Oscars 2024: Who will win – and who should?

(Image credit: Serenity Strull/BBC)

Composite of Oscars 2024 nominees (Credit: Serenity Strull/BBC)

Oppenheimer is the favourite for several awards – but there are bound to be a few surprises. BBC Culture’s film critics give their predictions for the big categories.

Cillian Murphy and Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan (Credit: Universal)

Cillian Murphy and Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan (Credit: Universal)

1. Best picture

You can never be quite sure which film will win the top prize at the Oscars: in recent years, both The Power of the Dog and La La Land seemed to have it in the bag, but both of them were beaten. All the same, it would be a major upset if Oppenheimer wasn’t named best picture this year. It’s a film with a heavyweight subject and a stellar cast, but it’s also technically dazzling: Christopher Nolan’s biopic of J Robert Oppenheimer is far more intricate than the average Hollywood “based on a true story” drama. There are also the little matters of how phenomenally successful it’s been at the global box office, how thoroughly it has dominated awards season, and how commandingly it leads the field in terms of Oscar nominations – 13 in total. I can’t honestly say that Oppenheimer is my own favourite of the best picture contenders, but it would (and will) be a worthy winner. (Nicholas Barber)

When the best picture category expanded from five to 10 nominated films in 2009, the change was spurred by backlash to the way Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster The Dark Knight was snubbed the previous year. Now it’s full-circle time. Nolan’s explosive yet character-driven epic Oppenheimer, with a perfect balance of art and commerce, is poised to win best picture. Killers of the Flower Moon and Poor Things are also great in their different ways, but Oppenheimer’s ambition and invention make it, deservedly, this year’s best. (Caryn James)

Best director nominee Christopher Nolan (Credit: Universal)

Best director nominee Christopher Nolan (Credit: Universal)

2. Best director

Every film Christopher Nolan has made has deserved to put him in a best director race. OK, maybe not Insomnia or Interstellar, but almost every one, from Memento to Inception and this year’s likely best picture winner Oppenheimer, which he also wrote. He has never won, but this is his year, and not only because he should win. He recently picked up the Directors Guild Award, usually a good predictor of how the Oscar will go. More than any other film this year, Oppenheimer is shaped by a singular director’s vision. (CJ)

Christopher Nolan will win for directing Oppenheimer, of course. He directed Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and a Batman trilogy, and yet he’s never won an Oscar, so it’s undoubtedly his turn to take home a golden statuette or three. (He could also take home one for writing the film, and another for producing it.) Besides, you don’t have to know much about directing to recognise that overseeing an enterprise as complicated as Oppenheimer is a colossal achievement. It gives you the sense that Nolan took every lesson he learnt from his other films and applied them to this, his most ambitious project to date. Mind you, all of the other best director nominees did terrific jobs, too. It wouldn’t be unjust if Jonathan Glazer, Yorgos Lanthimos, Martin Scorsese or Justine Triet was handed the Oscar. But this is Nolan’s moment. (NB)

Best actor nominee Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

Best actor nominee Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

3. Best actor

This category isn’t done and dusted. Cillian Murphy has to be the favourite for his riveting performance in Oppenheimer, because he’s just won the lead actor prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. But voters might prefer not to give every single Oscar to Oppenheimer, especially as there are a couple of well-loved American actors in contention. Neither Paul Giamatti nor Jeffrey Wright has ever won an Academy Award, as illustrious as their careers have been, so either one of them could be rewarded for their rich, humane characterisations in The Holdovers and American Fiction, respectively. Murphy would be my choice for a role that required him to cover so many different moods in so many different time periods, but I wouldn’t be too upset if Giamatti won instead. (NB)

Cillian Murphy is likely to win this award, as he should. His restrained yet stirring performance makes his character the tortured soul of Oppenheimer. There’s still an outside chance Paul Giamatti might win for his wry, touching performance in The Holdovers. After all, Giamatti’s role as a cranky teacher is flashier, the kind Oscar voters often go for over more nuanced performances. But Murphy’s recent win over Giamatti at the Screen Actors Guild Awards – with actors the largest block of Oscar voters – gives him the edge. (CJ)

Best actress nominee Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon (Credit: Apple Studios)

Best actress nominee Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon (Credit: Apple Studios)

