). If we’re talking about a relationship where people find themselves together, then marry separate people – watch Brokeback Mountain.

    I do believe that Oppenheimer deserves to win Big – – Movie, both Male Actors, Screenplay, Director — the screenplay propels forward. I haven’t been so engrossed from start to finish since The Social Network (but Oppenheimer, is NOT better ;-)). Robert Downey Jr — big swoon.

    The Zone of Interest is an achievement – it’s like watching Reality TV. Both Sandra Huller’s performances this year… mesmerizing. but, I am rooting for Lily Gladstone and Da’Vine Joy.

    I strongly disliked Barbie and Maestro. No to America. No to Bradley. Both playing themselves.

    1. Oo I like the piquancy of your views — I so enjoyed reading them! Thanks for sharing! I was sitting here at my desk wishing you’d go on with additional thoughts on other recent watches!

      I have been sort of skirting around the topic of Barbie, beloved by so many women I love and respect, but it was also not for me. I feel like it lost the plot, tried to accomplish too much, collapsed in on itself with the heavy-handed layers of metafictional commentary. But, still, I was grinning ear to ear at points — they got all the details of Barbie right (even those pink clear wine glasses I had!!), and the music and spectacle of it all was just good viewer fun. I had been briefly interested in Maestro but the advertisement was enough to close that door — no. It seemed obsessed with itself, even in the preview!


      1. Oh wow, thank you! I’m a film major – and a major fan of good movies 🙂 – which also means I’ve been following Greta Gerwig since she did Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007) – an original Mumblecore (think Duplass brothers, Lena Dunham, low budget, talkey, lost 21 year olds) … and to watch her direct the biggest Studio movie of 2023 is W-I-L-D. Frances Ha hit a deep nerve – it was released the year I graduated college. Barbie had a real chance. The first 30 minutes brilliantly *showed us* (production design) Barbie’s world – her dream house, her wardrobe, *the ambulance!* The last 45 preached. Movie origins were silent … please Show. Do not Tell. There was more soul in the bus stop scene with the wrinkled old lady than anything involving America Ferrera driving around LA in her SUV. I was hoping for Toy Story 3 poignancy — the unavoidable and bittersweet passage a time. A real missed opportunity.

        You nailed it on Maestro being ‘obsessed with itself’ – or Bradley consumed with Bradley. I read a review that perfectly summed it up – “…when Bradley decides it’s time to scream into a pillow, he picks one up and screams in to it” – you watch him consciously making decisions — eek.

        I thought the Holdovers was like a warm hug. I’m going to watch Poor Things today.

        For dissolution of a marriage – ‘A Separation.’ Ultimate meant to be – Eternal Sunshine. Hope they meet again – Lost In Translation. Coming of Age – Blue is the Warmest Color. My ultimate recs, if you’re curious, that have lasted with me long after they’re over, are Thrillers — Memories of Murder. The Lives of Others. Cache. Zodiac. The Social Network.

        The only new show I’ve been watching is Mr. and Mrs. Smith – shockingly, it’s a relationship drama. I had to turn it off – eerily close to home. And The Bridge (2011 Nordic version) – the character development is off the charts.

        1. The “show, don’t tell” concept — amen! And I loved the “Toy Story 3 poignancy” reference. I knew exactly what you meant!

          Thanks for these recs – many of which I’ve never seen! Major resume gaps.


  5. I liked Past Lives but found it dragged a little. It was well acted and I get that it was supposed to be a quiet film, but it felt to me beautiful but a little lifeless at times.

    Random thoughts about the Oscar noms: I’ve seen most of the Best Picture Nominees. My favorites were Oppenheimer and Anatomy of Fall (but neither is an all-time classic for me). I enjoyed, but did not love The Holdovers and American Fiction. Actively disliked Maestro. I thought May December was very good, although it was mostly shut out of nominations – I’d recommend if you haven’t watched it, it’s on Netflix. Seems like Oppenheimer has Best Picture in the bag. I’m rooting for Lily Gladstone for Best Actress from Killers of the Flower Moon. The movie is just okay but I found her luminous and magnetic in it. The camera loves her face.

