Holiday lights are coming down. From every street corner, Christmas trees lie in abandoned disarray. Right now, you’re probably swearing you’ll never touch a glass of champagne again. Yes, 2023 is well and over, and with that passing comes a chance to turn the page toward what will hopefully be a brighter, sunnier 2024.

And yet, for a certain breed of movie lover, film buff, cinephile, and/or unapologetic red carpet fashion-watcher, there remains one last ritual left unaccounted for from 2023: the culmination of awards season. When the 96th annual Academy Awards announce the Oscar winners from the year that was, it will be nearly mid-March and the final denouement of a monthslong marathon that begins for viewers at home this weekend, with the Golden Globes seemingly succeeding at rehabilitating their image ahead of a Sunday, Jan. 7 ceremony. Shortly thereafter will be the Critics Choice Awards, then the guilds’ choices, the Independent Spirit Awards, and plenty of others in between.

But in truth, awards season has already been broiling for weeks, with early critics groups attempting to influence and shape what is to come, and plenty of Oscar prognosticators (including your humble writer) making wildly premature predictions. Consider this list one such forecast where we round up the biggest players for this year’s awards season and list them in descending order based on their likelihood of winning Best Picture. But while our top selections indicate who we think will most probably walk away with the biggest prize, in each film’s section we’ll also consider where else the movie might be a frontrunner… or a disappointment.


At the risk of indulging in hyperbole, it is difficult to think of a year with a more clear cut frontrunner in so many of the major categories (Picture, Director, Actor). The King’s Speech, maybe? While we correctly predicted Everything Everywhere All at Once was the one to beat by this time last year, that movie was still something of a wild card in terms of aligning with Oscar’s historic tastes. Oppenheimer, by contrast, lands perfectly at the epicenter of Academy interests. It is a biographical film about an ostensibly great man doing great (and terrible) things; it is largely set during World War II; and it is a veritable showcase for a legion of actors (mostly male), not least of which is Irish thespian Cillian Murphy, who gives the performance of a lifetime as his baby blues dominate 70MM IMAX frames. 

A case can be made that Oppenheimer is the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s career. And after the Academy infamously struggled in recognizing the popular director’s most crowd-pleasing efforts, his greatest triumph just so happens to now be something that plays to the voting body’s natural sensibility, which remains predominantly white and older-skewing despite growing diversity. Additionally, Oppenheimer is as much a commercial marvel as it is an artistic one, proving that audacious, R-rated dramas intended for adults can do big or bigger business than superheroes. This thing looks formidable in the Best Picture category, and downright unsinkable in the Best Director race.

In addition to Christopher Nolan likely getting an overdue Best Director Oscar, he should also be nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category where the film will be competitive. Meanwhile Cillian Murphy is arguably the one to beat in the Best Actor race, although do not count out Bradley Cooper for Maestro. Elsewhere, Emily Blunt is locked in to receive her first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category while this movie should be a monster in craft categories, with the film likely picking up Best Production Design, Best Costume, and Best Hair and Makeup nominations while being the frontrunner in categories like Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Score.

Available to rent on: Amazon, Apple (U.S. and UK)

The Holdovers

Pulling off a Best Picture upset against the American Prometheus would be a Herculean task, perhaps comparable to Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan. But then, Shakespeare in Love did beat Saving Private Ryan. So if something were to disarm Nolan’s Big Night, it will most likely be a warm, fuzzy crowdpleaser—more specifically of the type of crowd that many Academy voters prefer to associate with. In that context, The Holdovers is as warm as a comfy Christmas sweater.

Directed by a filmmaker the Academy has celebrated for decades in various categories, The Holdovers is Alexander Payne’s both bitter and sweet Christmas film about a curmudgeonly prep school teacher having his heart melted by a good kid in danger of going down the wrong path during the holiday break of 1970. Cute, elegiac, and big-hearted, we suspect this could be the Best Picture race’s dark horse, especially if most Academy voters only discover it in January or February (therefore after half a year of hearing about Oppenheimer as the anointed one).

You should also not doubt this film being a contender in other categories. While we suspect Best Actor is between Murphy and Cooper, Paul Giamatti is definitely in the conversation as the beloved character thespian who’s never gotten his Oscar due (his only nomination to date is inexplicably for Cinderella Man). So if the more traditional leading men in historic biopics split the vote, Giamatti could be the beneficiary.