4. Best actress

This was always a race between Lily Gladstone and Emma Stone, two extraordinary and extraordinarily different performances, but it seems that Gladstone has pulled ahead, winning the SAG award. She deserves to win for her beautiful, subtle performance as Molly Burkhart, the heart of Killers of the Flower Moon. As with the best actor race, this isn’t entirely a sure thing, because Stone’s flamboyant turn as the Frankensteinian feminist Bella Baxter is more conspicuous “Acting”. But Stone has won before, for La La Land, and Gladstone’s win would be historic, making her the first Native American to win best actress, so the Oscar should go her way. (CJ)

Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon and Emma Stone for Poor Things are neck and neck. To me, Gladstone is in more of a supporting role than a lead role, and the campaign to position her as the film’s heroine has been slightly dishonest. (If the story of Killers of the Flower Moon had indeed been told from her character’s perspective, it would have been a better film.) But Gladstone has spoken eloquently about the importance of seeing Native Americans on screen, and Stone has already won an Oscar, so voters might well feel that picking Gladstone would be the right thing to do. My own choice would be Carey Mulligan, who was magnificent as Leonard Bernstein’s wife in Maestro, but Bradley Cooper’s film doesn’t seem to be turning its nominations into wins this awards season. (NB)

Best supporting actor nominee Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

Best supporting actor nominee Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

5. Best supporting actor

This is another category that is beginning to feel like a foregone conclusion. Robert Downey Jr brings all of his usual intensity and charisma to the role of Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer, but there’s subtlety and depth there, too. Rather than just being a spiteful antagonist, Strauss seethes with fear and insecurity. Besides, when Downey Jr played Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was one of Hollywood’s most valuable assets: just look at how Marvel has wobbled since he left the team. An Academy Award would be a thank-you for all the billions of dollars he has helped to generate, as well as an acknowledgement that there is more to him than Tony Stark’s fast-talking bravado. Personally, I’d be tempted to give the prize to Ryan Gosling, who is so hilarious in Barbie – although, as I’ve said before, he’s really the film’s co-lead, so by rights he shouldn’t be in this category at all. (NB)

This category is loaded with strong performances, but it’s also one of the easiest to call. Robert Downey Jr, who has been picking up awards all season as Oppenheimer’s antagonist, will win. It’s hard to argue against that when his performance is so unflinching and strong. But Robert De Niro does some of his best work in years in Killers of the Flower Moon, and deserves it just as much. And Ryan Gosling is as funny as they come in Barbie, but comedy has a hard time competing with drama. Gosling will sing I’m Just Ken in the show, though, which is all I’ve really wanted from this year’s Oscars. (CJ)

Best supporting actress nominee Da'Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (Credit: Focus Features)

Best supporting actress nominee Da’Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers (Credit: Focus Features)

6. Best supporting actress

This category is the easiest to call. Da’Vine Joy Randolph has won every major award so far – the prestigious Bafta, the less prestigious Golden Globe, the SAG Award. Every. Single. One. And she should win. Her performance in The Holdovers as Mary, a grieving mother who works as a cook at a private school, is heartfelt yet unsentimental, laced with comedy as her character tangles with Paul Giamatti’s. The film wouldn’t be the same without her. It doesn’t hurt her chances that she has given some modest and inspiring acceptance speeches. (CJ)

Emily Blunt, Danielle Brooks, America Ferrara and Jodie Foster can all relax and enjoy their champagne on Oscar night, because they won’t have to worry about making a speech. Throughout awards season, one thing that everyone has agreed on is that the Oscar for best supporting actress belongs to Da’Vine Joy Randolph for her tender performance as the bereaved school cook in The Holdovers. She has already won countless prizes for the role, including a Golden Globe, a Bafta and a Screen Actors Guild award, and she has managed to make a moving and funny speech every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if her name was engraved on the trophy weeks ago. (NB)

Cord Jefferson, writer-director of best adapted screenplay nominee American Fiction (Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc)

Cord Jefferson, writer-director of best adapted screenplay nominee American Fiction (Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc)

7. Best adapted screenplay

The five contenders for best adapted screenplay are Oppenheimer, Barbie, Poor Things, The Zone of Interest and American Fiction – and the least impressive of them all will probably win. American Fiction is an enjoyable, grown-up adaptation of Erasure, a novel by Percival Everett. But the film’s writer-director, Cord Jefferson, made the satire broad and obvious, and he didn’t intertwine that satire with the main character’s various family troubles. Meanwhile, all four of the other screenplays on the shortlist did astoundingly bold and difficult things with their source material, assuming that they used the source material at all: Barbie counts as “adapted” for no other reason than that Barbie and Ken dolls already existed, while Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest took nothing from Martin Amis’s novel except the title. I’d be delighted if Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach won for their bravely bonkers Barbie script, because, despite being last year’s biggest film, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to do too well at the Oscars. (NB)

