My annual (and confidently accurate) Oscar predictions

| March 9, 2024

My prediction accuracy remains about 90%, adding in for surprises.  This year, it’s best to best on Christopher Nolan and Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer Review: Christopher Nolan's Epic is Grand

Best Picture
The Nominees:
American Fiction | Anatomy of a Fall | Barbie | The Holdovers | Killers of the Flower Moon | Maestro | Oppenheimer | Past Lives | Poor Things | The Zone of Interest

For the first time in years, I have nothing to complain about.  Yes, I could argue that much better films could have taken the slot occupied by Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, but its girl-power narrative and it’s status of bringing audiences back to the theater give it points for me.  But, on Oscar night the Barbenheimer will go more polarity than plastic.  Oppenheimer is not only the best film of the year (for me, a close call with Poor Things} but the best made film of 2024, a challenge of recalling history but doing it in a loose narrative that pulls back and forth so that we understand how the world was saved by Robert Oppenheimer and how a paranoid United States government used his past, and his loose-fitting appetites against and destroyed his career.
Best Director
The Nominees:
Jonathan Grazer for The Zone of Interest | Yorgos Lanthomos for Poor Things | Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer | Martin Scorsese for Killers of the Flower Moon | Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall

Christopher Nolan is now promoting Oppenheimer on TikTok - Dexerto

I’m still not happy with the DGA over overlooking Greta Gerwig who deserved credit for turning Barbie from a potentially vapid and lazy novelty into something fun and smart.  There could have been some love for not only Gerwig but Ava DuVernay for Origin, Celine Song for Past Lives (which got a nomination for Best Picture), A.V. Rockwell for A Thousand and One, and Kelly Fremon Craig for Are You There God, It’s Me Again, Margaret?  But here we are.

The sole woman nominated is French director Justine Triet, author of the multi-layered legal drama Anatomy of a Fall about a woman trying to defend herself in court against accusations that her husband’s fall from an open window was actually murder.

It is an honor to be nominated, but Triet won’t win.  That honor will go to Christopher Nolan who has won the BAFTA award, the Golden Globe, and the top honor from the Director’s Guild – the same folks who vote in this category.
Best Actor
The Nominees:
Bradley Cooper in Maestro | Colman Domingo in Rustin | Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers | Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer | Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction

Oppenheimer: Cillian Murphy makes powerful impact in atomic epic - BBC News

I would love to see any of these actors win, and in any other year they might have.  Yet, while not as dramatic in terms of who will win as Best Actress, there has always been the good fortune leaning in Cillian Murphy’s direction.  He’s been the winner of nearly ever pre-Oscar award including the big one, The Screen Actor’s Guild Award, voted on by the same folks who vote for the Oscar.
Best Actress
The Nominees:
Annette Bening in Nyad | Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon | Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall | Carey Mulligan in Maestro | Emma Stone in Poor Things

Oscars 2024: Lily Gladstone Makes History With Best Actress Nomination

This is where the real Oscar drama is in a year that is, otherwise, ragingly predictable.  For the bulk of the holiday season, it seemed a cake walk for Lily Gladstone as Mollie Kyle, a proud woman of the Osage tribe who is manipulated into marrying a white man so that he can gain the oil headrights that belong to the Osage Indians.

It’s a wonderful performance but she faces stiff competition from previous winner Emma Stone whose role in Yorgos Lantomos’ Poor Things got a boost over the holiday season by being delayed due to the writer’s strike.  The performance, kind of a hybrid of Forrest Gump meets The Bride of Frankenstein is so studied and yet at times so funny that you admire just how wacky this performance really is.  She plays Bella Baxter, a woman in an alternate Victorian England whose pregnant mother died by suicide but the infant’s brain was transplanted by a mad scientist (Willem DeFoe) into the grown-up body of the mother.  As she matured (rather quickly) she discovers appetites both big and small, in particular for sex (the movie really should have an NC-17) and she learns how to manipulate men just as much as they manipulate her.

But Emma Stone has two strikes against her.  Oscar voters don’t usually like to reward recent winners – she won in 2017 for La La Land – and she lost the Screen Actor’s Guild Award to Gladstone.  That award, chosen by the same body that votes for the Oscar, may be the tie-breaker here.

Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees:
Sterling K. Brown in American Fiction | Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon | Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer | Ryan Gosling in Barbie | Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things

Robert Downey Jr. Explains His 'Oppenheimer' Character

Robert Downey Jr.
It’s going to be a massive upset if he doesn’t win for his performance as Lewis Strauss, the chair of the Atomic Energy Commission who despises J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) for his genius, his carousing, his supposed communist ideals and for distancing himself from his Jewish roots.  Stauss makes it a personal crusade to destroy Oppenheimer’s post-war career and his credibility.

