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Oscars predictions 2024: Who will win, and who should win, at this year’s Academy Awards

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Cillian Murphy, left, and writer, director and producer Christopher Nolan on the set of Oppenheimer.Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

Two years ago, the Academy Awards delivered “The Slap.” Last year, it was the surprising resilience of quasi-Canadiana, thanks to Women Talking’s Sarah Polley and Nalvany’s Daniel Roher. What unexpected moments will audiences wake up talking about after this Sunday’s Oscars? Barbenheimer only knows.

Yet this year’s ceremony also offers up a number of sure-things, or at least – putting on my best Larry David voice – pretty-pretty-prettyyyyyyyy sure things, thanks to the awards-circuit dominance of players such as The Holdovers’ Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Oppenheimer’s Robert Downey Jr., who have won every major, minor and sub-regional film award there is on offer leading to Sunday’s broadcast.

To help with your Oscars betting pool, here are my best guesses, and greater hopes. And if you hit it big, remember to send a little commission back my way in the form of a Globe subscription or two.

Best Picture

Will Win: Oppenheimer

At this point in the race, the biggest bomb drop in contemporary Oscars history would be if Christopher Nolan’s historical epic didn’t take home the big award. The film has everything that anyone anywhere could possibly want (often all at once): it was a box-office sensation, a grand showcase for a dozen-plus of Hollywood’s most respected performers, a quote-unquote important movie for our times and a big ol’ feather in the bespoke cap of Nolan, one of the few directors working today whose name alone guarantees butts in multiplex seats. Oppenheimer is an Oscar movie on a subatomic level.

Should Win: The Zone of Interest

That said: there is a slowly nagging sense that Jonathan Glazer’s challenging, experimental, exceptional and essential Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest could spoil everyone’s big Oppenheimer payload. Personally, I don’t see this happening – Hollywood loves a twist ending, but not when it requires throwing confetti around a film so distinctly, intentionally horrific and chilly – but I would be thrilled all the same if the actual best picture of 2023 were recognized as such by the Academy.

Should’ve Been a Contender: May December

In a different, altogether better universe, Todd Haynes’s frothy ripped-from-the-headlines confection would be a major Oscars player this year, instead of racking up one lonely nomination for Best Original Screenplay. A Lifetime TV movie reimagined by an early-career Atom Egoyan, May December is an elegantly shrewd psychodrama about actors both professional and amateur that perhaps hit a bit too close to home for esteemed members of the Academy.

Best Director

Will Win: Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer

A quarter-century deep into turning cold studio cash into magnificent cinematic puzzles, movies that it seems only his brain can truly unlock, Christopher Nolan has waited until now to destroy existence itself. Because while his new film, Oppenheimer, may look like a familiar biopic that has simply been scaled up to Nolan-sized heights, it is deeper, richer and more devastating than anything that the director has ever made. If Hollywood is ending as we know it – and all signs on that question point to a strong “maybe” – then Nolan has made the ideal movie to finish us all. Give him the award, and hope he doesn’t flip the switch.

Should Win: Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer

Much as I deeply admire, respect and (not a little bit) fear Jonathan Glazer and his work on The Zone of Interest, it does feel like Nolan is due. Plus, an Oscar win for the director gets us just that much closer to a sequel to Tenet. We can do it, Tenet superfans. Or should I say, “ti od nac ew.”

Should’ve Been a Contender: Greta Gerwig, Barbie

We don’t have to rehash the entire migraine-inducing scandal here, but the reason Barbie succeeded at the box office and with critics – and perhaps the only reason that much of Hollywood is still left standing after a disastrous 2023 – is because it sprung from the imagination of Gerwig.

Best Actress

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Lily Gladstone in a scene from Killers of the Flower Moon. If she wins the award for Best Actress, Gladstone will be the first Native American performer to receive the honour.The Associated Press

Will Win: Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon

With both history and critics on her side – if she wins for her role in Martin Scorsese’s crime epic, Gladstone will be the first Native American performer to be so honoured – it seems as if the actress has the award all but in the palms of her hands.

Should Win: Sandra Huller, Anatomy of a Fall

There was no finer lead performance in a film this year than the one from Huller, whose steely work kept Justine Triet’s courtroom drama from imploding. As a wife who refuses to concede an argument, a mother who takes pains to protect her son and an artist who craves success above seemingly everything else, Huller is asked to play a wonderful mess of contradictions – and the actress pulls off the job marvellously.

