Breaking down the 2024 Oscar nominations

I couldn’t help myself. 

When Marblehead Weekly News Opinion Editor Stuart Foster asked me to contribute to the paper’s Lifestyle page a few weeks ago, he reinvigorated my desire to share my takes with the world. No one, except Stuart, asked, but here we are — and with the Oscar nominations announced Tuesday morning, I have plenty of fodder. “Oppenheimer” predictably led the way with a whopping 13 nominations, with “Poor Things,” “Barbie,” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” also doing well. 

Now, as a disclaimer, I will say I have not seen every film nominated at this year’s Academy Awards — but I have seen many and it hasn’t stopped me from harboring strong opinions on the nominations. I can’t say I have anything to share on below-the-line awards like, say, sound, editing, or makeup and hairstyling, but for the acting, screenplay, director, and picture categories, you bet. 

Without further ado, let’s begin where the announcements began Tuesday — with Best Supporting Actor. 

The nominees are: Sterling K. Brown, “American Fiction;” Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon;” Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer;” Ryan Gosling, “Barbie;” and Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things.” It’s difficult to object to this slate of five — Brown, De Niro, Downey, Gosling, and Ruffalo are all integral parts of their films and deliver outstanding performances. But it’s hard not to wish Charles Melton had been recognized for his portrayal of a man dealing with the scars of a statutory rape in “May December,” which also stars Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. Melton is the emotional core of the film, and manages to provide a humanity that Moore and Portman’s characters can’t. If it were up to me, I’d sub Melton in for Ruffalo. 

For Best Supporting Actress, the nominees are: Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer;” Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple;” America Ferrera, “Barbie;” Jodie Foster, “Nyad;” and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers.” Ferrera is the real surprise in this category, and her nomination is particularly confounding given something we will discuss later. But, she rightfully earned acclaim for a monologue delivered in the third act of “Barbie” that sums up much of the movie’s thesis. Still, I’d have preferred Moore get in for “May December” or even Viola Davis for “Air.” (I can’t say I’ve seen “Nyad,” though my mother recommends it.)

Moving on to the lead categories, for Best Actor the nominees are Bradley Cooper, “Maestro;” Colman Domingo, “Rustin;” Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers;” Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer;” and Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction.” Domingo is the real surprise here, knocking off Leonardo DiCaprio for “Killers.” I haven’t seen “Rustin” so I can’t say whether Domingo delivers a better performance, but I preferred DiCaprio’s turn as a dimwit to Cooper’s performance as the legendary Leonard Bernstein in a more uneven film. Murphy, though, is the slam dunk, delivering easily the best performance of the bunch and the presumptive favorite to take home the award.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Annette Bening, “Nyad;” Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon;” Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall;” Carey Mulligan, “Maestro;” and Emma Stone, “Poor Things.” Benning getting in over both Margot Robbie for “Barbie” and Greta Lee for “Past Lives” is a real shock. Considering “Barbie’s” success elsewhere — it scored a Best Picture nod — it’s surprising not to see Robbie here, who completely carries the film. It’s near impossible to envision anyone else being able to play the role and it’s a shame the Academy isn’t recognizing her here. Gladstone and Stone are in a dead heat for the award and while Stone is excellent in “Poor Things” and certainly delivers the showier performance, I’d like to see Gladstone recognized for “Killers.” Hüller getting in, while not necessarily a surprise, represents the ever-growing international contingent of the Academy (“Anatomy of a Fall” is a French film).

Best Adapted Screenplay was quite the crowded field this year, becoming especially more so when “Barbie” was deemed ineligible for the original screenplay category. It was indeed recognized here, along with “American Fiction,” “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things,” and “The Zone of Interest.” I was glad to see “Zone” get in here, as it landed in my top 10 movies of the year, but it’s a shame “Killers” didn’t get in, as it really is a marvelous work, particularly when considered in the context of the way Scorcese and co. adapted the story from the David Grann book on which it is based. Still, it’s hard to complain about such a strong category. While I loved “Oppenheimer,” I think “Barbie” will take this, and deservingly so, as a very strong work of adaptation. 

The Best Original Screenplay field featured more curveballs. There, the nominees are “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Holdovers,” “May December,” “Maestro,” and “Past Lives.” One of the few categories where I’ve only seen three of five films, I can’t really say I have any qualms with this list. Looking at some of the other contenders — “Saltburn,” “Air,” and “Beau is Afraid”, per prediction site GoldDerby — I think this is the right field. I would’ve flown to Beverly Hills with my pitchfork if “Saltburn” was nominated here. 

The nominations for Best Director feature one of the biggest snubs of the entire field — Greta Gerwig was left out despite her stellar work crafting “Barbie.” The field comprises Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest;” Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things;” Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer;” Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon;” and Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall.” While I have not seen “Anatomy of a Fall” (though I’ve booked a ticket for Friday), I was surprised Triet got in here over Gerwig. The rest of the field though feels unimpeachable — Glazer, Lanthimos, Nolan, and Scorcese directed some of my favorite films of the year and each one did excellent work. Nolan is the runaway favorite here. 

Finally, the big kahuna, Best Picture. The nominees are: “American Fiction,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Barbie,” “The Holdovers,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Oppenheimer,” “Past Lives,”  “Poor Things,” and “The Zone of Interest.” While these weren’t my ten favorite films of the year, I have very little in the way of bones to pick with this slate. I have not seen “Anatomy” nor “Past Lives,” but I’m happy to see a French murder mystery and a Korean-American romance get in here, reflecting the changing tastes of the Academy. “Oppenheimer” is the almost certain winner (a decision I can get behind), though I could see a surprise win for “The Holdovers” or “Poor Things” here.