    Have you seen Poor Things? Emma Stone is very good in it, but the movie is extremely weird and goes for shock value. My husband and I debated a lot over whether the movie successfully made the feminist statement it tried to make (my opinion: no). Also I hated the score, it was so grating. But I guess it’s a good movie when you’re still thinking about it weeks later.

    It got no Oscar love at all, but I keep thinking about Priscilla by Sofia Coppola. I think you’d like it based on other things you say you’ve enjoyed. It was a little slow and maybe disjointed at times, too. But it was an interesting and moving look at girlhood and coming of age (or rather not having the chance to come of age). And unlike Baz Lurhman’s Elvis, this version I think better captured the sexiness that Elvis would have had in the 50s, which I hadn’t really gotten before, and how overwhelming his fame would have been to Priscilla at such a young age. I think it also very plausibly shows the specific ways he was terrible husband, which the Lurhman version mostly papers over.

    1. Thank you for these smart, insightful observations! I know what you mean about “Past Lives” — and yet I was so moved by the human scale of it, by its true-to-life pacing. The way that conversation by the DUMBO carousel stretched out, and yet entire decades ellided from the script. I don’t know – it’s really sat with me since I finished it. But maybe I also felt unusually receptive to it because I have been thinking so much about losing people, pets, things we love?

      I am still missing a few of the movies listed but agree that Oppenheimer and Anatomy were excellent and deserving. Both are the kinds of movies I never need to see again, though, and neither really touched me in the way “Past Lives” did? Again, probably a projection of my own emotional state…

      I felt differently about “Priscilla” — I almost could not finish it! The aesthetics were incredible but the entire movie felt like vapor. There was no there there? I agree with you on the well-handled criticisms of Elvis and fame and the complexities of girlhood (especially one gone-to-soon?). And the beautiful reconstructions of all of these iconic moments — achievements, all! — but in the end it felt to me like a lot of flash and little substance. Jacob Elordi, though — !! Strongly preferred his portrait to the one from Luhrman.


      1. I agree, how we receive movies is so dependent on the mood or circumstances we are in! I don’t actually disagree about Priscilla being sort of floaty and vague at times, I think that’s a fair criticism. I think I am especially receptive to movies that try to really delve into the female character’s point of view these days. So many movies, especially by male directors, put female characters in movies but don’t seem more than superficially interested in them. Even when Sofia Coppola misses the mark in a movie as a whole, her female characters always feel real and understandable.

        1. I enjoyed reading your comments; nice to know someone else “actively disliked” Maestro! I didn’t even finish watching it. Loved Anatomy of a Fall and I’m looking forward to watching Killers of the Flower Moon; I read the book a couple of years ago and was completely astounded by the story.

          1. I am also intrigued by “Killers” (a current resume gap) but have heard negative reviews from people I trust…debating whether it’s worth the (3 hour!) investment!


        2. Love this – and agree! Your note made me reflect on what an interesting study in contrasts there is among this year’s Oscar nominees: the hugeness of Oppenbarbie vs the intimacy of Anatomy of a Fall and Past Lives. And then there’s Oppenheimer which is an almost exclusively male world, and Barbie which is an almost exclusively female one. Priscilla did some balancing work, too, in this regard.


  6. Have you seen The Worst Person in the World? I think it has similar themes as Past Lives (and the Before Trilogy) but far eclipses Past Lives, which I thought was a bit underdeveloped and tepid. This was my letterboxd review: ” I wept (!) at the end, but I always weep in anything that captures the distinct and varied cocktail of torture and ecstasy that is growing up. In that way it felt unremarkable yet still undeniably gorgeous. As is growing up, I suppose, said another way. I think it would have been a perfect 20 min short film — just the last 20 min. You really didn’t need anything before.”

    also — you should get on letterboxd, if you’re not! xx

    1. Katherine! Had not even heard about letterboxd – thank you! Wanting to square off some time this afternoon to dive in there. I have not seen “Worst Person” — will add this to my list!

      I agree that the final 20 minutes of “Past Lives” was perfect and probably could have stood on its own feet as a short film. But I so loved the other parts, too. The small and human ways in which we connect and communicate, or don’t! I keep thinking of Hae Sung in the hotel room. This man who’s traveled around the world, and spent a good few decades quietly thinking about this woman he thinks he’s meant to be with, and there he is by himself. The unrequitedness, the solitude, the complete dislocation!


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