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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

2024 Oscars: hopes and predictions for three (major) awards

Two years ago, I wrote an article in the lead-up to the Oscars spotlighting three award categories that typically get outshined by the major awards in the press. Well, sadly, my days of sticking up for cinema’s little guys are over, as this article is squarely focused on the splashiest titles on the awards season marquee: acting, directing and overall film. 

2023 was a strong year for the movies, offering audiences a rich diversity of exciting, well-made films ranging from old-school sports dramas like “Air” to cutting-edge, animated adventures like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” As such, it only feels right to pay the heavy-hitting actors, filmmakers and producers who drove this prosperity their due by reflecting on their fates come Oscars night. 

Here are my hopes and predictions for Best Actress/Actor, Best Director and Best Picture at the 2024 Academy Awards.

Best Actress/Actor

Annette Bening embodied an aging marathon swimmer, Bradley Cooper morphed into a classical music icon and Colman Domingo honored an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement. But among the wealth of incredible performances turned in by Hollywood’s leading men and women this past year, the two that contributed the most to their respective films’ power are Lily Gladstone in “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer.

Gladstone provides the anguished heart of Martin Scorsese’s true-crime drama about the 1920s murders of dozens of oil-rich Osage Native Americans in Oklahoma. Portraying Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman whose family is slowly killed off by the sinister schemes of her husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) and other white prospectors seeking to take control of the oil, the actress movingly invests her character with a stoicism that is constantly tested by the evil being inflicted upon her. The integrity that Mollie exudes regardless of her circumstances is conveyed through the steady gaze and deep, even voice that Gladstone maintains throughout much of the film, choices that make her few overt displays of emotion — both joyous and despairing — all the more impactful. 

Gladstone made history as the first Native American to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress. Now, on the merit of how effectively she guides the audience of “Killers of the Flower Moon” through the Osage experience of one of the darkest chapters in the people’s history, Gladstone deserves to make history again by winning it.

Her actor counterpart comes in the form of a haggard Murphy playing the titular role in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” the other big-name, three-hour-long historical epic of the year. Murphy is wholeheartedly captivating as the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, drawing the energy of every scene into himself as collapsed stars suck in all surrounding light as posited by the scientist’s 1939 theory of black holes. It is not with grand gestures or emotional outbursts that Murphy exerts this gravitational pull on the drama, however. Rather, the Irish actor accurately portrays the introspective yet charismatic “father of the atomic bomb” with calm intensity defined by measured deliveries of dialogue and a haunted thousand-yard stare, creating a mystique about the man that leaves the audience leaning in to pierce the machinery behind the blue eyes. 

He may not be the frontrunner in the Best Actor race — that spot deservedly belongs to Paul Giamatti for his endearing performance in “The Holdovers” — but Murphy is the foundation of what was the year’s most critically acclaimed blockbuster. For that, and for giving his strongest performance in a career full of great ones, Murphy has earned the Oscar.

My hope: Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”; Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

My prediction: Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”; Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”

Best Director

After leading the pack of twenty-first-century Hollywood filmmakers for over two decades, it looks like the path is finally clear for Christopher Nolan to win his first Academy Award for directing. The degree of difficulty that Nolan faced in bringing his vision for “Oppenheimer” to the big screen was extremely high, requiring the writer-director to amass and orchestrate a sprawling ensemble of A-list stars, oversee a production that was largely filmed in the spartan expanses of New Mexico and, most notably, recreate the detonation of an atomic bomb primarily using practical effects. The fact that he accomplished these logistical and technical feats is impressive on its own, but when Nolan’s behind-the-scenes efforts are placed in the context of the finished film that he presented to audiences this past summer, the real achievement that is his direction of “Oppenheimer” reveals itself.

Boasting a three-hour running time chock-full of scientists and politicians engaged in high-level conversations, the historical drama is a supremely entertaining film that rushes along with more urgency than most thrillers, thanks to Nolan’s unique command of narrative intensity. This blending of substantial subject matter and multiplex flair is a brilliant balance that Nolan has struck across many genres throughout his career. With “Oppenheimer,” he has brought it to bear on the biopic and practically reinvented the form. 

Martin Scorsese may play spoiler with his late-career opus “Killers of the Flower Moon,” but if the Critics’ Choice Awards and countless other Oscars precursors are any indication, Nolan appears to have rightly locked up the golden statuette before the envelope is even opened.

My hope: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

My prediction: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Best Picture

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Call it the boring choice, but there would be no more fitting commemoration of the cinematic year of 2023 than “Oppenheimer” taking home the top prize on Hollywood’s biggest night. The film’s impact on popular culture has seemingly been felt by everyone with access to a movie theater or the internet, a byproduct of its meme-driven symbiosis with a certain pink-themed satire and the unprecedented one-two punch that ensued at the box office. Strip “Oppenheimer” of its bountiful cultural currency, however, and what remains is still a gripping, masterfully constructed retelling of history that thrives off the career-best work of the artists who created it.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema wields the maximal resolution and scale of the IMAX film format to render richly colored, enveloping images of landscapes and human faces alike, while editor Jennifer Lame cuts the photography at a kinetic pace that lends scenes of drama the dynamism of an action sequence. Composer Ludwig Göransson contributes an explosive score of runaway strings and resounding horns that complements sound designer Richard King’s visceral soundscape of pulsating atoms and rumbling fireballs. And of course, all of this craftsmanship is in service of Murphy and the impeccable cast’s dramatization of Nolan’s enthralling screenplay, which immerses the audience in the thrills and quandaries of the man behind one of the most consequential developments in human history.

Like in the directing category, “Killers of the Flower Moon” has a chance to pull off an upset victory in the Best Picture competition for its eloquent memorialization of a widely unknown American tragedy. That said, no 2023 film capitalized on the jackpot combination of artistic excellence, commercial attractiveness and vital, challenging storytelling better than “Oppenheimer.” It’s an instant classic, and husband-and-wife producers Nolan and Emma Thomas should win the Academy Award for bringing it to the world.

My hope: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven, “Oppenheimer”

My prediction: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven, “Oppenheimer”

Tune in to see who wins when the Oscars air on March 10 at 7 p.m.

Jack Torpey

Jack Torpey '24 (he/him) is an Arts and Culture Editor. He writes film reviews for the Reel Critic column.  

Jack is studying English with a minor in Film and Media Culture. Outside The Campus, he works as a peer writing tutor at the Writing Center and is a member of the Middlebury Consulting Group.