Meanwhile Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives a knockout performance as Mary Lamb, a school chef who knows more about the world outside than any of these privileged kids. She deserves and probably will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Also expect David Hemingson’s script to likely pick up Best Original Screenplay, particularly after the Academy ruled earlier this week that Barbie’s script must compete in the Adapted category in spite of Warner Brothers’ best efforts. The path thus seems clear for The Holdovers picking up an Original Screenplay Oscar and one or two acting wins, which precedent shows is a formidable combination for leading to Best Picture…

Available to stream on: Peacock (U.S. only)

Killers of the Flower Moon

Conventional wisdom suggests Martin Scorsese’s own historical epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, is as much in contention for Best Picture as Oppenheimer. Like that Nolan’s movie, Killers is a massive vision from a beloved auteur about the glory and the ruin of a shared national history. But the emphasis is definitely on ruin in the case of Killers, with Scorsese electing to tell the story of the genocide inflicted on the Osage Nation by greedy white vultures almost entirely from the vultures’ perspective. On the one hand that is commendable, because Scorsese resisted studios who said the film should be told strictly from the vantage of the white lawman who brought a few of the mass murderers to justice, thereby making a more audience-friendly white savior yarn. On the other hand, the film still doesn’t do full justice to the Osage people who should be the center of this tale.

To be sure, Lily Gladstone is heartbreaking as Mollie Burkhart, the woman who made the mistake of marrying Leonardo DiCaprio’s smiling coyote, Ernest. We suspect Gladstone is also the best situated to upset Emma Stone in the Best Actress category, and Killers could have been more potent (and easily digestible) if it were exclusively Mollie’s story. As it is, the film’s divided attention contributes to an intimidating three and a half hour runtime about American racism.

That grim mix of length and subject matter might lead to this movie being heavily nominated, and possibly heavy on losses. We’re aware Killers of the Flower Moon already won Best Picture among the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, but in recent years those organizations have gotten sentimental about Scorsese, with both bodies awarding The Irishman Best Picture. Let’s just say the industry-skewing Academy thought differently than those critics. Either way, also expect Killers to pick up more Oscar nods for DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, a slew of technical awards including Best Cinematography and Costume Design, and a posthumous Oscar nomination for Robbie Robertson’s score.

Available to rent: Amazon, Apple (U.S. and UK); available to stream globally on Apple TV+ on Jan. 12.

Poor Things

Another picture with an unlikely yet technically plausible path to winning Best Picture is Yorgos Lanthimos’ absolutely breathtaking dark comedy/drama/fantasia, Poor Things. It’s a picture overflowing with creativity and imagination, as Lanthimos takes the basic setup of Frankenstein and refashions it as a staggering allegory and satire for what it means to be a woman in a man’s world—or in this case a woman whose corpse was reanimated by a mad scientist and now, with the mind of a child, sets off to learn about the world’s many pleasures and sorrows: from sex to philosophy.

It’s one of our favorites this year, but the movie is so gleefully perverse and frank about sexuality that it could turn off more conventional and older-skewing Academy members who prefer their onscreen romances sentimental and tasteful. The wild stabs at genre accent marks, including scenes of brains being inserted into skulls and cadavers being hacked apart, won’t help with that demo either.

But if that might affect its Best Picture chances, there’s too much craftsmanship and artistic brilliance pulsing in this thing to leave it un-championed. Poor Things is going to pick up a slew of acting nominations for definitely Mark Ruffalo, probably Willem Dafoe, and absolutely Emma Stone. Indeed, it’s the performance of Stone’s career, and the only thing that might prevent her from taking the Best Actress trophy home is that she already has one for La La Land, whereas the more unknown Lily Gladstone has none. Also expect Poor Things to duke it out with Barbie in Best Production Design and Best Costume Design while having a dark horse chance to win in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. It should also receive several other nods, including Best Original Score.


Maestro is one of the more curious films in this year’s Oscar race. The movie left some critics divided—this one personally thinks it missed the music of Leonard Bernstein’s life in order to create an awards season showreel—and has become the bane of Film Twitter malcontents everywhere. But as often bears repeating, neither critics nor social media pundits represent the varied interests of the Academy’s voting blocs. And when the largest branch of Academy voters is the actors, a movie that works as a showcase for a pair of actors, and which was co-written and helmed by an actor-turned-director, is a shoo-in for at least several major nominations.

Maestro will be nominated for Best Picture. It also will likely be nominated for multiple technical awards, including Best Cinematography. But where it will most aggressively compete is Best Actor and Best Actress. Carey Mulligan is absolutely brilliant in the film as Felicia Montealegre, the long-suffering wife of the closeted genius. She’ll be nominated for Best Actress and has a remote chance of winning if Stone and Gladstone somehow cancel each other out. Meanwhile Cooper will not only be nominated for Best Actor but more probably could win after the actor previously lost a total of nine Oscars (four for acting, four for producing, and one for writing). It could easily be seen as his year by many friends in the industry. He also benefited from Barbie being kicked out of the Best Original Screenplay race, giving Maestro a decent chance of picking up the fifth slot in that category.

