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Pete Hammond’s Final Oscar Predictions: ‘Oppenheimer’ On Line For A Big Bang On The Big Night; ‘The Holdovers’, ‘Poor Things’ & Others Also Will Get Some Love

You can probably sum it all up in just one word: Barbenheimer.

It’s not a word found in Webster’s, but one that’s instantly recognizable to movie fans and everyone in all areas of the entertainment industry. Now it’s probably your key entry into the closing act of the very long Oscar season, one that started in earnest over Labor Day with the fall festivals at Venice and Telluride, and just a week later at Toronto. But really, this year got a significant start at Cannes with the debuts in May of Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall, Grand Prize winner The Zone of Interest, and the World Premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.

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All three of them have combined to claim 20 Oscar nominations and all are in the running for Best Picture. And then, shortly after Cannes, we had the one-two punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer both opening on July 21, in the heat of summer (not normally considered prime Oscar-bait timing) and between them managing 21 nominations including Best Picture.

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A sixth Best Picture nominee, Past Lives, goes back even further, with its debut coming at the beginning of 2023 at Sundance. Only Poor Things, The Holdovers, American Fiction, and Maestro were first seen in the normally overcrowded Fall and Holiday corridor that has a habit of crowning Oscar winners. This year is an anomaly. But it also has turned out to be the first truly great crop of contenders since the pandemic.

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Here then are my final FINAL predictions for winners of the 96th Annual Academy Awards. Keep in mind this is not one of those ‘will win/should win’ columns, not necessarily my personal votes but what I believe has the best chance to hit the stage at the Dolby Sunday night (or should I say Sunday afternoon since the show starts at 4pm PT). Win or not win however, all these nominees should be proud and thrilled to be there. This has been, against all odds, an exceptional year for movies. Best of luck in your Oscar pools.

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BEST PICTURE

Oppenheimer is the one to beat here. It has the most nominations with 13, which means the most overall support in an Academy where everyone now gets to vote on all 23 categories rather than just their branch and for Best Picture, which is the case in the nominations round. It also has gravitas: an important historical subject that also resonates in frightening ways for these times. Plus it made nearly a billion dollars worldwide, unheard of for a summer release of a three-hour adult drama that’s partially in black and white. There is also the Christopher Nolan factor, which is hard to deny—he‘s overdue. It has also swept key precursor awards at Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, DGA, PGA, SAG and many crafts guilds making it an overwhelming front runner, probably in line to win 8 Oscars by my predictions.

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But should there be an upset it will likely be Poor Things, which has genuine fandom among some factions in the Academy and the second biggest number of nominations with 11, indicating heavy support. Searchlight’s magic touch won’t hurt here. But with the Academy’s weighted voting system for this category, some films like The Holdovers—which seems to be universally loved—could sneak in with a large number of No. 2 votes. Scorsese’s epic Killers of the Flower Moon has a strong 10 nominations here, but the omission of nominations for Adapted Screenplay and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio could be a sign of trouble. The two foreign language nominees here are more likely to win elsewhere on Sunday night.

THE WINNER: Oppenheimer

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Best Actor Oscars
From left: Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers), Colman Domingo (Rustin), Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction), Bradley Cooper (Maestro) and Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer)

BEST ACTOR

This race is surprisingly competitive with indicators from precursor events that we might have a real contest. Cillian Murphy took the Drama Actor Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG award for his performance in Oppenheimer, and it might be hard to deny this respected veteran on what — shockingly — is his first nomination. Then again, there’s Paul Giamatti, widely felt to have been robbed of even a nomination 20 years ago for Alexander Payne’s Sideways. Only having been in the race just once (for Supporting Actor in Cinderella Man), he also won a Golden Globe in the comedy category and then went on to beat Murphy in the often-predictive Critics Choice Awards.

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This is a very impressive category. Voters could also find love for Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction) and Colman Domingo (Rustin), both first-time nominees, or the spectacular work of Bradley Cooper, channeling Leonard Bernstein and who became only the fourth actor to direct himself to a nomination twice. Tough choices all around. But momentum as voting took place was clearly Murphy’s.

