Hot Picks from the Oscar Czar; Nighthawks Ballots 2024

This year we are, unfortunately, unable to bring you our regular Oscar coverage. In lieu of that our Oscar Czar, Cameron Maris, has put his thoughts down “on paper” so our listeners can have an informed Oscar night. You can also have an unofficial Oscar Night ballot from The Nighthawks:

From the Desk of Oscar Czar Cameron Maris:

Once in a great while, a film comes along that checks all the right boxes.  Important biopic?  Check.  Critical and commercial smash?  Double-check.  Beloved auteur over-due for a well-deserved Oscar?  Oppenheimer has it all.  After smashing its way through almost nearly every precursor award in its path, there is very little doubt that Christopher Nolan is on his way to a big Oscar night; the only question is how big it will get.  It’s almost certain that he will walk away with both of the night’s biggest prizes.

Three of the four acting categories are essentially locked up.  Robert Downey Jr. will cap off his full-circle Hollywood comeback narrative by winning Supporting Actor for Oppenheimer, while Da’Vine Joy Randolph will complete her sweep of the awards season by winning Supporting Actress for The Holdovers.  While there was some hope for long-overdue national treasure Paul Giamatti at the beginning of the season, Cillian Murphy’s precursor dominance has made him a forgone conclusion for Best Actor.  The biggest mystery of the night appears to be Best Actress, where previous winner Emma Stone’s very showy, physical work in Poor Things faces off against the subtle, internal performances by Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon and Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall.  History tells us that the Academy favors “big” performances over quiet ones, which would make Stone the favorite to win her second statuette.  But it’s tough not to root for Gladstone, who makes history as the first Indigenous American actress ever nominated, and delivered a powerful performance that is impossible to shake.  It’s a genuine three-way race, but Gladstone’s SAG victory makes a historic Oscar win feel like the right pick.

The heaviest hitters of the Best Picture nominees always seem to group into one writing category, and this year they’re all in Adapted Screenplay, making it a solid three-or-four-way race.  The consensus pick seems to be American Fiction, but I have a feeling that this is where we might see a push to honor Greta Gerwig (who was now-famously snubbed for Best Directing) for her triumphant Barbie screenplay.  This was the award I picked for Barbie from the minute the credits rolled, and I’m sticking with it for the points.  In the Original Screenplay category, this is likely where the Academy will likely award Justine Triet (who *was* nominated for Best Directing) for her chilling script for Anatomy of a Fall.

Ludwig Goransson won his first Oscar in 2019 for Black Panther, and has since become one of the most in-demand composers in film.  His is groundbreaking and very effective work here will undoubtedly ride an Oppenheimer wave to victory, eclipsing the late Robbie Robertson’s beautiful work for Killers of the Flower Moon.  In Best Song, Billie Eilish and Finneas will continue their streak of winning every award in the known universe for “What Was I Made For?,” the stunning emotional peak of Barbie, which has already earned a Grammy for Song of the Year.  It will be their second Oscar in three years.

The two most heavily-designed movies of the year, Poor Things and Barbie, will face off for Production Design and Costume Design, respectively.  I’m betting on a split, with Poor Things taking Production Design and Barbie taking Costumes.  The biggest question mark here is Makeup & Hairstyling, for which Barbie wasn’t even shortlisted.  This one will likely come down to the complex aging makeup of Maestro and Willem Dafoe’s grotesquely scarred face in Poor Things.  Either one seems like a good bet, but the wild designs of Poor Things make it a lot more fun than the dour Maestro.

Oppenheimer is the frontrunner in 3/4 of the technical categories, and was only left out of Visual Effects because Christopher Nolan threw his VFX team under the bus.  Oppie is likely to take both Cinematography and Film Editing with ease, but I’m betting on an upset in Sound.  The Zone of Interest is one of the most complex and haunting aural experiences of any film I’ve ever seen (heard), and the sound design possibly the most-memorable element of the film.  As we’ve seen before with films like Sound of Metal, a memorable sound design is often the winner in this category.  Finally, with Oppie out, Visual Effects is a clash of two sci-fi titans, Godzilla Minus One and The Creator.  While the latter may boast a fully-designed VFX world, the general love and buzz for Godzilla might just outpace The Creator with the full Academy and give the big Kaiju his first-ever Oscar.

Animated Feature is a battle between Spider-Man and Hayao Miyazaki, both of whom have won this award previously.  The International category is locked up for The Zone of Interest, the only Best Picture nominee to make the cut.  As for Documentary Feature, 20 Days in Mariupol (a co-production of the Associated Press and PBS Frontline) is perhaps the most stunning and harrowing war doc I’ve ever seen, and will win its category with ease.  I’m betting on Wes Anderson to finally win his Oscar for Netflix’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, which feels like it’s in a whole different class than its fellow nominees.  Animated Short is chock-full of deserving contenders, but Letter to a Pig feels like a solid winner (never bet against the Holocaust).  The ABCs of Book Banning is the well-deserved frontrunner in Documentary Short, but The Last Repair Shop has a similar arc but feels more substantive and emotional.

Best Picture:  Oppenheimer
Best Directing:  Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
Best Actress:  Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
Best Actor:  Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
Best Supporting Actress:  Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
Best Supporting Actor:  Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer
Best Original Screenplay:  Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet & Arthur Harari
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Barbie, Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach
Best Original Score:  Oppenheimer, Ludwig Göransson
Best Original Song:  “What Was I Made For?,” Barbie, Billie Eilish & Finneas
Production Design:  Poor Things
Costume Design:  Barbie
Makeup & Hairstyling:  Poor Things
Cinematography:  Oppenheimer
Film Editing:  Oppenheimer
Sound:  The Zone of Interest
Visual Effects:  Godzilla Minus One
Animated Feature:  Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
International Film:  The Zone of Interest
Documentary Feature:  20 Days in Mariupol
Live Action Short:  The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Animated Short:  Letter to a Pig
Documentary Short:  The Last Repair Shop

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