94th Oscars: Oscar Guy’s Final Thoughts

Another Oscar season comes to an end. While the Pandemic Year seemed long, this one has seemed even longer. Perhaps that’s because my favorite film of last year, Promising Young Woman, wasn’t a Best Picture contender. This year, The Power of the Dog could well win, becoming the first film to top my personal list (so far) to win Best Picture since 12 Years a Slave in 2013. Unfortunately, that is seeming like an even bigger unlikelihood now that the bigots have grabbed the baton and run with it, anointing CODA as their choice replacement. Whether I actually buy that or not, I don’t know. Belfast would seem a more likely candidate if that were the case.

Anyway, we don’t have much time to go, so I’m going through my final predictions today with a fine-toothed comb hoping my insights can either help you understand my predictions or help you make your own.

The categories below are sorted in order from least competitive to most competitive. Best Picture, whether competitive or not (and it actually is this year), is last. While these are currently my final predictions, I reserve the right to change my mind at the last-minute. That said, doing that has often been a bad thing, so it will likely stay the same. Keep an eye out on the sidebar where it says “updated” under the predictions listing. When it says FINAL, you know I’m settled. I really just want to take one last look through my Hopefuls/Predictions and the chances rankings to see if I feel they still need to be adjusted. I hope to have this done by the end of day on Friday.

Best Visual Effects

Who Will Win: Dune. The most uncontested race of the year comes from the visual effects of Dune. It has been one of the most recognized aspects of the film and has won almost 90% of the visual effects awards that have been given. There’s little likelihood anything can top it.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Spider-Man: No Way Home or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who want the Oscars to feel “relevant” again and giving it to the highest grossing film or another Marvel effort might go a long way to assuage those concerns, but that’s not terribly likely.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Dune. I’m against playing populism for ratings’ sake and whether or not I thought Dune was the best of the year, I would advocate for its victory, namely because it was a box office success even when being simul-released on HBO Max.

Best International Film

Who Will Win: Drive My Car. It’s the only one on this list nominated for Best Picture and it’s in the Best Directing race and Best Adapted Screenplay competition as well. It was also the most recognized foreign language pic this year.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Flee or The Worst Person in the World. Flee won several awards across three different categories, so it could be a threat, as too could The Worst Person in the World, which was also nominated for its screenplay.

Best Costume Design

Who Will Win: Cruella. There are several stills from this film that make the case for it having no competition and the fact that it’s won the most crucial guild and BAFTA awards, is a good enough course to put it in the lead.
Who Could Potentially Upset: West Side Story. That said, as La La Land proved, vibrant designs can win out over fancy ones. That alternative is West Side Story which surprisingly, for the vastness of its wardrobe, hasn’t won a single award. That probably means its chances are minimal.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Cyrano. I don’t know that I would say that Cyrano had the best costumes, but the film was given short shrift by the Academy and its single nomination was too few. If it had been nominated in more places, I wouldn’t feel a need to honor it here (especially since Peter Dinklage would be on his way to an Oscar by now), but that’s not the case.

Best Directing

Who Will Win: Jane Campion. Campion has won more than 70% of the awards for directing this year, including DGA and BAFTA awards, which pretty much makes this a slam dunk competition with a single player.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Kenneth Branagh. Campion stuck her foot in her mouth at the Critics Choice awards and voting began shortly after that. She defused the situation like an adult, but was the damage done? If so, could Branagh, the individual with the most nominations in the most different categories, sneak in for a win? It’s doubtful, but anything is possible.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Jane Campion. Campion has long been one of the finest working directors. If The Piano hadn’t proved it, this film would have. The Power of the Dog has her brush strokes all over it and its gorgeousness in every aspect of the film’s making certainly means she deserves this award.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur. An unknown actor who was mostly ignored early in awards season, came on strong at the end and swept the televised awards, which pretty much means he’s locked in regardless of whether he gave the year’s best performance or not.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Kodi Smit-McPhee. 76% of the groups out there disagree with Kotsur being the best. Kodi Smit-McPhee on the other hand won over 45% over them. That’s not a majority, but it’s close enough to suggest that what’s being honored is CODA and the purpose of the performance rather than the performance itself.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Kodi Smit-McPhee. Smit-McPhee, being incredibly young and delivering this kind of performance is sheer talent. What he manages to accomplish with this performance, while utterly subtle, is nothing short of a master class in acting. Managing to outshine even Benedict Cumberbatch is a feat deserving of recognition.