Available to stream on: Netflix (U.S. and UK)

The Zone of Interest

Normally a foreign language film about a Nazi family frolicking during the Holocaust would seem like a tough sell during Oscar season. But these days, The Zone of Interest does not just look like a lock for winning the Best International Film Oscar; we suspect it will receive a groundswell of support over the next month and, eventually, a Best Picture nod to boot. Jonathan Glazer’s film already surprised awards watchers once when it was named Best Picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Of course a critics group giving an A24 indie a prize doesn’t necessarily align with mainstream industry tastes. However, we suspect this is a time where they’ll be simpatico.

The scariest film of the year, The Zone of Interest is a character study of sorts focused on Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), the commandant of Auschwitz and one of the chief architects of the concentration camp’s gas showers which murdered millions of Jewish people. The Zone of Interest does not show the slaughter though. It instead studies Rudolf, his happy wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and their children leading their best lives in the shadow of an evil they pretend doesn’t exist. The movie isn’t just about genocide; it’s a portrait of the people who normalize the atrocities, or are bought off with garden parties and promotions. In such a tumultuous moment, many people will see our daily lives reflected in this chilling snapshot of history. 

American Fiction

Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut is one of the cleverest and most satisfying films of the year. It’s also a bit of a magic trick since American Fiction simultaneously satirizes the type of folks who vote for awards and attend festivals while nevertheless getting those same people to give awards to American Fiction. The film already picked up the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and a slew of Best Feature prizes at other festivals. It should and will end up with a Best Picture Oscar nod, completing the joke.

An acerbic comedy about the commercialization of Black art to serve white guilt, American Fiction deftly mocks the type of well-meaning liberal who is desperate to read a Black author… if their book is written in slang and anguish. This is anathema to Monk Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a Black professor who grew up in elite coastal communities but who cannot get a novel published until he writes under a pseudonym that publishers believe belongs to a wanted fugitive. He becomes an overnight success.

Personally, Wright is my second favorite leading actor performance of the year. He will be nominated in that category but he unfortunately does not appear to be in serious contention to win. Jefferson should also get a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.


The biggest hit of the year will most likely get a nomination for Best Picture purely on the strength of its commercial success. Admittedly outright mainstream comedies are not the Academy’s favorite genre, but Greta Gerwig made a supremely entertaining one that sharply critiques patriarchal gender conventions. It also stunned the whole industry when it became the only live-action movie in 2023 to cross $1 billion at the box office despite being neither a sequel or a reboot. While its toyetic origins will turn off some voters, it’s just too impressive (and popular) a creative achievement for the Academy to ignore.

In addition to a Best Picture nomination, expect Barbie to pick up a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination—although its chances of winning a scribe Oscar are now in doubt since the Adapted category is more competitive this year than Original. Still, Barbie should lead the pack in the Production Design, Costume Design, and Original Song categories, the latter of which will land it at least two nominations. (Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For” is favorited, but we are rooting for “I’m Just Ken.”)

As for Gerwig and the star/producer who made it happen, Margot Robbie, both seem like plausible nominations in their respective categories of Best Director and Actress. However, both are on the bubble of getting in (particularly Robbie in a highly competitive year for Best Actress). Gerwig was also famously snubbed for Best Director four years ago, and Academy members should remember the bad press. Either way, like a Best Picture nod, they will be placed in the “it’s an honor to be nominated” box—which might play into Gerwig’s larger point about what our society values when you stop and think about it…

Available to stream on: Max (U.S.); available to rent in the UK on: Amazon, Apple

The Color Purple

Some critics were fairly cool toward Blitz Bazawule’s musical remake of The Color Purple. This is after all the type of feel-good, feel-bad cinema that makes someone like Monk Ellison wince. Others loved it though, and we expect awards bodies will too. Replete with a wide array of powerhouse musical performances courtesy of Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, and Halle Bailey, The Color Purple is a toe-tapping spectacle tailored for Academy tastes. Oprah Winfrey as a producer also never hurts.

At the moment, those who think The Color Purple will miss out on a Best Picture nod should think again. Brooks will definitely get into the Best Supporting Actress category, as will possibly Henson. It should also earn a Best Original Song nod for “Keep It Movin’” and other technical nods in Costume and Production Design.

Past Lives

At this point, we start moving into the films on the bubble for the 10th and final Best Picture nomination. Celine Song’s quietly devastating Past Lives is one of the most beautiful films of the year and a picture that no less than Guillermo del Toro called the best directorial debut he’s seen in the last 20 years. In a just world, it would not only receive a Best Picture nomination, but be in heavy consideration for the top prize (it’s already won the Gotham Awards’ Best Picture plaudit).

