The 94th Academy Awards: My Picks and Predictions

Oscar Sunday is finally here! I’ll admit that while I generally love awards season, I’m ready for its grand finale tonight as it’s been a long one (though not as long as the previous season). But before we move on, it’s time for my annual tradition on my blog, wherein I’ll make predictions on which films will win the Academy Award in each category. And for the top eight categories (the four for acting, the two screenplay categories, Best Director, and of course, Best Picture), I’ll be including which of the nominees I’d pick for my own ballot. So without further ado, my thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominees…

Best Picture

First, my personal ranking of the nominees, from best to worst:

  1. The Power of the Dog
  2. West Side Story
  3. Drive My Car
  4. Licorice Pizza
  5. CODA
  6. Nightmare Alley
  7. King Richard
  8. Belfast
  9. Dune
  10. Don’t Look Up

This is the first year where we have a solid set of ten nominees as will be the case going forward, instead of fluctuating between eight and nine films. As for the nominees themselves, I wasn’t too impressed with the majority of them. The biggest disappointments for me were Dune and Nightmare Alley; Dune just felt like half of a movie despite running two and a half hours (I imagine I’ll like it more after seeing the rest of the story play out in Dune: Part Two), and while this new version of Nightmare Alley is more faithful to the novel it’s based on, it didn’t really work for me as the 1947 film noir did. My film rankings between those two films along with King Richard and Belfast are about the same, so the only movie I really didn’t care for was Don’t Look Up, as I expected since I haven’t been a fan of Adam McKay’s recent string of films (which have somehow scored well with the Academy). To end this train of thought on a positive note, my personal top five were films I did really like, and on the flip side of the 2021 remakes, I loved this new take on West Side Story… almost as much as the 1961 classic!

I’ll say the only movie I’m truly passionate about from this past year is The Power of the Dog, so I was excited to see it lead this year’s Academy Awards with 12 nominations. But despite the cinematic achievements on display, I have come across lots of people both online and in real life who didn’t connect with the movie at all, so it doesn’t seem to be quite a shoo-in to win Best Picture as it was even a week ago. Instead, it seems CODA, which won the top awards at SAG and PGA, could take home the industry’s top prize. I enjoyed the movie so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if it ended up winning. But considering how the Academy’s membership has expanded over the years with more international voters, I feel like a preferential ballot, which includes the acclaimed Japanese film Drive My Car, will align more with The Power of the Dog… though CODA is a remake of a French film, so perhaps it will resonate with international voters too. So really, I can see this going in either direction, but I’m gonna stick with my favorite of the year and hope it turns out victorious in the end.

My Pick: The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Best Director

Nominees (in alphabetical order by movie):

  • Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
  • Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
  • Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
  • Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

I’ve been loving the trend in recent years of an international director getting nominated, so I’m happy to see Ryûsuke Hamaguchi included for Drive My Car. This category is practically a done deal though, and it’s Jane Campion’s to lose; I cannot picture any of the other nominees winning over her after she’s won practically every prize across various awards and critics groups all season. So it’ll be great to see her win her first Best Director Oscar after losing for The Piano to her fellow nominee Steven Spielberg, who won his first Academy Award for Schindler’s List nearly 30 years ago.

My Pick: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Best Actor

Nominees (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
  • Andrew Garfield, tick, tick…BOOM!
  • Will Smith, King Richard
  • Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

There’s another returning Oscar face-off, this time in Best Actor, with Denzel Washington and Will Smith both up for the Academy Award again 20 years after they were nominated respectively for Training Day and Ali, with the former winning the Oscar. This time around, it’s all but certain that Smith will win his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. His performance isn’t my favorite of the bunch, but his natural movie-star charisma is hard to resist, and I wouldn’t be mad about his eventual win.

My Pick: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: Will Smith, King Richard

Best Actress

Nominees (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
  • Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
  • Kristen Stewart, Spencer
  • Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Just a month ago, it was anyone’s guess who would win the Oscar here. But Jessica Chastain now seems the most likely to pull out the win here after taking home Best Actress at the SAG Awards. Like my Best Actor prediction, this is another case where the presumed winner isn’t my favorite of the bunch, but Chastain is an actress I’ve admired since her big breakout about a decade ago, so it’s nice to see her back in the Oscar spotlight and probably on the actual stage itself being rewarded for her passion project, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. My personal favorite here (and possibly of all the acting nominees), is Penélope Cruz’s moving performance in her latest film with frequent collaborator Pedro Almodóvar. It was a sweet surprise to see her recognized for her work in Parallel Mothers, especially with the added bonus of being nominated alongside her husband, Best Actor nominee Javier Bardem.

My Pick: Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
My Prediction: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
  • Troy Kotsur, CODA
  • Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
  • J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

While Kodi Smit-McPhee won over critics groups early in the season, Troy Kotsur ended up winning over most awards bodies in this category, and it’s pretty much his to lose at this point. I do prefer Smit-McPhee’s subdued performance in The Power of the Dog, but Kotsur’s work in CODA is close behind. I’ve enjoyed seeing him take the stage to accept his various awards too, and I imagine he’ll give another great acceptance speech if he wins the Oscar. Also just want to mention that while I wasn’t blown away or anything by Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog, I was still happy to see him make the cut and to see the whole cast of that film recognized overall, especially because, like Bardem and Cruz, he was nominated alongside his partner, Kirsten Dunst (both of whom earned their first Oscar nominations!).

