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Oscars: I’ll be rooting, big time, for Lily – Play It Again, Tim

Lily Gladstone
Written by Tim Miller

I wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels over last year’s Oscar winners.

I didn’t like “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Despite all of the hyperactivity on display, it affected me about the same as a blank screen would. Given the acclaim it received, I tried watching it a second time. I couldn’t get through it.

And it all but swept the top six Oscar categories, taking best picture, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best director (actually, “directors” in this case, since “Everything” had two). Only Brendan Fraser winning best actor for “The Whale” prevented a 6-for-6 showing.

This year’s awards, set for March 10, should be a different story, especially if the apparent front-runners take the top trophies. Almost all of the nominees are excellent choices (much, much better overall than last year’s lineup), so unless the overrated “Barbie” pulls a major upset, I’m unlikely to groan at the TV this year.

And, really, as long as the phenomenal Lily Gladstone wins for best actress for “Killers of the Flower Moon” (which isn’t a sure-bet but should be), the rest is gravy.

(Side note: I know I’ve already ticked off some readers with the “Barbie” comment. I realize many moviegoers found Greta Gerwig’s satire not only clever and funny, but powerful and important. To me it was amusing, with an excellent performance by Margot Robbie as the titular doll and a terrific speech delivered by America Ferrera, but, overall, one-note and obvious.)

Here’s the lineup of nominees, listed in order of my preference (best to worst), in the top six categories, followed by a few comments and my prediction of who or what will win.

Best picture

1. “Past Lives”

2. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

3. “The Zone of Interest”

4. “Oppenheimer”

5. “Anatomy of a Fall”

6. “American Fiction”

7. “The Holdovers”

8. “Poor Things”

9. “Maestro”

10. “Barbie”

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee star in “Past Lives,” which probably won’t win best picture, but should. (A24)

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee star in “Past Lives,” which probably won’t win best picture, but should. (A24)

“Killers of the Flower Moon,” “The Zone of Interest” and “Oppenheimer,” are all riveting historical dramas worthy of getting the big trophy. “Killers,” about white men murdering Osage Indians for their wealth, stands with the best movies of master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Through its view of the family life of the Auschwitz death camp’s commandant, Jonathan Glazer’s “Zone” shows how people can compartmentalize evil actions if it suits their personal ambitions. And Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer”  does a deep dive into the complex character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb.”

I’d give the nod, though, to the seemingly more modest “Past Lives,” the directorial debut of Celine Song. An intimate love story about childhood sweethearts separated by distance and circumstances over the years, it’s heartbreaking, poetic and profound.

My pick: “Past Lives”

My prediction: “Oppenheimer”

Best actress

1. Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

2. Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

3. Sandra Huller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

4. Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

5. Annette Bening, “Nyad”

Lily Gladstone

Lily Gladstone appears in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone most likely will win the Oscar for best actress, and she should. (Apple TV+)

If I had to choose one thing that stood out among all of the movies from 2023, it would be Gladstone’s performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Playing opposite such acting heavyweights as Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, she steals scenes with just a word, or a side glance. I don’t know if it’s as effortless and natural as she makes it seem, but the result is she creates the most compelling character, by far, of the year. Any other year, Stone might be a shoo-in for the Frankenstein-type creation she plays so flamboyantly in “Poor Things,” and she still has a chance to pull off a surprise.

But this should be Gladstone’s year. I sure hope so.

My pick: Lily Gladstone

My prediction: Lily Gladstone

Best actor

1. Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

2. Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

3. Colman Domingo, “Rustin”

4. Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”

5. Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”

Cillian Murphy, the front-runner to win best actor, plays the brilliant title character in “Oppenheimer.” (Universal Pictures)

Cillian Murphy, the front-runner to win best actor, plays the brilliant title character in “Oppenheimer.” (Universal Pictures)

Really, this ranking could just as well be Murphy first, with everyone else tied for second. The only reason why I put Giamatti fifth – for his work as a grumpy private-school teacher in Alexander Payne’s crowd-pleasing “Holdovers” – is that the role doesn’t seem as great a stretch for him as those of the other nominees. He just as easily could have been No. 2, and he might be Murphy’s stiffest competition.

What sets Murphy apart is the combined depth and restraint of his portrayal. He shows us many sides of Oppenheimer, and yet the character remains in many ways inscrutable, a mystery man of science – in a fedora. Murphy is mesmerizing in the role. (If you agree, make sure you also check him out in the Netflix series “Peaky Blinders.”)

My pick: Cillian Murphy

My prediction: Cillian Murphy

Best supporting actress

1. Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”

2. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

3. Jodie Foster, “Nyad”

4. America Ferrara, “Barbie”

5. Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”

Randolph appears the shoo-in, having won every award in sight, and she’s an excellent choice for her work as a school cafeteria manager whose son has been killed in the Vietnam War. I’d give the edge to Blunt for playing a chilly character so unlike any she’s played before (to my knowledge, at least): Robert Oppenheimer’s long-suffering, but emotionally hardened wife, Kitty.

My pick: Emily Blunt

My prediction: Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Best supporting actor

1. Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer.”

2. Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things”

3. Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

4. Sterling K. Brown, “American Fiction”

5. Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

Robert Downey Jr., who appears a lock to win best supporting actor, appears as Lewis Strauss in “Oppenheimer.” (Universal Pictures)

Robert Downey Jr., who appears a lock to win best supporting actor, appears as Lewis Strauss in “Oppenheimer.” (Universal Pictures)

Ruffalo’s incorrigible Lothario in “Poor Things” might be the funniest performance of 2023 (yes, funnier than Gosling’s Ken in “Barbie”), and De Niro gives what might be his best performance in years as a hypocritical, manipulative villain in “Killers.” But even better is Downey as Robert Oppenheimer’s nemesis, Lewis Strauss, the vindictive chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Downey is nearly unrecognizable as the government official, but this isn’t merely a matter of great makeup; the actor disappears into the character – and, odds are, he’s going to win an Oscar as a result.

My pick: Robert Downey Jr.

My prediction: Robert Downey Jr.

Best director

1. Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

2. Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”

3. Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

4. Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall”

5. Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things”

Since Celine Song isn’t nominated for “Past Lives,” and Wim Wenders isn’t for “Perfect Days,” which is up for best foreign language film, I’d like to see Scorsese win, and not just for sentimental reasons (he’s 81). But Nolan, who won the Directors Guild Award recently for “Oppenheimer,” seems the likely winner, and it’s a good choice.

My pick: Martin Scorsese

My prediction: Christopher Nolan

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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