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Oscar Predictions 2024: What Will Win This Year

Unlike most of the Oscar ceremonies over the last decade, the biggest question we’ll get answered on Sunday, March 10 isn’t what will win Best Picture, because we essentially already know that. Instead, the question is just how dominant an evening “Oppenheimer” will have. 

One of the most under-the-radar trends for the Oscars over the last 15-20 years is that it’s become quite rare for one movie to dominate the evening. Even last year, when “Everything Everywhere All at Once” became the first movie to ever win six of the top eight categories, it only won a single craft race (Best Editing), finishing with a reasonably modest seven wins. And even that total was the highest for a Best Picture winner since “Slumdog Millionaire” won eight in 2009. 

Part of the reason Best Picture favorites win fewer overall Oscars than they used to is likely due to the changing Academy votership, but part of it is also due to the increasing rarity of true zeitgeist blockbusters that trample through awards season. “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was the last movie with double digit Oscar wins (it tied “Titanic” and “Ben-Hur” for a record 11 wins), and that was 20 years ago. 

Could “Oppenheimer” challenge those numbers? With 13 nominations and a billion-dollar global take, it has the best chance at true Oscar domination of anything we’ve seen in the last two decades. But 2023 was also an extraordinary year for cinema, and you could make a real case that this is among the greatest crop of Best Picture nominees we’ve ever had. So for as strong as “Oppenheimer” looks, it also faces tough competition and a votership that seems increasingly resistant to sweeps. 

How might those competing realities manifest in the Oscar results? Let’s break it down.

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

Every great once in a while, we get a Best Picture contender that seems to be what every different type of Oscar voter wants out of a “Best Picture Winner,” all at the same time. “Oppenheimer” is that rare Best Picture unicorn. It enjoyed phenomenal critical success while also becoming both a massive financial blockbuster and (thanks to “Barbenheimer”) a genuine cultural phenomenon. It’s a grand populist period piece that amply showcases every technical aspect of Hollywood magic, while also kind of being a small domestic drama through much of its runtime. It’s an important story about an important person, and it’s by one of the world’s most important filmmakers at the top of their game (and a previously unawarded filmmaker, at that). It was classical filmmaking that employed cutting-edge technical acumen. It has big movie stars, a soaring score, and a show-stopping centerpiece scene that became the year’s ultimate “You gotta see it on the big screen” moment. 

To find another Best Picture favorite that checks even most of those boxes, you probably have to go back to 1997’s “Titanic,” which became one of the biggest Oscar juggernauts of all time. 

For most of the last decade, the Best Picture race has been defined by pairs of seeming opposites competing for the top prize, from “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” to “Green Book” and “Roma,” or “Parasite” versus “1917,” and “CODA” versus “The Power of the Dog.” But the amazing thing about “Oppenheimer” is that you can pretty easily compare it to either side of all of those matchups. It’s as close as we’ve ever seen to a movie that’s all things to all voters. 

Since 2017, I’ve written a massive breakdown of the Best Picture preferential ballot every year, trying to guess at how the votes might look every step of the way, and predicting how the eliminations will go, one by one, until finally the winner crosses the 50% of the vote threshold with the final elimination. In races with two major contenders, getting that granular with the ballot felt like an instructive and useful exercise. But not this year. The Academy refuses to ever release the votes, so we’ll never know if I’m right about this, but I think this is the first year of the preferential ballot (which has been in use since the Best Picture lineup expanded in 2009) that the winner will reach 50% of the vote without even needing a final elimination round. That’s how far ahead of the competition “Oppenheimer” is, and how much of a sure thing it is to win Best Picture. 

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”

Other than Bong Joon-ho’s shocking upset over Sam Mendes in early 2020 (the last cool moment of that year before Covid ruined everything), Best Director has been the most boring Oscar category of recent memory, and you have to go back more than 20 years to find another real surprise. That streak won’t be ending this year, because as per usual, this is one of the safest bets on the board. Christopher Nolan is simply unbeatable here. 

