by Ken Bakely
With days remaining until this year’s Academy Award nominations, I’m continuing a tradition for the site and offering my predictions for what might get nominated in some major categories. After the nominations are announced on February 8, I’ll return to this post and tally up my scores with some additional comments, which will be marked in blue text.
The following predictions will be ranked by how likely I think each prospective nominee is to get in. I will also include one possible alternate for each category – except for the ten-candidate Best Picture race, where I will list two.
UPDATE (February 8): My reactions and scores follow in blue.
|1||The Power of the Dog|
|4||Don’t Look Up|
|6||West Side Story|
|9||Being the Ricardos|
|10||Tick, Tick… Boom!|
ALTERNATES: The Tragedy of Macbeth and Drive My Car
COMMENTARY: Things are a little different this year than they’ve been in the last few. While the Academy has recently used a “sliding scale” of between five and ten Best Picture nominees, depending on how the votes shake out, there will be ten this year, no matter what. Ironically, this causes more confusion than clarity for predictions, because while there are eight or nine top contenders that are agreed to be relatively safe bets, the tenth spot has proven to be a complete mystery.
What do I have penciled in? After some deliberation, I’m going with Tick, Tick… Boom!, a winsome film (with an important Producers Guild of America award nomination) that everyone seems to at least respect, and many like quite a lot. For alternates, The Tragedy of Macbeth could arrive with its pedigreed story, cast, and crew; or Drive My Car could benefit from its towering critical acclaim (though if we as critics actually had any sway with the Academy, it would be in contention for the win).
As for which movie has the best chance of actually taking the top prize, it’s currently a closely-fought contest between The Power of the Dog and Belfast.
REACTION: 8 for 10. Being the Ricardos and Tick, Tick… Boom! out; Drive My Car and Nightmare Alley in. Pleased that the Academy went for Drive My Car at the end (and quietly pleased they resisted Being the Ricardos in this category at least). I’d say that at the top of the field, The Power of the Dog has strengthened its position today with a field-leading 12 nominations.
|1||Jane Campion||The Power of the Dog|
|3||Paul Thomas Anderson||Licorice Pizza|
|4||Steven Spielberg||West Side Story|
|5||Ryusuke Hamguchi||Drive My Car|
ALTERNATE: Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
COMMENTARY: A lineup without Hamaguchi and with Branagh would precisely match the Director’s Guild of America’s lineup, a rarity in this category. Belfast can remain a Best Picture heavyweight without a directing nomination, as other films in recent years have, and the directors’ branch of the Academy, with many non-American members, has historically been less subtitle-averse than the membership writ large, thus allowing for Hamaguchi to possibly sneak in.
REACTION: 4 for 5. Villeneuve out, Branagh in. I was correct that Hamaguchi would sneak in, but incorrect about who he would replace. As you can see, I expected Villeneuve was quite safe. And as we go onto the next category, you’ll see I thought someone else was quite safe as well.
|1||Lady Gaga||House of Gucci|
|2||Olivia Colman||The Lost Daughter|
|3||Nicole Kidman||Being the Ricardos|
|4||Jessica Chastain||The Eyes of Tammy Faye|
ALTERNATE: Alana Haim – Licorice Pizza
COMMENTARY: Oh, how quickly things change. It was only a few months ago when conventional wisdom held that Kristen Stewart was an undisputed frontrunner for her harrowing performance in Spencer. Now, she barely clings on to the top five, and a credible argument could be made that she’ll miss out altogether, perhaps to Alana Haim, who could easily ride in with Licorice Pizza if its coattails are longer than we think.
Who’s the frontrunner now? Well, it’s hard to say: like last year, this is shaping up to be a down-to-the wire barnburner. But I have Lady Gaga in the number-one slot, as she is the only one to have made all of the major precursors.
REACTION: 4 for 5. Lady Gaga out, Penélope Cruz for Parallel Mothers in. Well, this is interesting. In some sense, Gaga was the safest bet here, but even safe bets can be upset sometimes. I had heard that Parallel Mothers was very well-received by many voters, but even if I had predicted Cruz to be nominated, I surely would not have predicted this specific lineup. As before, I have no idea who wins here.
|1||Will Smith||King Richard|
|2||Benedict Cumberbatch||The Power of the Dog|
|3||Andrew Garfield||Tick, Tick… Boom!|
|4||Javier Bardem||Being the Ricardos|
|5||Denzel Washington||The Tragedy of Macbeth|
ALTERNATE: Leonardo DiCaprio – Don’t Look Up
COMMENTARY: In contrast, Will Smith has long been an early leader here, and this remains so for the time being. But Benedict Cumberbatch could start turning things around in his favor, as the star of a very possible Best Picture champion.
