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Oscars 2024: Who should win, who will win?

Get your Oscar-pool sheets ready! Our picks for who’s going home with some gold on March 10 — and who we’d like to see win

By David Fear

Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers, Lily Gladstone in Killers Of The Flower Moon and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (Picture: Press)

Many decades ago, a man — feared by some and respected by others — had a breakthrough idea. He and a team of dedicated colleagues worked feverishly to make the conceptual notion come to fruition. It was a big swing, and the end result would become a historical game changer. Naturally, there was as much peril as there was progress in the endeavor, because this highly divisive figure had unleashed something not even he could control. Over the years, his innovation would be exploited and perverted beyond even his wildest dreams.

We are, of course, talking about Louis B. Meyer, the movie mogul who, during a Sunday evening gathering at his villa in Santa Monica, proposed to his guests that they all form an organization dedicated to the enshrinement of their industry — a sort of “academy” of motion-picture arts and sciences. Eventually, this group of Hollywood bigwigs would decide to gather together and hand out awards to the best and brightest among themselves. That decision continues to have repercussions to this very day. Now I am become Oscar, destroyer of worlds.

And so it goes as we head into the 96th Academy Awards, a.k.a. the year of Oscar-ppenheimer. There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to the Oscars (even when you’re announcing who won Best Picture), and for all we know, our particular crystal ball could be on the fritz when it comes to predicting who’s likely to go home a winner on March 10 and who will say that it was an honor just to be nominated before making a beeline to the afterparty’s bar. But at this point, with the Oscars now less than a week away, we think we have a pretty good idea of what’s coming in hot and what’s not. Here are our hunches on the six big categories (Best Picture, Best Director, and the four acting awards), as well some opinions on who — in a just and perfect world [cue laugh track] — should be going home with Oscars this year.

Christopher Nolan speaks on a panel about 'Oppenheimer'
Christopher Nolan (Picture: NBC/ YouTube)

Best Director

Christopher NolanOppenheimer
Martin ScorseseKillers of the Flower Moon
Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall
Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest
Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things

Forget, for a second, any egregious omissions that may have caused controversy in regard to the Best Director nominations — this is easily one of the strongest lineups in years for this category, and you could easily make a case for any of these five filmmakers being more than worthy of a win here. For some, their first appearance in the category serves as a sort of “Welcome!” that signals a leveling up within the industry. (Say it with us: Academy award nominee Justine Triet. Music to our ears, this.) For others, it represents the end of a personal project’s long journey (it took Glazer a decade to make his peerless look at the banality of evil). And for one elderly statesman of cinema, it’s a victory lap to a long and illustrious career that proves late-act work can still be urgent and vital. Still, one particular auteur seems to have an edge this time out….

Who will win: Christopher Nolan. He won at the Directors Guild Award, and as we noted in last year’s predictions post, there have only been eight instances where the DGA and Oscar winners in this category have not synced up. It’s also worth noting that he remains one of the few modern directors whose name above the title means something; his commitment to film as a format and the theatrical experience has engendered good will among his peers — and somehow, he’s only been nominated for Best Director once before (for Dunkirk). Not to mention that in his hands, what could have been yet another There Goeth The Great Man biopic turns into something epic, existential, intimate and intensely cinematic. And that’s all without it being one half of a popular cultural phenomenon.
Who Should Win: Nolan. See above.
Who We’d Like to See Win: It would be great to see either Martin Scorsese or Jonathan Glazer at the podium, given how both Killers and Zone represent the filmmakers at their best.

Da’vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers

Best Supporting Actress

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
Emily Blunt, Oppenheimer
America Ferrera, Barbie
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Jodie Foster, Nyad

Every so often, you’ll have one nominee who seems to dominate their category — they just pick up critics’ groups accolades and other awards almost across the board. By the time the Oscars roll around, we’re more or less in Foregone Conclusion territory. Again, the phrase “Oscar upset” exists for a reason — just ask the ghost of Lauren Bacall. But right now, we’d like to formally apologize to the four nominees in this year’s Best Supporting Actress lineup, deserving one and all, whose name is not Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Sorry. It is just not your year.