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”
Colman Domingo, “Rustin
Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”
Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”
Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Here, on the other hand, we might have ourselves a real race. Despite Cillian Murphy winning the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, Paul Giamatti is seen as a serious threat to pull the upset after also winning the Golden Globe (in the “Musical or Comedy” category) and the Critics Choice Award. 

I’m deeply tempted to pick Giamatti, who has a huge fan base among voters and is widely seen as one of the most criminally under-rewarded great actors out there. That’s a reputation that helps win Oscars. But Giamatti losing the SAG Award to Murphy feels like a glaring red flag. SAG loves Giamatti, and he’s won four times with that voting body. (In many ways, the huge percentage of SAG members who weren’t fortunate enough to be born with Cillian Murphy’s cheekbones may view Paul Giamatti’s career as the ultimate dream.) So if even SAG went with Cillian Murphy here, then he really may be unstoppable. 

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”

There are two competing voting realities at play in the Best Actress race, and I’ve been struggling to reconcile them all season. On the one hand, the Academy has never been better than they are right now at recognizing and rewarding diversity in the acting races, which is likely a direct result of the Academy’s concerted effort to diversify their electorate over the last decade. On the other hand, another direct result of that changing voting body has been a strong resistance to “narrative wins” over the last decade, and when you think of the biggest upsets in recent years—Glenn Close losing to Olivia Colman, or Chadwick Boseman posthumously losing to Anthony Hopkins—they’ve been the case of a presumed narrative winner falling to someone who voters thought just gave an all-time great performance. 

With that in mind, the big question looming over this race is whether voters view Lily Gladstone’s candidacy as primarily narrative-driven, or whether they think her performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon” is on par with what Emma Stone does in “Poor Things.” 

Sadly the precursors don’t offer much help, as Gladstone and Stone both won the Golden Globe in their respective categories, while Emma Stone won the BAFTA in a race where Lily Gladstone wasn’t even nominated (a situation that says a lot about BAFTA and nothing at all about Gladstone’s Oscar contention). In the two cases where Stone and Gladstone went head to head, Emma Stone won with Critics Choice and Lily Gladstone won with SAG, but even that isn’t especially revealing, because the highly populist SAG was pretty lukewarm on “Poor Things” over all. And further complicating the race is that voters are surely aware that Best Actress may be the only category either “Poor Things” or “Killers of the Flower Moon” can realistically win. (The films have 11 and 10 total nominations, respectively.) 

In one of the most difficult calls on the board, I think voters ultimately won’t be able to keep themselves from checking Emma Stone’s name for her bravura “Poor Things” performance. But if Lily Gladstone pulls it out, it’ll be because her soulful “Killers of the Flower Moon” performance really is that disarmingly powerful. 

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”

There are a few obvious things voters tend to love in this category: a scenery-chewing antagonist, an industry legend who’s never won an Oscar before, a showy role in the year’s most beloved movie, star power, and someone who’ll give a rousing, funny, and emotional speech. And this race happens to have a nominee who gives voters all of those things. Robert Downey Jr. has it in the bag. 

Best Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”
Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”
America Ferreira, “Barbie”
Jodie Foster, “Nyad”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Every awards season gives us at least one acting frontrunner who sweeps the major awards, but I’ve never seen a sweep quite as dominant as the one Da’Vine Joy Randolph is currently enjoying. Not only has she won with the obvious major precursors—SAG, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes—but she’s also swept the mid-majors, winning the Critics Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award, among many others. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is winning the Oscar. 

Best Adapted Screenplay
“American Fiction” (Cord Jefferson)
“Barbie” (Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach)
“Oppenheimer” (Christopher Nolan)
“Poor Things” (Tony McNamara)
“The Zone of Interest” (Jonathan Glazer)

Finally, we have our first category that could really go in more than two directions. Prior to the nominations, this race felt like an obvious “Oppenheimer” win, but since then two things have happened. First, Greta Gerwig was left out of the Best Director race, creating a groundswell of support for her in what was suddenly the only category where she could be recognized. And second, “American Fiction” just keeps winning people over, all the way to the tune of a somewhat shocking screenplay win with BAFTA (an organization with an extremely sketchy history of awarding Black creators and stories). 