THE WINNER: Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer

Best Actress Oscars
From left: Emma Stone (Poor Things), Annette Bening (Nyad), Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall), Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) and Carey Mulligan (Maestro)

BEST ACTRESS

Annette Bening has now been nominated five times and takes on the ridiculously overdue veteran-who-has-never-won mantle. Her work in Nyad is fearless, risky and astonishing, but that film is the only one in the category not nominated for Best Picture, so it is a hard mountain to climb (just ask Glenn Close). Interestingly though I have talked to several voters who tell me they cast their ballot for Bening despite the odds. Much has been made of the fact that Globe winner Gladstone is making history as the first Native American actress ever to be nominated in the category. She surprisingly wasn’t even nominated at BAFTA which could indicate trouble with the international voting block.

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That left a solid opening for another Globe winner (in Comedy) this year, Emma Stone, whose performance is widely felt to be the most original and inventive. She scored at BAFTA and Critics Choice, but Gladstone came back and took the all-important SAG award smack in the middle of Oscar voting. Still, Stone won just a few years ago and is still young. The international contingent could want to reward Hüller who is in two Best Picture nominees (Anatomy of A Fall and The Zone of Interest). Finally, as Meryl Streep noted in her Palm Springs Film Festival speech, Carey Mulligan’s exquisite supporting turn in Maestro is a gut-wrenching portrayal that should not be denied. It likely will, though, sadly. This one likely comes down to a coin toss between Gladstone and Stone. It could be either one, and if there is a split? Well, who knows?

THE WINNER: Emma Stone, Poor Things

Best Supporting Actor Oscars
From left: Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things), Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer), Ryan Gosling (Barbie), Robert De Niro (Killers of the Flower Moon) and Sterling K. Brown (American Fiction)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

What a lineup this one is. It’s likely this is Globes, Critics Choice, SAG, and BAFTA winner Robert Downey Jr.’s to lose, especially since his speeches on the circuit following those many precursor wins have been completely winning themselves. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in Oppenheimer, the film likely to be hearing its name called many times on Oscar night. Downey, though, also has the personal story, the remarkable career survival against all odds, and he’s a genuinely nice guy whose time has come. Ryan Gosling was hilarious in Barbie, but comedy against highly dramatic performances often has a tougher time.

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This might also apply to Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things) who is well liked but also faces an uphill trek. Robert De Niro, a two-time winner and frequent nominee, won’t have enough juice to get over the top for Killers of the Flower Moon, although I would vote for him just to see him go politically ape like he did at the Gothams. Sterling K. Brown (American Fiction) is terrific, but the nomination is the win for him.

THE WINNER: Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer

Best Supporting Actress Oscars
From left: America Ferrera (Barbie), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers), Jodie Foster (Nyad), Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple) and Emily Bunt (Oppenheimer)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

If you go by all the various award shows leading up to the Oscars, the victor here is obvious. Da’Vine Joy Randolph has been on a winning streak, with no losses for her wise and moving performance in The Holdovers, and I see no reason for it to stop at the Oscars. She is the overwhelming favorite at this point pulling off a rare complete sweep at all the precursors.

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But who can beat her? Blunt, criminally overlooked in the past and now with her first nomination can be helped by the huge haul for Oppenheimer. Nyad’s Jodie Foster, a two-time Best Actress winner, and Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple’s only nominee, stand little chance. America Ferrera’s stirring Barbie speech got her in this game, and the nomination was a terrific endorsement of her talents. But…

THE WINNER: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers

Christopher Nolan
The Oppenheimer set

BEST DIRECTOR

This one appears to be a lock for the ridiculously overdue Christopher Nolan, who did everything voters love with Oppenheimer. He took a big risk and proved to supporters and doubters that he is a true master of the form. He was outrageously overlooked for The Dark Knight in 2009, which prompted the Academy to double the number of Best Picture nominees the next year (presumably in a bid to avoid a repeat of that embarrassment). And though his films have won crafts awards, this is his time. Quite frankly, if he were to lose, it would be a shock. Of course, there is much love and respect for Scorsese and the challenge of making his first Western, and there is a trio of foreigners competing here too, showing the international bent of the branch. The consensus, though, is DGA, BAFTA, Globes, and Critics Choice winner Nolan.

