The show will go on. And this time, it’s the real thing.
After a dramatically scaled-down and virus-safe ceremony last year, the Academy Awards will be presented in a largely prepandemic format this Sunday. That means stars. That means style. And in all likelihood, that means surprises.
If you’re returning to the Fox411 for your annual Oscar forecast, I’ll do my best to tell you what to expect. With any luck, I can save you three hours and still help you win your office pool.
Here are my predictions in the major categories.
"Don’t Look Up"
"Drive My Car"
"The Power of the Dog"
"West Side Story"
PREDICTION: "The Power of the Dog"
Back in the 20th century, the Academy had shown a fondness for grand, sweeping epics. That included everything from "Gone with the Wind," "Casablanca," "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Godfather," "Out of Africa" and "Titanic." In recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift toward much smaller, artsier films. 2014’s "Birdman." 2016’s "Moonlight." 2019’s "Parasite." And 2020’s "Nomadland." It appears that the Academy will continue in that direction, with the slow-burn Western drama "The Power of the Dog" set to sweep. It’s widely seen as the most serious cinematic achievement of 2021, with 12 towering nominations. ("Dune" is second with 10.) "Power" has accepted many of the traditional precursors: the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and British Film Academy (BAFTA) Awards. The endearing family drama "CODA" has been generating a lot of steam in recent weeks. But with only two other nods and no craft support, there’s probably not enough "Power" for it to top "Dog."
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING:
"Belfast," Kenneth Branagh
"Drive My Car," Ryusuke Hamaguchi
"Licorice Pizza," Paul Thomas Anderson
"The Power of the Dog," Jane Campion
"West Side Story, Steven Spielberg
PREDICTION: "The Power of the Dog," Jane Campion
Campion first contended for Best Director at the 1994 Oscar ceremony, for her acclaimed arthouse feature "The Piano." She had to settle for a consolation Best Original Screenplay prize, as Spielberg accepted directing honors for his masterpiece Holocaust drama "Schindler’s List." Almost 30 years later, the two heavyweights are in a rematch. Only this time, the tables are turned. It is Campion who has been cleaning up the industry’s directing prizes, most notably the Directors Guild of America Award. I dare say that Campion might be the biggest lock of the night. Even if "The Power of the Dog" loses Best Picture, Campion takes Best Director. She’s already the first woman in history to be nominated twice, and she’ll become just the third to win. It’s all because of her power as a director.
BEST LEADING 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"
PREDICTION: Jessica Chastain, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
This year’s Best Actress race has been quite the roller coaster ride. Stewart took the early lead for her highly touted portrayal of the late Princess Diana, only to drop in the odds after being snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG.) Kidman enjoyed a brief bump, only to be overtaken by Colman when "The Lost Daughter" received multiple Oscar nods. But all eyes have been on Chastain since her surprise victory at the SAG Awards. She repeated at the Critics Choice Awards, giving her extra momentum just before Oscar voting began. Chastain’s work in "Tammy Faye" is classic awards bait. She’s playing a real person (the late evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner,) uses an accent, and is physically transformed onscreen. She’s also a well-respected actress with two previous nominations (for 2011’s "The Help" and 2012’s "Zero Dark Thirty.") I wouldn’t completely discount Colman, who pulled off an upset for "The Favourite" three years ago. Still, Chastain looks like the favorite this time around.
BEST LEADING 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"
PREDICTION: Will Smith, "King Richard"
He’s headlined countless blockbusters. He’s battled aliens, cowboys and robots. One of the biggest stars in the world, he’s an absolute legend. The question is…can Will Smith add "Oscar winner" to his impressive resume? All signs currently point to "yes." He’s earned rapturous reviews for his role as the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in "King Richard." He’s swept all of the key precursors, even defeating London resident Cumberbatch on his home turf at the BAFTA Awards. "King Richard" is a potent Best Picture nominee, with six nods, including key categories like Original Screenplay and Film Editing. Does anything stand in the way of his "King" and the crown? My only concern is Academy elitism. Just as voters seldom reward popcorn pictures, they often ignore stars more known for their celebrity than their cinema. Nonetheless, Smith has proven himself as a credible actor, with two previous Oscar bids for 2001’s "Ali" and 2006’s "The Pursuit of Happyness." Thanks to a knockout performance in "King Richard," the onetime "Fresh Prince" and his pursuit of Oscar should result in a happy ending.
