Five Oscar Races Too Close to Call: Cillian Murphy, Paul Giamatti


The road to the Oscars is checkered with awards group accolades, but uncertainties still lie ahead. Honors are imminent from several industry bodies — DGA, PGA, BAFTA and SAG — all of which share AMPAS members, setting the stage for potential surprises and maybe more question marks. The biggest one of all: Will the Academy go its own way, or will it unanimously favor Christopher Nolan’s epic “Oppenheimer,” potentially setting a record for most wins for a best picture winner since “Slumdog Millionaire” took eight in 2008. Setting aside that known unknown, here’s a look at the races that are firmly in flux as the big night fast approaches. 

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

BEST ACTOR  

Maestro. Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
Courtesy of Netflix

Crowding this category are five esteemed actors, each championing a compelling narrative. Paul Giamatti leads with his portrayal of a prickly yet ultimately benevolent teacher in “The Holdovers,” buoyed by Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins. However, Cillian Murphy’s riveting turn in “Oppenheimer” as the brilliant mind behind the atomic bomb could dominate the night. And then there’s Bradley Cooper, oft-nominated for “Maestro,” who eyes an overdue victory after racking up 12 career nominations. If Netflix’s hefty campaign is any indication, the streamer aims to convert the film’s seven nods to wins. 

ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED SCREENPLAY  

BARBIE, from left: America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Margot Robbie, 2023. © Warner Bos. / Courtesy Everett Collection
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The screenplay battles remain incalculable, especially with “Barbie’s” category switch from original to adapted by the Academy. And the WGA Awards delay further muddles prediction efforts. The original screenplay race is looking to be a showdown between the French courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall” and the heartwarming holiday dramedy “The Holdovers.” The former won the Golden Globe (which combines all screenplays), and that could be the only clue to which film will prevail. Although “Barbie” is no longer a factor in this race, it was nominated as an original script at CCA (where it won) and the upcoming BAFTAs, where it could emerge as the victor. If that happens, two questions will rattle in pundits’ minds: What wins the original at the Oscars, and in the adapted race, can “Barbie” beat the movie that takes BAFTA’s adapted prize? The adapted category has any number of outcomes. It could be where Cord Jefferson’s satirical dramedy “American Fiction” is rewarded after taking home CCA. Then again, scribe Tony McNamara may land an overdue Oscar for “Poor Things” after a high-profile loss for “The Favourite.” And what about the potential “Oppenheimer” sweep that’s brewing? Nolan could be the 11th person to pull off an Oscar hat trick, winning picture, director and screenplay.  

PRODUCTION DESIGN AND COSTUME DESIGN  

Searchlight Pictures

For the first time in two decades, five films — “Barbie,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Napoleon,” “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things” — vie for both production and costume design. That historic alignment last occurred in 2003, when “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won both categories. “Barbie’s” vibrant settings and ingenious homages to its iconic doll have garnered acclaim, while “Poor Things” offers a tapestry of visual opulence, blending period elegance with futuristic whimsy, presenting a tight race across both categories. The two artisan categories are the rare ones that don’t help the best picture cause. In five of the past 13 years, the same film won both production and costumes — “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Black Panther” — yet that didn’t translate to a best picture trophy. In fact, in that same period, only one best picture winner walked away with production design (“The Shape of Water”) and just one took costumes (“The Artist”). Aside from the ever-inscrutable shorts categories, the success of your Oscar pool will likely depend on these races. May the best predictor win. 

This week’s winner picks are below.

Courtesy of Toho

Best Picture:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan

Directing:
Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)

Actor:
Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)

Actress:
Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films)

Supporting Actor:
Robert Downey Jr, “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)

Supporting Actress:
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)

Original Screenplay:
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon) — Justine Triet, Arthur Harari

Adapted Screenplay:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Christopher Nolan

Animated Feature:
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures) — Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal

Production Design:
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) — Shona Heath, James Price, Szusza Mihalek

Cinematography:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Hoyte van Hoytema

Costume Design:
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) — Holly Waddington

Film Editing:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Jennifer Lame

Makeup and Hairstyling:
“Maestro” (Netflix) — Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou and Lori McCoy-Bell

Sound:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Willie Burton, Richard King, Gary A. Rizzo and Kevin O’Connell

Visual Effects:
“Godzilla: Minus One” (Toho) — Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya, Masaki Takahashi and Tatsuji Nojima

Original Score:
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) — Ludwig Göransson

Original Song:
“Barbie” – “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell

Documentary Feature:
“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS) — Mstyslav Chernov, Michelle Mizner and Raney Aronson-Rath

International Feature:
“The Zone of Interest” (A24) — United Kingdom

Animated Short:
“Letter to a Pig” (Miyu Distribution) — Tal Kantor and Amit R. Gicelter

Documentary Short:
“The Last Repair Shop” (L.A. Times Studios/Searchlight Pictures) — Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

Live Action Short:
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (Netflix) — Wes Anderson and Steven Rales

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