Oscar Predictions 2024: Gone Fission

Will "Oppenheimer" sweep? (Yes, probably.) Will "Poor Things," "American Fiction," or "The Holdovers" upset Oscar's apple cart? (One can hope.)

Oscar Predictions 2024: Gone Fission
Oscar couture, 1986 (Photo credit: Bettmann)

Note: For readers who are interested, I have two reviews of new theatrical releases in today's Washington Post, for the Iranian-Australian drama "Shayda" (⭐ ⭐ ⭐) and the animated Brazilian bossa nova documentary "They Shot the Piano Player" (⭐ ⭐ ⭐).


Looking over my Academy Award predictions below, you'd be forgiven for thinking I have a bug up my nose about the evening's heavyweight contender, Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer." I don't – I think it's a perfectly fine film, even a near-great one, that only stays at the feast too long and loses a fair bit of its momentum. And I admit to remaining wary of Nolan, a prodigious talent who for me falls into the category that critic Andrew Sarris once labeled "Strained Seriousness." Nolan does drama and tragedy and highbrow digital Sturm und Drang exceptionally well, but life is comedy, too, and all kinds – from the lightest of ironies to the blackest of farces. The storytellers who deserve to be called great, in whatever medium they work, understand that.

Not that we should be seeking yuks in a story about the most destructive weapon man has yet invented, the hundreds of thousands of deaths it has caused, and the millions upon millions of deaths it could. What I miss in Nolan is simply an ease of observation, and an awareness that the gods laugh at us as much, if not more, than they cry for us.

But I could be wrong; I very often am. So take the following predictions with a grain of salt and note that I usually get about 75% of the guesses right on my yearly Oscar ballot (but could not begin to tell you in which categories). I will say that 2023 was a very good year for the movies, regardless of the problems of the multiplex and the demands put on our time by binge TV and the disasters of the real world. The superhero cycle is over and the studios have yet to find anything to replace it, the bloom is off the VOD cactus, and the entertainment corporations are run by obscenely compensated idiots. But the movies? They were good. And I have to wonder if the plaudits for "Oppenheimer" have given way, now that Academy voters and regular Joes and Janes have seen the other nominees, to marveling over the daft snow globe that is "Poor Things" or warming the hands over the hearth-fire of "The Holdovers" or cackling in empathy with "American Fiction." Moods change, individually and as a culture. Surprises happen, too; that's why I and maybe you tune in year after year, even as the awards season stretches to take up half the year and the Oscars arrives at the very end like a wafer-thin mint that implodes upon unwrapping. And if the evening's celebrations and absurdities send more viewers to watch "Perfect Days" and "Past Lives," "Anatomy of a Fall" and "All of Us Strangers," we'll all be better off.

The 96th Academy Awards begin at 7 p.m. Eastern this Sunday night on ABC. Below are my predictions, with commentary.


Best Picture

“American Fiction”

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“Barbie”

“The Holdovers”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer”

“Past Lives”

“Poor Things”

“The Zone of Interest”

"Oppenheimer"

Will Win: “Oppenheimer”

Should Win: “Poor Things”

Shouldn't Be Here: “Maestro”

Was Robbed: “May December”

 With a Golden Globe and the Producers Guild Award already on the shelf, “Oppenheimer” is as sure a bet to win the top Oscar as any film in recent memory, no matter that – incoming minority opinion – the air slowly leaks out of its tires in an anticlimactic third act. “Poor Things” is a flight of fancy that sustains its daring vision from the first frame to the last, and as more voters get around to seeing it, there’s a chance it might steal Oppy’s thunder. (The same could be said, if even more remotely, for “American Fiction” and “The Holdovers.”) “May December,” Todd Haynes’ tabloid “Persona,” certainly belongs in this category, but what would you chuck to make room for it? May I suggest the perfectly fine “Maestro,” arguably the weakest of a very strong slate?


