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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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Predicting the 2024 Oscars

'Oppenheimer' leads the way with 13 nominations, but who takes home the grand prize?

It's finally here. The Oscars are this Sunday, March 10, and we get to see the culmination of weeks of award ceremonies and red carpet celebrations that followed from a year of incredible cinematic achievement across the globe. While there are plenty of issues with the Oscars and the way they hand out awards, it's always fun to see the best movies of the year get — or not get — the recognition they deserve.

With that being said, some of us care about these awards a lot. As two self-identifying film bros, we've spent many hours watching the nominees to have informed opinions (often voiced on Letterboxd) about the best of 2023. Luc has watched 48 feature length films from 2023, and José has seen 40. If you are one who cares about short films, check out the preview article from Tuesday. Below is a distillation of those viewing experiences and who we think should take home the coveted golden statuettes on Sunday night.

Best Picture

Nominees: “American Fiction,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Barbie,” “The Holdovers,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Oppenheimer,” “Past Lives,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest

Our pick: "Oppenheimer"

Unfortunately, despite the Academy placing it last in the night in order to keep you watching, this category is often uninteresting. This year, the dominance of “Oppenheimer” should not discount all of the love in our hearts for the event that “Barbie” made possible. It shouldn’t wipe away the tears we shed during “Past Lives” and “The Holdovers.” There’s no need to fill in the scratch marks we put in our theater seats as we sat stressed through “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Anatomy of a Fall.” The clear path that “Oppenheimer” has to winning the grand prize does not invalidate the millions of other emotions we could’ve experienced during any of the other films in this category and outside of it, but Nolan’s historical epic is simply the most complete film of the year and the runaway favorite for Best Picture. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Best Director

Nominees: Justine Triet (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Martin Scorsese (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Christopher Nolan (“Oppenheimer”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”) and Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”)

Our pick: Christopher Nolan

It truly takes a master of the form to navigate through a three-hour epic with two simultaneous timelines and still make it a smash-hit summer blockbuster, but that's exactly what Christopher Nolan did. “Oppenheimer” is absolute cinema in every sense of the word, and the movie's momentum across this entire awards season should carry him to his first Oscar win after nominations for three previous films. That being said, this category is absolutely stacked with talent and there are many deserving nominees. We saw the public manifestation of that contentiousness with the uproar over Greta Gerwig's omission from the list. With other big names like Scorsese and Lanthimos, this category could still get interesting. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Best Actor

Nominees: Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”), Colman Domingo (“Rustin”), Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”), Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Jeffrey Wright (“American Fiction”)

Our pick: Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer

Folks, Christopher Nolan wrote the screenplay in first person. Cillian Murphy has the most screen time of any of the nominees. This film tells the story of how to justify the Destroyer of Worlds’ entire life. The man at the helm deserves his flowers for absolutely swinging for the fences in this role. Having worked in supporting roles for Nolan on five previous films, these two men know exactly how to create the most compelling story possible together. Bradley Cooper spent years learning to conduct, Jeffrey Wright is infinitely charming, Paul Giamatti might have won in another year and Colman Domingo captivated us all, but Murphy deserves his first Oscar win for the performance that has already been winning him awards at other ceremonies. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Best Actress

Nominees: Annette Bening (“Nyad”), Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Sandra Hüller (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Carey Mulligan (“Maestro”) and Emma Stone (“Poor Things”)

Our pick: Lily Gladstone for Mollie Burkhart 

This is really a two-horse race between Gladstone and Stone. They were both fantastic in totally different roles. Stone played a reanimated corpse as it matured from infancy to being a fully grown, liberated woman. It sounds crazy when you write it like that — and it is — but Stone plays the part with incredible tact and finesse. On the other hand, Gladstone's turn as the Native American protagonist of Scorsese's Osage County tale is masterful. As a relative newcomer, she commands the screen she shares with legends like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. She's a star and deserves to make history as the first Native American winner of Best Actress. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Emily Blunt (“Oppenheimer”), Danielle Brooks (“The Color Purple”), America Ferrara (“Barbie”), Jodie Foster (“Nyad”) and Da'Vine Joy Randolph (“The Holdovers”)

Our pick: Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb

By all accounts, Da'Vine Joy Randolph has this one in the bag — as she should. Her work as Mary in "The Holdovers" is tremendous. In a movie with ostensibly just three characters, she brings a lot of the emotional heft this movie needed to be great. She deals with the grief of losing her only son in the Vietnam War, and the one scene where it all spills over at a house party is truly some of the best acting of the year. This award is about as much of a sure thing as there will be all night. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Sterling K. Brown (“American Fiction”), Robert De Niro (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Robert Downey Jr. (“Oppenheimer”), Ryan Gosling (“Barbie”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”)

Our pick: Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

Yes, Ken might’ve entertained you the most, but it seems impossible to ignore the mastery with which RDJ portrayed this power-hungry politician. Downey has undeniably completed his lifelong redemption arc and redefined himself after a decade as the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most supporting actors do not get the opportunity to serve as the focal point for almost a third of their movie, but RDJ commanded this heavy acting weight with a level of grace that deserves a first-time Oscar win. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Best Animated Feature Film