THE WINNER: Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Oscars
Oppenheimer

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

This race seems likely to come down to a couple of epics with 23 nominations overall between them: Hoyte van Hoytema’s Oppenheimer and Rodrigo Prieto’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Considering the latter is probably going to be a runner up in the Best Picture sweepstakes to the former, I am tempted to say this is a category where Scorsese’s important and authentic epic Western could be recognized. On the other hand, cinematography often goes to the Best Picture winner, though not always. Still, Van Hoytema’s Oppenheimer was stunning and took the ASC award last weekend. After losing on his first nomination for Nolan’s Dunkirk, this could be his year.

THE WINNER: Oppenheimer, Hoyte van Hoytema

The Zone of Interest movie
The Zone of Interest

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

In all the instances in which a nominee in this category was also nominated in the Best Picture category, the winner was that film. Therefore, this is where you bet big in your Oscar pool and go for the only nominee that did that this year, The Zone of Interest, which would give the award to the UK in a rare move since the German-language Holocaust film comes from British director Jonathan Glazer. All the nominees are good here, but France’s failure to put forward their Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Anatomy of A Fall, in favor of the non-nominated The Taste of Things, means that unforced error has handed it to the Cannes (runner up) Grand Prize victor.

THE WINNER: The Zone of Interest (UK)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Oscars
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Neon’s pickup of Robot Dreams, a true charmer of a ’toon, was heartening, as was its inclusion here over higher profile possibilities like Disney’s Wish, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Dreams and The Super Mario Brothers Movie. So it is a victory itself. There is much love and respect for Hayao Miyazaki and what he calls his swan song with The Boy and the Heron, and it did indeed take the BAFTA and Golden Globe among a slew of critics’ prizes. Still, the year’s No. 3 grossing movie — the critically acclaimed sequel to a previous Oscar winner, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse — looks to be the rare follow-up to also go into glory again at the Academy Awards. Its sheer ambition and risk-taking with the animation art will likely be enough to overcome sentiment for Miyazaki.

THE WINNER: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Poor Things Oscars
Poor Things

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Holly Waddington’s imaginative styles for the wacky Poor Things vs Jacqueline Durran’s fashion-setting pinkness of Barbie? Or the stunning clothes from Napoleon vs the authentic and meticulous recreation of vintage Osage nation in Killers of the Flower Moon? Then there’s that hat that even managed to become a popular Halloween costume thanks to Oppenheimer. This is another toss-up category with many ways to go.

THE WINNER: Poor Things, Holly Waddington

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer

BEST FILM EDITING

More often than not, this category favors the Best Picture winner. This year it seems like a no-brainer for ACE Eddie and BAFTA winner Oppenheimer. Thelma Schoonmaker is always formidable, but some may wrongly think the three-and-a-half hour running time of Killers of the Flower Moon means it needed more editing. No — length isn’t a drawback in looking at the best edited films, and both of the above three hour-ish movies are prime candidates for truly the best.

THE WINNER: Oppenheimer, Jennifer Lame

Margot Robbie Barbie
Barbie

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

This one is Barbie’s to lose — that movie might have had more than two nominations had the rules allowed it. So does it come down to Billie Eilish’ s Golden Globe, SCL, and Grammy winning Song of the Year “What Was I Made For?” Or is it the Critics Choice Awards-winning man anthem “I’m Just Ken,” with its showcase for Ryan Gosling and male chorus in the standout production number of any movie this year. Do they cancel each other out, allowing a long shot like Diane Warren’s “The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot to finally give her the prize on her 15th nomination? Not likely. The same goes for Jon Batiste’s “It Never Went Away” from the documentary on his life, American Symphony. And despite making history, “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” from Killers of the Flower Moon would be a shocker to actually win. So which Barbie tune makes it? Always bet on Eilish.

THE WINNER: “What Was I Made For?”, From Barbie,

Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell

Cilliam Murphy in 'Oppenheimer'
Oppenheimer

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Laura Karpman’s jazz stylings in American Fiction are a standout, and the veteran just got her first nomination here. Of course, you can never ignore John Williams (and the music branch didn’t), but he has no chance for this fifth and final Indiana Jones. First-time movie composer Jerskin Fendrik should be congratulated for landing a nomination this quickly for Poor Things. After all, it took Karpman a lot longer than that. However, none of them will likely win. It is between sentiment and a legacy score for the late Robbie Robertson’s Killers of the Flower Moon, and Black Panther Oscar winner Ludwig Goransson’s stunning, Grammy, BAFTA, and SCL-winning Oppenheimer.