The Baftas rarely predict the Oscars, but Cord Jefferson’s win for adapted screenplay there, along with his Independent Spirit Award, suggests the kind of momentum that puts him in the lead. Voters obviously like American Fiction, which earned nominations for best Picture, best actor for Jeffrey Wright and an unexpected best supporting actor for Sterling K Brown. It won’t win in those categories, so rewarding Jefferson’s screenplay is a way of recognising the film. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach also deserve an Oscar for their creative and triumphant take on Barbie, but I’m guessing that the sheer lunacy of the Academy putting that screenplay in the adapted category will work against it. (CJ)

Best original screenplay nominee Anatomy of a Fall (Credit: Neon)

Best original screenplay nominee Anatomy of a Fall (Credit: Neon)

8. Best original screenplay

Anatomy of a Fall is almost certain to win this one easily. As in the adapted category, it has strong voter support – a best picture nomination and best director for Justine Triet – that will trickle down from the categories the film won’t win, and give it a boost here. Celine Song’s delicate Past Lives is also a wonder of a screenplay, and if there’s an upset, that would be it. But between these two gem-like screenplays, without a single extraneous scene, the bracing Anatomy of a Fall will come through. (CJ)

Anatomy of a Fall was the winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last May, and since then it’s won numerous prizes in numerous categories, but its screenplay has been especially well received. No wonder. The film is both a gripping mystery and a searing portrait of an ailing marriage, with dialogue that crackles in the domestic scenes and the courtroom scenes alike. What’s more, it crackles in three different languages. Another frontrunner in this category is David Hemingson’s screenplay for The Holdovers, a highly polished, life-affirming work that glitters with colourful details. Either of them could win – and Celine Song’s spellbinding screenplay for Past Lives is in with a chance – but the warmth of The Holdovers might just give it the edge. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking as I’m so fond of it myself. (NB)

Best international film nominee The Zone of Interest (Credit: A24)

Best international film nominee The Zone of Interest (Credit: A24)

9. Best international film

Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is an extraordinary work of art that approaches the horrors of the Holocaust from a startlingly original angle. It’s my own film of the year, and I’d be pleased if it somehow won the best picture prize, but I know that’s not very likely. What is likely, though, is that it will win the Oscar for best international film; none of the other contenders has generated the same buzz. The quirk here is that each country chooses which film to enter in this category, and France went for The Taste of Things – a film that, ultimately, didn’t make it on to the Academy’s shortlist. If France had entered Anatomy of a Fall instead, it might well have beaten The Zone of Interest; after all, it has five Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. But as it is, Glazer’s film is sure to triumph. I certainly hope so, anyway. (NB)

By now, the French committee that submitted The Taste of Things instead of Anatomy of a Fall must realise what a mistake that was. The Taste of Things didn’t even get nominated, and Anatomy of a Fall might have won, or at least given The Zone of Interest some real competition. As it is, Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama, which takes us inside the banal evil of a Nazi family, is the sure winner here. If I were a voter, though, I’d choose Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano, the piercingly beautiful and timely migrant story of a teenager trying desperately to make his way from Senegal to Italy. (CJ)

Best animated feature nominee The Boy and the Heron (Credit: Gkids)

Best animated feature nominee The Boy and the Heron (Credit: Gkids)

10. Best animated feature

Hayao Miyazaki’s glorious The Boy and the Heron or the popular, creative Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse? That’s what this race comes down to, and it could go either way. Both are wonderfully inventive and beautifully made. I think Miyazaki should win and probably will, if only to honour his long career and a film that may or may not be his last. (He has been cagey about that.) And there’s always another Spiderman. (CJ)

Elemental wasn’t the greatest of Pixar’s cartoons, and neither Nimona nor Robot Dreams made a deep impression, as wonderful as they both are, so that leaves Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and The Boy and the Heron. My assumption is that Spidey will swing away with the Oscar. And fair enough – the way it crams a wealth of animation styles and techniques into one kinetic pop-art extravaganza is awe-inspiring. But the same could be said of the first film in the series, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that won the Oscar for best animated feature in 2019. Should the Academy really be honouring a sequel that is doing more of the same? I don’t believe so, but they gave Toy Story 4 an Oscar, so the voters obviously see things differently. I’d prefer if they plumped for Hiyao Miyazaki’s mind-boggling The Boy and the Heron. The 83-year-old Studio Ghibli legend last won an Oscar in this category for Spirited Away back in 2003, so it would be lovely if he won another before he finally retires. (NB)

