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Who will win this year’s Oscars? Who should win?

By Chris Hewitt, Star Tribune
Published: January 28, 2024, 6:00am

Historical epic “Oppenheimer” led the 2024 Academy Awards nominations Tuesday with 13, including a trio for acting, as well as best picture, director and screenplay adaptation.

That may give Christopher Nolan’s biopic a leg up over contenders, since best picture is generally won by the film with the most nominations, but there also were strong showings from “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Poor Things,” with 10 and 11 nominations, respectively.

“Barbie” scored eight nods but holds the distinction of being the most-snubbed movie as well. Both director Greta Gerwig and star/producer Margot Robbie were expected to earn nominations, but both were overlooked (both are nominated in other categories — Gerwig for co-writing the screenplay and Robbie for co-producing the film).

We’ll know who wins when awards are handed out March 10 at 7 p.m. ET (an hour earlier than in years past, allowing ABC to position one of its series, “Abbott Elementary,” after the awards, much like networks do with the Super Bowl).

Here are our picks on who should and who will win the Oscars in the top six categories:

Best picture

‘American Fiction’

The story: A snobby novelist writes a stereotypical book he thinks will be a hit and, when it is, must pretend to be the invented, streetwise version of himself who wrote it — while also caring for his family and falling in love.

In its favor: The protagonist is played by Jeffrey Wright, one of our most respected actors but somehow never an Oscar nominee. Also, the satire eventually gets to compelling arguments about publishing and authenticity.

Then again: The Oscars like compelling arguments about moviemaking (“The Artist,” “La La Land”), not publishing.

‘Anatomy of a Fall’

The story: A man plunges to his death from the top floor of his Alpine chalet. His widow becomes a suspect and his young son may be the only one who knows the truth.

In its favor: At last May’s Cannes Film Festival, it won the top prize, essentially anointing it as the world’s best film for 2023. That ought to count for something, right?

Then again: Wrong. Cannes winners rarely coincide with Oscar winners and, “Parasite” notwithstanding, best pictures are usually in English (“Anatomy of a Fall” is mostly in French and German).

‘Barbie’

The story: The titular doll embarks on an odyssey to figure out who she is and what she means to women and girls. Also, Ken is in it.

In its favor: The year’s biggest box office hit was also an unexpectedly smart check-in on the state of feminism and a wake-up call, alerting Hollywood to the public’s interest in smart, original movies that are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Then again: It’s a comedy and, unless you count “The Artist,” the last comic best picture to win was “Shakespeare in Love” in 1999.

‘The Holdovers’

The story: A professor, a cook and a student are a lonely trio, stuck at a small private school while everyone else is on Christmas break. Spoiler alert: They become unlikely friends.

In its favor: Alexander Payne’s ‘70s-set movie feels like a ‘70s movie, so it recalls the sort of film many Oscar voters feel nostalgia for (and, given their average age, may have voted for, 50 years ago).

Then again: Exceptions such as “The Green Book” occasionally sneak through, but small films like “The Holdovers” rarely win the top prize these days.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

The story: After the discovery of oil in Oklahoma in the 1920s, Osage people start dying in alarming numbers. An Osage woman (Lily Gladstone) begins to wonder if her secretive husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) has something to do with that.

In its favor: “Killers” has Oscar written all over it. It’s from a prestigious director (Martin Scorsese), it’s epic, its themes are important and it’s based on a shocking true story.

Then again: All of those things are also true of the more widely acclaimed (and more successful) “Oppenheimer.”

‘Maestro’

The story: Bradley Cooper’s drama follows composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein from his concert breakthrough in the 1940s to his emeritus status as a music legend.

In its favor: It was a passion project for director/writer/producer/star Cooper. It took years to make and, with its insistence on music as the driving force of its subject’s life, it’s much more than the standard biopic.

Then again: Pockets of criticism (about not really dealing with Bernstein’s bisexuality, about the fake nose Cooper wears, about the bold use of music) suggests it’s not universally beloved.

‘Oppenheimer’

The story: J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) directed the Manhattan Project, reluctantly establishing himself as the “father of the atomic bomb.” He also ignored the people he professed to love.