THE WINNER: Oppenheimer, Ludwig Goransson

<em>Poor Things</em>
Poor Things

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Barbie’s toy world really stands on its own here, simply as something so eye-poppingly fun to behold. It screams production design, but then so does the bizarre fantasy world of BAFTA winner Poor Things, which is every bit as dazzling. Then there is the stunning epic-ness of Napoleon, the authentic and stunning recreation of the Osage nation circa 100 years ago in Killers of the Flower Moon, and the intricate recreations of Oppenheimer. For me this is one of the most difficult categories to call. If you spend any time watching the behind-the-scenes interviews with all the artisans who created these wildly different worlds, you would probably call it a five-way tie. Flip a coin here.

THE WINNER: Poor Things , Shana Heath, James Price, Zsuzsa Mihalek

Bradley Coper in Maestro
Maestro

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Golda is a well-chosen nominee here, and the makeup is also a reminder that its star Helen Mirren was robbed of a much-deserved Best Actress nomination. Maybe we honor the artisans who created the look for the woman who acted it so magnificently. Personally, I would say they could win just for that, but there are two Best Picture nominees here more likely to battle this one out: Maestro, from that maestro of prosthetic makeup Kazu Hiro, and BAFTA winner Poor Things.

THE WINNER: Maestro, Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgious and Lori McCoy-Bell

American Fiction Oscars
American Fiction

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

OK, so can this be a way the Academy makes it up to Greta Gerwig for the unfair snub in Best Director and give it to her and Noah Baumbach for their wildly successful and original Barbie — even though the writers branch has made it more difficult by putting it in a category of stiff competition from Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Tony McNamara’s sharp Poor Things, and (one that should not be underrated) Cord Jefferson’s crowd-pleasing satire American Fiction which since I made my initial prediction for it in this category has gone on to win at BAFTA, USA Scripter, Critics Choice, and Indie Spirits. Therefore I would not be surprised at all to see that one sneak in here. Although a writing award usually goes to a Best Picture winner, indicating a victory for Nolan here, I think this is where a consolation prize may be given. I am tempted more than ever now to give it to the one nominated film that’s actually about writing.

THE WINNER: American Fiction, Cord Jefferson

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Anatomy of a Fall
Anatomy of a Fall

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

If you ask me, this is the category where Barbie belongs — had it not been the victim of arcane academy rules that say it was adapted (unlike WGA which labeled it original) it might have won. At any rate, its absence here has opened up other possibilities, particularly for Golden Globe winner Anatomy of a Fall, which could be the first French screenplay to win here since A Man and A Woman in 1966. Stiff competition comes from the much-loved The Holdovers. It appears to be a contest primarily between Justine Triet for Anatomy, which could be celebrated here as a show of support for a Palme d’Or winner controversially not selected as her country’s international entry, and David Hemingson’s moving and funny dramedy, The Holdovers. The spoiler here could be Celine Song’s Past Lives, but it has only two nominations — yet one of them is Best Picture.

THE WINNER: Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet

Oppenheimer Oscars
Oppenheimer

BEST SOUND

Oppenheimer probably takes this one, but formidable competition comes from the magnificent musical sound achieved in Maestro. But did voters see this Netflix film in a theater where the sound work really shines? There is also subtle work in BAFTA winner The Zone of Interest, perhaps too subtle for voters who don’t really know what goes into sound design in the first place. The other candidates are just what you would expect here, big and loud. If Oppenheimer does win, it would mean the second Oscar for 22-time nominee, Kevin O’Connell, once known as the Susan Lucci of the Oscars.