Downey is the great comeback story.  Once nearly dismissed as a lost-cause for his off-screen issues, he has bounced back and forged a brilliant career that will be topped by his first Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress
The Nominees:
Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer | Danielle Brooks in The Color Purple | America Ferrera in Barbie | Jodie Foster in Nyad | Da’vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers

The Holdovers' Da'Vine Joy Randolph on All That Oscar Buzz

I can’t speak on the performance of Danielle Brooks because the revision of The Color Purple remains the only one of the acting nominees that I haven’t seen (That’ll be fixed before Sunday night though).  But looking down the category, it is one of the rare times that one could confidently call the nominees Supporting Roles. 

Blunt played the supportive wife of J. Robert Oppenheimer and proved that his problems could have been solved if he had just listened to her.  Two-time winner Jodie Foster played the coach who supports her friend who is trying to free-swim from Cuba to Florida in Nyad.  And surprise nominee America Ferrara played Gloria, a Mattel employee who supports Barbie when she crosses over into the real world.

The only actress that I can’t say that about was Da’Vine Joy Randolph whose role seemed much more singular than her competitors.  As Mary Lamb a cafeteria manager at a New England boarding school in 1969, she nurses a broken heart as she tries to deal with her first Christmas since her son became a casualty in Vietnam.  It’s a quietly effective performance that could have supported a movie on its own.  It got noticed and she has won every pre-Oscar award in sight including The Golden Globe, The Critics Choice Award and the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Best Original Screenplay
The Nominees:
Anatomy of a Fall | The Holdovers | Maestro | May December | Past Lives

A case could be made for The Holdovers and Past Lives, both of which are seminal pieces of work that have gotten raves from critics and from audiences who have seen them.  But the quietly effective Anatomy of a Fall, written by director Justine Triet and her co-screenwriter Arthur Harari, weaves together the intricacies of a building mystery mixed with the story of a deteriorating marriage.  Did it lead to murder?  This is much more than a mystery, and it’s brilliant.

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Fiction | Barbie | Oppenheimer | Poor Things | The Zone of Interest

Once again, I have no real complaints.  That’s the refrain from most of the categories this year.  If I had a ballot, I would vote for Cord Jefferson for American Fiction, the story of an African American writer who doesn’t want to write about the Black experience, but on a lark writes a trashy piece of hood nonsense called “Fuck” that, to his frustrated amazement, ends up a best-seller.

It could easily win.  The obvious choice is Oppenheimer, a movie that bends back and forth in time to tell the story of the world-famous scientist, his personal life and his personal feelings over having created the device that destroyed the population of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  But!  There is also Barbie.  Barbie and Oppenheimer will be all over the artistic and technical awards but since Nolan’s epic will take Best Picture and Best Director (for which Greta wasn’t nominated), it will likely go to the plastic fantastic.  And I support it, if only for that brilliant final line of dialogue.
Best International Feature
The Nominees:
Io Captaino (Italy) | Perfect Days (Japan) | Society of the Snow (Spain) | The Teacher’s Lounge (Germany) | The Zone of Interest

With the top awards, it is easy to track the winner just by following the pre-Oscar awards.  With International Feature (previously known as Best Foreign-Language Film), it bedevils my prognostication skills to simply follow whichever way the wind is blowing.

I have seen all five nominees for the IF this year and the winds all seem to shift in the direction of Jonathan Glazer who doesn’t make a film ever year but when it does, it’s always exciting.  His films are challenging and always so bizarre and alien that they divide audiences.  Thus far, he has only made four features, Sexy Beast in 2000, the reincarnation drama Birth starring Nicole Kidman and most famously, the alien flick Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson.

This year his offering is The Zone of Interest, a movie for which the only aggravation was getting to see it.  A24 is notoriously stingy with screeners for critics and I finally got to see it by chance last night.  It tells the story of a Nazi officer and his wife trying to build their dream house disturbingly close the Auschwitz Death Camp.   This one is a cake walk.

Best Animated Feature
The Nominees:
The Boy and the Heron | Elemental | Nimona | Robot Dreams | Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The summer blockbuster Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was proof that the superhero genre is not quite dead yet.  With withering returns on the genre, this series stands tall (there’s a third entry soon to come).  Not just content to tell the same old story, this film and its predecessor (which won Best Animated Feature in 2019) is really about something, it’s story worth telling with a lot of subtext and human drama.  They’re a lot of fun too.  That helps.

