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Oscars 2024: Who will win vs. who should win

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images North American/TNS

Much of this year’s awards season went according to script, but that doesn’t mean the 2024 Oscars won’t feature a plot twist or two.

Christopher Nolan’s atomic bomb epic “Oppenheimer” dominated ceremonies including the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, while Martin Scorsese’s heart-rending“Killers of the Flower Moon” held its own and even notched a win for best film from the National Board of Review.

Those hailed heavyweights enter the Oscars poised to compete for the night’s top honors, though challengers hope to create some drama at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

Here are the Daily News’ picks for who will win, and who should, at the 96th Academy Awards, airing Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ABC.

Best Picture

What Will Win: “Oppenheimer”

Nolan’s spare-no-detail examination of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s nuclear weapon development and its wide-reaching ramifications built Oscar momentum throughout the winter, winning Best Picture equivalents at the Globes, Critics Choice Awards, BAFTAs, and SAG Awards.

Oscars voters loved it, too, nominating the biopic for a ceremony-high 13 awards, including Nolan for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It received three nominations in the acting categories and nods for editing, sound and cinematography as well.

That shows the Academy considers “Oppenheimer” a top-to-bottom achievement worthy of the night’s biggest award.

A masterclass in production and performance, “Oppenheimer” deserves to complete its impressive awards run with the season’s top prize.

“Oppenheimer” represents the ultimate roadblock for “Killers of the Flower Moon”— a damning historical drama about white manipulation and murders in oil-rich Osage Nation — which would be a worthy winner most years.

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

Often excellent but perennially underrated, Murphy finally got his due as a top-tier thespian with his brooding portrayal of the titular “father of the atomic bomb.”

Murphy already earned Best Actor honors at the Globes, BAFTAs and SAG Awards, and there’s no reason to think he won’t add his first Oscar on Sunday.

Who Should Win: Murphy

Murphy’s Oppenheimer rarely left the screen during the movie’s three-hour runtime. His exhaustive portrayal of a complicated historical figure carried the year’s most celebrated movie, and brought heft and nuance that stood out among the Best Actor contenders.

Best Actress

Who Will Win: Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Best actress is far-and-away Sunday’s closest race, with Gladstone’s poignant turn in “Killers of the Flower Moon” going toe-to-toe with Stone’s no-holds-barred depiction of a Frankenstein-like woman on a journey of self-discovery.

Both stars won acting honors at the Globes. Stone won Best Actress at the Critics Choice Awards and the BAFTAs, where Gladstone surprisingly wasn’t nominated. Gladstone then won Best Actress at the SAG Awards, which has proven to be a strong Oscars indicator.

Stone’s 2017 Best Actress win for “La La Land” could actually hurt her chances against the first-time nominee Gladstone.

Who Should Win: Gladstone

Despite a script that largely leans on its male characters, “Killers of the Flower Moon” owes much of its success to the breakout star Gladstone.

Her subtle-yet-powerful portrayal of an Osage woman betrayed by her husband (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) repeatedly steals scenes, making her a standout in a film filled with household names.

Gladstone would become the first Native American performer to win Best Actress.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”

It feels all but certain Downey will win his first Oscar after sweeping the Globes, Critics Choice Awards, BAFTAs and SAG Awards.

Downey’s depiction of the manipulative Oppenheimer adversary Lewis Strauss buoyed the film’s final hour and served as a reminder of the “Iron Man” actor’s dramatic chops.

Who Should Win: Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Though he has been nominated throughout awards season, De Niro has been shut out at the major shows in favor of Downey, even though his performance was more central in their respective films.

Collaborating again with Scorsese, the two-time Oscar winner De Niro compelled as the convincing con artist William King Hale, the film’s despicable antagonist, in one of numerous award-worthy “Killers of the Flower Moons” performances.

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Perhaps the only surer bet than Downey on Sunday is Randolph, whose evocative portrayal of a mourning mother in the Christmas-set “The Holdovers” similarly swept the preceding ceremonies.

Who Should Win: Randolph

In many ways, Randolph’s cafeteria manager is the engine behind the emotional rollercoaster that is “The Holdovers,” which deserves recognition as one of 2023’s best-reviewed and biggest-surprise hits.

Best Director

Who Will Win: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Despite a loaded field also featuring Scorsese and “Poor Things” provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos, Nolan has cruised through awards season with Best Director wins at the Globes, Critics Choice Awards, BAFTAs and Directors Guild of America Awards.

Nolan’s first Oscar feels inevitable.

Who Should Win: Nolan

Through Nolan’s behind-the-scenes brilliance, “Oppenheimer” viscerally depicts an atomic explosion, captures the scale and scope of the Manhattan Project and makes room for powerful performances by Murphy, Downey, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh and others.

It’s the kind of elite directing this award was made for.

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