THE WINNER: Oppenheimer

Godzilla Minus One Oscars
Godzilla Minus One

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Interestingly, the movie that would have been the easy winner here, Oppenheimer, didn’t even make the top 20 finalists. Go figure. Branch members might have resented talk that Nolan shot so much of it in camera that it didn’t leave much for the effects wizards. Consensus is the stunning work in the A.I. sci fi epic, The Creator is best in show here, particularly all its wins from the Visual Effects awards group. The film’s only problem will be in getting the bulk of Academy voters to actually watch it, since it was not a huge boxoffice hit. The one I would look at as possibly the upset of all time is Godzilla Minus One, Toho International’s return to the feel and budget of their older Godzilla movies, a marvelously inventive use of effects with a tenth of the cost of the others. The movie was a hit, but did voters see it? Hope so.

THE WINNER: Godzilla Minus One

20 Days in Mariupol Oscars
20 Days in Mariupol

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

The shocking thing about this category is the films that aren’t in it. No Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. No American Symphony. Once again documentary branch voters show they don’t love docs about showbusiness (and maybe don’t love seeing their choices sweep the Emmys like Still did while ballots were still out). This is a pretty heavy bunch to choose from. Bobi Wine: The People’s President is the most upbeat and hopeful of a very international list of contenders — not a single American picture in the bunch. Because of its Ukraine war themes though, the harrowing 20 Days in Mariupol could have the edge, especially since last year voters went for another anti-Putin film, Navalny which due to the death of its subject is once again front of mind. So is Ukraine with increasingly dire forecasts for its future.

THE WINNER: 20 Days in Mariupol

The Last Repair Shop Oscars
The Last Repair Shop

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

This is a terrific category, with at least three films that could come out on top. The powerful yet simple The ABC’S of Book Banning, the equally strong and eye-opening The Barber of Little Rock, and the stirring and lovely The Last Repair Shop (from Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers) could all win, depending on voters’ moods. The former pair focus on burning issues and social justice, while the latter is a moving, musical and a winning look at an operation that brings damaged instruments back to life and then sends them to schools where they live to play another day. Charming as it is as it is in chronicling the friendship of two Taiwanese grandmas, Nai Nai & Wài Pó is probably too light to win, and another, heavier, Taiwan-related doc, Island In Between is fine, but it doesn’t stay with you like the frontrunners.

THE WINNER: The Last Repair Shop

War is Over Oscars
War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

An eclectic set of contenders here. Our Uniform is a six minute ‘toon about the plight of females in Iran as related to their fashion restrictions, and Letter To A Pig is powerful, striking, and quite weird, not your father’s Babe. Emotionally neither was easy to embrace due to their abstract animation. On the other hand the French Pachyderme blends gorgeous animation to tell the story of a young girl’s visit with her grandfather. Ninety-Five Senses from Jerusha and Jared Hess is for me just fantastic as it is narrated by an older man as he tells the story of his life through the five senses, twisting into an amusing, and then quite dramatic tale that takes you to unexpected places. It is original and brilliantly animated, with a great vocal performance by Tim Blake Nelson. However best in show here is the inventive, moving, enriching, and quite wonderful War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko. Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono are even executive producers for this memorable film that is a must-see, especially for these times.

THE WINNER: War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko

'Knight of Fortune'
Knight of Fortune

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

Here we have two films dealing with men grieving the death of their wives, another about mental illness involving a teen, one about the problems getting an abortion, and one showcasing Wes Anderson doing, well, Wes Anderson. The starriest is the latter film, in which Anderson’s unmistakable style takes on Roald Dahl’s whimsical short story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar with Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes telling it. Those reasons, not to mention its prominent Venice Film Festival debut, probably makes it the frontrunner although some have expressed disapproval of seeing smaller films compete against the oft Oscar-nominated Anderson (yet still to win) and his famous cast in a category designed for filmmakers who might otherwise not be recognized. Of the two films dealing with grief, The After provides David Oyelowo with a rich and emotional role, and the superb Danish Knight of Fortune has some marvelous deadpan acting from two excellent thesps and a twist I didn’t see coming. And then there is Red, White and Blue which stars Brittany Snow, a surprising and very powerful abortion story that truly stuns and enlightens — a must-see film that’s especially topical in light of the recent overturning of Roe v Wade, an act by the Supreme Court that inspired it. This category could provide a real upset. I call it a toss-up, but when in doubt I go for the most emotional, so perhaps a real longshot.

THE WINNER: Knight of Fortune

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