Best Original Song
The Nominees:
“The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot | “I’m Just Ken” from Barbie | “It Never Went Away” from American Symphony | Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People) from Killers of the Flower Moon | What Was I Made For? from Barbie

Good work in the running this year, but in the end it all belongs to Barbie.  There were a dozen songs to choose from, but I’ll say that the voters managed to pick the best.  Choosing which one will be the winner “I’m Just Ken” or “What Was I Made For?” is the real trick.

“Ken” is a very 80s ballad about the sorrow of being second best, but Billie Eilish’s tender ballad What Was I Made For? has a great deal of substance and speaks to a young woman searching for her true identity – a very timely topic right now.
Best Original Score
The Nominees:
American Fiction | Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny | Killers of the Flower Moon | Oppenheimer | Poor Things

My heart will always aim in the direction of John Williams as long as he keeps working and as long as he keeps getting nominated.  I like to say that his scores are the soundtrack of my childhood.  His 49th Oscar nomination came for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, a mediocre adventure that was best when it put down its sword and let Indy just live his life.  Williams wraps the familiar beats of Indy’s theme around new ones as the elderly archeologist struggles with personal demons, family problems and the reality that his world is changing.

However, I think that vote shifts Ludwig Göransson (composer for “The Mandolorian”) toward the sweep for Oppenheimer and it’s chief competition Killers of the Flower Moon, which may gain sympathy as it’s composer Robbie Robertson (yes, the one from The Band) is the year’s posthumous award.  Robertson began a collaboration with Martin Scorsese back in 1976 with The Last Waltz which chronicled The Band’s farewell tour. 

Best Make-Up and Hairstyling
The Nominees:
Golda | Maestro | Oppenheimer | Poor Things | Society of the Snow

My first instinct is to aim this one in the direction of Poor Things’ Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier and John Weston for giving Emma Stone and emaciated look as well as a set of power eyebrows as well as the segmenting scars on the face of Mad scientist Willem DeFoe.  It’s an obvious choice.

But the favors move toward the five stages of aging for Leonard Cohen, occupied in the lead by Bradley Cooper for Maestro thanks to the work of Kazu Hiro and her crew.  The effect is much more subtle than Lanthmos’ Frankenstein epic but it may be Maestro’s only award of the evening.
Best Costume Design
The Nominees:
Barbie | Killers of the Flower Moon | Napoleon | Poor Things

I don’t have many occasions this year to note Poor Things as a lock, but looking down the list, this one is a stand-out (and ironic given that Emma Stone spends a significant amount of time stark naked).

First-time nominee Holly Waddington brings an evolution to the main character Bella Baxter, a woman who was an unborn infant when her mother committed suicide and had her infant brain put into the body of her mother and so she begins the film in simple, white child’s gowns.  But as her brain matures and she discovers more about the world, she gains independence and her outfits get more outlandish, almost seeming to bloom like a flower.  It’s a beautiful inward and outward transformation.
Best Cinematography
The Nominees:
El Conde | Killers of the Flower Moon | Maestro | Oppenheimer | Poor Things

This is significant.  Four of the year’s nominees for Best Cinematography were shot on Kodak Film; the holdout was El Conde which was shot with Digital Intermediate.  For the first time since 2010, the nominees using analog cinematography dominate.

The winner will be Hoyte van Hoytema, who was nominated previously for Dunkirk and has been selected this year for another Christopher Nolan epic, Oppenheimer.  While other films boast beautiful sets, van Hoytema’s work shows off his composition of the landscape of the human face.  In particular the close-ups of Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) in color and the darker and more shadowy face of his aggressor Lewis Stauss (Robert Downey Jr.) shot in black and white.

Best Production Design
The Nominees:
Barbie | Killers of the Flower Moon | Napoleon | Oppenheimer | Poor Things

Yet another battle between Barbie and Poor Things, but I think the latter has the edge.  The production design by James Price and Shona Heath and set design by Zsuzsa Mihalek, they created a bizarro world that is part Victorian era dream, part steampunk nightmare with a tinge of the wild and twisted world that Tim Burton use to create.
Best Film Editing
The Nominees:
Anatomy of a Fall | The Holdovers | Killers of the Flower Moon | Oppenheimer | Poor Things

Conventional thinking use to assert that whatever film won Best Picture would also win Best Film Editing.  But in recent years that hasn’t been the case.  It happened last year with Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, but before that, you’d have to go back to Argo in 2013.  It doesn’t seem to be a reliable tradition anymore.

