94th Academy Awards: Predictions and Insight

It was a shorter award season than last year, which helps, but this has been another exhausting few months when talking about which films will go home with the gold. Still, it's finally time to see the 94th Academy Awards. The show will air live on Sunday, March 27th, with a ceremony that seems to be going out of its way to change for the worse, as far as the people that genuinely enjoy seeing every category presented and don't scoff at the runtime. Regardless, what does help is how exciting this awards race is. Several categories truly feel like a coin toss could be the best way to decide the winner. Not being so sure makes for a more enjoyable ceremony. With that in mind, I have put together all of my predictions here, complete with my reasoning behind each of my choices. And so, setting aside any issues with the nominations, let alone the quality of the various films, I’ve laid out each of the categories, highlighting my thoughts on who will win throughout.

BEST PICTURE

"Dune"

"Licorice Pizza"

"The Power of the Dog"

"West Side Story"

"Drive My Car"

"CODA"

"Don't Look Up"

"Nightmare Alley," 

"King Richard"

"Belfast"

This pick may have come first on the list, but I've written this last. It is truly wild how much of a dead heat it currently is for Best Picture between The Power of the Dog and CODA. Belfast seemed like the presumed winner for a good long time, and while it's still a viable option, everything seems to be coming down to Campion's western and Heder's indie power ballad. Both have all kinds of qualifiers. The Power of the Dog won BAFTA and DGA, and has a ton of momentum. CODA has no technical nominations, but sheer goodwill, SAG, and the PGA are certainly strong enough aspects to give it a slight edge leading up to Oscar Sunday. Remember, patterns are only patterns until they are broken, so whatever logic one is trying to apply, the other side relies on similar means to make their choice. I think it just feels right to stick with The Power of the Dog.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

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 would hate to think some minor slight as simple as phrasing a speech poorly would hold Campion back from claiming the Best Director prize she's been the frontrunner for since the beginning of award season. Even if Power of the Dog somehow ends up with only one Oscar win, this is the category it would win it for. Over the past several months, she's claimed the BAFTA and DGA trophies, among other accolades. Having lost to Spielberg (currently the runner-up pick) back in 1993, her chance to claim victory this time around as the first woman director to be nominated twice seems to be right there, on the horizon, next to the dog formation in the mountains.

 

BEST LEAD ACTOR

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")

The logic of "it’s their time” will never stop seeming silly to me when it comes synonymous with “Oscar race” (How does a race work again? Do we give the gold to the 4th place person because they were in the running before?). However, along with being a strong performance from a talented actor, Will Smith has won the SAG, BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and numerous other awards during his tenure as the frontrunner. With two previous Oscar nominations, one of the most charismatic movie stars in the world looks to be getting Jiggy with the Academy come Oscar night.

 

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye")

Olivia Colman ("The Lost Daughter")

Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”)

Nicole Kidman ("Being the Ricardos")

Kristen Stewart ("Spencer")

As Best Picture has already shown, it’s very exciting for the race to be this close, leading into the actual ceremony. So often are the acting categories seemingly locked up in recent years that being uncertain about Best Actress, of all things, makes this more fun. With that said, I’m leaning toward Chastain for a couple of reasons. Past nominations and the idea that, once again, “it’s her time” plays whatever role it does. There’s also the Best Hair and Makeup category that could sway things further in Chastain’s direction. Precursor-wise, most have won awards here and there, while Stewart and Cruz come in with nothing but goodwill. Lots of word is out for Cruz (largely because Parallel Mothers is the most recent release), while Kidman seems to have faded a bit, following the Golden Globes (as much as they matter). Chastain, the SAG winner, seems to have the most eyes on her.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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")

Supporting categories can be fun. Sometimes, there’s a wild card element to this part of the show, similar to how the best winners function in their respective films. However, there’s often so much goodwill built throughout award season that it’s just less and less likely that anything can get in someone’s path. That appears to be the case for Troy Kotsur. His terrific work in Coda has earned him plenty of accolades, including a SAG award. Kodi Smit-McPhee may have won a Golden Globe, but that means little compared to everything that’s come to fruition elsewhere.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jessie Buckley ("The Lost Daughter")

Ariana DeBose ("West Side Story")

Judi Dench ("Belfast")

Kirsten Dunst ("The Power of the Dog")

Aunjanue Ellis ("King Richard")

Ariana DeBose has won all the awards one could win leading up to Oscar night. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting in the way. Portraying the same character EGOT-winner Rita Moreno won for all those years ago and finding herself similarly about to be awarded is an interesting turn of events, especially given the competition, but that’s where things are. Is there a slight spoiler warning in the form of Aunjanue Ellis? Perhaps. While not winning nearly as many awards leading up to this, sitting as a runner-up in many instances and being right there with Will Smith on the awards train all season hasn’t hurt. Still unlikely, however, as DeBose has danced up the lead of the supporting players.

