How Can Bradley Cooper Finally Win, & Other Oscar Questions

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Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix

The Oscars are over. Tuxes are back in the closet. Christopher Nolan has secured his trophies in a high-security vault accessible only through his dreams. People have finally stopped misquoting Jonathan Glazer. And your Gold Rush blogger is about to head out for a long weekend of rest and relaxation. Next week I’ll say my official auf Wiedersehen, but in the meantime, here are five lingering questions after the 96th Academy Awards:

The Zone of Interest taking Best Sound wasn’t just an underdog victory for the International Feature winner; it also capped Oppenheimer at seven wins for the night, one shy of the mark set by Slumdog Millionaire in the final year before the Best Picture expansion. Considering that’s also how many Everything Everywhere All at Once won last year, it appears a standard has been set. For as much as these two films represent a break from the spread-the-wealth ethos of the 2010s, today’s voters are still resistant to handing out huge double-digit hauls. The most trophies a live-action, English-language feature film can win is 16 (remember, you can’t win both Screenplay prizes); consciously or not, the Academy has settled on one less than half of that as an acceptable upper bound.

In my post on Emma Stone beating Lily Gladstone, I noted that the result was in line with previous victories where the nominee with the perfect narrative lost out to a performance voters simply thought was undeniable. (You can also add Frances McDormand over Carey Mulligan in the 2021 Best Actress race, and Cillian Murphy over Paul Giamatti this year.) A common response was: What about another of this year’s winners, Robert Downey Jr., who certainly benefited from his comeback narrative? Or last year, when all four acting winners were arguably “narrative” picks? A fair critique, so perhaps it’s better to say that a strong narrative can still pay dividends, provided it’s combined with one of Oscar’s other favorite elements. For RDJ and the three 2023 winners from EEAOO, that was being swept along with a Best Picture winner; for Brendan Fraser, it was a drastic physical transformation that I will stop talking about right … now. But put a pin on this, because we’ll be talking more about “who’s due” narratives next week.

Things couldn’t have lined up better for the Oscars telecast this year: Two huge hits in the Best Picture race, one of which was a viral sensation, the other of which was almost certainly going to win. It was a far cry from just two years ago, when the race came down to Power of the Dog vs. CODA. And yet, despite all that, TV ratings were up only 4 percent from last year. I’ve heard muted disappointment that the bump wasn’t bigger, and while I do sympathize, I also think we need to come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing the Academy can do to get the pre-pandemic audience back. Most of us agree it did a fine job of the things it can control, producing a telecast that appealed to die-hards and casuals alike. And whatever the ratings, the general response to this year’s show indicates the Oscars have remained a relevant and influential part of the culture — something that was far from guaranteed during the COVID era.

Barbie ordered the Star Is Born Special Sunday night: One win for Best Original Song and one live performance that was the most talked-about moment of the broadcast. When I talked to a Star Is Born strategist after the 2019 ceremony, they were sanguine about the result — the Oscars aren’t just about the trophies.

The Barbie campaign may feel the same way. But I do wonder if there was a world where the comedy could have pulled off an Argo-style comeback after its big misses on nomination morning. My hottest Oscar take is that it might have been possible — until Hillary Clinton sent her infamous tweet. The only way I’ve survived 15 years in the New York media industry is by being hyperattuned to the most minute vibe shifts on Twitter, and I definitely noticed a turning point after the former secretary of State weighed in at 11:56 a.m. Eastern on nomination morning. Obviously, the vast majority of people in Hollywood voted for Clinton in 2016, but in 2024, her tweet exuded such loser energy that it single-handedly took the juice out of the “justice for Barbie” movement. Suddenly, all the momentum was with people who thought Barbie didn’t go far enough in its feminism. Add in the lingering conservatism of the “meat and potatoes” voters, and Barbie got it from both ends of the spectrum.

He wants that trophy, but it’s not going to happen without a major shift in career strategy. Here are some suggestions to make it happen:

➼ Produce a Joker Sequel
Thanks to his long association with Todd Phillips, Cooper was a credited producer on Joker, which meant he got nominated when the Scorsese-inflected supervillain origin story made it into Best Picture. He doesn’t appear to be credited on the musical sequel, Joker: Folie a Deux, which appears to be Phillips’s spin on New York, New York. But if they keep making them, you’ve gotta figure a Joker sequel will win Best Picture eventually, so why not climb aboard the bandwagon? A Joker movie about a Lufthansa heist sounds appealing but might not get it done, nor would a prequel set in the Gilded Age. And the one where Joker is named the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama will probably be ignored. But I’ve got a strange feeling that Joker: Shipping Up to Boston could be the one to finally do it.

➼ Direct and Star in a Frank Rizzo Biopic
I don’t think Cooper has been helped by the fact that he makes sensitive, emotionally overwrought melodramas. It’s clear he could benefit from butching up his image a bit. I’ve been reading S.A. Paolantonio’s biography of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, and someone could make a great “microcosm of America” biopic about the guy: an antihero who was a figure of immense personal charisma, but who also did more than anyone this side of Richard Nixon to realize the political power of white resentment. Why not Bradley Cooper, who loves to play up his Philly roots and would surely jump at the opportunity to transform himself into the 250-pound bruiser?

➼ Give an Honest and Vulnerable Profile to New York Magazine
I’m just saying, it worked for Simon Rex’s Indie Spirit campaign!

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