Best documentary feature nominee 20 Days in Mariupol (Credit: AP Photo)

Best documentary feature nominee 20 Days in Mariupol (Credit: AP Photo)

11. Best documentary feature

Last year’s winner of the Oscar for best documentary was Navalny, a film about the Russian opposition leader who campaigned against the invasion of Ukraine (and who has since died in a Russian prison). The chances are that the Academy will get behind a critique of Vladimir Putin’s regime this year, too. 20 Days in Mariupol, written and directed by the Pulitzer prize-winning Mstyslav Chernov, is a harrowing first-hand account of his experiences in a Ukrainian port city which was besieged by Russian forces in 2022. The film is already a Bafta winner, and will probably be an Oscar winner, too. Rightly so. (NB)

Some documentaries have big artistic goals, and others work primarily because of their subject, like last year’s winner, Navalny, more relevant than ever after Alexei Navalny’s death. This year’s likely and deserving winner, 20 Days in Mariupol, is another political, subject-driven film. Its reporting from a city in Ukraine in the midst of war is visceral, eye-opening and tough, and may also gain votes thanks to wide support for Ukraine in the US and Europe. Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters is also political and more artful, blending actors with real people in documenting the story of a mother who saw two of her daughters recruited to the Islamic State group. But the unforgettable Mariupol is even more compelling. (CJ)

Best original score nominee Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

Best original score nominee Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal)

12. Best original score

I know it’s getting repetitive, but: Oppenheimer. Ludwig Goransson’s eloquent score is spot-on, reflecting the intensity of the main character when it should, and the drama of the bomb at other times. It is elegant orchestral music with an eerie soundscape of effects that deserves its likely win. The late Robbie Robertson, who worked with Martin Scorsese for decades, is nominated for Killers of the Flower Moon, his final score. That may exert some emotional pull, but I suspect Robertson will turn up in the In Memorium segment instead. (CJ)

This is another category that feels like a dead cert. Ludwig Göransson has already won a Bafta and a Golden Globe for his Oppenheimer score, and so it would be amazing if he didn’t nab an Oscar for it, too. It helps that the Swede is now a Hollywood mainstay, having composed the music for Black Panther and The Mandalorian, but even if you put aside his other work, his mighty Oppenheimer score stands out as a masterpiece that conveys the story’s mathematical complexity and spine-tingling, stomach-churning unease. Göransson deserves to win, and he will. That said, there is tough competition from Jerskin Fendrix, an experimental British pop musician who was hired to score Poor Things after he’d made just one album. Every bit as off-kilter and beguiling as the film’s heroine, Fendrix’s music has the air of someone playing around with toy instruments and stumbling on their own unique sound. (NB)

Best cinematography nominee Poor Things (Credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Best cinematography nominee Poor Things (Credit: Searchlight Pictures)

13. Best cinematography

Oppenheimer is a film that revolves around “people talking about science”, in the words of its cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema. “You are working with faces and dialogue, [so] on paper it’s not a very obvious cinematic experience.” Nonetheless, von Hoytema made the intimate close-ups seem just as worthy of a vast iMax screen as the film’s desert vistas and atomic blasts. This is only his second Oscar nomination, even though he shot Spectre, Ad Astra and Nope, as well as several of Nolan’s previous films, but he’s bound to be one of the many Oppenheimer craftspeople who will win next Sunday. If he doesn’t, the incredibly versatile Robbie Ryan would deserve the Oscar for helping Poor Things strike its balance between reality and picture-book artifice. (NB)

These nominees comprise an all-star line-up, including the legendary Ed Lachman for his exquisite black and white photography in El Conde and Rodrigo Prieto for the vivid colours and epic scope of Killers of the Flower Moon. But the Oscar can and should go to Hoyte van Hoytema for Oppenheimer, a film that takes us into intimate scenes as well as expansive desert views of the bomb’s test site, and squiggles on screen that represent the physics of it all. In both black and white and colour, van Hoytema’s camera creates a film with a dazzling, coherent mix of views. (CJ)

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