In its favor: Smart, stylish, “important,” full of ideas and the work of artist Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer” is exactly the kind of movie Oscar loves. That it was also a hugely unlikely, saving-Hollywood’s-bacon hit is just gravy.

Then again: It’s hard to think of a downside. Maybe the similarly positioned “Oppenheimer” and “Killers” split the prestige vote, leaving room for a “Barbie” surprise?

‘Past Lives’

The story: A New York woman, happily married, hears from the boy she loved when she was an adolescent in South Korea. He’s coming to America and may want to rekindle that flame.

In its favor: Did anyone who saw “Past Lives” not like it? Beautifully written and performed, it’s full of perfectly judged insight about relationships and choices.

Then again: Did Oscar voters see “Past Lives?” It’s another small movie – just three characters, really — and its deep appeal may not be wide enough to win best picture.

‘Poor Things’

The story: A mad scientist creates life in the form of a full-grown woman who morphs from infantile behavior to adulthood in the comedy/drama.

In its favor: It’s in the fairy tale vein of “The Shape of Water,” which Oscar loved. The performances, surreal design, bold storytelling — everything about “Poor Things” is designed to get attention. And the Oscars already favor Yorgos Lanthimos, having given his “The Favourite” nine nominations.

Then again: “The Favourite” only won one (Olivia Colman for best actress) and “Poor Things” is a lot weirder.

‘The Zone of Interest’

The story: A Nazi couple lives next door to Auschwitz. What’s notable about their reaction to the horrors of the concentration camp is how little they react to them.

In its favor: Films about the Holocaust typically do well at the Academy Awards and this one tells a story unlike any of those that preceded it, finding subtle ways to explore the psychology of those who perpetrate evil.

Then again: Of the two foreign-made best picture nominees that star Sandra Hüller, each with five nods, “Zone” has a lower profile than “Anatomy of a Fall.”

AND THE WINNER IS: “Anatomy of a Fall,” which deliberately calls back to classic courtroom dramas such as “Anatomy of a Murder,” is the best, but “Oppenheimer” will take the trophy and stand the test of time.

Best actor

Bradley Cooper: ‘Maestro’

The role: Leonard Bernstein, manic composer/conductor/philanderer.

In his favor: Cooper completely disappears into the role and he also co-wrote, co-produced and directed, so it’s his baby. Prior to “Maestro,” Cooper had nine nominations, so there’s obviously affection there.

Then again: He lost all nine. And “Maestro” has been an also-ran in pre-Oscar awards. This is its best shot but it may continue to lose by a nose.

Colman Domingo: ‘Rustin’

The role: Civil rights leader and March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin, often ignored because of his homosexuality.

In his favor: Domingo has racked up a bunch of great performances in recent years, so he seems someone his peers would like to reward.

Then again: It won’t happen for “Rustin,” which is not a great movie and hasn’t gotten much awards traction as a result.

Paul Giamatti: ‘The Holdovers’

The role: Sad-sack professor Paul Hunham, who smells like fish and has no friends.

In his favor: Giamatti is a gifted, beloved and prolific character actor who has worked with virtually the entire membership of the movie academy. And he’s the wounded soul of the well-liked “The Holdovers.”

Then again: Is tiny little “Holdovers” really going to win half of the acting awards (see also: supporting actress)?

Cillian Murphy: ‘Oppenheimer’

The role: Scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb” who came to wish he could disown it.

In his favor: The movie looks like a juggernaut, which could carry him along, and his consistent career has escaped Oscar’s attention so far.

Then again: Is he too subtle? Although it’s a huge part, Murphy’s was the third-most-talked-about performance in “Oppenheimer.” Not a great sign for a title role.

Jeffrey Wright: ‘American Fiction’

The role: Smug novelist Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, whose career, family and love life are crashing.

In his favor: Tony- and Emmy-winner Wright is already halfway to an EGOT but has had few cinematic chances to shine. Here, he does in a role that shows his flair for comedy and for drama.

Then again: Voters, who didn’t give the film much love, may prefer to reward him in something better.

AND THE WINNER IS: Giamatti has the momentum, partly because his movie was released five months after Murphy’s (although “Oppenheimer” just hit streaming, which helps). No quibbles here, although Cooper is Oscar-worthy, too.