REACTION: Perfect score. It seems like the stage is set for Smith and Cumberbatch as the two prohibitive leaders here.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
|1||Ariana DeBose||West Side Story|
|2||Kirsten Dunst||The Power of the Dog|
|3||Aunjanue Ellis||King Richard|
ALTERNATE: Marlee Matlin – CODA
COMMENTARY: While West Side Story has generally underperformed at a number of key precursors, DeBose’s stock has only risen; it’s wholly possible that she could solidify her lead in this category regardless of whether the film’s fortunes wax or wane.
REACTION: 3 for 5. Balfe and Negga out; Judi Dench for Belfast and Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter in. Buckley’s name had been floated as a possibility. I didn’t believe it but am pleasantly surprised to see her performance recognized. As for Dench, I don’t think her nomination had been on anyone’s radar for a while. But there is often one acting honoree who misses all the precursors and surprises on the morning of.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
|2||Kodi Smit-McPhee||The Power of the Dog|
|4||Jared Leto||House of Gucci|
|5||Jesse Plemons||The Power of the Dog|
ALTERNATE: Bradley Cooper – Licorice Pizza
COMMENTARY: Kotsur and Smit-McPhee seem locked in for this category, and are about evenly matched to win right now. Beyond that, it’s a total mystery. I believe any of the three names under them could miss almost as easily as they could get in.
REACTION: 4 for 5. Leto out, J. K. Simmons for Being the Ricardos in. I had been privately wondering about Simmons’ chances a while ago, but wrongly assumed it wouldn’t happen.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
|1||Licorice Pizza||Paul Thomas Anderson|
|3||Don’t Look Up||Adam McKay; story by McKay and David Sirota|
|4||Being the Ricardos||Aaron Sorkin|
ALTERNATE: King Richard by Zach Baylin
COMMENTARY: Though the overall Oscar trajectory for Licorice Pizza is still very much up in the air, the screenplay category could be a good place for Academy voters to honor the film and finally give an award to its storied writer and director.
REACTION: 3 for 5. Mass and Being the Ricardos out, King Richard and The Worst Person in the World in. Predicting Mass was definitely an out-on-a-limb pick, and I’m not surprised that it didn’t pan out, but I would have thought that the writers’ branch was unable to resist Aaron Sorkin. However, I’m quite happy to see The Worst Person in the World appear here.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
|1||The Power of the Dog||Jane Campion|
|2||The Lost Daughter||Maggie Gyllenhaal|
|4||West Side Story||Tony Kushner|
|5||Drive My Car||Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe|
ALTERNATE: Dune by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villneueve, and Eric Roth
COMMENTARY: It seems like The Power of the Dog has its best shots at the director and screenplay categories, and both eventualities would see Jane Campion onstage accepting the Oscar.
REACTION: 4 for 5. West Side Story out, Dune in. One would have to assume that this category is going to quickly sew up for The Power of the Dog.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
|1||Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)|
COMMENTARY: The documentary (and international feature) categories are infamously difficult to predict; films we thought were frontrunners can be mysteriously excluded on nomination morning. Still, it feels like few titles have received Summer of Soul’s level of visibility and acclaim, and Flee has at least one other category it could make an appearance in.
REACTION: 3 for 5. Procession and The Rescue out, Ascension and Writing with Fire in. In the end, the category frontrunners were nominated without issue. Sometimes doing the expected can itself be very unexpected for this category.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
|1||Drive My Car||Japan|
|3||The Worst Person in the World||Norway|
|5||The Hand of God||Italy|
ALTERNATE: Prayers for the Stolen (Mexico)
COMMENTARY: One would have to assume a movie with serious contention in other categories – including Best Picture – is the runaway favorite here, but again, the rest of the lineup in this contest is often a lot more fluid than it seems at first sight. I’d rate these as having the best shot, but expect the unexpected.
REACTION: 4 for 5. A Hero out, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan) in. I kid you not, I had heard rumblings about Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom possibly getting in maybe 12 hours before the nominations were announced. But it was too late for me to change my prediction, and in all honesty, I’m very bad at telling which rumors turn out to be valuable tips and which turn out to be just talk, anyway.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
|2||The Mitchells vs. the Machines|
ALTERNATE: Raya and the Last Dragon
COMMENTARY: It’s safe to assume that a recent blockbuster produced by Disney has a substantial advantage here – though surely the studio regrets that they didn’t submit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the biggest hit song from a Disney film in decades, in the Original Song category.
REACTION: 4 for 5. Sing 2 out, Raya and the Last Dragon in. Seems like smooth sailing for Encanto here.
And those are some of my predictions for this year’s Oscar nominations. Check back after the nominees are announced for my reactions and scores.
The nominations for the 94th Academy Awards will be announced on February 8, 2022, in a broadcast hosted by Leslie Jordan and Tracee Ellis Ross scheduled to begin at 5:18AM PST.