Best Director

Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”

Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things”

Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Will Win: Christopher Nolan (above)

Should Win: Yorgos Lanthimos

Shouldn't Be Here: Christopher Nolan

Was Robbed: Greta Gerwig, “Barbie”

Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, Christopher Nolan is seen as standing at the pinnacle of working filmmakers – his era’s Kubrick, even – by several generations of moviegoers. He’s put the Dark Knight in Batman, blown audience’s minds with “Inception,” honored his forebears with “Dunkirk” – about the only thing he hasn’t done is take home an Oscar for directing. That will change Sunday night. Might I hazard that “Poor Things” is not only the greater achievement but a more fully realized creation as a nuts-and-bolts work of production and a leap of imagination? Greta Gerwig got “Barbie” made on her own (and Margot Robbie’s) terms and true to her own epic/subversive/very pink vision – and she reaped the box-office awards. The accomplishment should have been noted here.


Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”

Colman Domingo, “Rustin”

Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”

Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Will Win: Cillian Murphy (above)

Should Win: Paul Giamatti or Jeffrey Wright

Shouldn't Be Here: Cillian Murphy

Was Robbed: Andrew Scott, “All of Us Strangers”

 Cillian Murphy is a shoo-in for Best Actor as the Father of the Bomb, having already won the Screen Actors and Golden Globe awards. The more people see the performances by Paul Giamatti in “Holdovers” and Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction,” though, the more are won over by them. Both actors are much-loved craftsmen and neither has ever won; this may be a tougher category than anyone expects. Andrew Scott was remarkable as a gay man coming to terms with the ghosts of his parents in “All of Us Strangers,” and while he belongs here, who would you kick out to make room for him? Murphy has enough bling for the season, so out he goes.


Best Actress

Annette Bening, “Nyad”

Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

 Will Win: Lily Gladstone (second from left, above)

Should Win: Emma Stone

Shouldn't Be Here: Annette Bening

Was Robbed: Julianne Moore, “May December”

 The toughest Best Actress line-up in years – heavy hitters all. Gladstone, like Cillian Murphy, has already taken home a SAG award and a Golden Globe (for drama); her win would be a historic first for an indigenous actress and she roots “Killer” in place like an immovable rebuke. Is it churlish to say that what she does feels more like a supporting performance than a lead? Or that what Emma Stone does in “Poor Things” is a miracle of technique, sly humor, and compassionate depth? Bening deserves to have won for earlier films – cough “20th Century Women” cough – so she’s the one to go if you had to make room for an also-ran. And if you had to pick one of the leads from “May December” to take her place, my money would be on Julianne Moore for her dazzling assemblage of denial, sweetness, and lies.


Best Supporting Actor

Sterling K. Brown, “American Fiction”

Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”

Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things”

Will Win: Robert Downey, Jr. (above)

Should Win: Sterling K. Brown

Shouldn't Be Here: Robert Downey Jr.

Was Robbed: John Magaro, “Past Lives”

Downey Jr. is adored by audiences, loved by his peers, has been through the wringer in his personal life and has come out on top – plus, Lewis Straus, the villain of “Oppenheimer,” is the actor’s first meaty dramatic role since reigning for over a decade as the head superhero of the era’s top commercial franchise. A win here would serve as a reminder – not that anyone needs it – of his deep bona fides as a performing artist. And yet… for some (okay, maybe just me), his Straus is an enjoyably subtle portrayal of backstabbery that is allowed to turn to ham in the final act. Give this man more good scripts and lead roles, and let him win for those! Brown’s work as the divorced gay brother in “American Fiction” is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking – I’d give the statue to him, while mourning that John Magaro’s tender performance as the husband in “Past Lives” didn’t even get a shot.


Best Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”

Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”

America Ferrera, “Barbie”

Jodie Foster, “Nyad”

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Will Win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (above)

Should Win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Shouldn't Be Here: Emily Blunt

Was Robbed: Penélope Cruz, “Ferrari”

 As a grieving lunch lady and a Black employee in a bastion of white privilege, Randolph is the heart and soul of “The Holdovers,” and she knocks a well-written part out of the park. She’s won every critics’ poll and awards organizations' prize already, to the point where she may be tired of speech-making – except that no one is too tired to accept an Academy Award. Emily Blunt is arguably underserved by the “Oppenheimer” script, while Penélope Cruz was definitely overlooked as Laura Ferrari, the black hole of righteous resentment at the center of Michael Mann’s auto biography. 


Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“American Fiction”

“Barbie”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

“The Zone of Interest”

Will Win: “American Fiction” (above)

Should Win: “American Fiction”

Academy voters will probably be looking to share some largesse after handing the major prizes to “Oppenheimer,” and director Cord Jefferson’s adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel “Erasure” is a nuanced, multi-layered, and outrageously witty piece of work.


Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“The Holdovers”

“May December”

“Maestro”

“Past Lives”

Will Win: “Anatomy of a Fall” (above)

Should Win: “May December”

 Justine Triet’s and Arthur Harari's “Anatomy” screenplay won at the Golden Globes and elsewhere, and will probably win here – likely the only Oscar for a wily, ambiguous film that’s also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director – but, curiously, not Best International Feature.


Best Animated Feature Film

“The Boy and the Heron”

“Elemental”

“Nimona”

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

“Robot Dreams”

Will Win: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (above)

Should Win: “The Boy and the Heron”

The retina-obliterating razzle-dazzle of the animated “Spider-Man” sequel – already a winner at the Producer’s Guild awards – stands to take the statue, even if “The Boy and the Heron,” probably the final film from the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, is the richer and more profound piece of work.


Best International Feature Film

“The Teachers’ Lounge,” Germany

“Io Capitano,” Italy

“Perfect Days,” Japan

“Society of the Snow,” Spain

“The Zone of Interest,” United Kingdom

Will Win: “The Zone of Interest” (above)

Should Win: “Perfect Days”

“The Zone of Interest” will score here, and not because Oscar loves Holocaust movies. (Well, not only because.) It’s a challenging and troubling experience for all the right reasons – but “Perfect Days” is that rarity, a perfect film. (And a Japanese movie from a German director, but never mind; international is international.)


Best Documentary Feature

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President”

“The Eternal Memory”

“Four Daughters”

“To Kill a Tiger”

“20 Days in Mariupol”

Will Win: “20 Days in Mariupol” (above)

Should Win: NA

 I’ve only seen two of this year’s nominated feature documentaries – “20 Days in Mariupol” and “Four Daughters” – so can’t weigh in on the category. All signs point to the courageous act of witnessing that is “20 Days” winning, which is fine: First-person reportage from the civilian front lines of an invasion has rarely been so devastating.


Best Film Editing

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“The Holdovers”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Will Win: “Oppenheimer”

Should Win: “The Holdovers” (above)

“Oppenheimer” interleaves two different time periods – or is it three? – like those collapsing buildings in “Inception,” and while the cross-cutting gets oblique, it’s impressive enough to have won the American Society of Editors’ Eddie Award. It’ll prevail here, too. “The Holdovers” also won an Eddie, though, and the film's subtle evocation of a vanished era in moviemaking is possibly the greater achievement.


Best Cinematography

“El Conde”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer” ASC

“Poor Things”

Will Win: “Oppenheimer”

Should Win: “Poor Things” (above)

A solid category, all of them deserving. Hoyte van Hoytema’s masterful lensing of “Oppenheimer” cast different time periods in different ambient glows, but what Robbie Ryan does in “Poor Things” is literally otherworldly. He could’ve gone easier on the fish-eye lens, but that’s more the director’s problem than his.


Best Costume Design

“Barbie”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Napoleon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Will Win: “Barbie” (above)

Should Win: “Poor Things”

This one could be tight (as it were). Jacqueline Durran’s outfits for “Barbie” are pitch-perfect recreations of multi-colored Mattel material repurposed for the movie’s living dolls. Holly Waddington’s costumes for “Poor Things” imagine an alternate Victorian era where a woman’s sleeves are powerhouse statements of purpose. Neither has this award sewn up.


Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Golda”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

“Society of the Snow”

 Will Win: “Maestro”

Should Win: “Poor Things” (above)

For all the social media razzing of Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic schnoz, Oscar voters love a well-crafted makeover; besides, the nose thing worked for Nicole Kidman in “The Hours.” But I’m still haunted by the way “Poor Things” turned Willem Dafoe into a human Rubik’s Cube.


Best Production Design

“Barbie”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Napoleon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Will Win: “Poor Things” (above)

Should Win: “Barbie”

I’m going to flip my own script here and say that even though the fantastical cityscapes and bric-a-brac interiors of James Price and Shona Heath’s work on “Poor Things” is likely to win – if only as a sop to the movie not winning anywhere else – Sarah Greenwood’s production design for “Barbie” is the more organically complete visualization of an imaginary universe. Barbie World is so well-thought-out on every plastic dreamhouse level that it feels like you could move in right now. And maybe we should.