Best actress

Annette Bening: ‘Nyad’

The role: Sexagenarian distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

In her favor: This is Bening’s fifth nomination, with no wins. She trained like mad to be believable as an elite athlete for this vanity-free, warts-and-all portrait.

Then again: Reaction to the movie has been decidedly mixed. It’s possible to win an acting Oscar for a movie voters don’t love, especially in this category, but Bening is up against terrific work in much better films.

Lily Gladstone, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

The role: Wealthy Mollie Burkhart, whose husband may be trying to kill her.

In her favor: Not only is she fantastic in the film but she also helped shape it so Indigenous characters were at its center.

Then again: She doesn’t have a huge body of work for voters to gauge — but neither did Marlee Matlin or Hilary Swank (the first time), and they both won.

Sandra Hüller: ‘Anatomy of a Fall’

The role: Sandra Voyter, recent widow and murder suspect.

In her favor: Want to talk degree of difficulty? Hüller speaks three languages beautifully and acts with clarity in each. She’s also owed a make-good: She should have been nominated for “Toni Erdmann” a few years back.

Then again: It’s a strong field and Hüller’s is the lowest-profile movie among them.

Carey Mulligan: ‘Maestro’

The role: Actor but mostly-wife-of-Leonard-Bernstein, Felicia Montealegre.

In her favor: The role offers Mulligan, a nominee a couple of years back for “Promising Young Woman,” lots of theatrics and Cooper paid tribute to her skill by billing her first, even though he’s the title character.

Then again: “Maestro” is missing a scene or two to help us understand where this character is coming from.

Emma Stone: ‘Poor Things’

The role: Bella Baxter, who ages from infancy to adulthood in a matter of months.

In her favor: No actor in 2023 gave more to a role than Stone, who commits fully to the movie’s out-there arguments about nature vs. nurture. Big stars do not have to take risks like this, but Stone went there.

Then again: Stone won seven years ago for “La La Land.” Too soon?

AND THE WINNER IS: It comes down to Gladstone and Stone, who both picked up pre-Oscar awards. Gladstone’s lovely Golden Globe speech may have sealed the deal, but I’d like to see Hüller’s complex work honored.

Best supporting actor

Sterling K. Brown: ‘American Fiction’

The role: Clifford Ellison, a (not) recovering addict who’s not much help to the main character, his brother.

In his favor: It’s a snappy role, with the kind of showy scenes that attract lots of attention from voters because when he’s on-screen, it’s all about his messed-up character.

Then again: This feels like a we-have-our-eyes-on-you nomination for Brown, who may not win this year but is headed for deeper roles in the very near future.

Robert De Niro: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

The role: William Hale, who’s behind the film’s monumental evil.

In his favor: Bad guys often win in this category, which also loves a character actor with a long IMDB page of memorable roles behind him. And it has been three decades since De Niro won one of these.

Then again: By the actor’s standards, it’s a subtle performance. Too subtle?

Robert Downey Jr.: ‘Oppenheimer’

The role: Lewis Strauss, the short-tempered government wonk who orchestrated the title character’s fall from grace.

In his favor: There may not be a better actor in Hollywood who does not have an Oscar than Downey, whose acceptance speeches have been big hits and whose performance registers strongly.

Then again: Do voters ever think, “Wait. I’m voting for another Oscar for ‘Oppenheimer?’ Who else could I pick?’”

Ryan Gosling: ‘Barbie’

The role: Ken, the vain male doll whose entire existence is as an accessory to Barbie.

In his favor: This category is often won by lead actors who are bumped down to supporting, which is what’s happening here. Gosling is a legit star whose versatility should win him an Oscar some day.

Then again: Maybe it’ll be for something where the point isn’t how little depth his character has?

Mark Ruffalo: ‘Poor Things’

The role: Duncan Wedderburn, a melodramatic nobleman who romances Bella.

In his favor: If this award were given for the most acting, Ruffalo would be a lock. His silent movie-esque theatrics are loud, dumb, whiny and a lot of fun.

Then again: Give Ruffalo credit for departing from the more realistic work he usually does, but some may think his go-for-broke style here is too over-the-top.

AND THE WINNER IS: It’s a strong field but Downey’s career, from Marvel adventures to adventurous indies, deserves to be recognized (all of that also applies to Ruffalo, my personal pick).

