Stars seems to be aligned for ‘Oppenheimer’ at ’24 Oscars

by STEPHEN WHITTY
oscar predictions 2024

Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer.”

There’s an old joke about academia: Why are the fights among faculty so vicious?

Because the stakes are so low.

It’s even more bizarre among journalists writing, and feuding, about the Oscars. What’s at risk for us is really nothing, financially or emotionally. Does my freelance rate go up if my favorite performer wins? No, it does not. And although I have seen colleagues fume over an “undeserving” winner, or mourn a favorite’s loss … sorry, I shrug both off. As a movie lover, I enjoy seeing good work rewarded. But as a movie critic, I would never expect, or probably want, everyone’s opinion to mirror mine.

But some people — the online “Oscarologists” — do take these things seriously. (They have to: Studio ads pay for their websites.) And, admitted, many people enjoy the horse-race aspect of the season. Even though they know none of it matters — and may even make fun of the Academy’s occasional what-were-they-thinking choices — it’s fun to predict winners. And to wonder, as they enter the office Oscar pool: Could any golden-statue gambler devise a system?

I think so. And here is mine.

First, I look at previous prizes, as handed out by two long-established critics groups, The New York Film Critics Circle and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Members, generally speaking, cannot vote in the Oscars, but their awards, given out early in the year, can give lesser-known talents some recognition, and momentum.

Then I add in The Golden Globes, not because the people behind those awards are respectable, but because their show is watched by a lot of potential Oscar voters. That makes it influential, although the fact that the Globes feature extra categories, including separate prizes for drama and musical/comedy, makes it less reliably predictive.

Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers.”

Then come England’s prizes, The British Academy of Film and Television Awards, and Hollywood’s more specialized, peer-driven honors: The Producers Guild, The Directors Guild and The Screen Actors Guild. As these four all come from voters who are often also Academy members, wins here carry a lot more weight.

And then, finally, there is the emotional factor.

Is the nominee a West Coast-based, well-liked industry fixture (yay!) or one of those snarky, smarty-pants New Yorkers (yuck)? Have they been criminally overlooked before, or do they already have a shelf of these things? Have they just bravely overcome a personal or professional challenge, or have they recently said or done something stupidly offensive? Will giving them a prize send a positive, inclusive message about Hollywood — or a negative, discriminatory one?

Basically, do you want this person to win?

Ok, now that we know the formula, let’s do the math.

BEST ACTOR

And the Nominees Are: Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”; Colman Domingo, “Rustin”; Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”; Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”; Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

The Race: New York critics gave their prize to Franz Rogowski for the little-seen “Passages” — not a factor here. And Los Angeles scribes no longer give separate actor/actress prizes: This year, both lead-performance awards went to women, so they didn’t even have a Best Actor pick. Looking to actual Oscar nominees, Cooper, Domingo and Wright are all winless so far. So that leaves Giamatti, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, and Murphy, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, and the lead prizes from BAFTA and SAG. A decade ago, industry sentiment would make this Giamatti’s — but Academy membership has gotten younger, and a lot more international. This is a hard one.

Will Win: Murphy
Should Win: Giamatti

Lily Gladstone in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

BEST ACTRESS

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

The Race: With LAFCA going genderless, both of their lead awards went to women this year — Hüller (wonderful in this, and in “The Zone of Interest”) and Stone. Stone also won at BAFTA, and picked up the comedy/musical Globe. Gladstone, meanwhile, won the Globe award for drama, and plaudits from the NYFCC and SAG. Technically, that leaves Stone and Gladstone tied; but Stone has already won an Oscar, and a lead-actress prize for an indigenous artist like Gladstone would be a major first. Plus, that SAG prize carries extra weight — performers constitute the dominant voting block at the Oscars — and the Academy loves making history.

Will Win: Gladstone
Should Win: Stone (although, frankly, every performance in this category is a winner)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

The Race: New York voters gave their prize to Charles Melton for “May December,” not nominated by the Academy, while L.A., once again, gave two prizes for supporting performer — and both went to women, so no supporting actor prize from them. Of the Academy’s eventual choices, Brown, De Niro, Gosling and Ruffalo have all been ignored by other big groups. The consistent winner? Comeback kid Downey Jr., who after his well-publicized substance problems — and endless Iron Man paychecks — turned in a sober, serious performance that won him new respect from BAFTA, SAG and the Golden Globes. Voters, assemble!

Will Win: Downey Jr.
Should Win: Downey Jr.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “The Holdovers.”

BEST SUPPORTING ACRESS

And the Nominees Are: Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”; Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”; America Ferrera, “Barbie”; Jodie Foster, “Nyad”; Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

The Race: Hollywood loves Foster, Blunt was typically terrific, Ferrera’s monologue was a showstopper, and Brooks sang her heart out — and not one of them registered during awards season. Instead, it has been the formidable Randolph all the way: She won acclaim from critics in New York and Los Angeles (although L.A. also gave a second prize to Rachel McAdams for “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”). Racking up the frequent-flyer miles, Randolph went on to accept plaudits from the Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG, too. Hope you’re not tired of seeing her heartfelt acceptance speeches, because there is another one coming up.

Will Win: Randolph
Should Win: Randolph

BEST DIRECTOR

And the Nominees Are: 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”

The Race: The L.A. critics went with Glazer, but otherwise it has been Nolan all the time, all the way — he has been honored by the NYFCC, the Globes, BAFTA and the Directors Guild. Also in his favor? Not only was his film an intricate, arty epic (Oscar voters are always in awe of a project they can’t imagine pulling off themselves) but it was an unexpected commercial success. Add to that Nolan’s versatility (arthouse fare like “Memento,” war dramas like “Dunkirk,” far-smarter-than-they-needed to be sci-fi and superhero flicks) and his tireless promotion of classic film and classic film technology, and you have someone the entertainment establishment is eager to honor.

Will Win: Nolan
Should Win: Lanthimos

Robert Downey Jr. in “Oppenheimer.”

BEST PICTURE

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

The Race: A lot of non-starters here: “American Fiction,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Holdovers” and “Past Lives” are all terrific but a little too quiet to win the top award. “Maestro” never built any buzz, and films like “Barbie” always find it hard to convince voters that comedies are Oscar-worthy. Also: None of these have won any major prizes elsewhere. Of the remaining four nominees, “The Zone of Interest” won in L.A., “Killers of the Flower Moon” won in New York, “Poor Things” won the Golden Globes award for comedy — and “Oppenheimer” won the Golden Globe for drama, as well as SAG’s top prize for Best Ensemble, and Best Picture prizes from BAFTA and the Producers Guild.

Will Win: “Oppenheimer”
Should Win: “Oppenheimer”

The 96th Academy Awards will take place at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, March 10 at 4 p.m. PDT (7 p.m. EDT), with Jimmy Kimmel hosting. The television broadcast will be on ABC. For information, visit oscars.org.

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