Apologies, Loyal Reader – it’s been a while. Seven months, in fact, have passed since my last blog post. I had decided not to write my annual Oscars post this year, in favor of a where-have-I-been post that I still owe you. Alas, though, I was posting my thoughts about this year’s Oscar nominees in another forum, and as I jotted them down, there was enough content to simply paste into the WordPress format.
The 2020-21 Oscars ceremony was a lackluster affair. The host-less, COVID-distanced ceremony took place in LA’s Union Station. “Nomadland” was the expected winner, but the show’s producers decided to save Best Actress and Actor for the end, thinking that “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” co-stars Viola Davis and (the late) Chadwick Boseman would win top honors. As presenters Rami Malek and Olivia Colman read off the names of Frances McDormand (for “Nomadland”) and Anthony Hopkins (for “The Father”), jaws dropped. Hopkins wasn’t even present to accept his statuette, and the show ended on an anticlimactic note.
This year, mask mandates have been withdrawn and the show returns to the Kodak Theater. The Academy has also reinstated the fixed number of Best Picture nominees at ten; the slate of nominated films this year is diverse, ranging from a Guillermo del Toro-directed period noir (“Nightmare Alley”); to a don’t-let-anyone-deny-your-dreams sports drama (“King Richard”); to a story about the hearing-enabled Child of Deaf Adults, or “CODA;” to a cerebral, subtitled play-within-a-movie drama filmed in Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, English, and Korean Sign Language (“Drive My Car”); to a chaste, 1970’s romantic comedy (“Licorice Pizza”); to an epic about otherworldly spice warfare and indentured servitude (“Dune”); to a child’s-eye-view of life in 1970’s “Belfast;” to a deconstruction of the toxic western (“The Power of the Dog”); to a colorful musical as interpreted by Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story’); to, finally, a satire of global warming (“Don’t Look Up” – a film that I absolutely hated).
The nomination tally is as follows: “Power of the Dog” with 12 nominations, followed by “Dune” with ten and “West Side Story” with seven. Who shall win? Find out below!
Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
Who Will Win: CODA
Who Should Win: Drive My Car
Watch Out For: The Power of the Dog
Should Have Been Nominated: Spider-Man: No Way Home
With all due respect to the ten nominated films and the teams behind them, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences really dropped the ball this year. For all the complaining about the Oscar broadcast being boring or out of touch with audience tastes, they could have nominated “Spider-Man: No Way Home” or “No Time to Die” and gotten people glued to their television screens on Oscar night for a Nielsen ratings juggernaut. Instead, they repeated the same sin as 2020, nominated movies that are box office poison. Only “Dune,” the much-anticipated sci-fi adaptation and remake, grossed more than 100 million dollars domestically. Some, such as “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “The Power of Dog,” premiered in just two New York or LA theaters to qualify for Oscars but otherwise launched on various streaming services, where they languished among more popular fare such as “Red Notice,” “Ozark,” and “Space Force.”
There are some bright spots, though. Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” for starters, may have been a remake that no one asked for, but it remains a delight from first frame to last. The aforementioned “Dune,” the first half of an adaptation of a novel once thought unfilmable, has a scope not seen since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”…which won 11 Oscars in 2004. “Licorice Pizza,” a delightfully rambling series of encounters detailing the pursuit of a 25-year-old female by the much younger object of her affection, features a lightness of touch that its director, wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson, has never shown in any of his previous films. Finally, my favorite film of the year, the Japanese import “Drive My Car,” snuck in with four deserving nominations. The film is about the slow-building friendship between a Japanese theater director and his chauffeur. It deals with the overwhelming nature of grief and has a resonating message about the importance of taking chances, but I can’t find the words to describe why its three-hour running time passes by in the blink of an eye; I’ll only say this: see it if you can.
