It has been 19 years since we began predicting the Oscars in Icon, and we’ve arrived at two possible conclusions: one, that we’ve become very good at the Oscars game; or two that, in the past decade, the Oscars have become very predictable. In either case, the biggest award ceremony of the year has become a stage for rewarding the holdovers.

Like the gist of Alexander Payne’s film of the same name that’s also a nominee in several categories, “the holdovers” in this case have been unjustly overlooked by their families during a time of celebration (the families, of course, refers to the film fraternity).

So, filmmakers and artists — the overlooked darlings on the creative side — will likely be bestowed honours that should go to deserving candidates.

Here’s the catch, though: with nominations spread out between just a handful of films, are good films really getting the tip of the hat they deserve?

With nominations spread out between just a handful of films, will good films really be getting the tip of the hat they deserve tomorrow at the Oscars?

To put the argument into perspective: Oppenheimer has 13 nominations, Poor Things 11, Killers of the Flower Moon 10, Barbie 8, Maestro 7, five each for American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers and The Zone of Interest, with the remaining 29 titles mostly getting one nod each, very few two.

Since 2015, we have a meticulous system in place that does not bank on Oscar predicting websites and internet polls. The system includes a rating system for titles, and a cross-reference of individual categories with their corresponding guild awards. This forces us to look at the tilt of the film industry, and not just rely on gut feelings when predicting winners.

Of the 36 out of 38 nominated films we’ve watched in the span of the month leading to the Oscars (the only two titles we couldn’t find were the documentaries Four Daughters and To Kill a Tiger), and rating them between 1 (appalling) and 5 (excellent), the combined average rating of all nominees came out 3.38. In 2023 it was 3.37, 3.42 in 2022, 3.8 in 2021, and 4.21 in 2019 when the Korean Parasite swept the event.

The quality of cinema is definitely on the decline, but deserving candidates are still there, just often clumped together with the favourite heavy-hitters. (In case one is wondering, this year’s recommended-viewing lot includes: Society of the Snow, Io Capitano, Perfect Days, Past Lives, May December, The Boy and the Heron, Robot Dreams, and the documentary Bobi Wine: The People’s President).

Reviewing within the context of their respective categories, we have to admit that two particular titles — Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon — turned out to be better experiences than their first viewings, months ago. Oppenheimer is slated to sweep the Oscars, like it did the British Academy Film Awards (Bafta).

Mimicking Bafta, though, is not a cool look, and for once, we will be happy if those titles that are slated to win the accolades (listed as Will Win), will be outclassed by films that truly deserve the awards.

PICTURE

Will Win / Should Win: Oppenheimer

Given the all-encompassing sweep at the various award ceremonies (the Baftas and Producers Guild are big indicators), there is little competition for Oppenheimer. Also, looking at its fellow nominees, the film is the best of the lot.

DIRECTOR

Will Win / Should Win: Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan

Forever loved, often nominated, but never a winner, tomorrow will be Nolan’s big night. Winning the Directors Guild and the Bafta also helps.

ACTOR

Will Win / Should Win: Oppenheimer, Cillian Murphy

Having already won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) trophy, like Nolan, Murphy’s win can hardly be disputed. Both Bradley Cooper, who is steadily getting recognised for his directing prowess, and Paul Giamatti, who has yet to win an Oscar, are fine competitions.

ACTRESS

Will Win: Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily Gladstone

Upset: Poor Things, Emma Stone

We found Gladstone’s performance more moving in our second viewing of Killers of the Flower Moon. Also, since the Academy has made it a mission to champion minorities — and the signs were evident at the SAG awards, where Gladstone won — her win is all but certain here. Emma Stone, who won the Bafta, could upset the category.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Will Win: Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr

Upset: Barbie, Ryan Gosling

Like Nolan, forever loved, sometimes nominated, this is Downey Jr’s year…for giving an okay performance. There is the slightest chance of Gosling overtaking Downey Jr, but we wouldn’t bet on it.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Will Win: The Holdovers, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Should Win: Nyad, Jodie Foster

A month before the Oscar nominations were announced, we jokingly said that, given the Oscar criteria of recent years, Da’Vine Joy Randolph will likely win in the Best Supporting Category. It seems that the film fraternity has taken our comment to heart. This, by far, is the least interesting of all categories, filled with middling performances. Of the lot, the only slightly above-average performance comes from Jodie Foster.

