The 96th Academy Awards will take place on March 10. Like previous years, shoo-in categories mostly belong to one film that dominates the competition. Last year, that film was “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which swept the 95th Academy Awards, as I predicted it would. This year, it's Christopher Nolan‘s juggernaut film that will take center stage. “Oppenheimer” is nominated for a head-turning 13 nominations, joining films such as “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
While “Oppenheimer” is poised to walk away with the most awards, it's not the only film that will win an award. Below are my picks for the categories that shouldn't be close.
Directing: Christopher Nolan — 'Oppenheimer'
Christopher Nolan, with his many blockbuster films, has never won an Oscar for directing. Although he’s been nominated once before, for “Dunkirk,” it seems very likely that this year will be his to take the coveted award home. If you're familiar with his work, you know he deserves it. If he didn't win, or even get nominated, for “Inception,” “The Prestige,” or “Interstellar,” then surely he'll win with “Oppenheimer.”
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — 'Oppenheimer'
Behind Nolan is a name that’s less known yet just as important. Hoyte van Hoytema, the Swiss cinematographer, has served as director of photography for Nolan films such as “Tenet,” Dunkirk,” “Interstellar,” and, of course, “Oppenheimer.” He should’ve been nominated last year for “Nope,” where he reinvented shooting at night. He's a master of the craft, so much so that Kodak, IMAX, Fotokem, and Panavision had to develop a new 65mm black-and-white film workflow for this movie.
Music (Original Score): Ludwig Göransson — 'Oppenheimer'
Ludwig Göransson is a longtime composer whose first major break came when he composed the original score for Ryan Coogler‘s “Creed.” Since then, he's composed original scores for huge projects such as “Black Panther,” “The Mandalorian,” “Tenet,” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which led to him winning this very award last year. He'll undoubtedly win it again this year, cementing him as the composer of his generation, joining the likes of greats such as John Williams and Hans Zimmer.
Music (Original Song): 'I'm Just Ken' — 'Barbie'
Let me be clear: The real pick for this category should’ve been Jack Black‘s “Peaches,” which he sang as Bowser in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” It seems like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was too afraid of the power that his song held. Instead, we have “I'm Just Ken,” which is still a banger and very much worthy of the award for the way it unfolds the complicated tapestry of feelings Ken has during this film.
As a companion to Barbie, Ken is a trophy boyfriend devoid of agency or even his own identity apart from Barbie. This song, similar to the movie, flips the script by making men a marginalized group, leading to chaos as Ken learns about masculinity and turns the Kens into stereotypical dudes who love to mansplain “The Godfather” to Barbies who have lost control of their world. So, while it’s a silly, campy himbo anthem, it's also low-key genius.
International Feature Film: ‘The Zone of Interest’ — United Kingdom
“The Zone of Interest” is a film about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. What makes this film different from the others is that it focuses on the mundane, day-to-day aspects of the person behind the most famous concentration camp. Through this lens, the director, Jonathan Glazer, normalizes the tragedy; it’s chilling for the audience to see such a monstrous act as ordinary or quotidian. While doing something like this could easily be considered tasteless, the film treads carefully and has earned high praise among critics.
Documentary Feature Film: '20 Days in Mariupol'
With the Russia-Ukraine War not seeing an end to this day, “20 Days in Mariupol” is a powerful documentary about the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This film, in which a group of journalists are trapped for 20 days in the falling city of Mariupol, gives viewers a look at war like never before. It's, as some reviews have described it, “harrowing,” “relentless,” “miraculous,” “brutal,” “heart-pounding,” and so many more adjectives apt for describing these atrocities. Though it may be hard to watch, it's worth experiencing it.
Actress in a Supporting Role: Da'Vine Joy Randolph — 'The Holdovers'
It's a shame that “The Holdovers” won't win many awards at this ceremony, but if there's one award that this film is destined for, it's the award for Actress in a Supporting Role. Da'vine Joy Randolph stars as Mary Lamb, the grieving mother of a fallen Vietnam War soldier who stays over the holidays to feed the titular holdovers. As the sole woman for the majority of the film, she becomes a de facto mother figure, which distracts her from her grief. She's funny, warm, quick-witted, tragic, and, ultimately, redeemed. Randolph's portrayal of the character is rooted in grief, which comes out in one memorable scene that is likely a driving force behind her nomination.
Animated Feature Film: 'Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse'
Having won this very award before in 2019 for “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony Pictures Animation isn't hurting for another accolade. Yet what the studio has done with this sequel film is something worth acknowledging, raising the bar for animation once again after setting it so high only five years before. It's an animated film so ambitious and full of passion that it's split into two parts — something that fans, including myself, found out the hard way.
Although Hayao Miyazaki‘s — also not a stranger to winning an Academy Award — “The Boy and the Heron” is another strong contender, “Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” is a more complete film deserving of the award.