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Will Smith. Smith started the season poorly, picking up only the NBR prize and a couple of minor awards. Then, suddenly, his performance became the talk of the town, winning BAFTA, SAG, and Critics Choice. Those are the most visible awards there are and that’s probably going to assure that the man who won only 16% of the year’s Best Actor prizes wins out.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is the choice of 37.5% of groups and took in more than double Smith’s citations. He and Andrew Garfield, who won two fewer than Smith, are probably the most likely to eke out a victory if frontrunner had been tripped up, which he wasn’t.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Benedict Cumberbatch. In spite of my irritation with Smith over his egotistical machinations over the last year and change, I’m not too upset with him winning the award because by all accounts it’s a strong performance. That said, there’s nothing that can top what Cumberbatch did in The Power of the Dog. He not only managed to make Phil Burbank a repulsive, toxic personality, but he also managed to humanize him in subtle ways. We cannot forgive the character for what he does, but one can’t say he isn’t fully fleshed out in Cumberbatch’s performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose. DeBose has largely dominated the precursors. While she’s on top with just over 30% of them, one of her chief competitors, Ruth Negga, didn’t make the Oscar cut-off. That pretty much gave DeBose a clear path to victory and her triumphs at SAG and BAFTA have made that almost certain.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Kirsten Dunst. While this category has honored its fair share of young ingenues, Dunst was never won of them. Although she earned respect early on, she didn’t pull out her first Oscar nomination until now, at age 40. That’s too old to be considered an ingenue and is right in the Oscar dead zone for actresses winning awards. Yet, if anyone can topple, DeBose, I suspect Dunst may be the only one who could.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Ariana DeBose or Kirsten Dunst. DeBose has given a star-making turn as Anita in Spielberg’s re-adaptation of West Side Story. Not only is she a tremendous dancer, but she has an infectious personality that makes you smile every time she’s on screen. That effervescent joy, tinged with a soupçon of confidence, makes a quick and complete impression. That said, Dunst delivers a quietly devastating performance as the woman who suffers under Phil’s withering glances and subtle, targeted harassment. She has done some great work over the years, including in her most visible performance as a youngster in Interview with the Vampire, but this performance brings her career to a tremendous peak and I would be remiss if I didn’t vote for her. If she were to win in a shocking upset, I would not be disappointed.

Best Documentary Feature

Who Will Win: Summer of Soul. Surpassing even Jane Campion in the number of awards received, Summer of Soul has been an unrivaled leader in the category. At 73%, no other candidate this year has done better. There was some suspicion that Flee needed somewhere to win its award and that Questlove’s documentary was going to be the one to take the hit, but after BAFTA and PGA both went with Summer of Soul, Oscar isn’t likely to be far behind.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Flee. If you buy into the notion that Flee will lose Animated Feature to Encanto and International Feature to Drive My Car, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thought that Flee has to win here and it’s possible it could. However, being the first to score in all three categories isn’t enough reason to award it the prize and with no clear path for it in any of its nominated categories, voters aren’t going to be able to decide without voting for it in all three, which isn’t likely and consensus isn’t likely to be reached for something this far down most voters’ watch lists.