SCREENPLAY — ADAPTED

Will Win / Should Win: American Fiction, Cord Jefferson

Upset: Barbie, Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach

This question has been keeping us up at nights for years now: how do Academy members decide the worth of the screenplay, and the quality of the writing? In its final form as a motion picture, the words on the paper are projected through a director’s, then a cinematographer’s and, finally, an editor’s viewpoint. Even with studios now making screenplays accessible to Academy voters, we don’t believe that 10,500 members will take out the time to actually read the scripts before making their decisions.

Having read 10 pages of all five screenplays — and, at the same time, applauding Jefferson for writing a brave and effective screenplay — American Fiction should be the winner here.

Barbie, however, is an industry favourite and a top box-office earner — and that also makes a difference. Also Gerwig and Baumbach, nominated thrice, have yet to win an Oscar, so there can be an upset.

SCREENPLAY — ORIGINAL

Will Win: Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet & Arthur Harari

Should Win: Past Lives, Celine Song

Upset: Maestro, Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer

One major problem that will confuse Academy voters this year will be the rescheduling of the Writers’ Guild Awards. The WGA are often seen as an Oscar predictor. However, in a sly move, the awards will not happen until April. The voters, then, will likely follow Bafta’s lead, and that makes Anatomy of a Fall the top contender.

Having read 10 pages of all five nominees, however, we were more impressed by Past Lives and Maestro…and also The Holdovers and May December. The words were strong on paper, and the writings were sensitive and intricate. That should count for something, no?

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: Oppenheimer, Hoyte van Hoytema

Should Win: Killers of the Flower Moon, Rodrigo Prieto

Upset: Poor Things, Robbie Ryan

Again, Hoytema has been an undisputable winner (he has already won the Cinematographers’ Guild Awards) and, like always, the IMAX filming has been propagated to death. Prieto, nominated for four Oscars till now, however should be the winner. A major upset may be Robbie Ryan but, by all accounts having just started piquing the industry’s interest, he is quite young in the Oscars game (this is his second nomination).

EDITING

Will Win: Oppenheimer, Jennifer Lame

Should Win: Killers of the Flower Moon, Thelma Schoonmaker

Upset: Anatomy of a Fall, Laurent Sénéchal

Schoonmaker, a regular of Scorsese, has won three Oscars and, irrespective of what we’ll likely see tomorrow, should win the award. The winner, however, will be Lame (a win at the Editors’ Guild, the Eddies, is a big sign). There is a chance that Anatomy of a Fall might win the voters’ favour, making the editing its one and only win for the night — if, that is, it doesn’t win Original Screenplay.

SOUND

Will Win / Should Win: Oppenheimer, Willie Burton, Richard King, Gary A. Rizzo, & Kevin O’Connell

Upset: The Zone of Interest, Tarn Willers & Johnnie Burn

The hubbub is strong for The Zone of Interest, especially after its Bafta win. But with Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories combined together, and the wins at the Cinema Audio Society and the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ Guild, we think Oppenheimer will be the winner of the night. A big reason the film gets our vote is its careful and effective sound design and editing decisions. For once, in a Nolan film, one could hear everything.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win / Should Win: Barbie, Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

Upset: Poor Things, James Price & Shona Heath; Set Decoration: Zsuzsa Mihalek

This will be a woozy. In all honesty, expect our predictions to either flip or entirely miss the mark here.

Films with iconic designs, set in either period or fantasy settings, often bag production design. The same logic and history applies to costumes. We think Academy voters will split or flip the vote between Barbie and Poor Things in both Production and Costume Design categories.

Some will choose Barbie for its nostalgic, iconic and pop-culturally relevant costumes and production design, while others will opt for visceral, imaginative and flamboyant work in Poor Things. Expect Barbie to win both, or Poor Things to win both, or one title to win production design and the other to win costume design. Looking at the individual nominees doesn’t help. One nominee from each film has already won an Oscar.

COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Barbie, Jacqueline Durran

Should Win: Poor Things, Holly Waddington

Read our write-up on ‘Production Design.’

MAKE-UP & HAIR STYLING

Will Win / Should Win: Maestro, Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou, & Lori McCoy-Bell

Upset: Poor Things, Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier & Josh Weston

The Academy will likely give Maestro its one lone win here. If voters go the Bafta route, then Poor Things will likely win Costume, Make-up and Hair and Production Design. That would be a sad thing to see.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: The Creator

Should Win: Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning (Part One)

Upset: Godzilla: Minus One

We have been hearing a big roar for Godzilla: Minus One, though that’s just because it is a well-received underdog. However, that underdog is from Japan. The American underdog is The Creator, whose entire award season campaign has been about pulling off the visual-effects heavy film in a fraction of the budget of a major Hollywood film.

A win for The Creator will be a major slap on the face of studios who demand much from Hollywood’s ailing VFX industry. Personally, Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning (Part One) should win…but no one counts physical stunts in an award that goes to artists working on their PCs (there should be a separate category for physical VFX we think!).

SCORE

Will Win / Should Win: Killers of the Flower Moon, Robbie Robertson

Upset: Oppenheimer, Ludwig Göransson

Göransson has already won an Oscar. Robertson is a solo artist who was once the lead guitarist for Bob Dylan, the songwriter/guitarist for the band, and also a frequent collaborator of Scorsese — and he also passed away back in August. Representation of Native American culture and Robertson’s strong score, will likely outweigh Göransson’s work.

SONG

Will Win / Should Win: ‘What Was I Made For?’, Barbie — Music & lyrics by Billie Eilish & Finneas O’Connell

Upset: ‘I’m Just Ken’, Barbie — Music & lyrics by Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt;

‘Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)’, Killers of the Flower Moon — Music & lyrics by Scott George

The main competition is between two songs from Barbie. ‘I’m Just Ken’ has a strong following, but ‘What Was I Made For?’ is a better song. But there could be an upset from ‘Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)’, since it presents a fascinatingly different song in an unheard language (the song is entirely in the Osage language), and because it presents the only opportunity to celebrate a minority.

ANIMATED FEATURE

Will Win: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Should Win: The Boy and the Heron

The undisputed winner of almost all award ceremonies, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will bag Animated feature…like its predecessor, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. While no one doubts its technical and creative achievements — it is one helluva difficult movie to make — Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, should win. It is a sensitive, deeply moving, mature and magical cinema experience that has won a Bafta. This is the only category where we wholeheartedly want Academy voters to follow the Baftas.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: 20 Days in Mariupol

Should Win: Bobi Wine: The People’s President

Upset: Four Daughters

We have heard some murmurs of Four Daughters unexpectedly winning Best Documentary. As we have not seen the film, we cannot comment on how strong that claim may be. Of the three titles we’ve seen, Bobi Wine — the harrowing chronicle of a popular singer who runs against the corrupt Ugandan president in elections — is a better candidate for the win.

The votes, however, will likely be for 20 Days in Mariupol, the documentation of a camera crew’s plight to send their footage over to their networks in war-torn Ukraine. On its creative and technical merits, 20 Days is not a good production; the emotions it triggers come from the plight of the people, but that — and Hollywood’s unreserved support for Ukraine — should not be the only reason for the win.

INTERNATIONAL FILM

Will Win: The Zone of Interest

Should Win: Perfect Days

Upset: Society of the Snow

Again, following the Bafta lead (this is getting boring), where it has already won Outstanding British Film and Best Foreign Film, The Zone of Interest, will win here. The film, shot by a British director (Jonathan Glazer) in a semi-documentary style, is set in a home next to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. The category, however, has better nominees, such as Perfect Days, Society of the Snow, Io Capitano — films that make one appreciate life and set your soul on fire…isn’t that what cinema is about?

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 10th, 2024

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