Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards this week, Associated Press Film Writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle share their predictions for a ceremony with much still up in the air.
The Nominees: "Belfast"; "CODA"; "Don't Look Up"; "Drive My Car"; "Dune"; "King Richard"; "Licorice Pizza"; "Nightmare Alley"; "The Power of the Dog"; "West Side Story."
BAHR: At this point it really feels like the award will go to "The Power of the Dog." It is paradoxically both a safe choice and a game changer in that it would be a first best picture win for Netflix after years of trying. Jane Campion's last major shot at picture (and director) was with "The Piano," but in 1994 that basically stood no chance against "Schindler's List." This time, it's her film that has the leg up on the Spielberg. And yet there is a possibility that "CODA" could "Little Miss Sunshine"/"Green Book" its way in there as the feel-good alternative — which was what "Belfast" was supposed to be. (Since this article was first published, the chances for "CODA" improved after winning the top honor at the Producers Guild this weekend.)
COYLE: I'm calling the "CODA" upset. The smart money is on Campion's film. But the win for "CODA" at the Screen Actors Guild — where "The Power of the Dog" failed to get nominated for best ensemble — suggests strong passion for the film, and maybe a crowd-pleasing advantage on the academy's preferential ballot. Either film, though, will symbolize the ascent of streaming in Hollywood. It would hand a streaming service — Netflix or Apple — Hollywood's most prestigious honor for the first time. Maybe that's a big deal, maybe it's belated confirmation of what everyone has known for some time.
The Nominees: Jessica Chastain, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye"; Olivia Colman, "The Lost Daughter"; Penélope Cruz, "Parallel Mothers"; Nicole Kidman, "Being the Ricardos"; Kristen Stewart, "Spencer."
COYLE: This has been the cruelest of categories, laying waste to most expectations and some very sensational performances. Lady Gaga, Caitríona Balfe, Jennifer Hudson and my favorite performance of the year — Renate Reinsve ("The Worst Person in the World") — are just some of the masses among the snubbed. Yet, surprisingly, a very Oscar bait-y performance from a movie released early in the season — Jessica Chastain as the televangelist Tammy Faye — has moved to favorite status after winning the SAG Awards. That may partly be because Chastain, a three-time nominee but never a winner, is one of Hollywood's best actors and the time has come to honor her, for a film she steered into existence. I think she'll win, but Olivia Colman — typically brilliant in "The Lost Daughter" — could sneak in for her second Academy Award.
BAHR: Chastain should have already won several Oscars at this point, and not even necessarily for the ones she got nominations for ("The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty"). However improbable for a movie that has some big issues, including the way it turns a blind eye to Tammy Faye's complicities in the scam, the tide has shifted in her favor and she'll probably get her win. Still, I still think there's a small possibility that it will go to Kristen Stewart, who has been on a rollercoaster path after starting the season at the top.
The Nominees: Javier Bardem, "Being the Ricardos"; Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Power of the Dog"; Andrew Garfield, "tick, tick … Boom!"; Denzel Washington, "The Tragedy of Macbeth"; Will Smith, "King Richard.
BAHR: It's always a bit of a snooze when categories are locked for months, but it would be a major surprise if Will Smith didn't get his first Oscar win for "King Richard." After a period of giving some possibly TMI interviews, Smith stepped back from the spotlight, let the race play out and still emerged triumphant. Not only did he give a terrific performance in the film, but his SAG speech, in which he was funny, humble and gracious to his co-star Aunjanue Ellis and subjects Venus and Serena Williams, was also a helpful reminder of the power of his star charisma. This is such a safe, respectable batch, though. It may have been fun to add some Simon Rex (for "Red Rocket") chaos to the mix.
COYLE: Smith will over-share his way to the Oscar, a deserved win for one of the movies' most insanely charming stars. Smith might have already won best actor (for "Ali") if not for Denzel's titanic performance that year in "Training Day." This time, it's Smith's turn. If I could add someone here, it'd be Adam Driver in "Annette." If he can't have best actor, then he should surely take the award for most devastating and fiercely committed singing performance opposite a puppet baby. Wait, I'm being told that isn't an Oscar category.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Nominees: Jessie Buckley, "The Lost Daughter"; Ariana DeBose, "West Side Story"; Judi Dench, "Belfast"; Kirsten Dunst, "The Power of the Dog"; Aunjanue Ellis, "King Richard."