However, the film’s delicate intimacy as a story of three people—two childhood sweethearts who reconnect as adults, the third being a husband who married one of them—might get ignored if Academy chases flashier work. If so, it will be a shame, because this movie is exquisite. It will still be nominated for Best Original Screenplay (and is probably The Holdovers’ biggest competition there now), and star Greta Lee has a remote chance of landing in the fifth nomination slot for Best Actress, although it will require knocking out a nod for either Margot Robbie or someone else we think is very deserving in another film on the Best Picture bubble… 

Available to rent on: Amazon, Apple (U.S. and UK)

Anatomy of a Fall

Last year’s Palme d’Or winner is a movie we personally consider to be among the five best of 2023. The Academy might agree, but this Justine Triet masterpiece about the mystery of a man’s death—and the greater mystery of the marriage he left behind—is already at a disadvantage because a French committee bafflingly selected The Taste of Things to be their lone submission to the Oscars’ Best International Film shortlist instead of the movie that already picked up Cannes’ most prestigious award. U.S. distributor Neon is making a determined push to get Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall nominated for Best Picture even without Best International Film eligibility.

It would be deserving, as Anatomy of a Fall is a provocative thriller anchored by a searing performance from Sandra Hüller, who is likely to be nominated for Best Actress for the film. Triet and Arthur Harari should also get a Best Original Screenplay nod.

Available to rent on: Amazon, Apple (U.S. only)

May December

One of Film Twitter’s most beloved movies certainly has gained steam in the last month. May December picked up surprise Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor awards at the New York Film Critics Circle; Charles Melton also won the Best Supporting Actor prize at the Gotham Awards. So there are many convinced the new Todd Haynes drama (with alleged elements of camp) will sneak into Oscar’s final shortlist. But if we’re being honest, we suspect it will miss out on a Picture nod. The film’s dry, vaguely acerbic tone while chronicling how child abuse is turned into fodder by the entertainment industry is not the Academy bullseye some make it out to be.

Be that as it may, Melton is still likely to get into the Best Supporting Actor race (though that is not guaranteed), just as the script will probably earn an Original Screenplay nomination. Julianne Moore is also on the bubble of getting into the Best Supporting Actress race.

Available to stream on: Netflix (U.S. and UK)


Matt Damon and Ben Affleck together again in a feel-good true story about dudes beating the odds. To some it must feel like the ‘90s, and we admit there is a certain nostalgic appeal to Air for members of the Academy who still remember the glory days of Michael Jordan—or at least Good Will Hunting. But as charming a film as Air is, put us in the camp that’s skeptical about it getting a Best Picture nomination. The movie is pleasant but also pat, and the Academy snubbed Damon and Affleck reunions before (although the superior The Last Duel was also a pricey box office bomb in 2021). If Air gets nominated anywhere it will be for Best Original Screenplay, although to do that it will probably need to knock out the screenplay for Maestro. We’re game.

Available to stream on: Amazon Prime Video (U.S. and UK)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

At this point on the list, we are discussing less the films that might get nominated for Best Picture and more movies that could be contenders in other categories. In the case of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the well-liked animated superhero sequel stands a good chance of repeating 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse win for Best Animated Feature, although Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron is fierce competition. Also expect to see Across the Spider-Verse nominated for Best Original Score. It also holds an outside chance of getting into Best Visual Effects.

Available to stream on: Netflix (U.S.), Sky (UK)


Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Nyad is a sweet film, but since premiering on Netflix in November, it has not made much of a splash. We suspect Academy favorite Jodie Foster could surprise with a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, but the film might otherwise go ignored.

Available to stream on: Netflix (U.S. and UK)


Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott’s first collaboration since the Best Picture winner Gladiator in 2000 did not create a similar frenzy in the arena. If there’s any justice, Napoleon will still garner a Best Costume Design nod, but even that is debatable. Almost everywhere else the film has already met its award season Waterloo.

Asteroid City

A requisite reminder that a new Wes Anderson movie will probably result in a new Best Production Design Oscar nomination, but we do not see this film being recognized for much else.

Available to stream on: Amazon Prime Video (U.S.); available to rent on: Apple, Amazon (UK)


Despite having some impressive technical prowess, we don’t foresee Michael Mann’s Enzo Ferrari biopic being nominated for much beyond perhaps Best Editing and Best Hair and Makeup. But at least for Penelope Cruz that’s a shame, as she is magnificent here.

The Iron Claw

The Iron Claw is a beautiful little film that deserves to find what will be an undoubtedly passionate audience. However, the film came late in the season and with relatively minor fanfare. Additionally, indie tastemaker studio A24 needs to carefully select where to emphasize its campaign resources after dominating last year’s Academy Awards. The Zone of Interest and Past Lives will likely yield better results, so that is where the resources will go. The same holds true for Sofia Coppola’s delicate biopic at A24, Priscilla, which under different circumstances should have been a bigger contender.

The post Oscars 2024 Frontrunners and Contenders appeared first on Den of Geek.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.