Best Live Action Short Film

Who Will Win: Ala Kachuu – Take and Run. Of the nominated live action short films, it easily has the most affecting story and while voters like to be shocked, they like to be filled with dread, but then treated ultimately to joy or relief when they are done. Ala Kachuu does that and with the subject matter in evidence, it seems like the most likely to broadly appeal to voters.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Long Goodbye or Please Hold. Of course, everyone has been talking about Riz Ahmed’s quasi-futuristic docudrama about a minority family who comes face-to-face with a rise in bigoted nationalism. It ends with Ahmed performing one of the songs from his recent album and is considered a promotion for that production. That might not be the kind of thing Oscar voters respond well to. The other possibility to overcome Take and Run is Please Hold, which also takes a quasi-futuristic approach to its story, but sets its protagonist into a legal system run by automation from police drones to automated prison facilities. It’s a stark observation of how much we potentially give up by taking the human element out of every day actions, but apart from being a fascinating story, it’s hard to imagine the film winning out over more affecting work.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Ala Kachuu – Take and Run. Of the five, Ala Kachuu is easily my favorite. For those of us in the West, it seems like such a strange thing to happen, but it does and this short does a tremendous job putting the horrifying practice of forced marriage into stark relief. I wouldn’t mind Please Hold or On My Mind winning either. Overall, it feels like a much stronger batch of shorts this year than in the animated or documentary programs.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Who Will Win: Audible. When this competition began, The Queen of Basketball seemed like the odds-on favorite to win and a lot of people do love the film. However, I think Audible gains ground against it because it feels like a broader examination. It tackles a number of issues from the bias against the deaf to the toxicity of anti-LGBTQ forces. It’s about so much and the material feels fresh.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Queen of Basketball. Having said all that, I wouldn’t entirely count out The Queen of Basketball. It’s about a charming figure of historical importance in the realm of basketball. The problem with it, like A Concerto Is a Conversation, is that it relies too heavily on sustained close-up. That’s a frustrating way to watch a film. There’s a reason, but it feels even more overbearing than that prior effort. Still, you can’t overstate the importance of this figure being better remembered.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Audible. I found myself drawn more to Audible than to The Queen of Basketball. Both are solid efforts, but Audible feels better made. Sure, expanding the subjects to a bigger length might have given us even more information, but it’s fine as it is. On My Mind is also effective. Three Songs for Benazir is dull and doesn’t seem to flow well into its denouement. When We Were Bullies never should have been nominated. Even if it’s creative, it’s superficial and ultimately ends with a let down.

Best Sound

Who Will Win: Dune. Dune has always seemed a likely winner here. It used to be that Sound and Visual Effects went together quite often, but that has changed in recent years. Still, Dune has won most of the precursors (not that there are many of them), including BAFTA and both guilds. There’s likely not much that can stand in the film’s way.
Who Could Potentially Upset: West Side Story. Musicals have done well in this category in the past and, among the nominees, West Side Story and No Time to Die have the most claim to being spoilers. If No Time to Die had won BAFTA, I might be thinking twice about this, but it didn’t.
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. Sometimes, subtle work is more impressive than obvious efforts. Dune and West Side Story and No Time to Die are all expected to have great sound mixes. Something like The Power of the Dog isn’t and that’s because it uses its sound sparingly, but to great effect. If you think not just of Jonny Greenwood’s score providing a strange tinge to the events taking place, but also of the battle between banjo and piano that plays such a crucial role in the narrative, you can understand why its subtlety is so impressive.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Who Will Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye. In the late 1970s and 1980s, there was no nationally recognized figure who was more famous for her often garish and outlandish makeup style. She was the butt of jokes, and mixed with her fancy hair styles, she was an impressively grotesque figure at times. While other films have won on their prosthetic makeup work, this may be one of the few instances of makeup and hairstyling of a more traditional style winning the award. The BAFTA win is instructive.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Coming 2 America. Yet, it’s Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America that seems best poised to overwhelm Tammy Faye. While reports have it that the makeup work is fairly limited in scope, which hurt Star Trek‘s chances a few years ago, it’s hefty in its limited use, which can be quite appealing to some voters. Of course, Cruella‘s likely to get more member views than Coming 2 America thanks to its dominance of the Costume Design category and it could come from behind for a surprise win. It and Tammy Faye are tied with four precursors apiece with Cruella picking up the Make Up Artists guild award. Dune could also be a surprise victor thanks to its broad usage of makeup effects, especially with the Baron Harokonnen. Still, BAFTA is our most instructive precursor, so I’m sticking with that choice.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Dune. I’m not taking anything away from any of the other films as I have only seen House of Gucci so far and it wasn’t that impressive. I’d go with Dune because I know the extent and intensity of the makeup used were impressive and that its subtlety might actually be hurting it a bit here. I’m not going to complain about any of the winners, but ultimately, I would like to see Dune take this simply because it sounds like the bigger achievement.

