Oscar Predictions: “Oppenheimer” to roll up honors at 96th Oscars

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures)

The 96th Academy Awards will hold its Oscar ceremony at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC, and the tea leaves and practically every Oscar commentator is predicting a huge night for Christopher Nolan and his picture “Oppenheimer.”

Oscar coverage begins at noon on ABC with a three-hour “Countdown to Oscars” special, and then “The Oscar Red Carpet Show” at 5:30 p.m.

“Oppenheimer” garnered 13 Oscar nominations, and while it might not win every one of them, the expectation is for the film about the man who was the director of the Manhattan Project, which cracked the code for the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan to bring an end to World War II in 1945, to overwhelm the competition.

“Oppenheimer” is a sturdy film, but its overly long third act proves problematic to me as a critic and a film lover as it wanders off the track Nolan set earlier in the film. I ranked it third on my “10 favorite movies of 2023” in early January behind “The Holdovers” and “Past Lives.”

At that point, I had not seen “American Fiction,” but today I would rank “American Fiction” higher than “Oppenheimer,” as well. Honestly, I’d probably push “Godzilla Minus One” ahead of it, too, after second viewings of both.

But that’s just my personal taste.

The Oscar winds seem to be blowing strongly in the direction of “Oppenheimer,” and for his body of work, Nolan probably deserves the honors projected for his film to receive on Sunday.

With that said, here are my picks for most of the Oscar categories, along with a selection of what film I think should win in each category as well as a dark-horse contender.

Best picture

“American Fiction” / “Anatomy of a Fall” / “Barbie” / “The Holdovers” / “Killers of the Flower Moon” / “Maestro” / “Oppenheimer” / “Past Lives” / “Poor Things” / “The Zone of Interest”

Will win: “Oppenheimer”
Should win: “The Holdovers”
Dark-horse contender: “Past Lives”

“Oppenheimer” seems to be a shoo-in, but I highly suggest seeing “The Holdovers” and “Past Lives” if you haven’t had the chance.

Best actor

Bradley Cooper, “Maestro” / Colman Domingo, “Rustin” / Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers” / Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer” / Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Will win: Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”
Should win: Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”
Dark-horse contender: Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Though I prefer Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers,” it’s hard to argue with Cillian Murphy as best actor. His performance is the heart and soul of “Oppenheimer.”

Best actress

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

Will win: Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Should win: Emma Stone, “Poor Things”
Dark-horse contender: Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

Lily Gladstone and Emma Stone split the SAG and BAFTA honors respectively, but this appears to be the category where Martin Scorsese’s film “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be rightly honored.

Best supporting actor

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

Will win: Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”
Should win: Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”
Dark-horse contender: Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

Robert Downey Jr. earns his Oscar for his performance in “Oppenheimer.” It’s not even close.

Best supporting actress

Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer” / Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple” / America Ferrera, “Barbie” / Jodie Foster, “Nyad” / Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Will win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”
Should win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”
Dark-horse contender: America Ferrera, “Barbie”

Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the sure bet of the night in the major categories for her performance in “The Holdovers.”

Best director

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”

Will win: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”
Should win: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”
Dark-horse contender: Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Come and get your Oscar, Mr. Nolan. It’s well deserved if not for Oppenheimer,” then for your body of work.

Animated feature film

“The Boy and the Heron” / “Elemental” / “Nimona” / “Robot Dreams” / “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Will win: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
Should win: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
Dark-horse contender: “The Boy and the Heron”

Spidey should get the golden statue, but “The Boy and the Heron” is excellent.

Adapted screenplay

“American Fiction” / “Barbie” / “Oppenheimer” / “Poor Things” / “The Zone of Interest”

Will win: “Oppenheimer”
Should win: “Oppenheimer”
Dark-horse contender: “The Zone of Interest”

The “Oppenheimer” boulder is rolling down hill collecting accolades and golden hardware.

Original screenplay

“Anatomy of a Fall” / “The Holdovers” / “Maestro” / “May December” / “Past Lives”

Will win: “Anatomy of a Fall”
Should win: “Anatomy of a Fall”
Dark-horse contender: “The Holdovers”

The script for “Anatomy of a Fall” is supremely constructed to give you just enough information to keep you wondering about exactly what happened well after the movie’s conclusion.

Visual effects

“The Creator” / “Godzilla Minus One” / “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” / “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” / “Napoleon”

Will win: “Godzilla Minus One”
Should win: “Godzilla Minus One”
Dark-horse contender: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”

The effects achieved in “Godzilla Minus One” are perhaps the most realistic in a Japanese-produced Godzilla movie, but when you learn that level of excellence was achieved on a $15 million budget, the movie is all the more amazing.

Original score

“American Fiction” / “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” / “Killers of the Flower Moon” / “Oppenheimer” / “Poor Things”

Will win: “Oppenheimer”
Should win: “Oppenheimer”
Dark-horse contender: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

Ludwig Goransson likely gets the Oscar for “Oppenheimer” denying John Williams his sixth Oscar, although he’s been nominated 54 times.

Original song

“It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony” / “I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie” / “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” / “The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot” / “Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” from “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Will win: “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie”
Should win: “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie”
Dark-horse contender: “Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” from “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Billie Eilish won her first Oscar in 2022 for “No Time to Die” from the latest James Bond film. She’s the odds on favorite to collect her second for the “Barbie” tune “What Was I Made For?”


“El Conde” / “Killers of the Flower Moon” / “Maestro” / “Oppenheimer” / “Poor Things”

Will win: “Oppenheimer”
Should win: “Oppenheimer”
Dark-horse contender: “Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Oppenheimer” gets Hoyt van Hoytema over the Oscar hump, earning him is first golden statue after two nominations. If he doesn’t win, my thought is Rodrigo Prieto will take home the trophy for “Killers of the Flower Moon.”