So what are we to think here? Voters know Christopher Nolan has Best Director sewn up, so they may view this race as a nice opportunity to honor someone else. And there certainly is a lot of passion behind both “Barbie” and “American Fiction,” but we should beware of possible vote-splitting; if “Barbie” and “American Fiction” both pull a similar amount of support away from “Oppenheimer,” it may not be enough for either film to actually pull out the win. Over at The Ringer I wrote an extended argument for why “Barbie” deserves to win here (and it has nothing to do with Gerwig’s omission in the Best Director race), but the more I sit with it, the more “American Fiction” just intuitively feels like a screenplay Oscar winner.

Best Original Screenplay
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Justine Triet and Arthur Harari)
“The Holdovers” (David Hemingson)
“Maestro” (Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer)
May December” (Samy Burch & Alex Mechanik)
“Past Lives” (Celine Song)

Each year there’s one movie that we eventually realize Oscar voters liked a whole lot more than we initially imagined, and this year, “Anatomy of a Fall” looks like that movie. It already over-achieved on nominations morning, pulling out somewhat surprising nods for Best Director and Best Editing (both of which are categories you can’t get into without passionate overall support for your film), but then “Anatomy of a Fall” also started to win several prominent precursor awards, surprisingly taking over a race that was, for a while, presumed to be a battle between “Past Lives” and “The Holdovers.” Neon has also been campaigning the hell out of “Anatomy of a Fall,” and I expect that to pay off here.

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

It might be easy to talk yourself into “The Boy and the Heron” winning here as a pseudo-career achievement award for what is probably the great Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, but Miyazaki films don’t tend to do as well with the Academy as you might think. Though he’s been nominated four times in this category (tied with Pete Docter for the most ever), he’s only won once (for 2002’s “Spirited Away”), and none of his films have ever been nominated in any other category (unlike Pixar films, which frequently get recognized for for their writing, music, and sound, as well). 

And it’s not like this is a weak year for the category, either, with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” among the most critically acclaimed animated films ever. The first film in the “Spider-Verse” franchise won this category five years ago, and a sequel that’s arguably even more visually ambitious should have no trouble repeating that feat. 

Best Documentary Feature
Bobi Wine: The People’s President”
The Eternal Memory
Four Daughters
“To Kill a Tiger”
20 Days in Mariupol

There are a number of films from the shortlist that could have had a real chance here had they been nominated (like “American Symphony” and “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie”), but the gatekeepers in the Academy’s Documentary Branch pulled their usual move of snubbing anything that might have mass appeal. So instead we’re left with this heavily dour crop of foreign documentaries, and voters will probably just pick the one about the War in Ukraine simply to avoid having to watch them all. I wish the powerful “20 Days in Mariupol” had a less cynical path to its inevitable victory, but the Doc Branch really does bring this on themselves.

Best International Feature
Io Capitano” (Italy)
Perfect Days” (Japan)
Society of the Snow” (Spain)
The Teachers’ Lounge” (Germany)
“The Zone of Interest” (United Kingdom)

I hope Academy voters take a bit more time exploring the breadth of this race than I expect them to devote to the Documentary Feature race (above), because there’s some deeply powerful filmmaking to be found in this wonderful batch of nominees. But even if every voter does their due diligence here, this race is a done deal. Anytime the Best International Feature category includes a Best Picture nominee (as has happened in four of the previous five years), that Best Picture nominee has won this category. It’s too bad France screwed up by not submitting “Anatomy of a Fall” for consideration in this race, because then we might have had a real showdown between that and “The Zone of Interest.” But as it is, there’s nothing to stop the incredible “The Zone of Interest” from cruising to victory here. 

Best Original Score
“American Fiction” (Laura Karpman)
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (John Williams)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Robbie Robertson)
“Oppenheimer” (Ludwig Göransson)
“Poor Things” (Jerskin Fendrix)

Nothing would make me happier on Oscar night than for the late great Robbie Robertson (guitarist and chief songwriter for The Band) to be posthumously recognized for his beautiful “Killers of the Flower Moon” score. But realistically, there’s no chance Ludwig Göransson loses this race. His “Oppenheimer” score does everything we want of great movie scores, and it pulls off the perfect balance of being the exact right amount of noticeable—never too subtle to exist beyond our attention nor ever so bombastic that it seizes too much of it. 