Nominees: “The Boy and the Heron,” “Elemental,” “Nimona,” “Robot Dreams” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Our pick: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Not every year does Miyazaki grace American theater screens, and he — as well as the other creators of the other four films in this category — deserve their recognition. However, “Across the Spider-Verse” represents an achievement in animation unlike anything else in the past half decade. After the first film set a new standard for what animation should look like and convey in a post-Pixar-dominated industry, this film heightens everything great about its predecessor. Honestly, the biggest tragedy of the entire ceremony besides Greta Gerwig’s snubbing for Best Director is the fact that the Academy would not nominate this animated film for Best Picture. Fun Oscar trivia for the dedicated reader here: The Academy invented this category because it ran into this very problem with “Shrek” and couldn’t stomach the idea of nominating the ogre for Best Picture. You may think otherwise due to my writing about some of the other categories, but this is my movie of the year, by far. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Best Cinematography

Nominees: “El Conde,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things”

Our pick: Hoyte van Hoytema for “Oppenheimer”

If you're going to blow up an atomic bomb for a movie, make sure you get a good shot. That's hyperbolic, but “Oppenheimer” happens on an immense scale, and the cinematography is up to the task. There are some beautiful shots in the film, ranging from large scale aerials to intimate portraits of our protagonist. The closing shot of Cillian Murphy by the lake has become iconic less than a year after its release. There's a lot of “Oppenheimer” love in this article already, but van Hoytema definitely deserves some for his work on the movie, too. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Best Original Score

Nominees: “American Fiction,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things”

Our pick: Ludwig Göransson for “Oppenheimer”

Often, a great film score achieves its goal by going unnoticed and simply supporting the emotional journey of a film. However, I don’t think that anyone could have said this about Göransson’s work on “Oppenheimer.” This man, and this is a true story, wrote a piece that professional musicians told him would be impossible to record. The song many associate with this film, “Can You Hear The Music,” contains 21 tempo changes in less than two minutes, perfectly encapsulating the lifelong moral conundrum of J. Robert Oppenheimer. He managed to conduct an orchestra to play his “impossible” piece after a couple days of studio practice. I get chills listening to it eight months later — and this is only one track in the entire score of incredible musical work. Given the omission of Metro Boomin’s work on “Across the Spider-Verse” in this category that might’ve made this a debate, I beg the Academy to give the award to this modern maestro. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: “American Fiction,” “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest”

Our pick: Cord Jefferson for “American Fiction”

This is a tough one. “Barbie” and “The Zone of Interest” both brilliantly take on difficult topics — misogyny and the Holocaust, respectively — in extremely different ways. “Poor Things” is immensely creative, truly unlike anything I've ever seen on a screen before, and also a searing critique of the ways men oppress women. “Oppenheimer” was written in the first person, centering the title character and giving the film a palpable character and narrative anchor. But among all these great nominees, “American Fiction” stands above the rest. It's a devilishly clever satire of white guilt and a crushing family drama all rolled up into one and it's fantastic. I believe Cord Jefferson should win the Oscar for it, but this is as wide-open as it gets. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Holdovers,” “Maestro,” “May December” and “Past Lives”

José's pick: Celine Song for “Past Lives”

I loved "Anatomy of a Fall" as much as Luc did, but it's “Past Lives” for me. It's been months since I saw the movie, and I just can't seem to get it out of my mind. The more I think about it, the more I think it's my favorite movie of 2023. It's not as bombastic or grandiose as some of the other films from this year, but its gorgeous subtlety and delicate emotion have a certain way of sticking in your head. Celine Song wrote a beautiful love story that grapples with important ideas about identity and culture that deeply resonated with me. It would make my night to see "Past Lives" walk away with an Academy Award. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Luc's pick: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari for “Anatomy of a Fall”

I’m not going to throw my co-author off of a building for saying that “Past Lives” deserves this award. That screenplay flexes all of its emotional muscles throughout the film’s runtime, but “Anatomy of a Fall” leaves nothing on the table in its dramatic courtroom examination of love and loss. The depth and nuance with which the pages of this screenplay allow the film to be shot might get overlooked due to translation difficulty for American audiences. However, as a self aware, slightly pretentious, French-speaking film lover, I would love to see Justine Triet and Arthur Harari take home this award — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer

Honorable category mentions:

For fun, I’m going to quickly list some picks for the more technical awards that often go overlooked, as well as Best Original Song. For the latter, if they do not give the award to Billie Eilish for “What Was I Made For,” the whole thing is a scam because that means they either give it to “I’m Just Ken,” a fun but less important song about men from the Barbie movie, or a song about a Cheeto. 

The visual effects team for “The Creator” invented new ways to capture performances to convert them into CGI characters and designed ships of admirable scale. For this, they absolutely deserve Best Visual Effects even though the Academy may give the award to the also incredibly done “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” (because Disney). 

Best Editing should find its way into the trophy cabinet of “Oppenheimer,” as it juggles so many balls in the air masterfully through the power of editing. Wrapping up a successful evening for Nolan and his team, “Oppenheimer” more than deserves to win Best Sound, even though I wouldn’t hate it if they gave “The Creator” another nod.

We would have gotten an interesting race for Best International Feature if France hadn’t shot themselves in the foot by not submitting “Anatomy of a Fall” for that category. Due to that incomprehensible choice, I’d like to congratulate “The Zone of Interest” for being the only film to walk into the night with a guaranteed win, as it is the only film in the category that’s also nominated for Best Picture.

“Poor Things” seems like the most logical winner for Best Production Design, but this award often goes in unexpected directions, so I wouldn’t place any bets on it. — Luc Plaisted, Scene Writer