COYLE: Thanks to her show-stopping, breakthrough performance in "West Side Story" DeBose has had this category locked down all season, and it's hard not to be moved by the historical symmetry. Sixty years ago, Rita Moreno won for the same role, Anita, in 1961's "West Side Story," making her the first Latina to win an Oscar. We'll have to see if DeBose is as brief as Moreno was accepting her award. (Her total speech: "I can't believe it! Good Lord! I leave you with that.") Still, it was a crime to neglect Kathryn Hunter's multiplying witches in "Macbeth." What's foul isn't always fair.
BAHR: I was prepared for Kirsten Dunst to finally get her moment up on that podium but Kiki's shrimp will have to wait. At least she broke the seal and got a nomination. And DeBose should definitely be ready with a killer speech. Do you think she'll take Moreno as her date? Maybe she'll don the black and gold dress Moreno wore in 1962 and famously repeated in 2018.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Nominees: 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."
BAHR: Among mostly first-time nominees (save for J.K. Simmons, who previously won for "Whiplash"), "CODA's" Troy Kotsur went from breakthrough to frontrunner over the past couple months, winning at SAG, BAFTAs and Critics Choice and he's likely to continue that streak come Oscar Sunday. The support for Kotsur and "CODA" has only become more enthusiastic recently and it would be a history-making win. The 53-year-old is the first deaf man to have ever been nominated for an acting prize. I'd also liked to have seen Colman Domingo get some more widespread praise for "Zola," or Mike Faist for "West Side Story."
COYLE: It's a very likeable group of performers but Kotsur has this one in the bag. I think it will be one of the night's best moments, not just because of the historic nature of Kotsur's win, but because it's just reward for an actor who has long toiled and thrived on Los Angeles stages. Hinds was, though, fabulous in "Belfast" and the unnominated Richard Jenkins in "The Humans" was also about as good as it gets.
The Nominees: 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."
COYLE: Campion has long been the frontrunner. For the trailblazing filmmaker, who nearly three decades ago became only the second woman nominated in this category, it's a coronation long in coming. Campion, the first woman ever to be twice nominated for best director, will win, and her cinematographer, Ari Wegner, will become the first woman to win that award — a triumph that should have happened long ago for women behind the camera.
BAHR: Yes, but will she thank Sam Elliott?
The Nominees: "Ascension"; "Attica"; "Flee"; "Summer of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)"; "Writing With Fire."
BAHR: Though Questlove is much-beloved by the Academy and his documentary "Summer of Soul," which won at the BAFTAs, would be more than deserving, "Flee" likely has the advantage here since it was also nominated in the animated feature category. Also, while "Attica" director Stanley Nelson won the Directors Guild award, that group is narrower than the Academy's voting body.
COYLE: To quote the Roots, Questlove's Oscar has "got to be, got to be reality." Don't get me wrong, "Flee" is a singularly exquisite film, and this could indeed be close. But "Summer of Soul" might be the most universally adored film of the year. Both its uncovering of a lost Black history and its celebration of live performance were so profoundly suited to 2021. I can't see it not winning.
The Nominees: "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.
COYLE: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's "Drive My Car" is a not-crazy best-picture underdog, which makes it a heavyweight in this category. There's stiff competition here — particularly from Joachim Trier's supremely lovely "The Worst Person in the World." But Hamaguchi's three-hour masterwork — a profound movie about art and dialogue as a means of human connection — should win.
BAHR: "Drive My Car" definitely has the advantage. The picture and director nominations probably helped convince a few more voting members to give it a chance, too. It's hard not to wonder just how far it could have gone had it had the awards campaign budgets of some of its best picture brethren.
The Nominees: "Encanto"; "Flee"; "Luca"; "The Mitchells vs. the Machines"; "Raya and the Last Dragon."
BAHR: "Encanto" is certainly the juggernaut in this category, with the triple threat of Disney, Lin-Manuel Miranda and a massive hit song that we won't talk about here (no, no, no). And under normal circumstances it'd be the easy frontrunner, but Disney has not had a good few weeks not to mention the fact that the studio has three nominations in the category which could split votes. Plus, there is massive industry goodwill for "The Mitchells vs the Machines" and it won the Annie award, which is why I think there may be a (good) upset in store.
COYLE: I think "The Mitchells vs the Machines" pulls it off. "Encanto" may be the favorite, but it's a funny kind of juggernaut. The Disney release didn't make a huge impression in theaters but once it hit streaming, its songs turned it into a sensation. Some voters may feel "Encanto" is great for the music, while "The Mitchells vs the Machines" is the better movie overall. I think so, anyway. So come on, academy. Do it for Monchi the pug.