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

"CODA," screenplay by Siân Heder

"Drive My Car," screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe

"Dune," screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth

"The Lost Daughter," written by Maggie Gyllenhaal

"The Power of the Dog," written by Jane Campion

Yeah, this is one of a few categories that’s a bit of a coin toss at this point (this most certainly always applies to the shorts). With Best Picture still being weirdly unpredictable, Best Adapted Screenplay presents a similar challenge. The fact that The Lost Daughter is still in the conversation is impressive given that it’s not among the Best Picture nominees, but Gyllenhaal has won her share of awards. However, it does seem to come down to the frontrunners, CODA and The Power of the Dog. Both share the most notable critic and guild awards between them. Campion is a veteran winner of this category, while Heder is a new challenger. If the Academy voters end up veering towards the optimistic, well, taking home Best Picture and Screenplay makes a lot of sense.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

"Belfast," written by Kenneth Branagh

"Don't Look Up," screenplay by Adam McKay; story by Adam McKay and David Sirota

"King Richard," written by Zach Baylin

"Licorice Pizza," written by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Worst Person in the World,” written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier

The very well-meaning (if a bit over-directed) Belfast goes up against the outsider that continues to push away from more standard screenwriting conventions. Perhaps being odd and original can pay off, allowing Paul Thomas Anderson to win his first Academy Award. With that in mind, Belfast is a crowd-pleaser with a good chance of going home with no other trophies Sunday night. Don’t Look Up won the WGA (Belfast was ineligible), so I don’t know what that means. Licorice Pizza won BAFTA. Where does that leave things? Well, this is a tricky one for sure.

 

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

"Drive My Car" (Japan)

"Flee" (Denmark)

"The Hand of God" (Italy)

"Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom" (Bhutan)

"The Worst Person in the World" (Norway)

The first Japanese film nominated for Best Picture will be going home with at least one Oscar. Being placed in such a high position, it’s the kind of thing where it doesn’t make sense to see a Best Picture nominee not be deemed the best of the international films that did not reach similar heights. Would it be wild to see The Worst Person in the World win? Sure. Could Flee see one of its three nominations come through here? Less likely. Regardless, hop in the Saab, and take a nice drive for thinking about this one.

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

"Encanto"

“Flee”

“Luca”

"The Mitchells vs. the Machines"

“Raya and the Last Dragon”

This is a frustrating pick to finalize, as The Mitchells vs. the Machines has plenty of fans, let alone a whole lot of accolades it’s collected over the past several months. At the same time, Encanto has won its fair share of awards and has multiple nominations in other categories. Being a more recent release from Disney doesn’t hurt its chances either, as the studio tends to dominate this category. There is the outside chance that Flee takes home a win with one of its three nominations here, but perhaps that only splits the vote with a film like Mitchells. Betting on Encanto feels like a safe one, so try not to break under the surface pressure.

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

"Ascension"

"Attica"

“Flee”

"Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)"

"Writing With Fire"

The documentary branch can be a weird bunch. There are times when heavy favorites don’t lead to a win. Perhaps that speaks to the presumed perspectives on how this works. Regardless, it would be hard to see Summer of Soul not winning (and I’m not just saying that because it’s my favorite film of 2021). Questlove’s brilliant doc was one of the most acclaimed films of the year and has gone on to win PGA, BAFTA, ACE, CCA, NBR, and many other critics prizes. Does that mean it stops Flee from going 0 for 3? Probably. No worries, though; both films managed to have their stories told, televised even.

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

"Dune," Greig Fraser

"Nightmare Alley," Dan Laustsen

"The Power of the Dog," Ari Wegner

"The Tragedy of Macbeth," Bruno Delbonnel

“West Side Story,” Janusz Kaminski

If Belfast managed to get a nomination, I probably would have found this to be a closer race. Stunning atmospheric work taking on “most” cinematography is a fun battle to see play out. With Haris Zambarloukos sitting this race out, however, it’s hard not seeing Greig Fraser not go all the way with Dune. It won BAFTA and the ASC award, which doesn’t hurt its chances. Perhaps Power of the Dog can take it one if the Academy truly does favor the film enough to back its 12 nominations. All of this said, great nominees all around, even if the land of sand is going all the way.

 

BEST FILM EDITING

"Don't Look Up"

"Dune"

"King Richard"

"The Power of the Dog"

"Tick, Tick…Boom!"

One would think this is all locked up for the blockbuster action movie, or perhaps the notable musical in the group, but along comes King Richard taking home the biggest prize from ACE, the Editor’s Guild. Not helping – BAFTA went to the not-nominated No Time To Die. Sports movies have won a lot over the years. At the same time, Editing and Sound can often go hand in hand. There’s also the old thought that Editing and Picture go hand in hand, but given how up for grabs the biggest award is, I can’t quite go for Power of the Dog. Best bet right now is King Richard.

 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

“Dune”

"Nightmare Alley"

"The Power of the Dog"

"The Tragedy of Macbeth"

"West Side Story"

It’s got to be Dune, right? The film won BAFTA and plenty of guild awards. But maybe not. Guillermo del Toro films are no stranger to this category, and Nightmare Alley seems poised to collect something on Sunday. Power of the Dog could have a shot as well. West Side Story seems like it should be getting even more credit, and I haven’t forgotten about Lincoln sneaking in for the win a decade ago. I know I have Dune winning many technical awards, but how can I resist here? Well, I think I just might have to.



