2024 Oscars predictions: Who should win -- and who will win

The show kicks off at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT) on March 10, airing live on ABC.

March 6, 2024, 4:04 AM

Forget all the audience complaints about how box-office juggernauts always lose the best picture Oscar to artsy indie movies -- the list includes "CODA," "Nomadland," "Moonlight," "Parasite" and last year's "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Not this time.

This is the year of "Barbenheimer", the newly minted household word to describe the phenom of two splashy, big-budget blockbusters that opened on the same day (July 21, 2023) and made Hollywood history by unexpectedly breaking records at the box office and winning big love from audiences, critics and, yeah, Oscar.

The movies, both up for best picture, couldn't be more different.

"Oppenheimer" (13 nominations) is a drama about nuclear fission. "Barbie" (eight nominations) is a comedy about nuclear feminism.

Oscar's infamous aversion to laughs gives Christopher Nolan's biopic about the father of the atomic bomb the edge over Greta Gerwig's take on a plastic Mattel doll. Should it? Will it? That's the kind of mystery that always makes the Oscar telecast a must watch.

Since movies were better than ever this year, expect a lot of tight races. Two "Barbie" tunes vying for best song also qualify as a battle of the sexes as Billie Eilish takes the Oscar stage to sing "What Was I Made For" and Ryan Gosling counters with "I'm Just Ken."

Audiences love surprises on Oscar night. Remember Jamie Lee Curtis of "Everything Everywhere" taking the gold last year over predicted "Black Panther" favorite Angela Bassett?

Who will shake up the winners list this year? Let's get the party started with my predictions about who should win -- and who will win -- in the major categories.

Tune in to ABC on Oscar Sunday! Streaming pre-show coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on ABC and ABC News Live. The 2024 Oscars debuts at its new time of 7 p.m. ET live from the Dolby Theater on Sunday, March 10.

Best actor in a leading role

  • Bradley Cooper ("Maestro")
  • Colman Domingo ("Rustin")
  • Paul Giamatti ("The Holdovers")
  • Cillian Murphy ("Oppenheimer")
  • Jeffrey Wright ("American Fiction")

SHOULD WIN: Paul Giamatti ("The Holdovers")

How do you not love this god among American character actors? I'm still smarting over Giamatti not winning -- hell, he wasn't even nominated -- for his celebrated role as a wine snob in 2004's "Sideways." He praises wine for how it evolves and gains complexity. That's Giamatti for you. Working again with "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, Giamatti crowns his career as Paul Hunham, a student-hating teacher at a boys academy who forges a new path by educating "vulgar little Philistines" in ancient civilizations. No one can fuse humor with emotional gravity like Giamatti. Watching him act is an education for anyone who wants to study a master.

Paul Giamatti in a scene of "The Holdovers" movie trailer.
Focus Features

WILL WIN: Cillian Murphy ("Oppenheimer")

At 47, this Irish actor is a decade younger than Giamatti, but his mastery of his craft is equally unimpeachable. His total immersion into the body and bruised soul of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the dark knight of the atomic age, is a thing of beauty and terror and a wonder to behold. Nothing in his previous work prepares you for his tour de force as Oppy. Nothing except for the six seasons Murphy starred as the impossibly blue-eyed and dangerously sexy gangster Tommy Shelby on "Peaky Blinders." Those legions of "Peaky" fanatics in the academy might be just the edge Murphy needs to enter the Oscar winners circle.

Cillian Murphy is seen in the Universal Pictures move trailer, "Oppenheimer".
Universal Pictures

Best actress in a leading role

  • Annette Bening ("Nyad")
  • Lily Gladstone ("Killers of the Flower Moon")
  • Sandra Hüller ("Anatomy of a Fall")
  • Carey Mulligan ("Maestro")
  • Emma Stone ("Poor Things")

SHOULD WIN: Sandra Hüller ("Anatomy of a Fall")

No one expects this to happen, that's the fun of betting on a longshot like Hüller taking the gold for her blazing brilliance as the German wife and mother on trial for pushing her husband out a chalet window to his death. The nominated writer-director Justine Triet never tells us if the wife really did it. But Hüller delivers a performance for the ages that tells us all we need to know about what kills a marriage.

Sandra Hüller in "Anatomy of a Fall."

WILL WIN: Lily Gladstone ("Killers of the Flower Moon") and Emma Stone ("Poor Things")

A tie is rare, but not impossible since back in 1969 Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl") and Katharine Hepburn ("The Lion in Winter") did just that. Why not do it again?

Emma Stone in "Poor Things," 2023.
Searchlight Pictures

Stone pulls out all the flamboyant stops as a revived corpse with a baby's brain. Gladstone takes the quiet route, nailing every telling nuance as an Osage bride who fears her white husband wants to kill her for her oil money. Pushed to name just one, I'll go with Gladstone since she'd make history as the first Native American woman to win the Oscar for best actress.