Best Music (Original Song)

The Fire Inside” (“Flamin’ Hot”)

I’m Just Ken” (“Barbie”)

It Never Went Away” (“American Symphony”)

Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” (“Killers of the Flower Moon”)

What Was I Made For?” (“Barbie”)

Will Win: “What Was I Made For?”

Should Win: “I’m Just Ken” (above)

Honestly, this is always the weakest category of the night, a line-up of sugary power-ballads and sappy love songs to send audiences home over the end credits. Exceptions: 2005 Best Song winner “It’s Hard Out here for a Pimp” and this year’s nominee “Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People),” which won’t win. Instead, Billie Eilish should pick up her second Oscar (the first was for “No Time to Die” two years ago), for “What Was I Made For?” Although, I’d personally prefer the other nominated song from “Barbie,” the Ryan Gosling-sung “I’m Just Ken.” Because it’s funny.


Best Music (Original Score)

American Fiction

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Killers of the Flower Moon

Oppenheimer

Poor Things

Will Win: “Oppenheimer”

Should Win: “Poor Things”

 Conventional wisdom says that Ludwig Göransson’s lush orchestral music for “Oppenheimer” will take home the Academy Award, and good for him – it’s an excellent score. But Jerskin Fendrix creates music in “Poor Things” that seems to have arrived, bent through a prism, from some distant parallel universe. And don’t forget Laura Karpman’s spry, jazzy, and sensitive work for “American Fiction.”


Best Sound

“The Creator”

“Maestro”

“Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”

“Oppenheimer”

“The Zone of Interest”

 Will Win: “Oppenheimer” (above)

Should Win: “The Zone of Interest”

Now we’re getting into the gearhead categories. Usually, the film with the most technically impressive sound-world takes the prize, and “Oppenheimer” qualifies with its recreation of the Trinity nuclear bomb tests (although the actual blast is daringly silent except for one man's breathing – a choice in itself). But the entire concept of “The Zone of Interest” – a banal family melodrama set outside the walls of Auschwitz – rests on everything we hear and everything the film's characters steadfastly refuse to.


Best Visual Effects

“The Creator”

“Godzilla Minus One”

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”

“Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”

“Napoleon”

Will Win: “Godzilla Minus One”

Should Win: “Godzilla Minus One”

A caveat: I still haven’t seen “Godzilla Minus One,” but everyone who has says the F/X are off the charts. If there’s a spoiler here, it’s the little-seen “The Creator.”


Best Animated Short Film

“Letter to a Pig”

“Ninety-Five Senses”

“Our Uniform”

“Pachyderme”

“War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko”

Will Win: “War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko”

Should Win: “Letter to a Pig” (above)

The Sean Ono Lennon-produced “War is Over!” is a well-animated but mawkish anti-war parable – borderline schlock, but the Lennon connection and the message should combine for a win. The French-Israeli “Letter to a Pig” is a much pricklier and provocative piece of work: A Holocaust remembrance that turns into a child’s protest against history’s endless cycles of violence and revenge. Timely – perhaps too much so for this year’s voters.


Best Live Action Short Film

“The After”

“Invincible”

“Knight of Fortune”

“Red, White and Blue”

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

Will Win: “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

Should Win: “Knight of Fortune” (above)

It’s a toss-up here. “Henry Sugar,” the longest of Wes Anderson’s four Roald Dahl adaptations for Netflix, is one of the director’s most enjoyable cinematic Cornell boxes, but “Knight of Fortune,” from Denmark, is howlingly funny and unexpectedly moving. Either could win; either deserves to.


Best Documentary Short

“The ABCs of Book Banning”

“The Barber of Little Rock”

“Island in Between”

“The Last Repair Shop”

“Nai Nai & Wai Po”

Will Win: “The Last Repair Shop” (above)

Should Win: “The Last Repair Shop

 As I wrote earlier this week, “The Last Repair Shop,” about the craftsmen and -women who repair musical instruments for L.A. schoolchildren, is so out-of-the-blue wonderful that it casts the other nominees in its shade – even the heartwarming “Barber of Little Rock,” about a real life community superhero.


What are your guesses for Sunday night? Feel free to leave a comment or add to someone else's.

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