Best Animated Short Film

Who Will Win: Robin Robin. In the past, this category, like its feature analog, have gone to films that are appealing to children, thought not all the time. Garden Party is a recent example antithetical to this. However, Robin Robin is the longest of the shorts, it’s sweet enough, and it’s a tiny little musical. Those factors seem like positive ones for its chances.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Bestia or The Windshield Wiper. The two shorts that could potentially overcome Robin Robin are Bestia and The Windshield Wiper. Neither are designed for children. While kids could certainly appreciate Windshield Wiper on a visual level, they would most definitely not be welcome to screen Bestia. However, both of these shorts are more artistically compelling than the frontrunner. One looking at a vile dictator’s lapdog and the other looking at the nature of love. Bestia managed to overcome its adult-oriented liabilities and win at the Annie Awards, which could give it a boost. However, some Oscar voters will be turned off by its frank depictions of abuse and abhorrent sexuality regardless of its artistic merit. Windshield Wiper is gorgeous to look at and while it is adult-oriented, it’s not the least bit graphic, so it could ultimately overcome both.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Bestia. Bestia plays like a great work of art. It depicts a horrifying story taking place under a dictatorial regime. It’s frightening that these events could ever have taken place and perhaps they didn’t, but they are frightfully observant. The thematic reason for using the media they did in the stop-motion animation is fascinating, but just watching the short, you come to realize you’re watching something utterly inventive and original.

Best Animated Feature

Who Will Win: Encanto. For once, the Animated Feature category has a little bit of suspense, though not enough for some. When the precursors began pouring out in December, one film began dominating the competition. Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines slowly built up an impressive haul of prizes, 27 of them, including Best Animated Feature at the Annie Awards. Yet, Disney has had a stranglehold on this category with both its animated output and that of its sub-studio Pixar. It’s difficult for a non-Disney/Pixar feature to win. That’s one of the reasons Encanto has emerged as the likely Oscar victor. Mitchells may have 27 prizes under its belt, but Encanto‘s 10 include PGA and BAFTA, an impressive pair of acquisitions that securely place it as the film to beat.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Yet, there’s always the possibility that Netflix will come from behind with The Mitchells and eke out a victory as they did at the Annie Awards. It’s clearly the more honored film, but it’s not Disney/Pixar, which is an unfortunate drawback. Further, when the Annies gave their award to Klaus, we all thought it might have turned a corner and started a new push towards the Oscars. That resurgence didn’t actually happen and I doubt the Annie prize to The Mitchells is going to mean much to the Academy this time either.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Encanto. Flee is the only one of these I haven’t seen yet. Of the remaining four, Encanto is the most emotionally involving and is delightfully animated and sung. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is an entertaining film and has an uplifting pro-LGBTQ message, but it felt quite obvious in places and while everything Disney/Pixar has done lately seems obvious, I simply had more fun getting to the end of Encanto than I did The Mitchells. Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon were ok, but not great.

Best Original Score

Who Will Win: Dune. The bits and pieces I’ve heard of Dune‘s score have been impressive. Hans Zimmer has made a career out of doing both traditional compositions and eclectic ones. His score for Inception should have netted him an Oscar, but didn’t. This time out, though, he seems to be cruising towards victory after almost three decades since his first win for The Lion King in 1994. The film has pulled off victories at both BAFTA and Critics Choice and has ultimately pulled out 18 total victories so far this season, just over 51% of the total awards given out. That seems like a pretty good track record.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Power of the Dog. Then there’s Jonny Greenwood who had several prominent scores release this year and his score for The Power of the Dog is tremendous. What’s most important about it in terms of voter awareness is how dominantly it’s used at times, sometimes in counterpoint. Campion’s film has won a not-too-shabby 12 score awards and is Zimmer’s only real competition. There’s also scuttlebutt out there that Zimmer outsources some of his compositions for the film to the studio music department, meaning he’s earning awards recognition for works attributable to others who will forever go unnamed. The timed release of that information suggests campaign chicanery, but the Academy is facing a crisis right now and being accused of honoring something perceived as phony might not sit well with certain members. That said, I think Campion’s picture is struggling to find a place to win and, right now, this appears to be another category where it’s likely to lose by a hair.
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. How Campion uses Greenwood’s score is superb. This is a fascinating piece of composition that fits so remarkably well into the film that I couldn’t imagine any other score working for it. That shows some measure of strength for the composition and since there are a number of composers who could do what Zimmer did for Dune, I’m just too impressed with Greenwood’s work not to hope for his surprise victory.