BEST COSTUME DESIGN

"Cruella"

“Cyrano”

"Dune"

“Nightmare Alley”

"West Side Story"

Credit where it’s due, I’m not sitting here looking at another potential win from a Victorian Era English film. Sure, Cyrano may have that kind of look, but that film deserved something. Still, as much as I like original ideas of the future like Dune¸, there’s a reason why Cruella has been an early favorite from the start. Jenny Beaven’s work has not gone unnoticed in the past, and certainly not by the various guilds and critics groups for this film either. For a film meant to be recognized for its punk-infused 60s-era London fashion, no dogs were needed to build this film up toward its win.


BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

"Coming 2 America"

"Cruella"

"Dune"

"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"

“House of Gucci”

Dune is a Best Picture nominee. Cruella is praised here in the same way that its costumes are emphasized. But The Eyes of Tammy Faye has a good shot at Best Actress. Given how involved Chastain is with the makeup and hairstyle design for this role, it would appear the two go hand in hand. Having won the BAFTA and CCA earlier this year, there seems to be enough working for Tammy Faye to pull this off.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

"Don't Look Up," Nicholas Britell

"Dune," Hans Zimmer

“Encanto,” Germaine Franco

"Parallel Mothers," Alberto Iglesias

"The Power of the Dog," Jonny Greenwood

Three Best Picture nominees are present in this category. That could narrow things down, though Encanto is chasing a lot of glory that may make it a spoiler. With that in mind, Hans Zimmer has already claimed a few prizes. He could be looking to finally win his second Oscar after the many nominations that have not come all the way through for him. The stunning music of Dune certainly leaves an impact as well, which is not something to look over, even with the other great scores nominated.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Be Alive" from "King Richard"

“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto”

"Down To Joy" from "Belfast"

"No Time To Die" from "No Time to Die"

"Somehow You Do" from "Four Good Days"

Breaking this one down says a lot. Encanto makes a lot of sense. The multiple nominations for the film, the passion behind the chart-topping soundtrack, and the chance to make Lin-Manuel Miranda an EGOT winner all seem good enough to make this the clear choice. However, the Oscars have gone home to many major music stars in recent years, including one of the best and one of the weaker Bond movies. Does that bode well for No Time To Die? Or is Beyonce coming in to clean up? I won't be surprised by an Encanto win, but James Bond already came through with a Grammy, let alone a Globe and a Critics Choice Award.

 

BEST SOUND

"Belfast"

"Dune"

"No Time to Die"

"The Power of the Dog"

"West Side Story"

I always look at action films and musicals when it comes to sound. I lean more on the action side of things with the categories now combined. Nice to see James Bond here, but Dune is the more nominated film. West Side Story could potentially spoil, but Dune has already won plenty of other sound awards and the BAFTA. Play those bagpipes loud when it grabs the gold.

 

Best Visual Effects

"Dune"

“Free Guy”

"No Time to Die"

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Dune is seemingly set to have a good night, even if the film is a long shot at winning Best Picture. Being a Best Picture nominee is absolutely what’s playing in its favor as a favorite to win Best Visual Effects. The multiple other nominations help, along with winning BAFTA. Anyone who wants to ride a sandworm and do a dance to celebrate should be welcome to with this one.


BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

"Affairs of the Art"

“Bestia”

“Boxballet”

"Robin Robin”

"The Windshield Wiper"

One thing is for sure, I’ll just be happy not to have to see the ad for Affairs of the Art after all of this. What can I say when it comes to the shorts? It’s always so random. This is a pretty risqué bunch of animated shorts outside of Robin Robin, so it’s hard to think of what makes the most sense. Aardman being a favorite for many has me leaning on it to win. It’s also the longest of the animated shorts. Not sure if that’s good or bad for this category, but its availability on Netflix and being likable can’t hurt.


BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

“Ala Kachuu – Take and Run”

"The Long Goodbye"

"On My Mind"

"Please Hold"

“The Dress”

I really don’t like playing favorites with a category as loose as any of the shorts. Still, between the three of these Best Short categories, it does appear that The Long Goodbye is a favorite to win. Having a big star helps, and Riz Ahmed wrote and stars in a powerful and relevant film. It also happens to be the shortest of the live-action shorts, with a few things happening toward the end that likely pushes it over the top.


BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM

"Audible"

"Lead Me Home"

"The Queen of Basketball"

"Three Songs for Benazir"

"When We Were Bullies"

It shouldn’t necessarily be star power that paves the way for success, although having Shaq and Steph Curry as executive producers on a film focused on the first and only woman ever drafted in the NBA seems like a good bet. Lucy Harris passed away in January, which may only add to its chances, as she brought a very warm presence as the central figure of the doc.

***

That’s it for predictions. We’ll see what happens, and stay tuned for a couple upcoming Out Now with Aaron and Abe episodes featuring even more prediction thoughts, and a fun results show arriving the same night as the ceremony, following the broadcast!

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