Who Will Win: Randolph. She has swept this season, taking home a Gotham, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, an Independent Spirit Award and, tellingly, a SAG award for her work in Alexander Payne’s early ’70s dramedy. It’s hers to lose at this juncture.
Who Should Win: Randolph. The way she infuses humanity and depth into this character can’t be overstated, and in both her solo moments and her shared scenes with Paul Giamatti and Dominic Sessa, she’s the stealth MVP of the film. Her drunk-at-a-Christmas-party scene alone should be studied by acting classes.
Who We’d Like to See Win: Randolph.

Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Downey Jr.Oppenheimer
Mark RuffaloPoor Things
Sterling K. Brown, American Fiction
Ryan Gosling, Barbie
Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon

Again, the wealth of talent on display here is astounding. The fact that all five of these actors have decades of solid work behind them already — and have each given supporting performances in these 2023 films that stand out while also doing double duty, re: the “supporting” aspect — makes us wish for a sort of progressive-kindergarten-meets-Oprah solution, in which you get an Oscar! And you get an Oscar! Check under your seats, nominees! Alas, that’s not how this shindig works. And right now it’s pretty clear that a former Iron Man is probably going to be clutching a little gold man before the night is over.

Who Will Win: Many of us were bracing for a Charles Melton/Robert Downey Jr. stand-off this awards season, especially when the May December actor scored early victories with several critics’ groups and the Gothams. Just think, the young, hot newcomer versus the seasoned veteran who somehow survived being a young, hot newcomer! Then Downey won the Golden Globes, and Melton failed to grab one of the five Oscar slots. Since then, the closest thing Oppenheimer has to a villain (assuming you do not count overwhelming guilt, existential angst or the atomic bomb itself as villains) has been cleaning up: a Critics Choice award, a BAFTA, a SAG award. There’s little reason to think he won’t add an Oscar to that haul.
Who Should Win: This is a tricky one. Because you can make a solid case for each nominee here, and the only real competition Downey Jr. has had in terms of voter buzz has been Mark Ruffalo; even those who are on the fence about Poor Things have responded to his heel turn. Seriously, look up “cad” in the dictionary, and it should have a picture of his character. And yet: Downey Jr. has somehow managed what we’ll call a third comeback. There was his initial return to the industry after some well-publicized issues, which resulted in a nomination for Tropic Thunder. (Yeah, he was nominated for that role, i.e., the same one you’re both laughing and cringing at the memory of right now!) There was the Marvel phase, which not only made him “bankable” again but, you know, established RDJ as the initial face of a multi-gajillion-dollar cinematic universe. And now, thanks to his performance as the vengeful Lewis Strauss in Nolan’s biopic, there was the reminder that, Oh, snap! Downey Jr. is also a fucking great actor, full stop. It’s not a stretch to say that he’s doing career-best work in Oppenheimer. Voters seem primed to recognize that accomplishment.
Who We’d Like to See Win: Don’t make us choose between Downey Jr. and Ruffalo. We’re equally excited about either of them winning.

Lily Gladstone in Killers Of The Flower Moon

Best Actress

Lily GladstoneKillers of the Flower Moon
Annette Bening, Nyad
Emma Stone, 
Poor Things
Carey Mulligan, Maestro
Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall

Oddly enough, the “baby” of the group here — Emma Stone — is the only one to have previously won in this category. Two of the nominees have been in this position before (this is Mulligan’s third Oscar nomination, and four out of Bening’s five nominations have been for Best Actress). The other two are both newcomers, scoring their first nods from the Academy. Fortune seems to be favoring one of them in particular, however, and there’s the palpable sense that history is about to be made come Oscar night.

Who Will Win: Lily Gladstone. They would be the first Indigenous performer to win Best Actress if their name is called when the envelope is opened, and there’s the sense that Academy would love to break that ceiling. Yet to suggest that Gladstone is the frontrunner simply because their win would be breaking ground — and giving AMPAS members a chance to pat themselves on the back — ignores the reason that they were nominated in the first place. Killers of the Flower Moon is filled with rich work from Native and non-Native actors alike, all of whom are rallying to bring Scorsese’s vision of an American tragedy to life. But Gladstone isn’t just the female lead. They’re the broken heart and bruised soul of the film. And the cascade of praise and recognition from other awards-giving bodies (notably SAG), in addition to the numerous moving speeches Gladstone has given already, has primed her to walk away with a statuette come Oscar night.
Who Should Win: Gladstone. Seriously, this is one of those screen performances that is a testament to the form. There are moments when you almost feel like you’re watching a silent actor, given the way that Gladstone uses their eyes and their expressions to give you a sense of who Killers‘ Mollie Burkhart was.
Who We’d Like to See Win: Gladstone.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (Picture: Press)