So yeah, “West Side Story,” “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” and “Drive My Car” all deserve to be nominated for Best Picture. But so do the crowd-pleasing “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “No Time to Die,” both of which are richer in story and character arcs than you may be inclined to believe. That being said, it’s a two-way race this year between “The Power of the Dog” and “CODA.” More and more, it seems like “CODA” may win. It was late to find an audience, but is a feel-good film in the same way that past winner “Green Book” was – you simply feel better after watching it. If there is an upset beyond either of these films, it would probably be Kenneth Branagh’s labor of love “Belfast.”
Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Who Will Win: Jane Campion
Who Should Win: Jane Campion
Watch Out For: Steven Spielberg
Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve, Dune
Comments: The New Zealand-born Campion, who helmed the Netflix-produced western “The Power of Dog,” directed the film to 12 Academy Award nominations, the most of any film this year. It could be argued that she deserves to win on this merit alone, but she’s also made history as the first woman to be nominated twice for Best Director; her other at-bat was in 1994, for “The Piano.” That she remains just the seventh female to ever be nominated in this category is something of an outage. If the Academy follows suit with every other awards body this season, she’ll win the Directing Oscar, being just the third woman to do so, after Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” and Chloe Zhao for 2020’s “Nomadland.”
“The Power of the Dog” left me cold emotionally, but it is a triumph of both acting and production values, and I have no issue with Campion winning. I do have an issue with Denis Villeneuve being snubbed for his work on “Dune.” To me, Part One of his ambitious take on Frank Herbert’s ambitious novel is the most impressive technical production of the year, and he should have been nominated. Who to remove in his place? That is a tough one, but I’d probably go with either Anderson or Branagh, as their films, “Licorice Pizza” and “Belfast,” aren’t as technically-elaborate as “Dog,” “West Side Story,” or the three-hour, five-language “Drive My Car.”
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
Who Will Win: Will Smith
Who Should Win: Andrew Garfield
Watch Out For: Benedict Cumberbatch
Should Have Been Nominated: Matt Damon, Stillwater
Comments: Honestly, there isn’t much to say about this year’s slate of nominees for Best Actor. Since “King Richard” premiered day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max last fall, Smith’s name has dominated every conversation as the person to beat this year. In a warts-and-all performance, Smith plays Richard Williams, the headstrong father and coach of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams. Richard is an easy person to root for but a tough person to love, and Smith does a great job channeling the character’s demons. Nominated two other times before – for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” – many say he’s due, but a win for him this year wouldn’t just be a consolation prize for having lost in previous years; he really is quite good.
For my money, however, there are two actors in 2021 that were even better: the non-nominated Damon, as a bigoted Oklahoma father who travels to Marseilles, France, to free his LGBTQ+ daughter (Abigail Breslin) from prison, only to free his mind as well, in the underrated “Stillwater;” and previous nominee (for “Hacksaw Ridge”) Garfield for “Tick, Tick…Boom!” Garfield, who also co-starred in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and had a surprisingly substantial role in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (SPOILER ALERT, perhaps), has had a banner year. In “Tick, Tick…Boom!” he plays Jonathan Larson, the Steven Sondheim-loving playwright who struggles to get funding for an outer-space musical that eventually morphs into the AIDS drama “Rent.” Garfield can, sing, dance, and act his heart out; his is my favorite performance by any actor in 2021.
If you’re wondering, the other nominees this year are Cumberbatch, as a closeted, hard-living rancher in “The Power of Dog;” surprise nominee Bardem (who won Best Supporting Actor in 2008 for his memorable turn as the hitman Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men”) as the charismatic Desi Arnaz; and the always-reliable Washington, chewing black-and-white scenery and earning his tenth acting nomination as Scotland’s MacBeth, in the Joel Coen-directed “The Tragedy of MacBeth.”