Lily Gladstone in "Killers of the Flower Moon."
Apple TV+

Best actor in a supporting role

  • Sterling K. Brown ("American Fiction")
  • Robert De Niro ("Killers of the Flower Moon")
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Oppenheimer")
  • Ryan Gosling ("Barbie")
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Poor Things')

SHOULD WIN: Ryan Gosling ("Barbie")

It's tough to win an Oscar for a comedy, but it's easier when a serious actor goes for laughs. Think of Kevin Kline in 1988's "A Fish Called Wanda." Gosling really shakes his sillies out as a Ken doll who wants his life to be more than beach. Gosling never winks at Ken's very real sexual confusion and introduction to toxic masculinity. Never before has an actor brought such complexity and commitment to an inert hunk of plastic. He'd be tough to beat, except for...

Ryan Gosling as Ken in a scene from the movie "Barbie."
Warner Bros.

WILL WIN: Robert Downey Jr. ("Oppenheimer")

All his mega-star years as Iron Man in the Marvel universe might make you forget that Downey is one of the best actors on the planet. Here's a reminder. Downey is almost unrecognizable (Oscar voters love a transformation) as the graying, underhanded atomic energy czar Lewis Strauss, whose ready smile can't hide his fuming animosity for everything Oppy. A first Oscar for Downey feels both inevitable and too long coming.

Robert Downey Jr. in "Oppenheimer" movie trailer scene.
Universal Pictures/YouTube

Best actress in a supporting role

  • Emily Blunt ("Oppenheimer")
  • Danielle Brooks ("The Color Purple")
  • America Ferrera ("Barbie")
  • Jodie Foster ("Nyad")
  • Da'Vine Joy Randolph ("The Holdovers")

SHOULD WIN: Jodie Foster ("Nyad")

Blunt, Brooks and especially Ferrera basically have one great scene driving their nominations. Foster has a whole career, including two best actress victories for "The Silence of the Lambs" and "The Accused," both won before she turned 30 (she earned her first nod as best supporting actress at 14 for playing a teen sex worker in "Taxi Driver"). Now, at 61, Foster returns to a supporting role as Bonnie Stoll, the best friend, former flirtation and coach to Olympic swimmer Diana Nyad, played by best actress nominee Annette Bening. Foster's joy is infectious as she teases the hell out of Nyad's expanding ego and need to embellish the truth. Just as Bonnie buoys Diana, Foster bolsters Bening's star turn. It's a true supporting performance and a pleasure to watch.

Jodie Foster in a scene of "Nyad" movie trailer.

WILL WIN: Da'Vine Joy Randolph ("The Holdovers")

Who's kidding who? Randolph takes up just as much screen time and to equally wonderous effect as her costar Paul Giamatti, who's nominated as best actor. Randolph raises the old argument about what defines a role as lead or supporting. The area where there is no argument is Randolph's funny, touching and vital performance as Mary Lamb, the Black kitchen manager at the white boy school where Giamatti teaches in the 1970s. Mary is grieving the death of her soldier son in Vietnam, fusing her anger with a bracing resilience she carries in her bones. Randolph, 37, has already won every supporting actress prize in the book and deserves every one. Expect a rubber stamp from Oscar.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph in a scene of "The Holdovers" movie trailer.
Focus Features/YouTube

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"

SHOULD WIN (if critics voted): "Anatomy of a Fall"

Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall" would lead followed by "The Zone of Interest" and "Past Lives" -- a time capsule worthy cinema romance -- proving that foreign language films more than deserve their place in the best picture lineup. Who says they don't? Look at the damning evidence: "Parasite," the explosive South Korean family drama that took the gold in 2020, is the first and still the only non-English-language film to win best picture in the Academy's 96 year history. And don't expect things to change. The winner of the best picture Oscar has been in the cards since the nominations were released on Jan. 23 and the title is...

Scene from "Anatomy of a Fall."
Les Films Pelleas - Les Films de Pierre

WILL WIN: "Oppenheimer"

It's all over but the shouting. The time has come for Christopher Nolan, 53 and the Steven Spielberg of his generation for directing intelligent, indelible screen epics, to take home the big prize. A prophet without honor in Oscarland since he's never won for best director or best picture, Nolan will finally hit paydirt in those essential categories. Bet on it. Until "Oppenheimer," only Nolan's "Inception" and "Dunkirk" have even been nominated for the top prize. Crazy, right? When Nolan's iconic "The Dark Knight" missed the cut, many felt the old-hat academy changed the number of best picture nominees from 5 to 10 just to make sure such blunders wouldn't happen again. It's too bad the academy couldn't borrow from Nolan's brilliant breakthrough film "Memento" and go backwards in time to rectify their shameful omissions.

Britain BAFTA Film Awards 2024 Red Carpet
Vivian Oparah poses for photographers upon arrival at the 77th British Academy Film Awards, BAFTA's, in London, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
The Associated Press

"Oppenheimer," which uses past history to underline the threat of nuclear annihilation that's scarily still with us, is Nolan at his peak. Get ready for Oscar to recognize this monumental achievement that's on the march to screen history. The envelope, please.

Watch the 2024 Oscars live from the Dolby Theater on Sunday, March 10 at 7 p.m. ET (an hour earlier than usual) on ABC and catch the best celebrity moments, wins, and performances at Oscar.com.

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