Best Original Song

Who Will Win: No Time to Die. This is a very tough category to predict, not because there’s not a clear frontrunner, but because nothing stands out against the rest making it feel like almost anything can win. If they can give the Oscar to “Writing’s on the Wall,” then they clearly have lost all claims to being tasteful. “No Time to Die” is a much better song than Sam Smith’s song and fits much better into the aural tapestry that is the Bond aesthetic. That alone could propel the song to victory.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Dos Oruiguitas. There’s also some validity to the theory that Lin-Manuel Miranda is so popular that he needs an Oscar pronto. He’s been nominated before and lost, so I don’t know if I buy that argument. Some are upset that Disney didn’t submit the viral tune “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” for consideration and instead went with this lovely ballad. While “Surface Pressure” is, for me, the best song from the film, “Dos Oruguitas” is a melodic and endearing effort. “Be Alive” could win to give Beyoncé an Oscar, but the song has powerful lyrics, yet isn’t terribly good musically, so I cannot imagine them recognizing her for it.
What I Would Like to See Happen: No Time to Die. The latest Bond track is subjectively the best of the five songs written for films nominated by the Academy. While “Dos Oruguitas” is a strong second, none of the rest of the songs are even remotely that good, so I’m ok for now with the Bond song winning.

Best Production Design

Who Will Win: Dune. This is a category that may well come down to personal preference. Dune is a massive undertaking set in a dark, distant future in spite of its desert setting. Other than the limited descriptions provided by Frank Herbert, the film had to create its unique vision and that was pretty expansive. Winning at the guild and BAFTA has put the film on the best footing possible to claim victory in this category, yet it hasn’t managed to pull ahead the way many other categories have.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Nightmare Alley. Dune may have won at BAFTA, but Nightmare Alley also won at the guild, negating part of Dune‘s momentum as a guild favorite. The two films have been in a neck-and-neck race all season for the production design honors with Dune winning nine prizes and Nightmare Alley winning seven. That’s not a massive lead. Both are guild winners and their nearest competitor, West Side Story, hasn’t made many gains. While this could still come down to a handful of ballots, Dune has a modicum of momentum behind it.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Dune. What I’ve seen so far of the designs for the film, it’s an impressive effort. Nightmare Alley is too. Yet, when it comes to producing a film in a known period and creating an environment we’ve never seen before, there’s a different level of skill required. I honestly wouldn’t hate any of the potential winners in this category, so at least this is one that I don’t have to fret about going into Oscar night.

Best Cinematography

Who Will Win: Dune. For being the technical juggernaut that Dune is, this race seems surprisingly tight. Dune is the definitive leader thanks to the 16 awards to its director of photography. BAFTA and the American Society of Cinematographers alone make it a pretty unbeatable choice, except that it isn’t.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Power of the Dog. That’s because The Power of the Dog has done quite well itself, winning the Critics Choice Award and generally being one of the aspects of the film most people hold up for its greatest acclaim. There was a time that vast vistas were like catnip to the Academy, but intimate chamber pieces and black-and-white films have done far better in recent years. The Power of the Dog also doesn’t have many categories where it’s leading and I could see this being one of the places where rebellious souls decide to give Ari Wegner the prize. That she would be the first woman to win in this category in history would be an added benefit.
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. What few people, even in the film industry, tend to appreciate is that cinematography is far more than just how a set is lit. Sure, pools of light, contrasts, and shadow are an important element of storytelling, as is getting outdoor natural environments successfully lighted and captured on celluloid; however, cinematography is more than that. It’s about framing and angles, close-ups and establishing shots. The director has a lot of influence on this, but it’s up to the cinematographer not only to achieve that vision, but properly light it so each scene carries the weight of its subject. Wegner does that impressively well. There isn’t a single wasted frame in the film and each shot is composed perfectly and thematically. It’s such a wonderful bit of photography that I couldn’t imagine even Dune surpassing that.

Best Original Screenplay

Who Will Win: Belfast. The most honored original screenplay this year was Licorice Pizza, which claimed 11 prizes to Belfast‘s seven. Don’t Look Up comes next closest with four, but had fewer citations than non-nominees Mass and Pig. BAFTA went with Licorice Pizza over hometown favorite Kenneth Branagh, which is another clue that Belfast may be going down to defeat in all ten categories it’s nominated in. Still, some voters may not want to see that happen and the Critics Choice seemed to agree with the selection. Right now, this is the one choice I’m most waffling on and I may ultimately change it later today, but for now, I’m sticking with Belfast.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Don’t Look Up. While Licorice Pizza won BAFTA, the WGA picked Don’t Look Up over it. Both screenwriters, Adam McKay for Don’t and Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice, are well regarded in Hollywood right now. Anderson has been unsuccessful in his 10 prior nominations in winning an Oscar. There are some who feel he needs something. Whether it’s for this film or not, who knows. And there was a time when an auteur like this could win the category. Those times are seemingly gone. Don’t Look Up, on the other hand, is filled with the kind of research and satire that Academy voters love to recognize. The fact that these two are duking it out leads me to think that Belfast could win out over both, especially since it wasn’t eligible for WGA consideration, so we haven’t really seen it compete against both of these outside of BAFTA and that’s the result that makes this one of the most contested awards of the year.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Belfast. Honestly, Belfast has gotten kind of screwed this season. When it debuted, many thought it would cruise to victory, but it has been losing traction all Oscar season. It’s a well written and observed film and I’d be happy for it to win.