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain
Who Should Win: Olivia Colman
Watch Out For: Penélope Cruz
Should Have Been Nominated: Jodie Comer, The Last Duel
Comments: The category of Best Actress is second only to Best Picture this year in regards to how difficult it is to predict the winner. Last October, all bets were on Stewart, who left all traces of her “Twilight” non-acting behind in her attempt to show the emotional strain of marrying into the British Royal Family as Diana, princess of Wales, in “Spencer.” In late December, Netflix released the Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed “The Lost Daughter,” and it was believed that Olivia Colman, a Best Supporting Actress nominee in 2021 for “The Father” and the Best Actress Oscar winner in 2019 for “The Favourite,” would triumph again. When Amazon released “Being the Ricardos” in December, Kidman, already a four-time nominee and one-time winner (for 2002’s “The Hours”), was instantly declared a surefire nominee for her take on the strong-willed Lucille Ball.
Chastain and Cruz only recently joined the conversation, and either despite that or because of that, are the current frontrunners. In “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” the thrice-nominated Chastain plays the exuberant charlatan Tammy Faye Bakker, while Cruz plays Janis, a professional photographer from Madrid whose ill-timed pregnancy interferes with her plans to learn more about the deaths of her ancestors at the hands of WWII-era dictator Franco, in the Almodóvar-helmed drama “Parallel Mothers.”
I certainly get the late surge in support for both Chastain, who should have won in this category in 2013 for “Zero Dark Thirty,” and for Cruz, who won Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for the Woody Allen-helmed dramedy “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Chastain grounds her larger-than-life character, while Cruz, Almodóvar’s long-time muse, channels the maternal instinct, sexual longing, and bitter hatred of a complicated Spanish mother, lover, and daughter. That being said, while Chastain has a slight edge and may win because many say she’s due, I’m rooting for Colman. As Leda, the horrible mother of two grown children who likely hate her, she gives a career-best performance. In today’s #metoo world, though, it would have been nice, though, had the Academy made room for Jodie Comer, the object of obsession in the medieval-themed Ridley Scott epic “The Last Duel.”
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
Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur
Who Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Watch Out For: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Should Have Been Nominated: Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza
Comments: Despite a few surprises on nomination day (J.K. Simmons for “Being the Ricardos,” anyone?), this category has had two historical frontrunners in a category that was recently nailed down to just one: Kotsur, the real-life hearing-impaired actor who also plays one in “CODA.” As Frank, a flatulent, randy fisherman and father of two, he silently steals the film away from lead Emilia Jones and co-star (and previous Oscar winner for “Children of a Lesser God”) Marlee Matlin. Last fall, all bets were on the young Smit-McPhee, riveting as the sensitive, gay son of a rancher’s wife in “The Power of the Dog,” but things have since changed, and while he still has a small chance of upsetting Kotsur come Oscar night, he, along with the other nominees in this category, will likely remain an also-ran.
The others? Long-time Irish character actor Hinds, plays Pop, the wisdom-spouting grandfather to young Buddy, in “Belfast.” It is nice to see his name on this list for the first time. Plemons, who is in seemingly everything these days, is George Burbank, the business-minded co-owner of a Montana ranch who is unintentionally neglectful of his husbandly duties. Finally, surprise nominee Simmons, who won in this category in 2015 for his vicious jazz instructor in “Whiplash,” plays actor William Frawley, aka Fred Mertz of “I Love Lucy” fame. He is good in the role, but I would’ve preferred to see Jamie Dornan, as the oft-absent, but always-loving Pa, in “Belfast;” or Bradley Cooper, who had ten intense minutes of screen time in “Licorice Pizza” as producer Jon Peters, snag the fifth nomination.
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
Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose
Who Should Win: Ariana DeBose
Watch Out For: Kirsten Dunst
Should Have Been Nominated: Caitríona Balfe, Belfast
Comments: There were two surprises in this category. The first surprise came when Dench snuck in, garnering her eighth career Oscar nomination for playing the always-cheerful Granny in “Belfast,” in place of expected nominee for the same film Balfe, who plays Ma, the glue holding together a multi-generational family during the Troubles plaguing Northern Ireland. The second surprise occurred when Buckley’s name was announced for playing the younger version of Olivia Colman’s Leda in “The Lost Daughter.” Ruth Negga was expected, instead, to get a nomination for “Passing” as Clare, a light-skinned African American passing for white in 1920’s New York.