Best Original Song
“The Fire Inside,” from “Flamin’ Hot” (Diane Warren)
“I’m Just Ken,” from “Barbie” (Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt)
“It Never Went Away,” from “American Symphony” (Jon Batiste and Dan Wilson)
“Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People),” from “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Scott George)
“What Was I Made For?,” from “Barbie” (Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell)

In one of the most confounding categories of the year, we’re faced with a situation where seemingly everyone thinks “I’m Just Ken” should win, but that, for whatever reason, “What Was I Made For?” will actually win. Why is this happening? Why wouldn’t voters just pick the song they actually like the best, even if it’s silly? Who knows, but “What Was I Made For” feels like one of those classic Oscar wins that everyone knows in the moment is going to the wrong thing, even as we’re all helpless to stop it (or explain why it’s happening).

Best Cinematography
El Conde
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Maestro”
“Oppenheimer”
“Poor Things”

There’s perhaps no movie scene from 2023 that more visually implanted itself in the minds and memories of its viewers than the Trinity Test sequence in “Oppenheimer.” And since the film shockingly wasn’t even nominated for Best Visual Effects, this is the best place to honor that heart-stopping movie moment. In a race that often hinges on the most immediate visual connotation voters have with a film, nothing can compare with an atomic bomb going off in “Oppenheimer.” 

Best Costume Design
“Barbie”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
Napoleon
“Oppenheimer”
“Poor Things”

There are a handful of craft categories (Best Makeup, Production Design, and Sound are the others) that will reveal early in the evening what kind of Oscars we’re in for. Will it be one of those classic Oscars of another era, in which Academy voters seemingly go on autopilot and one juggernaut just sweeps nearly everything? Or will it be what has become more common in the last 15 years, where voters seem to really think about each craft race on its own terms, and resist simply rubber-stamping the frontrunner? 

In other words, if “Oppenheimer” wins here, strap yourselves in for a boring night, because both “Barbie” and “Poor Things” are far more deserving. But which might have the edge? If this were truly a competition for the most original costume design, I’d predict “Poor Things” for the win. But originality often takes a back seat here to raw memorability, and that should give “Barbie” the advantage. 

Best Editing
“Anatomy of a Fall”
“The Holdovers”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Oppenheimer”
“Poor Things”

Voters typically go one of three ways here: it’s either the film that created the most tension, the film that assembled the most elaborate puzzle, or the Best Picture winner. And with this particular batch of nominees, those three paths likely lead to the same selection. “Oppenheimer” should deservingly cruise to this win. 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
“Gilda”
“Maestro”
“Oppenheimer”
“Poor Things”
“Society of the Snow”

As with Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, the Best Makeup Oscar typically goes to whichever film had the most memorable makeup (or, as in most cases, the most makeup). So does that thought lead us to Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose in “Maestro,” or to Willem Dafoe’s scarred face in “Poor Things?” It could go either way, but I suspect two things push “Poor Things” over the top. One is simply voters liking the movie better and feeling more inclined to reward it. But there’s also the possibility that the mild “Jewface” controversy that erupted when the first trailer for “Maestro” came out costs it just enough votes here to make a difference in what could be a very close race. 

Best Production Design
“Barbie”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Napoleon”
“Oppenheimer”
“Poor Things”

In the rare category that seemingly all five nominees could win, what will stand out? “Oppenheimer,” “Napoleon,” and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” while all looking incredible, likely all cancel each other out by having the same sort of period-piece appeal. As with Best Costume Design, this should come down to “Barbie” and “Poor Things” for sheer memorability and creativity. But despite how incredibly detailed and unique they are, the sets of “Poor Things” likely require a bit more concerted attention from the viewer to truly stand out. That’s in contrast to “Barbie,” whose “Barbieland” set design is so ubiquitous and inescapable that it becomes the film’s dominant image. And who could forget Ken’s Mojo Dojo House? 

