(To catch a preview of the Oscar set and auditorium, click here.)
Well it’s come down to this: either the most-nominated movie will win Best Picture of the Year…or the least-nominated one will. And of the two, the underdog is surging down the stretch.
Despite being a month earlier than last year (up from the April 25 date of 2021, due to COVID), the pre-COVID date of the Academy Awards had settled into the last Sunday of February. Given that, this year’s build-up has still enjoyed four more weeks than the usual. That extra time has been a boon for CODA, the small indie Sundance Film Festival hit that was bought up by AppleTV+. Despite having a soft, underseen debut on the streamer last August, the Little Indie That Could has now taken the Awards Season by storm.
Barely a blip on the cultural radar, CODA‘s surprise nominations (just 3: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay) suddenly gave the movie a high profile it hadn’t previously enjoyed. With that — and the aid of four more weeks of Academy members coming to discover it for the first time — professionals across the film industry have started to fall in love with the uplifting family drama, one that focuses on a teenage girl who is the only hearing-person in an all-deaf family.
Winning the top prizes at the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild awards, CODA has stolen the thunder of presumed front-runner The Power of the Dog, the contemplative poetic Western from director Jane Campion (The Piano). It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and comes from Apple’s biggest competitor: streaming titan Netflix. With 12 nominations, Campion’s slow-burn psycho-drama with homosexual undertones and themes had positioned itself as the favorite…until CODA started to win the big awards that Dog was supposed to.
So what does that all mean? I’ll break down that horse race even further — along with commentary in all 23 Oscar categories — as I predict the winners for the 94th annual Academy Awards.
Along with my “Will Win” predictions, I’ve also included options for “Should Win” and “Upset Possibilities.”
Also of note: this will be the first year that not all awards will be presented live.
Yes, all speeches will be shown, but 8 winners will be awarded in a pre-broadcast hour. Clips from those speeches will be spliced into the main broadcast in an effort to save time and keep the pace moving. Those categories are: film editing, sound, makeup/hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, documentary short, and live action short.
Hosting duties will be divided between three individual women, one for each hour of the broadcast: Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, and Amy Schumer. Dune co-stars Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin will serve as hosts in the pre-broadcast hour, and they are scheduled to guide the condensed presentation of those winners during the broadcast.
Here’s my best guess as to how things will play out when the Academy Awards are handed out on Sunday night, March 27, 2022 on ABC beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern.
My Predictions for
THE 94th ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
(Honoring the Best in Film for 2021)
Will Win: The Power of the Dog
Should Win: The Power of the Dog or West Side Story.
Upset Possibilities: Kenneth Branagh‘s Belfast and Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story could benefit from a close race, one that splits the top two competitors and allows a dark horse to slip through, but that’s unlikely. This year’s Picture battle is clearly down to two: The Power of the Dog vs. CODA, with CODA positioning itself to make history.
Any movie that wins the top prize at both the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild award ceremonies (as CODA did) should effectively have the Oscar for Best Picture race locked up – and certainly would in any other year.
However, the last (and only) time a movie with just 3 nominations or less won Best Picture was waaaaay back in 1932. Then, Grand Hotel pulled off the feat in Oscar’s third year of existence. Indeed, that all-star ensemble is actually the only movie to ever win Best Picture without being nominated in any other category, but that coup is less shocking when you consider that, in Year 3 of the Oscars, there were only 8 total categories.
In addition, CODA has no nominations in any of the tech/artisan categories and it also lacks a nod for Best Director. That reveals a significant lack of support. Nevertheless, CODA‘s big hope is this: that post-nomination newcomers to the movie will fall in love with CODA so much that, despite not having considered it for nomination in their tech/artist branch, they’ll give it a Best Picture vote anyway.
If that happens, then CODA will secure the unprecedented upset (even bigger than Moonlight‘s, a movie that had 8 nominations).
But I’m betting it won’t.