Best supporting actress

Emily Blunt: ‘Oppenheimer’

The role: Kitty Oppenheimer, the title louse’s long-suffering wife.

In her favor: Viewers probably spent most of the epic movie wondering why Blunt took this nothing role. Then, the final scenes — and Blunt’s electrifying work — put her sharp character right at the center of the story.

Then again: With this competition, she’ll have to be glad she finally earned her first (!) nomination.

Danielle Brooks: ‘The Color Purple’

The role: Celie’s spirited, principled friend Sofia.

In her favor: It’s a great role, as a previous set of Oscar voters recognized when they gave Oprah Winfrey a nomination for playing this same character.

Then again: Sofia doesn’t make quite as much impact as she did in the stage musical, so this doesn’t feel like the movie to take versatile Brooks to victory.

America Ferrera: ‘Barbie’

The role: Gloria, mother of a girl who’s not that into Barbie.

In her favor: Ferrera’s performance will play on the Oscar telecast. It all comes down to one fiery speech, in which Gloria lays out how tricky our world is for women and, specifically, mothers. Ferrera nails the speech, which at least half of voters can relate to.

Then again: The rest of the role is meh. Is one speech enough to earn an Oscar?

Jodie Foster: ‘Nyad’

The role: Bonnie Stoll, coach, best friend and reality check for the titular endurance swimmer.

In her favor: The two-time winner but longtime infrequent actor gets a big “welcome back” from the Academy (who last nominated her 28 years ago), which loves a comeback even when she never really went anywhere.

Then again: She steals the movie, but no one’s going to stop Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s train.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: ‘The Holdovers’

The role: Mary Lamb, mournful cook at a school for privileged white boys.

In her favor: Literally everything. The movie is respected. She is a veteran who finally got her hands on a nuanced role in a good movie. Her work is outstanding, underscoring themes of classism and racism.

Then again: No “then again.” It’s more likely Taylor Swift will skip a Chiefs game than that Randolph will lose.

AND THE WINNER IS: Randolph should and will win. Here’s hoping this is just the first of many showcases for her talents (she has a comedy and an action movie on the way, and she stars in both).

Best director

Jonathan Glazer: ‘The Zone of Interest’

In his favor: He has spoken about the difficulty of creating the bleak film, which required years of preparation to understand his brutal characters and then to figure out how to convey that cinematically. There’s been nary a discouraging word about the result.

Then again: It is so bleak. Oscar voters tend to like movies with a light at the end of the tunnel, but “Zone” offers none.

Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘Poor Things’

In his favor: The direction probably calls attention to itself in “Poor Things” more than any of the other nominees, for which Lanthimos’ team channeled multiple filmmaking styles to create a world that looks a bit like, but also nothing like, our own.

Then again: Something tells me many people love “Poor Things” but many hate it, too (which Lanthimos is probably just fine with).

Christopher Nolan: ‘Oppenheimer’

In his favor: The man is due. It’s embarrassing that the guy who made “The Dark Knight,” “Dunkirk” (his only previous directing nomination), “Memento” and “Inception” does not have an Oscar already. And “Oppenheimer,” a long, serious drama that became a summer smash, is right up Oscar’s alley.

Then again: Why have voters been so reluctant to honor him and, whatever that is, does it still hold?

Martin Scorsese: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

In his favor: Many would put him on the Mount Rushmore of directors, and it’s especially impressive that he’s still at the top of his game, doing old-school work that feels fresh, at 81. Others might have bailed on this tricky, long-in-the-works project.

Then again: He does already have a statue in this category, even if it was for one of his lesser movies (“The Departed”).

Justine Triet: ‘Anatomy of a Fall’

In her favor: With Greta Gerwig out of the mix, Triet’s the sole standard-bearer for female directors, to whom this category historically has not been kind. And she has a great story: She and husband Arthur Harari concocted the “Anatomy” screenplay during the pandemic lockdown and then she guided it through production.

Then again: She’s up against a bunch of heavy hitters and she’s a fairly new name as far as Hollywood is concerned.

AND THE WINNER IS: Nolan should finally hoist a little gold man, already. It’s sort of a lifetime achievement award at this point, but it will also come for an excellent film.

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