Best Film Editing

Who Will Win: Dune. Among all this year’s categories, this is the one where the least consensus has been found. BAFTA chose No Time to Die. Critics choice chose West Side Story. American Cinema Editors went with tick, tick…BOOM! and King Richard. Dune has only won five precursors, its most established group prize is from the Online Film & Television Association, which is not exactly a bellwether. Still, when you have multiple films all competing for the prize and no preferential balloting to build that needed consensus, almost anything could happen. Right now, I’m sticking with my original Dune prediction, but I’m not that confident in it.
Who Could Potentially Upset: King Richard. West Side Story won the most prizes so far, 1 more than Dune for a total of 6. Yet, the Academy didn’t nominate it. The next most honored of the Oscar nominees is The Power of the Dog with a scant three. tick, tick…BOOM! has two and King Richard 1. Don’t Look Up is the only one without a single victory. So, which film wins? Who knows, but King Richard being a sports film could benefit from the category’s bias towards such movies. Making a sporting event exciting is a challenge and they like to recognize that. Of course, King Ricahrd has to compete with the heavily edited tick, tick…BOOM!, which could be a surprise winner. Then again, The Power of the Dog doesn’t have a lot of options for wins and Campion being the only winner from the film would be a disappointment for many.
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. There’s not a wasted moment in The Power of the Dog. It might feel a bit slow-boil in some of its pacing, but it remains riveting and brisk despite its heavy subject matter. The film is so meticulously crafted that I could easily pick the film in any number of categories and not feel bad about it.

Best Actress

Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain. The only reason this category has been so up in the air this season is the scattershot smattering of nominations for these five women. None of them have been on the ballot against one another with SAG and BAFTA being particularly unhelpful in this regard. Kristen Stewart dominated the critics portion of the precursors, picking up 20 total prizes with Chicago being the most prominent. That’s only 35% of the awards. Olivia Colman, Jessica Chastain, and Alana Haim were all well recognized. Haim wasn’t nominated. Chastain got a significant boost from SAG and the Critics Choice Association. Since BAFTA hadn’t nominated any of these nominees, its winner is utterly unfit for helping us figure this one out. With the only two other televised awards giving the prize to Chastain, it seems like she’s had the right momentum heading into final voting.
Who Could Potentially Upset: Penelope Cruz. Of course, Stewart cannot be counted out. She fits in the sweet spot of past winners better than Chastain and some may want to recognize her for finally breaking away from the stench of Twilight. Of course, that stench is why she’s struggled all season to gain traction with the more mainstream groups. She could still win because we don’t have any head-to-head competitions between Chastain and Stewart that could nominally settle it. As such, we’re left to believing this is an incredibly close competition with even fellow nominees Colman, and Nicole Kidman each having some potential for winning. Then there’s Penelope Cruz. A prior Oscar winner, Cruz is a respected actor who’s been working in foreign efforts and big budget features alike. That she’s gotten this recognition as one of Pedro Almodovar’s muses might just be the kind of work that eclipses all else and takes home the prize. She’s certainly well respected enough, but she has an Oscar and that’s a negative for some voters who prefer to spread the love. Of course, becoming the first actress to win two Oscars for an English language and Spanish language role could be an interesting statement and would certainly speak to the snubbing Chastain has seemingly gotten in recent years. Though, her support of the makeup and hairstyling artists on her film by snubbing the red carpet is not only a grand gesture, but it might be enough to just push her over the top for a win.
What I Would Like to See Happen: Jessica Chastain. If Lady Gaga had been nominated, I probably would have gone with her. It was a terrific performance. She wasn’t. I haven’t seen the rest of these, but Colman, Cruz, and Kidman already have Oscars and if not now, when will Chastain ever get one?

