Academy Awards preview: 2023 was a big, fun year in movies -- and at theaters

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Mar. 8—Well that was fun, wasn't it?

Theaters may not have hit pre-pandemic levels in terms of foot traffic and some chains have downsized, but 2023 felt like the year we were all back at the movies.

Streaming probably has changed things forever. A lot of the movies I review these days are straight-to-streaming or hitting platforms such as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Prime Video after opening only a week or so earlier in New York and Los Angeles.

And those platforms, as well as Max, Hulu, Peacock and others, along with video-on-demand options, make it easier than ever to catch up on Academy Award-nominated films. This year's Oscars, the 96th edition is set to air at 7 p.m. March 10 on ABC. (Hey Academy, thank you for the earlier start time and for recognizing that many of us face the horror that is Monday morning not all that long after your lengthy annual ceremony finally concludes.)

However, despite big 4K televisions and soundbars and sound systems, there's nothing like a good movie-theater experience, and we had those this year — especially during "Barbenheimer" weekend in July, when much of the country piled into cineplexes for two excellent movies and eventual contentions for the coveted Best Picture Oscar. Admittedly, having seen both "Barbie" and the auditorium-shaking "Oppenheimer" a few days before their releases on July 21, I felt as if I missed out a bit on the cultural phenomenon of that weekend, if not, obviously, on the films themselves.

As for that Best Picture race, I walked out of the advance "Oppenheimer" screening fairly certain I'd just seen the year's best film — even though the year was barely half over. "Oppenheimer" is the only film of 2023 to which I gave a perfect four-star rating. It looks like it will do well tonight, and Christopher Nolan — the likely winner for Best Director — and all who helped make the experiential biopic of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, aka "the father of the atomic bomb," are very deserving of any statuettes that come their way.

But oh man, "Barbie" is just terrific, isn't it? Filled with commentary and humor, this love letter to and critique of the enduring line of dolls boasts wonderful lead performances by Margot Robbie and the Oscar-nominated Ryan Gosling. That said, the person most responsible for its high quality is director Greta Gerwig, the focus of my 3.5-star review.

I'm still trying to decide how worked up to be over Gerwig not getting a nod for best director. Unlike with Best Picture, which this year boasts 10 nominees, Best Director — like Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, et al. — has only five nominees. They are all brilliant filmmakers. While I (very politely) would nudge out the great Martin Scorsese," as I liked but didn't love his epic "Killers of the Flower Moon," that man certainly knows his way around a movie set and the film frame, so it's hard say he shouldn't be among the five.

I'm most emotionally invested in Emma Stone winning best actress for her astounding, boundaries-pushing performance in "Pour Things" — in my opinion, the second-strongest film of the year. That said, it will be anything but an injustice if Lily Gladstone wins; her performance is the strongest element of "Killers of the Flower Moon."

(FYI: The Best Picture nominee from the likewise nominated director Yorgos Lanthimos just landed on Hulu, so watch it if you haven't yet. And in case you haven't gotten around to them, you can see "Barbie" on Max and "Oppenheimer" on Peacock.)

If there's anything else I'd like to see, it's Gosling winning for Best Supporting Actor. Perhaps I'm just a Ken bro and part of the problematic patriarchy for wanting a man to get recognition amid this celebration of fabulous feminism, but, hey, he really is Ken-tastic in the film.

And as good as the work is that Cillian Murphy does in the all-important titular 'Oppenheimer" role, I also wouldn't mind seeing Bradley Cooper win the Best Actor award for "Maestro," which he also directed — famously as his character, American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, at different ages depending on what scene was being shot at the time. Honestly, there should be some special "Gave Everything He Had to the Film" award this year for Cooper, who also co-wrote the Best Picture nominee, my third-strongest movie of the year.

As Mentor native Tom O'Neil, the editor, president and founder of the entertainment industry awards-focused site, has explained in the past, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences uses a preferential ballot, making it at least a little more likely an upset will happen that category, which is voted on by all the members.

Without further ado, here is who is likely to win, using GoldDerby's odds based its experts' predictions as of March 8, as well as whom I'd vote for ... if only I had a vote:

Best Picture

"Oppenheimer" — 6/1

"The Holdovers" — 8/1

"Poor Things" — 8/1

"Anatomy of a Fall" — 17/2

"American Fiction" — 9/1

"Killers of the Flower Moon" — 9/1

"Barbie" — 19/2

"The Zone of Interest" — 21/2

"Maestro" — 13/1

"Past Lives" — 14/1

Meszoros vote: "Oppenheimer"

Best Director

Christopher Nolan ("Oppenheimer") — 16/5

Yorgos Lanthimos ("Poor Things") — 4/1

Jonathan Glazer ("The Zone of Interest") — 9/2

Justine Triet ("Anatomy of a Fall") — 9/2

Martin Scorsese ("Killers of the Flower Moon") — 9/2

Meszoros vote: Nolan

Best Actress

Lily Gladstone ("Killers of the Flower Moon") — 10/3

Emma Stone ("Poor Things") — 37/10

Sandra Huller ("Anatomy of a Fall") — 4/1

Carey Mulligan ("Maestro") — 9/2

Annette Bening ("Nyad") — 9/2

Meszoros vote: Stone

Best Actor

Cillian Murphy ("Oppenheimer") — 82/25

Paul Giamatti ("The Holdovers") — 19/5

Bradley Cooper ("Maestro") — 9/2

Jeffrey Wright ("American Fiction") — 9/2

Colman Domingo ("Rustin") — 9/2

Meszoros vote: Cooper

Best Supporting Actress

Da'Vine Joy Randolph ("The Holdovers") — 16/5

Danielle Brooks ("The Color Purple") — 4/1

Emily Blunt ("Oppenheimer") — 4/1

America Ferrera ("Barbie") — 9/2

Jodie Foster ("Nyad") — 9/2

Meszoros vote: Randolph

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Downey Jr. ("Oppenheimer") — 16/5

Ryan Gosling ("Barbie") — 39/10

Mark Ruffalo ("Poor Things") — 9/2

Robert De Niro ("Killers of the Flower Moon") — 9/2

Sterling K. Brown ("American Fiction") — 9/2

Meszoros vote: Gosling

Best Adapted Screenplay

"American Fiction" — 69/20

"Oppenheimer" — 19/5

"Barbie" — 4/1

"Poor Things" — 9/2

"The Zone of Interest" — 9/2

Meszoros vote: "Oppenheimer"

Best Original Screenplay

"Anatomy of a Fall" — 82/25

"The Holdovers" — 19/5

"Past Lives" — 4/1

"Maestro" — 9/2

"May December" — 9/2

Meszoros vote: "Past Lives"

Mark Meszoros' top 10 films of 2023

1. "Oppenheimer"

2. "Poor Things"

3. "Maestro"

4. "Leave the World Behind"

5. "Society of the Snow"

6. "Anatomy of a Fall"

7. "Barbie"

8. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse"

9. "Past Lives"

10. "The Zone of Interest"