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How “Oppenheimer” will blow up the Oscars — and other golden predictions

(Clockwise from left): “Oppenheimer” for best picture and Christopher Nolan for director; Lily Gladstone for actress; Cillian Murphy for actor; Da’Vine Joy Randolph for supporting actress; and Robert Downey Jr. for supporting actor.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

It’s not breaking a Los Alamos top secret to declare that Christopher Nolan’s atomic biopic “Oppenheimer” will blow up the 96th Academy Awards on Sunday.

By all indications, this acclaimed World War II drama, starring Cillian Murphy as the title bomb builder and Robert Downey Jr. as his political nemesis, will likely convert 8-10 of its 13 leading nominations into gold.

“Oppenheimer” has swept all the major pre-Oscars award ceremonies. It has taken in nearly $1 billion at the global box office since its release last summer.

I expect the film to take at least eight Oscars: best picture, director (Nolan), actor (Murphy), supporting actor (Downey Jr), cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), film editing (Jennifer Lame), original score (Ludwig Göransson) and sound (Willie D. Burton, Richard King, Gary A. Rizzo, Kevin O'Connell). That would be one more Oscar than the seven won by last year’s champion, “Everything, Everywhere All at Once.”

“Oppenheimer” might also grab adapted screenplay (Nolan again), but there’s strong competition from two close rivals: Cord Jefferson’s "American Fiction” has several earlier wins under its belt and Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach’s “Barbie” has novelty and potent satire in its favour — and also possibily sympathy votes due to the perceived snub of a directing nod for Gerwig.

There’s a lot more consensus than usual this year among the various Oscar pundits, especially regarding the inevitability of a big win by “Oppenheimer.” But that still leaves room for potential surprises, especially for best actress, where Emma Stone (“Poor Things”) may be gaining on presumed front-runner Lily Gladstone (“Flowers of the Killer Moon”).

Here’s my annual rundown of what/who will win, could win and should win at Sunday’s ceremony, based on previous awards, Academy history (and current scuttlebutt) and my best hunches:


WILL: “Oppenheimer”

COULD: “The Zone of Interest” or “Anatomy of a Fall”

SHOULD: "Oppenheimer”

WHY: Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece is a movie like no other, dragging us into the collective guilt of history with its story of the birth of the atomic bomb. “Oppenheimer” has thoroughly dominated the major industry accolades, among them the directors, producers and actors awards, making it just the 11th film in Oscars history to manage that feat. This all but guarantees a best picture win. But there’s also much love for another World War II drama, Jonathan Glazer’s searing “The Zone of Interest,” set adjacent to Auschwitz and outside shrivelled Nazi hearts. Another serious contender in this strong field is Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” the Palme d’Or winner from Cannes ‘23 that questions motive and opportunity in the violent and mysterious end to a marriage. The other nominees — “American Fiction,” “Barbie,” “The Holdovers,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Past Lives” and “Poor Things” — are also worthy choices. But “Oppenheimer” takes the prize and deserves it.


WILL: Christopher Nolan

COULD: Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest")

SHOULD: Christopher Nolan

WHY: Nolan is a superb craftsman and storyteller, who moves with ease between genre (his “Batman" trilogy) and weighty historical topics (“Oppenheimer,” “Dunkirk”). His perceived main rival Glazer, a fellow Briton, can’t be counted out but it would be astonishing if he won. The remaining nominees — Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”), Martin Scorsese (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) and Justine Triet (“Anatomy of a Fall”) — are also excellent choices. But Nolan is long overdue for an Oscar and he’s going to get it.


WILL: Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer"

COULD: Paul Giamatti, "The Holdovers”

SHOULD: Cillian Murphy

WHY: How could an actor compete with an atomic bomb? Cillian Murphy demonstrates. His portrayal of nuclear genius J. Robert Oppenheimer is achieved with almost supernatural precision, balancing arrogance with self-doubt. Equally deserving is Paul Giamatti, whose hard-to-love professor in “The Holdovers” somehow becomes dear to our hearts. Hats off to the other fine contenders — Jeffrey Wright (“American Fiction”), Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) and Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”) — but this is Murphy’s to lose. Regrets, though, that Andrew Scott didn’t score a nom for his wonderfully empathetic work in “All of Us Strangers.”