Best Actor

Cillian MurphyOppenheimer
Jeffrey Wright, American Fiction
Colman Domingo, Rustin
Bradley Cooper, Maestro
Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers

Going in to the awards season, this seemed to be the one category that was up in the air — you could guess who was likely to be make the cut for the five nominees, but not necessarily who was going to be the frontrunner. Both Cooper and Giamatti have been nominated before, though this is the latter’s first time in the Best Actor category. The remaining three are all new to having “Oscar-nominee” being in front of their names. It’s been fascinating to watch all of them during this awards season, frankly, and the mix of humility, modesty, outright thirst and the occasional moment of apprehension about the whole endeavor among the group has practically been a clinical study in the highs and lows of for-your-consideration campaigning.

Who Will Win: Cillian Murphy. The Irish actor has certainly benefited from the overall love that Oppenheimer has received over the past six months. Yet audiences — and, naturally, Academy voters — recognized right away that the gent playing the title character was doing a lot of heavy lifting. It’s a movie with an ensemble cast filled with famous names, directed by an equally well-known filmmaker, and full of sound and fury signifying nothing less than humanity reckoning with its own potential extinction. The first thing you think of when you think of this monolith of a biopic, however, is Murphy’s haunted face. You feel like you’re watching Oppenheimer trying to sift through the morality behind his breakthroughs and the burden of guilt that almost makes him view his political persecution as poetic justice. That’s Murphy’s doing. Simply put, the movie is mere historical spectacle without that performance at its center.
Who Should Win: Jeffrey Wright. Look, it’s not like Murphy winning this category is a travesty — far from it! See: the above paragraph! But it’s hard not to look at the work that Wright is doing in American Fiction and not come away thinking that this veteran of stage and screen deserves all the recognition that Academy has to offer. Yes, we know: To quote a line from a past Oscar-winning film, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it. And still, the manner in which Wright skillfully, soulfully, subtly navigates the emotional landscapes of Cord Jefferson’s satire-cum-family-drama feels unique, even when you’re talking about a career that’s run the gamut from Basquiat to Bond, Angels in America to The Batman.
Who We’d Like to See Win: Wright.

Cillian Murphy in ‘Oppenheimer’. UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Best Picture

American Fiction
Anatomy of a Fall
The Holdovers
Killers of the Flower Moon
Past Lives
Poor Things
The Zone of Interest

Talk about the year in movies in a snapshot! The fact that a number of incredible, sui generis films that our inner cynic assumed would be overlooked by the Academy actually made the cut still gives us goosebumps. And the sheer range represented in this lineup is kind of astounding — Barbie is nestled next to The Zone of InterestPoor Things holds court beside Killers of the Flower Moon! The decision by the Academy to supersize the grand-prize category to 10 (ironically due to the outcry over a snub involving a 2023 nominee) is one of the smarter things AMPAS has done over the past 20 years; ditto expanding and diversifying its membership, which has allowed a variety of “smaller” and international titles to become a part of the Oscar conversation. That said: There’s an obvious frontrunner this year.

Who Will Win: Oppenheimer. Nolan’s movie is far from a juggernaut, but as we’ve mentioned more than a few times in this article, it’s struck a cultural chord, it’s brimming with incredible work from all involved, it’s both a critical and box-office success, and it has the scope and depth of a typical prestige drama while also displaying the personal signature of its creator.
Who Should Win: The correct answer, really, is eight out of the 10 listed contenders! (We’ll let you guess which two are the outliers.) But in any year in which Oppenheimer wasn’t nominated, Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon would be walking away with Best Picture win.
Who We’d Like to See Win: Our love of Past Lives is part of the public record. Ditto The Zone of Interest. But honestly, given the bounty of this year’s Oscars crop? We feel like we’ve been the winners already.

From Rolling Stone US