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Will Win: CODA. With 5 trophies, or just barely over 10% of the Adapted Screenplay prizes, CODA has emerged as the frontrunner for Best Adapted Screenplay. How is that possible? BAFTA. With its sudden emergence as a Best Picture contender, various organizations have been trying to find a way to honor CODA and this was the place, but it won’t stop there.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Power of the Dog. The Power of the Dog dominated the screenplay races. 29 awards went to Jane Campion for her script for the film. 59% of the total adapted screenplay and regular screenplay awards (not all organizations distinguish between adapted and original scripts) went to the film. The film to come in second place was Drive My Car. There are 9 prizes for that film and 29 for Campion’s for nearly 78% of the prizes to two films that are seemingly no longer in contention. If the Critics Choice Association can avoid falling down the CODA rabbit hole, why couldn’t the Academy?
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. Not to diminish any of the other achievements, but The Power of the Dog is the best written film I’ve seen this year. Some may undervalue that because it’s also a very visual film and Campion is also the director, but sparing as it is for dialogue, those moments are crucial to the storytelling alongside the other merits and to deny that is to deny the essence of screenwriting, which is often the very first step in filmmaking. Without the script, there is no film.

Best Picture

Who Will Win: CODA. Before the guild awards, there was The Power of the Dog and everything else was trailing far behind. DGA went to Jane Campion as expected, but SAG went to CODA. Even though it wasn’t competing against The Power of the Dog, that then started the prevailing query of recent weeks, “could CODA come from behind and win?” That conversation has since steamrolled and in spite of Power winning BAFTA and Critics Choice (and even the normally stodgy Golden Globes), CODA picked up enough momentum to win at the more mainstream PGA. What happened? It’s not clear. Some posit that the bigots who don’t like the destruction of the cowboy myth are rallying behind another film directed by a woman that gives them the feeling of contributing to the conversation about prejudice without accepting responsibility for their own actions. Some just think The Power of the Dog is too divisive. Apparently, it’s so divisive that it pulled out 12 Oscar nominations when most were expecting it to top out at 9 or less. Both of those excuses are just excuses, but with films like Crash and Green Book winning over significantly better films, it’s hard not to see this as being a likely result.
Who Could Potentially Upset: The Power of the Dog. As much as I want it not to be true, I can see the trendlines and they are disturbing. What gives me hope that Power of the Dog, my current favorite film of the year, can pull this out is manifold: BAFTA, Critics Choice, Globe, and DGA are a powerful prognosticating bunch. They don’t always get it right, but when the best you’ve got is the populist award from SAG, which has been wrong almost as often as it’s been right, and the male-centric PGA, it says a lot about the softness of your lead. BAFTA is the single canary in the mineshaft. They are an ostensibly more conservative group and they even saw the merit in The Power of the Dog. They had plenty of homegrown competition to pick from too, but they didn’t choose them and CODA wasn’t even in the top 5. There’s also the preferential ballot that PGA has adopted and few others have (the OFCS and the OFTA have derivations of it). It’s possible that Power isn’t the top film, but is high on enough lists to propel it to a win. That’s one possible explanation for the Birdman, Moonlight, Parasite, and Nomadland victories. All of those films are quite dense and high brow. PGA voted for two of those while snubbing the other two, including Parasite. It jumping on the CODA bandwagon isn’t that impressive, but could be instructive. The only other time in SAG’s existence that it agreed with the PGA while differing from the DGA, Little Miss Sunshine was the choice and it lost while DGA’s winner, The Departed, won. The difference? One was made by a legend, the other was made by a neophyte pair. That seems instructive, but is not exhaustive. It was also before the expansion to ten, so there were fewer ways to split support.
What I Would Like to See Happen: The Power of the Dog. As much as I hope beyond hope that the Academy makes the right decision, I expect them not to. When La La Land was steamrolling, no one thought any differently and then, shock of shocks, Moonlight won. I’m hoping the same moment replicates this year because there is no better film that I’ve seen this year than The Power of the Dog and it’s on such a towering pedestal in my eyes that I can’t imagine anything besting it from the admittedly lengthy list of films that I haven’t seen.

And that’s the 94th Academy Awards. As much as I love Oscar season, I will most certainly be taking a break after I do my post-Oscars write-up. Our first predictions for the 95th will be coming out sometime in April. So enjoy the run-up to the big night and hopefully, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised and not have another Crash/Green Book fiasco.

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