I’m betting that voters in the tech categories will power Dog to a Best Picture victory. It’s certainly the more accomplished feat of cinema (and by a considerable margin). But you don’t have to take my word for it; listen to what Martin Scorsese had to say.
Will Win: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Should Win: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Upset Possibilities: Almost none. This seems to be a lock. There’s an outside chance that Steven Spielberg could squeak through, but it’s unlikely. Jane Campion won top honors from the Director’s Guild, one of the most accurate Oscar predictors each year. She also took Best Director from the British Academy which shares a lot of membership crossover with LA’s Academy. In addition, voters will probably be motivated to honor a woman with the Directing prize for the second year in a row (following last year, when Chloe Zhao won for Nomadland) and third overall (Kathryn Bigelow was the first for 2009’s The Hurt Locker).
Will Win: Will Smith, King Richard
Should Win: Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!
Upset Possibilities: Benedict Cumberbatch is the most likely to surprise here, but that possibility has become increasingly faint as Will Smith appears to have solidified this awards season as “his time,” especially after taking the equivalent prize at the Screen Actors Guild awards. I’d personally love to see Garfield shock everyone, but it’s also fair to say that this category is legitimately strong from top to bottom (yes, that even includes Javier Bardem‘s Desi Arnez).
– Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
– Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
– Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
– Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
– Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Will Win: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Should Win: Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers or Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Upset Possibilities: According to industry Oscar insiders, buzz is growing that Penélope Cruz could pull a surprise upset for her latest turn in a Pedro Almodóvar Spanish melodrama, Parallel Mothers. In terms of merit, it’s a coin flip between Cruz (who won a Supporting Oscar for 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Olivia Colman, but Colman is a recent Actress winner for 2018’s The Favourite and voters may be gun shy to award her again so soon.
Jessica Chastain does remain the front-runner, however, given her Screen Actors Guild win for her transformative turn as Tammy Faye Bakker. Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart — who dominated the critics group awards — seems to be a distant also-ran for her first-ever nominated performance in the Princess Diana biopic Spencer.
Will Win: Troy Kotsur, CODA
Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Upset Possibilities: Last fall, Kodi Smit-McPhee seemed like an unbeatable lock for his subtle slow-burn arc in The Power of the Dog. But then CODA became the surprise underdog hit of the Oscar race, fueled by deaf actor Troy Kotsur‘s moving portrayal as the father of a hearing teenage daughter he needs to be able to set free on her own life path. The race is really between those two actors, but it’s really not a race at all. This trophy is Kotsur’s to lose, and he may be the surest safe-bet win of the night.
Will Win: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Should Win: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story or Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Upset Possibilities: If Troy Kostur is the biggest lock of the night in Supporting Actor, Ariana DeBose may be a close second here. Not only does she earn it as Anita in West Side Story but voters will be hard-pressed to pass up awarding DeBose for the role that her co-star Rita Moreno won the same award for 60 years ago. Aunjanue Ellis is likely running a distant second for her superbly candid portrayal in King Richard.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
– Belfast, Kenneth Branagh
– Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay and David Sirota
– King Richard, Zach Baylin
– Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson
– The Worst Person In The World, Eskil Vogt, Joachim Troer
Will Win: Belfast, Kenneth Branagh
Should Win: King Richard, Zach Baylin
Upset Possibilities: Licorice Pizza. This is a showdown between two respected veteran multi-nominees who’ve never won an Academy Award before: Kenneth Branagh (Belfast) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza). The edge goes to Branagh who’s older, likely more beloved, and delivers a semi-autobiographical story of childhood that’s deeply personal. That’s a perfect mix for a “lifetime” Oscar.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
– CODA, Siân Heder
– Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Takamasa Oe
– Dune, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, and Jon Spaihts
– The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal
– The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion
Will Win: CODA, Siân Heder
Should Win: Any of the other four.