Best Sound
The Creator
“Maestro”
Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
“Oppenheimer”
“The Zone of Interest”

If you’re betting actual money on the Oscars, you should absolutely put your Best Sound dollars (what a concept) on “Oppenheimer,” because the most likely scenario here is that voters see the word “sound” and immediately think “Big Bomb Go Boom!” and check the appropriate box. But from the moment I saw “The Zone of Interest” at TIFF last fall, I just thought it had the best sound design I’d ever heard. Given the kind of movie it is, I didn’t allow much hope that it would actually receive a Best Sound Oscar nomination. But now that it did, I just can’t pick against it. Every year there’s one category where my heart drowns out my brain, and this year it’s Best Sound. Sign me up for “The Zone of Interest” in a surprise upset. (And don’t @me if you follow my lead and lose your money.)

Best Visual Effects
“The Creator”
Godzilla Minus One
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
“Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One”
“Napoleon”

If “Oppenheimer” were nominated here, it would have cruised to the win for the Trinity Test scene alone. But for some baffling reason it’s not here, and we’re left with five movies that were nominated almost nowhere else. That means this is less a race about what deserves to win and more about what voters will actually watch. Given that, “The Creator” is the first movie we can probably cross off the list. That leaves us with three franchise movies and “Napoleon,” but surprisingly, franchise movies don’t actually do very well in this category. 

In the last 15 years, the only franchise films to win this category are ones directed by James Cameron or Denis Villeneuve. In other words, unless your franchise movie is directed by one of the greatest sci-fi masters in movie history, it’s probably not winning here. That leaves us with “Napoleon,” which actually makes a good amount of sense as our likely winner. Another war epic (“1917”) just won this category a few years ago, another Ridley Scott historical epic (“Gladiator”) has won it before, and of the five nominees, the single most memorable sequence is probably the ice breaking in the Battle of Austerlitz. 

Best Animated Short
“Letter to a Pig”
“Ninety-Five Senses”
“Our Uniform”
“Pachyderme”
“War Is Over! Inspired By the Music of John & Yoko”

With no nominees from Disney or Pixar, and in a relatively weak batch of contenders, two possibilities feel the most likely. One is simply that voters check the box of the film that namedrops a Beatle in the title. And the other is that voters support the film with the most beautiful animation style. I’m hoping for the latter, which is why “Letter to a Pig” gets my pick. 

Best Documentary Short
“The ABCs of Book Banning”
“The Barber of Little Rock”
“Island in Between”
“The Last Repair Shop”
“Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó”

There’s an old joke about this category that the Holocaust film will always win. And though there’s no literal Holocaust film in the running this year, “The ABCs of Book Banning” is tangentially about the Holocaust just enough—The Diary of Anne Frank is definitely mentioned, as are other books that feature Nazis—that it could ride that trend. 

But there’s another trend in this category that’s also worth considering, which is voters supporting movies about Los Angeles. (Who could forget “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”?) That could give the advantage to “The Last Repair Shop,” which is a heartwarming story about an inner city repair shop that handles all the musical instruments from LA schools. 

I could see it going either way, but “The Last Repair Shop” feels a bit too boilerplate to me, while “The ABCs of Book Banning” has a lot of memorable kids giving a lot of memorable quotes. When in doubt, go with the kid talking about gay penguins. 

Best Live Action Short
“The After”
Invincible
“Knight of Fortune”
“Red, White and Blue”
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Sometimes the Oscars do a cute thing where they’ll pick a special presenter for a category that they pretty much know is in the bag for a major, long-awaited winner (like Samuel L. Jackson presenting Best Adapted Screenplay the year Spike Lee won the category for “BlacKkKlansman”), and if that kind of gamesmanship were to happen this year, this is the category for it. Because that’s how much of a done deal it is that the great Wes Anderson will finally win his first Oscar for making the Netflix short film “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.” 

There’s been some speculation that Anderson could lose here if enough voters think picking an established, wildly successful filmmaker is against the spirit of this award (which, let’s be honest, it really is), but for that unlikely event to occur, those voters would all have to flock to the same alternate choice. That won’t happen in a category with no other obvious pick, so this race should be a done deal. (And my dream presenter here would be the three “Tenenbaum” children—Gwenyth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, and Luke Wilson.)

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