Bassem Youssef, Maz Jobrani to perform at Abu Dhabi Comedy Festival

And the Oscar goes to: A rundown of the silver screen favorites at the 2024 Academy Awards

DUBAI: Our rundown of the contenders for the major prizes at this year’s Academy Awards on March 11.

BEST PICTURE 

Given the ubiquity of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon this summer, when Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” (pictured) were released simultaneously in cinemas, causing some kind of counterprogramming pop-culture meltdown, it was reasonable, perhaps, to imagine that friendly rivalry extending into awards season. And, yes, “Barbie” is one of the nominees here (and in seven other categories). But the truth is that, despite pulling in almost 50 percent more in box office receipts than “Oppenheimer” (which still did extremely well for itself), “Barbie” is a considerable distance behind in the running for Best Picture, where a win for “Oppenheimer” seems all but inevitable. That’s understandable, the latter ticks all kinds of Academy boxes — critically acclaimed, commercially successful biopic of an historically significant figure; tremendous performances from several cast members; fantastically shot; important topic that is also relevant at this moment in time… the list goes on. It’s kind of a shame, though, considering the strength of the field, which includes several films that could have walked away with the prize in many other years, not least the likely winner of the Best International Feature Film, “The Zone of Interest,” Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary take on the story of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, his wife Hedwig and their family and entourage as they make their home next to the concentration camp where unthinkable horrors are perpetrated. It contains. no scenes of the camp itself, but its sounds form a continual haunting backdrop to this subtle, moving portrayal of what philosopher Hannah Arendt famously called “the banality of evil.”  

Another international contender, Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall” — a gripping, intense French legal drama about a female writer who becomes a murder suspect after her husband dies in an apparent accident — would be a worthy winner. But so would all of this year’s nominees, whether it’s Martin Scorsese’s compelling and significant western crime drama “Killers of the Flower Moon” — a masterpiece that sees the veteran director cutting deep into America’s racist past (and present), Cord Jefferson’s biting satire “American Fiction” Celine Song’s moving romantic drama “Past Lives,” Alexander Payne’s highly affecting, low-key comedy-drama “The Holdovers,” or Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro.” The movie with the most reason to bemoan the almost certain dominance of “Oppenheimer,” though, is Yorgos Lanthimos’ unique, glorious, unclassifiable “Poor Things,” one of the most wildly inventive films to succeed at the box office in a long, long time.  

PREDICTED WINNER: ‘Oppenheimer’ 

BEST DIRECTOR 

Another category where “Oppenheimer” is the runaway favorite. Christopher Nolan is unquestionably a great filmmaker, one of the best of his generation, so it’s surprising that this is only his second nomination in this category (he lost out to Guillermo del Toro in 2018 when he was nominated for “Dunkirik”). Expect him to be taking home the Oscar this week though. As for the other nominees, see our writeup for Best Picture: they all deserve recognition for some truly great work, none more so than Yorgos Lanthimos (pictured), but they’re up against a juggernaut. So Lanthimos, Martin Scorsese, Justine Triet, and Jonathan Glazer are going to need to practice their loser’s smiles for the camera. 

PREDICTED WINNER: Christopher Nolan 

Christopher Nolan has been nominated in the Best Director category. (Getty Images)

BEST ACTOR 

Yes, we know, it’s getting boring, but — once again — it’s hard to see past Cillian Murphy’s immense performance in the title role of “Oppenheimer” for this prize. And to be this firm a favorite in such a strong field is testament to just how good Murphy is, especially when he’s working with Chris Nolan. Paul Giamatti (for his brilliantly restrained take on a repressed Classics professor in “The Holdovers” — pictured) is probably the contender with the biggest chance of causing an upset — but that ‘biggest chance’ is exceedingly small. Jeffrey Wright (pictured) is great as an exasperated author in “American Fiction,” while Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”) and Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) should both be proud of their work. But this will surely be Murphy’s award.  

PREDICTED WINNER: Cillian Murphy  

BEST ACTRESS 
As the only ‘major’ category with no “Oppenheimer” representation, this one is a little more open than most. Annette Benning as long-distance swimmer Diane Nyad in “Nyad,” Sandra Hüller as the wife suspected of killing her husband in “Anatomy of a Fall,” and Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s long-suffering wife Felicia Montealegre in “Maestro” are all in with an (outside) shot, but it’s likely to be a showdown between two polar-opposite performances: Lily Gladstone is the first Native American actress to be nominated for this Oscar, and already picked up the Golden Globe for her commanding performance as Mollie in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which balances unflappable calmness and heart-wrenching vulnerability. At the other end of the scale is Emma Stone’s mesmeric, utterly abandoned portrayal of Bella Baxter, the resurrected child-woman at the heart of “Poor Things.” This one will be close.  

PREDICTED WINNER: Lily Gladstone. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 

One of the many great things about “Oppenheimer” is that it reminded audiences that Robert Downey Jr. — who has spent much of this century doing his (admittedly very entertaining) snarky billionaire superhero thing for Marvel — is a really, really good actor. He’s the frontrunner here, and Sterling K Brown (“American Fiction”), Robert De Niro (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”) and Ryan Gosling (“Barbie”) are likely making up the numbers. Although Gosling could cause a shock because, y’know, he’s Ryan Gosling. 

PREDICTED WINNER: Robert Downey Jr.  

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 

And finally… a category where “Oppenheimer” is nominated but not the favorite to win (even though Emily Blunt did a fantastic job as the physicist’s wife, Kitty). Instead, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (pictured) will likely (deservedly) pick up the award for her beautifully pitched performance as the cafeteria manager of the boarding school in “The Holdovers.” Her closest contender? Probably Danielle Brooks for her fiercely convincing portrayal of Sofia in “The Color Purple.” But if it isn’t Randolph, then all four of the other nominees — the other two being America Ferrera (“Barbie”) and Jodie Foster (“Nyad”) — have a good chance. 

PREDICTED WINNER: Da’Vine Joy Randolph 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE 
Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol” leads the field, not least because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to make headlines around the world. As Variety wrote, it is “bleak but essential viewing.” That could also be applied to Nisha Pahuja’s disturbing “To Kill A Tiger,” which follows a family in rural India campaigning for justice after their teenage daughter is raped. The Saudi-backed “Four Daughters,” Kaouther Ben Hania’s inventive look at a Tunisian mother with four daughters, two of whom run off to join Daesh, also has difficult subject matter at its core, but offers several rays of light in the darkness and could give Chernov’s film a run for its money on the night. Maite Alberdi’s deeply moving “The Eternal Memory” and Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo’s “Bobi Wine: The People’s President” are both must-sees too. 

PREDICTED WINNER: ‘Four Daughters’

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