Upset Possibilities: Wow, this is a tough call. It may be the closest race of the entire night. Four screenplays — Drive My Car, Dune, The Lost Daughter, and The Power of the Dog — all take on the impossible task of translating dense literary work to the screen, and all do it extremely well. But it’s CODA (based on a 2014 French film) that people have fallen in love with this awards season, and Adapted Screenplay may be perfect place for fans to honor its female writer-director Siân Heder.
Will Win: Encanto
Should Win: Raya and the Last Dragon
Upset Possibilities: The Mitchells vs The Machines is respected, beloved, and most likely seen by many given its Netflix platform, but Encanto enjoys the same benefits after a successful theatrical stint and, soon after starting on Christmas, an even more popular run on streamer Disney Plus, one that elevated Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” to the top of the pop charts.
BEST INTERNATIONAL 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)
Will Win: Drive My Car
Should Win: Drive My Car
Upset Possibilities: Drive My Car is also nominated for Best Picture, something the other four nominees didn’t even come close to. That, coupled with the fact that it was tops on a lot of Top Ten lists and critics’ groups honors, makes Drive My Car a sure thing here. If there’s a stunner, it’ll be The Worst Person in the World which is also nominated for Original Screenplay.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
– Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
– Writing with Fire
Will Win: Summer of Soul
Should Win: Summer of Soul
Upset Possibilities: Flee, which is the first movie to ever score a hat-trick of Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature nominations, could be honored here (especially since it’s a compelling story of a gay man fleeing Afghanistan), but it’s a longshot. The love is definitely there for Tonight Show band leader and The Roots drummer Questlove, who made his directorial debut with Summer of Soul, a fascinating and entertaining look at a Motown music festival that had been all-but forgotten. It’s also been widely seen on Hulu, which helps.
Will Win: Dune, Hans Zimmer
Should Win: Dune or The Power of the Dog, Jonny Greenwood
Upset Possibilities: Hans Zimmer‘s music for Dune is an epic achievement in its own right, and that gives it the edge on its own merits. When you include the fact that Zimmer’s been nominated 11 times and only one once (17 years ago for The Lion King), voters may see this as a great time to honor him (an artist they greatly admire) for a work that defines how his sound has evolved and expanded over the years. That said: Jonny Greenwood is respected, too, and his work for The Power of the Dog may be an even better representation of “the movie in music form” than the Dune score is.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
– “Be Alive” (King Richard), Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, DIXON
– “Dos Oruguitas” (Encanto), Lin-Manuel Miranda
– “Down to Joy” (Belfast), Van Morrison
– “No Time To Die” (No Time To Die), Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell
– “Somehow You Do” (Four Good Days), Diane Warren
Will Win: “Dos Oruguitas” (Encanto), Lin-Manuel Miranda
Should Win: “Dos Oruguitas” (Encanto), Lin-Manuel Miranda
Upset Possibilities: A lot of pundits are predicting Billie Eilish for the title song for No Time To Die, yet while it’s clearly an Eilish song it’s also a pretty down-the-middle Bond theme (and maybe a bit too slow and moody for one at that). If it wins, it’ll be for Eilish as much as anything. And that’s why I’m predicting a win for Lin-Manel Miranda instead. Not only is he likely the more respected artist, and seen more as “one of us” than Eilish is, what’s going to push Miranda over the top is the popularity of the other Encanto song that wasn’t even nominated: “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Voters will be casting a choice for “Dos Oruguitas” but they’ll really be voting for “Bruno” by proxy.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
(each title with an online streaming option is linked)
– Lead Me Home
– The Queen of Basketball
– Three Songs for Benazir
– When We Were Bullies
Will Win: Audible
Should Win: Audible or Lead Me Home