Less of a surprise were the nominations of DeBose, Dunst, and Ellis, all of whom were nominated in almost every pre-Oscars awards ceremony this past winter. DeBose plays Anita, the jaded seamstress and older cousin of Maria in “West Side Story.” Dunst plays Rose, a mentally-ill rancher’s wife who succumbs to alcoholism in “The Power of the Dog.” Ellis plays Brandi Williams, the long-suffering wife of larger-than-life tennis coach Richard Williams, in “King Richard.” They are each terrific, and it is of little surprise that DeBose has won every time; her take as the fiery Anita will likely win her an Oscar in the same category and for the same role that Rita Moreno won for in 1962 for the first screen version of the NYC-set “Romeo and Juliet” update. DeBose’s win will make her the second Puerto Rican (after Moreno) to win an Oscar in this category.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Drive My Car
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog
Who Will Win: The Power of the Dog
Who Should Win: Drive My Car
Watch Out For: CODA
Should Have Been Nominated: West Side Story
Comments: A tough category to predict this year, but I’d give “The Power of Dog,” with its slow-burning but rich deconstructionist western narrative, a slight edge over the audience-friendly “CODA.” In a more perfect world, however, I’d give Rysuke Kamaguchi and Takamasa Oe’s deliberately-paced “Drive My Car” the Oscar over Tony Kushner’s take on Sondheim’s “West Side Story,” in which the class and racial divide is given close attention and in which the Puerto Rican-infused Spanish, as spoken by the film’s Mario, Anita, and Bernardo, isn’t translated because a global audience is trusted to just get it.
Best Original Screenplay
Don’t Look Up
The Worst Person in the World
Who Will Win: Belfast
Who Should Win: Licorice Pizza
Watch Out For: Licorice Pizza
Should Have Been Nominated: Stillwater
Comments: In some ways this is the sentimental category, as its two frontrunners are the oft-nominated, never-winning writer-directors Branagh and Anderson. Branagh, who set a record this year for being nominated in seven separate categories throughout his career, seems poised to finally win for his autobiographical “Belfast,” but he could easily be bested by Anderson, whose 70’s-set “Licorice Pizza” is also something that feels like a memory of his adolescence. Neither screenplay represents the best work by their respective authors, but both auteurs are overdue, and seeing as “Belfast” was an early frontrunner in almost every nominated category before falling by the wayside, honoring it here seems like a worthy consolation prize.
Here are my predictions of the remaining category winners in what are often referred to as “below the line” categories:
Best Foreign Film: “Drive My Car” from Japan
Best Animated Feature: Disney’s “Encanto” over Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” and Pixar’s “Luca”
Best Documentary Feature: “Summer of Soul” over “Attica”
Best Documentary Short: “The Queen of Basketball”
Best Live Action Short Subject: “The Long Goodbye”
Best Animated Short: “Robin Robin”
Best Cinematography: “The Power of the Dog” over “Dune” in one of the tightest races of the evening
Best Film Editing: “Dune” over “Tick, Tick…Boom!” in another tight race
Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer for “Dune” over Jonny Greenwood for “The Power of the Dog”
Best Original Song: “No Time to Die” from “No Time to Die” – written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
Best Sound: “Dune”
Best Production Design: “Dune” over the more-deserving “The Tragedy of MacBeth”
Best Costume Design: “Cruella” over “Cyrano” and “West Side Story”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Best Visual Effects: “Dune”
By my count, that is “Dune” with five Oscars, “The Power of the Dog” with three, and “CODA” and “Eyes of Tammy Faye” with two each. Who do you think will win?
The 2022 Oscars air live this Sunday, April 27th at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m PT on ABC. Check out oscar.go.com, where you can learn more about the nominated films. Enjoy the show!