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"
PREDICTION: Ariana DeBose, "West Side Story"
Sixty years ago, Rita Moreno was named Best Supporting Actress for playing the fiery Anita in the first film adaptation of the Broadway musical "West Side Story." History is bound to repeat itself when DeBose accepts the same award for playing the same role. She’s already picked up the Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice and BAFTA statuettes, and this seems like the best place to reward the popular Best Picture nominee. Moreno’s win was quite unexpected, as she managed to defeat the famous Judy Garland in "Judgement at Nuremberg." Judging from her breakout success this awards season, no one is going to depose Debose.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Ciarán Hinds, "Belfast,"
Troy Kotsur, "CODA"
Jesse Plemons, "The Power of the Dog"
Kodi Smit-McPhee, "The Power of the Dog"
J.K. Simmons, "Being the Ricardos"
PREDICTION: Troy Kotsur, "CODA"
Initially viewed as a dark horse, Kotsur has turned into the bona fide front-runner. As the deaf father of a family with just one hearing member, Kotsur’s performance has been hailed as both hilarious and heartwarming. It’s the type of scene-stealing role that often prevails in the category, like Sam Rockwell in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," Brad Pitt in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and Daniel Kaluuya in "Judas and the Black Messiah" in recent years. Meanwhile, "CODA" has turned into a surprisingly strong Oscar contender. Facing an uphill battle in the Best Picture contest, Best Supporting Actor looks like a much easier category in which to reward it. Kotsur has thus far racked up numerous accolades, including SAG, Critics Choice and BAFTA trophies. He had better make room on his mantel for the Oscar – which is clearly heading his way.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
"Don’t Look Up"
"The Worst Person in the World"
I’ll concede that calling this race is giving me more anxiety than any other. On the one hand, Best Original Screenplay often goes to the most original screenplay – and that’s probably the coming-of-age dramedy "Licorice Pizza." On the other hand, this award may be the only way to keep the well-reviewed "Belfast" from going home empty-handed. So which way will the Academy go? It’s very hard to say, but I’ll make a guess. "Licorice Pizza" failed to receive a single nomination in any acting or technical category. Meanwhile, "Belfast" is represented in both of those fields. Also, I suspect that the clever "Don’t Look Up" and the creative "The Worst Person in the World" will cut into the vote for "Licorice Pizza." Anyway that you slice it, it’s going to be close. But I’m guessing that the Academy skips the "Pizza" and delivers this one to "Belfast."
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
"Drive My Car"
"The Lost Daughter"
"The Power of the Dog"
It’s another nail-biter. Only this time it’s between "CODA" and "The Power of the Dog." The latter has been widely praised for its faithful and superlative adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage. It’s arguably a much more complex and detailed piece of writing than "CODA," which some might consider more of a formula film. "Power" also benefits from its nine-nomination advantage over "CODA." Despite all of this, I’m going out on a limb and calling the race for "CODA." It seemingly came out of nowhere to steal the BAFTA Award. Furthermore, the presence of other indie darlings "Drive My Car" and "The Lost Daughter" might drain some votes that would otherwise go to "Power." In a photo finish, "CODA" could cross the finish line first.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
"The Mitchells vs. the Machines"
"Raya and the Last Dragon"
The Disney/Pixar empire has long dominated the Animated Feature sweepstakes. 2012’s "Brave," 2013’s "Frozen," 2014’s "Big Hero 6," 2015’s "Inside Out," 2016’s "Zootopia," 2017’s "Coco," 2019’s "Toy Story 4" and 2020’s "Soul" have all won in the past decade alone. That makes the smash "Encanto" almost impossible to overcome. The only danger is the presence of the docudrama "Flee," which also has nominations for Best Documentary Feature and Best International Film. The picture tells the true story of a gay Afghan refugee who flees his homeland and seeks safety in Europe. With the plight of refugees especially topical in light of the Ukraine-Russia war, Academy members might feel inclined to vote for "Flee." The problem is that those votes will split three ways amongst three categories, giving "Encanto" an undeniable Animated Feature advantage.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:
"Ala Kachuu: Take and Run"
"The Long Goodbye"
"On My Mind"
PREDICTION: "Ala Kachuu: Take and Run"
I always include a bonus category, for some extra help with your Oscar pool. I watched all five of these, and "Ala Kachuu: Take and Run" is definitely the standout. Set in Kyrgyzstan, the film centers on a fictional bride kidnapping – something which is still quite common in the country. It is easily the entry with the most depth, including a properly structured script and excellent character and story development. It also boasts superb technical prowess, particularly in its editing and cinematography. Most experts are predicting "The Long Goodbye" to say hello to Oscar, but I believe that "Ala Kachuu" will take the gold and run with it.