Upset Possibilities: Netflix boasts three nominees here — Audible, Lead Me Home, and Three Songs for Benazir — which means they’re likely the most-seen nominees and therefore most competitive. Audible gets the advantage for its deaf representation (it’s sort of a Friday Night Lights for the hearing-impaired), allowing it to ride the similar coattails of CODA. Three Songs for Benazir could surprise, though, with a love story set against war torn Afghanistan. Plus, it’s had vocal support from Prince Harry, whose cred could boost it for some Oscar voters. If the Netflix entries cancel each other out, look for the New York Times doc The Queen of Basketball to sneak through strictly on the appeal of the queen herself.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT
(each title with an online streaming option is linked)
– Ala Kachuu — Take and Run
– The Dress
– The Long Goodbye
– On My Mind
– Please Hold
Will Win: The Long Goodbye
Should Win: The Long Goodbye
Upset Possibilities: With all other things being equal, go with the option that stars a recent Oscar-nominee. In this case, that’d be The Long Goodbye that stars Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), who also produces. If there’s an upset here it likely goes to The Dress, about a female dwarf who struggles with social rejection and longs for love, anchored by two strong performances from the lead and supporting actresses.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT
(each title with an online streaming option is linked)
– Affairs of the Art
– Robin Robin
– The Windshield Wiper
Will Win: Boxbalet or Affairs of the Art
Should Win: Boxbalet
Upset Possibilities: The ones that feel too artsy (and therefore risky) are Bestia and The Windshield Wiper, though both likely have their admirers. Robin Robin is a cute but child-targeted British TV Christmas special from Aardman studios; well done but inconsequential, but it’s a safe choice so it has upset potential. That leaves Affairs of the Art and Boxbalet, both which have distinct and distinguished aesthetics. My hunch is that more voters will be taken by the love story of Boxbalet.
Will Win: The Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner
Should Win: The Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner
Upset Possibilities: Some would say the smart money is on Dune to win here. It’s arguably the most obvious choice. But there’s a sweeping, epic scope to the Western The Power of the Dog, one that feels both more artistic and classic. It feels like cinema. As an added bonus: voting for Dog would result in Ari Wegner becoming the first-ever woman to win the cinematography award. A lot of voters are hip to that potential history and, I’m betting, will vote accordingly.
Will Win: Dune
Should Win: The Power of the Dog
Upset Possibilities: King Richard and Tick, Tick…Boom! took top honors at the Eddie Awards, handed out by the American Cinema Editors guild, and of those two Tick, Tick…Boom! (a musical) would be more likely here. But since the whole Academy votes for winners they tend to favor one of two options: A) super-flashy obvious editing (and/or “the most” editing), or B) a big, epic motion picture with a lot of nominations. Going with B (since there’s no nominee that fits the A category this year), I’d say Dune squeaks by The Power of the Dog.
Will Win: Dune
Should Win: Nightmare Alley
Upset Possibilities: Dune would be a very deserving win here, but if I had my druthers I’d go with Nightmare Alley, which has some truly gorgeous 1930s/40s art deco designs. All the nominees here would be worthy winners, mind you, but I think this one lands with Dune more by default of the fact that it’s the biggest production.
Will Win: Cruella
Should Win: West Side Story
Upset Possibilities: Pre-20th Century Period pieces often get the Costume prize, but with the largely-unseen Cyrano being the only option to fit that this year, I think the voters will opt for the glitz, glam, and boldness of Cruella. It’s a movie about clothing designers, after all. And if they don’t? A coin flip between Dune and West Side Story, for the sheer costume scale of both.
Will Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Should Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Upset Possibilities: Sometimes the most obvious choice is also the right one, and the transformation of Jessica Chastain into Tammy Faye Bakker fits that bill. That said, the work in Cruella is distinct and impressive as well.
Will Win: Dune
Should Win: Dune
Upset Possibilities: For those who wish a populist film like Spider-Man: No Way Home would’ve been slotted as a Best Picture nominee, here would be a great place to show it some love (and the only place, for that matter). Still, on terms of both quality and scale, Dune deserves it. And Dune‘s going to get it.