WILL: Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

COULD: Emma Stone, "Poor Things”

SHOULD: Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

WHY: This is the hardest acting category to call this year. First-time nominee Lily Gladstone would make history as the first Native American winner, and she’s certainly deserving, even if her limited screen time in Scorsese’s historical reckoning “Killers of the Flower Moon” suggests supporting status rather than lead. A lot of people want to see Emma Stone get her second Oscar for her audacious exuberance in the Franken-divine comedy “Poor Things.” That may well happen, although Gladstone’s recent win at SAG tilted the odds in her favour. If it were up to me, I’d give the gold to Sandra Hüller for her finely calibrated work as a widow under suspicion in the marital thriller “Anatomy of a Fall.” But Hüller, long a favourite of critics, is now on Hollywood’s radar. She’ll be back, and so will the other two better-luck-next-year nominees, Annette Bening (“Nyad”) and Carey Mulligan (“Maestro”).


WILL: Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”

COULD: Ryan Gosling, "Barbie”

SHOULD: Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

How weird is it that Ryan Gosling’s doofus Ken in “Barbie,” easily the most popular supporting character of the year, is going to lose the Oscar to Robert Downey Jr.’s acidic Lewis Strauss in “Oppenheimer,” arguably the least popular supporting character? The Oscar goes to the actor and not the character, of course, and the Academy does prefer historical movies based on real people. It would be wonderful if Gosling could pull out an upset win, but the cards — and many pre-Oscar votes — say that’s not going to happen. On Oscars night, we get to see Gosling perform his “Barbie” tune, “I’m Just Ken,” with 65 dancers. So that’s some kind of recognition, more than will greet the category’s other nominees, Robert De Niro (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”) and Sterling K. Brown (“American Fiction”).


WILL: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, "The Holdovers”

COULD: Jodie Foster, “Nyad” or America Ferrera, "Barbie”

SHOULD: Da’Vine Joy Randolph

WHY: I don’t think there’s been a single acting contest Da’Vine Joy Randolph hasn't won since “The Holdovers” premiered last August at the Telluride Film Festival, beginning its long march to the Oscars spotlight. All of Randolph’s accolades are richly deserved. Playing a boarding school cook and mom of a young soldier killed in war, she contains rage and grief in one fascinating performance. Give her the Oscar, already, but shout-outs to her noble category rivals Jodie Foster (“Nyad”), America Ferrera (“Barbie”), Emily Blunt (“Oppenheimer”) and Danielle Brooks (“The Color Purple”).


WILL: “American Fiction”

COULD: “Oppenheimer” or “Barbie”

SHOULD: “American Fiction”

WHY: There’s category fraud happening this year, through no fault of “Barbie” cowriters Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumach. Their funny and thoughtful story about a plastic doll with existential angst is truly original, but the Academy thought otherwise. “Barbie” might still win, and Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” could of course prevail, too. But my money is on Cord Jefferson’s smart and funny adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel of a frustrated Black author who feigns a character and memoir of an angry Black gangsta. And we can’t completely count out formidable challengers Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”) and Tony McNamara (“Poor Things”).


WILL: “Anatomy of a Fall”

COULD: “The Holdovers” or “Past Lives”

SHOULD: “Anatomy of a Fall”

WHY: The prize in this category often goes to a film that the voters loved, just not enough to make it best picture. Justin Triet and Arthur Harari’s marital mortality whodunit “Anatomy of the Fall” fits the bill and will likely succeed. So might David Hemingson’s “The Holdovers,” Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer’s “Maestro,” Samy Burch’s “May December” and Celine Song’s🇨🇦 “Past Lives.”


★ “Barbie," the unofficial partner to “Oppenheimer" in the “Barbenheimer” theatrical marketing phenomenon, has eight nominations going into the awards. It’s likely to convert no more than three of them into wins: production design, costume design and original song (“What Was I Made For?”)

International feature: “The Zone of Interest” (although I wish it could be the delightful “Perfect Days”)

Documentary feature: “20 Days In Mariupol”

Animated feature: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Make-up & hairstyling: “Maestro”

Visual effects: “Godzilla Minus One” (the first Oscar for the big guy!)

Documentary short: “The Last Repair Shop”

Live action short: “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (although I prefer “Red, White and Blue")

Animated short: “War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko” (although I prefer “Pachyderme”)


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