However, it might happen this year with Oppenheimer.  Jennifer Lame’s hard work creates a narrative that moves back and forth in time, showing us the titular scientist before he was assigned the task of heading up The Manhattan Project, during the creation of the bomb and his downfall in the years immediately following the war.  What we get is a full picture of the man, who he was and how he was brought down.  It’s complex story of a complex man, and Lame’s work really gives us a full picture of this man’s life.
Best Sound
The Nominees:
The Creator | Maestro | Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part 1 | Oppenheimer | The Zone of Interest

All of the nominees this year for Best Sound have a reason to be here and all are here for different reasons.  But no one can deny the full restraint on that test sequence in Oppenheimer.  If you saw it in IMAX, you were . . . . well, blown away by it.

Best Visual Effects
The Nominees:
The Creator | Godzilla Minus One | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 | Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part 1 | Napoleon

The real mystery here is why Oppenheimer was left out, particularly for that scene of the first nuclear test.  But let’s narrow the field:
• Sci-Fi films don’t do well here unless they were box office blockbusters – so Creator is out.
• Marvel films don’t do well in the category despite being nominated ever year – so Guardians is out.
• Action films don’t do well here unless they were box office blockbusters – so Mission is out.
• Historical films don’t do well either unless they are nominated for Best Picture (like Gladiator).  So, Napoleon is out.

That leaves Godzilla Minus One, a movie that surprised everyone and might fit the bill since the winner here is usually the loudest of the nominees.
Best Documentary Feature
The Nominees:
Bobi Wine: The People’s President | The Eternal Memory | Four Daughters | To Kill a Tiger | 20 Days in Mariupol

For the first time, all of the nominees for Best Documentary Feature (mercifully) were on streaming platforms: Bobi Wine is on Disney+, The Eternal Memory is on Paramount Plus; Four Daughters and To Kill a Tiger are on Netflix; and 20 Days in Mariupol is on Amazon Prime.

Since the voters tend to gravitate toward current events (when there isn’t a holocaust documentary around), the door seems open for 20 Days in Mariupol, all about the last team of international journalist trapped in The Ukraine’s port city Mariupol when the Russians begin attacking.  Struggling to keep working, they eventually documented some of the most harrowing and revealing images of the entire conflict.
Best Documentary Short
The Nominees:
The ABCs of Book Banning | The Barber of Little Rock | Island in Between | The Last Repair Shop | Grandma & Grandma

The onslaught of streaming has made it much easier to access the nominees in the short film category, and this year, I was able to see them all.

My favorite is The Last Repair Shop, all about a group of people who repair and then donate musical instruments to underfunded schools to ensure that children retain access to music programs.  It has my favorite moment – when a woman repairing the instruments shows off her collection of objects that she has pulled out of trumpets and violins, everything from toys to gum wrappers to troll dolls.

The frontrunner, however, is a movie that I didn’t like.  The ABCs of Book Banning comes packaged with a noble purpose, showing us many of the books that have been banned in various school districts across the country.  The problem is that in this flurry of banned titles, we never get a perspective on the other side.  Why were these books selected?  Who selected them?  Why don’t we have interviews with those people?  We’ve heard from the plaintiff, what about the defendant?
Best Animated Short
The Nominees:
Letter to a Pig | Ninety-Five Senses | Our Uniform | Pachyderme | War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko

For me, there is only one stand-out.  War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko is a brilliant piece of work taking place in an alternate version of World War I in which two soldiers on either side of the battle lines play a game a chess via a very determined carrier pigeon.

The film has quite a pedigree.  It was executive produced by Yoko and her son Sean Lennon and uses her and John’s protest song “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” as a backdrop.  The film was produced by Pixar alum David Mullen who partnered with Peter Jackson’s animation house to get the project in motion.
Best Live Action Short
The Nominees:
The After | Invincible | Knight of Fortune | Red White and Blue | The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Time was, long ago, that the short film categories were filled with movies that it was impossible for us ordinary boobs tucked away in generally movie-deficient areas to see.  They were films that we’d never heard of, made by filmmakers we’d never heard of, about subjects that were potentially interesting – if we could only see them.

Well, thanks to the internet and streaming, that has all changed.  Now they are not only available but some of these short-form films have gathered big named talent (an example is the film that I selected in the Best Animated Short category.

This year, it’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, directed by Wes Anders, based on a story by Roald Dahl and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Richard Ayoade.  It tells the story of a doctor (Cumberbatch) who comes across a man who claims that he is clairvoyant.  So, faced with a miracle, the doctor decides to exploit the man to feed his gambling habit.  Wackiness ensues.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.