Should’ve Been a Contender: Greta Lee, Past Lives

Lee, best known for her comedic role on Netflix’s Russian Doll, doesn’t so much rule the screen in Celine Song’s Past Lives as she fills every inch of it with a quiet, aching wistfulness that lingers. It’s a remarkable turn that should turn Lee into a star … and it still might, even without the help of the Academy.

Best Actor

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Paul Giamatti in a scene from the Holdovers. The film marked Giamatti’s first time working with director Alexander Payne since the pair delivered 2004′s Sideways.Seacia Pavao/Focus Features

Will Win: Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers

Like Christopher Nolan, there seems to be a “he deserves it already!” campaign going for Giamatti, another beloved Hollywood fixture who has never gotten the respect (re: Oscar statuette) that he deserves. There is also a wonderful full-circle symmetry to awarding Giamatti here, given that his work as a grumpy schoolteacher in The Holdovers marks the actor’s first time working with director Alexander Payne since the pair delivered 2004′s Sideways, which at the time was also a rallying cry of Oscar snub-watchers.

Should Win: Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers

I’m not going to spoil this party (even if Cillian Murphy might): as the sad-sack professor at the heart of The Holdovers, Giamatti plays into his career-long bent toward curmudgeons perfectly. He straddles the line between ripe victim and ornery underdog with deceptive ease. It is difficult to think of any other performer than Giamatti pushing the character to such sympathetic heights.

Should’ve Been a Contender: Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers

The British actor, best known for playing the Hot Priest on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, is tremendously affecting as the emotional anchor of the queer drama All of Us Strangers, one of the highest-profile films of the season that will go entirely unmentioned Sunday night.

Best Supporting Actress

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Da’Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers. Randolph created something funny, sharp and stirring with her performance in the film.Seacia Pavao/Focus Features

Will Win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers

The one absolute, cannot-miss win of the season – even my four-year-old knows she’s a lock – Randolph will walk away with the award as easily as the actress stole every one of her scenes.

Should Win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers

And she deserves it, too! Playing Mary, a quiet and determined prep-school cook who must deal with the attitudes of spoiled young students while she grieves the loss of her son in the Vietnam War, Randolph creates something funny, sharp and stirring.

Should’ve Been a Contender: Julianne Moore, May December

In her fifth collaboration with Todd Haynes, Moore is wonderfully tragic as May December’s sexual predator-slash-loving mother, giving the character a soft lisp that renders her both victim and aggressor. When the slightest tragedy arrives at Gracie’s doorstep – say, a cancelled order for her home-baking business – she breaks down into full-blown pity-party mode, a storm of depression which Moore delivers with just the right mix of injury and self-delusion. It is as fun an assignment as they come, and she knows it.

Best Supporting Actor:

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Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer. Downey Jr. is hugely entertaining in the film as a political operative with shady intentions.Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

Will Win: Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer

Is earning hundreds of millions of dollars for spending years playing in the Marvel Studios sandbox such a distressing plight that Hollywood now must coddle Robert Downey Jr. with an Oscar? Guy, listen, we all love you and you’re great, in or outside of Tony Stark’s mech-suit. Certainly Downey Jr. is hugely entertaining in Oppenheimer as a political operative with shady intentions. But is it the best performance of the year, or simply the best Hollywood-loves-its-own narrative?

Should Win: Ryan Gosling, Barbie

Son of a beach, he did it: in Barbie, Ryan Gosling gave one of the greatest performances of the year, delivering a Ken that revealed new comedic depths to the actor’s talents, while also channelling a highly specific riff on Southern Ontario bros that could only be conjured by a true Canadian. In an era where the film industry is undergoing a leading-man crisis, Gosling reminded audiences of the power of true movie-star charisma. He’s just Ken!

Should’ve Been a Contender: Glenn Howerton, BlackBerry

It is a crying, screaming shame that Howerton didn’t make the cut for his tremendous, towering performance as frequently furious tech titan Jim Balsillie in Matt Johnson’s Canadian comedy BlackBerry. One day, Balsillie’s beloved Waterloo vampires will have their revenge on the Academy. Oh yes, they will.

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