My Pick: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: Troy Kotsur, CODA

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
  • Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
  • Judi Dench, Belfast
  • Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
  • Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

This is another category that’s practically wrapped up, as Ariana DeBose has swept the awards for her take on the beloved Anita in West Side Story. It’ll be quite a feat too, as she managed to make this classic role her own, especially in the shadow of Rita Moreno’s iconic Oscar-winning performance 60 years before. As you’ve probably noticed, my favorite nominee in most of the acting categories hail from The Power of the Dog, and that’s no different here with Kirsten Dunst, who I’m particularly happy to see finally getting this type of recognition from the Academy Awards. So while it doesn’t seem very likely that she’ll win this time around, I hope we don’t have to wait too long for her to get another nomination.

My Pick: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees (in alphabetical order):

  • Belfast
  • Don’t Look Up
  • King Richard
  • Licorice Pizza
  • The Worst Person in the World

If you asked me a couple of weeks ago which movies I’d be predicting to win both screenplay categories, I would’ve said two different films from the ones I’m picking now (and they happen to be my personal picks). Here in Best Original Screenplay, I was debating for a long time between Belfast and Licorice Pizza. Both of its screenwriters, Kenneth Branagh and Paul Thomas Anderson respectively, have multiple nominations and no wins, and it seems like one of them will finally win his first Oscar. I’m leaning toward Belfast as it has more nominations than Licorice Pizza so it seems to be loved more by the Academy… but it also seems like so many people in the industry adore Anderson and want to finally award him, so I can still see it going either way. There’s also the possibility that Don’t Look Up, which won the WGA, prevails in the end, and I can see a surprise scenario where the Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World wins.

My Pick: Licorice Pizza
My Prediction: Belfast

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees (in alphabetical order):

  • CODA
  • Drive My Car
  • Dune
  • The Lost Daughter
  • The Power of the Dog

CODA has been surging over the past few weeks leading up to the Oscars, and I think it’ll be easier for it to win Best Adapted Screenplay over Best Picture as the latter category uses a preferential ballot, and here it’s simply the movie with the most votes that wins. It’s clearly well-loved now across the industry and since Sian Heder didn’t make the cut in the Best Director category, this is a chance to hand her an Oscar for her work in CODA. I also think The Lost Daughter has a strong chance for a surprising win, which would be a nice way to reward Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut work behind the camera. I’m hoping that The Power of the Dog still takes it though; I just finished the audiobook for the novel on which the movie is based, and Jane Campion did a really excellent job in translating the story to the screen.

My Pick: The Power of the Dog
My Prediction: CODA

And now the rest of my predictions…

  • Best Animated Feature Film: Encanto
  • Best International Feature Film: Drive My Car
  • Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul
  • Best Cinematography: The Power of the Dog
  • Best Film Editing: King Richard
  • Best Production Design: Dune
  • Best Costume Design: Cruella
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Best Visual Effects: Dune
  • Best Sound: Dune
  • Best Original Score: Dune
  • Best Original Song: “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto
  • Best Animated Short Film: Robin Robin
  • Best Live Action Short Film: The Long Goodbye
  • Best Documentary Short Subject: Audible

A few thoughts on some of the categories:

  • I saw all the nominees for Best Animated Feature Film, and it’s a solid set of films, which include three Disney movies (well, one is technically Pixar but still under the same company). My favorite to win here is actually Pixar’s Luca, though I really loved Flee and The Mitchells vs. The Machines too. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I enjoyed Encanto a lot as well, so I’d still be satisfied with seeing it win the Oscar here as it has most of this awards season.
  • Speaking of Flee, it sadly doesn’t seem like it will walk away with an Oscar in any of the three categories it’s nominated in, but having that record of being the first film nominated in Best Documentary, International, and Animated Feature Film is a win in its own right and the projected winners, Summer of Soul and Drive My Car, are more than worthy of the accolades.
  • A couple of tough categories for me to predict were Best Cinematography and Best Editing; most prognosticators believe Dune will sweep most of the tech categories, including these two, but I’m going to go out on a limb and pick two other films. I’m especially crossing my fingers that Ari Wegner wins for her gorgeous cinematography for The Power of the Dog, and if she wins, she’ll be the first woman to win that category (after becoming the second woman nominated, following Rachel Morrison for the 2017 film Mudbound).
  • While I’m predicting Hans Zimmer will win Best Original Score for his work in Dune, I’m really hoping that it ends up going to Jonny Greenwood instead for The Power of the Dog. I initially predicted him for a surprise win, but I’d rather be wrong in my Dune prediction than get my hopes up, I’m already risking it by picking The Power of the Dog to win Best Picture!
  • For Best Original Song, I decided to go with “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto because it’s become such a phenomenon over the last couple of months, though it’s more thanks to the catchy “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” tune didn’t make the shortlist (but that decision was made before the movie exploded in popularity). So I think on the strength of a different song, the nominated one will win the Oscar in recognition of the overall soundtrack, and so Lin-Manuel Miranda completes his EGOT. But it’s a tight race between that song and the title song of the latest James Bond film No Time to Die, so I could easily see Billie Eilish & Finneas O’Connell taking the stage instead.

And that wraps up my Oscar predictions! Unfortunately for me, I’ll be missing the first couple of hours or so of the show because I’ll be at work (though I won’t miss out on too much of the fun as we’ll be having extensive Oscars coverage on our newscasts). But I’ll admit I also don’t feel as into this year’s ceremony as I normally do, as what’s been reported about all the changes they’re making to the show to try to appeal to a bigger, broader audience has soured my excitement, especially in regards to eight categories being presented before the live telecast. Hopefully, this doesn’t become the new norm for the show, because what most of us film lovers enjoy most about the Oscars is seeing movies being celebrated, and that includes giving a spotlight to the various crew members that work hard behind the camera to make these films look great on screen. Anyway, maybe the end result won’t be as bad as I’m bracing it to be; regardless, it’s sure to be an interesting night.

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