Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 94th Academy Awards is that they are happening. In a world brimming with distractions and calamities, the Oscars have flown far under the radar, much to the chagrin of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC executives who hope to reverse years of falling ratings.
At various other warm-up events — the BAFTAS, SAGS, Critic’s Choice Awards and more — the seemingly Ironman-like race for the Oscars coalesced into a familiar narrative. The more obvious an actor’s transformation, the greater their chances of winning. Clever, austere films can be defended, but don’t count these crowd-pleasing gems.
If it’s drama you’re looking for, it’s behind the scenes, as Academy Award-winning producer Will Packer tries to craft a broadly appealing TV show honoring a collection of films with an audience of a fraction of Spider-Man: No Coming Home.
While some competition in some of the biggest categories has calcified over time, the potential for major upheaval should help Oscar watchers stay tuned on Sunday. Now, let’s dive into this Oscar pool.
One of my first thoughts while watching The power of the dog was how specific and lived-in the film looked, especially for a New Zealand shoot. But the open skies and rustic charms of this Montana Western will likely lose out to Dunes. One of the strengths of Denis Villeneuve’s dream project is the vast sense of world-building. From the brutalist architecture of concrete fortresses to old world touches suggesting the history of the Atreus family, each object has a sense of place and history.
The familiar chants and power chords of Hans Zimmer for Dunes should easily drown out the artful twang of Johnny Greenwood’s compositions for The power of the dog.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
When in doubt, remember that voters do not vote for the best, but for the most. The more obvious the transformation, the better. In this regard, no one comes close to Tammy Faye’s eyesa film where makeup is even part of the title.
Smart money is on Dunes for this category but I’m not sure that the hallucinatory visions featuring Zendaya (and Dunes almost three hours of execution) will be able to convince the voters. For a category that was squeezed out of live streaming, it’s a tight race. Will voters fall in love Don’t look up‘s pop art collages? The power of the dogSnapshots of nature à la Terrance Malik? My vote? Tick, tick…boom – the post-modern musical within a musical where the film switches effortlessly between flashbacks.
Best Costume Design
In a fair world, the elaborate dresses and costumes fulfilling the film noir style of alley of nightmares would be leading the pack. But remember: it’s the most, not the best. Thus, the two-tone punk modes of Cruel will win the gold trophy at home.
Another jostled category, another tight race. Leading the pack are the open vistas and lingering close-ups of The power of the dog. But don’t count West Side Storywith Janusz Kaminski giving the classic musical a vibrant cinematic makeover.
Best International Film
Do yourself a favor. Waking up early one morning. Put on a good cup of coffee and sit down to watch drive my car. Three hours later, you’ll see why this slow-release storytelling masterclass will win.
Best Documentary Feature
To run away, an animated film about the plight of refugees and the flight of a man from Afghanistan, becomes more topical every day. Nevertheless, Questlove soul summer the film of the concert overflows with joy and moments of musical happiness, enough to charm voters in abundance.
Best Animated Film
What can possibly rival the movie that unleashed We’re not talking about Bruno? Charm will salsa all the way to the podium, but if you haven’t watched The Mitchells against the Machines, you’re missing one of the most ridiculously original cartoons in years.
Best Original Screenplay
No easy win here. Will voters opt for the sentimental story of Belfast? The stubborn determination of the tennis dad King Richard? I would like to see fans of The worst person in the world, a wonderful romantic ruin film from Norway, wins the award. But I suspect progressive Academy voters will make the film about the climate change metaphor Don’t look up a winner.
Best Fit Scenario
Go out on a branch here. Easy money is on The power of the dog, written by Oscar-winning author Jane Campion herself. But I suspect (or hope) the goodwill around the unwavering Maggie Gyllenhaal The lost girl will cause upheaval.
Best Supporting Actress
While West Side Story didn’t make waves this Oscar season, Ariana DeBose’s spirited performance as Anita is a lock to win.
Best Supporting Actor
Perhaps the surest thing this season, Troy Kotsur will win for his performance as a grumpy, cursing dad in CODA. The fact that the longtime deaf actor was ready to retire before auditioning for the role only makes the victory sweeter.
If it were the award for bravest performance, it would be Kristen Stewart for her role as Diana, Princess of Wales, in spencer. To take such a beloved icon and fearlessly inhabit the character, giving us a real woman, throbbing with frustration, was nothing short of remarkable. That said, the award will go to Jessica Chastian as Tammy Fayfor adding a new layer of vulnerability to the familiar TV cartoon.
I think what Andrew Garfield accomplished as playwright Johnathan Larson in Tick, tick…boom is nothing less than a magic trick, but it’s not even in the conversation. While I’d love to see Denzel Washington cause an upheaval with his grounded version of macbeththe race seems to Will Smith in King Richard and Benedict Cumberbatch in The power of the dog. As he often does, Cumberbatch absolutely vanishes as Phil, a stinking banjo-strumming rancher. But I suspect his whole method of action won’t be able to counter Smith’s charm offensive. The Academy loves Will. We love Will. As Richard Williams, Smith gave us something to root for, while stretching his acting muscles.
While there’s been a lot of talk about Steven Spielberg’s love interest in recent weeks, watch to see Campion win his first directing Oscar for The power of the dog. “A western where no one shoots a gun”, is how Canadian producer Roger Frappier describes it. Instead, it’s the carefully calibrated secrets that Campion expertly extracts.
For months now it seems that The power of the dog was destined to be the best picture winner. Campion’s way of infusing the western story with a new sensibility and startling gay subtext fits the modern Oscar formula. But something curious happened in the gallop to the podium. CODA, a heartwarming film about a singer who clashes with her deaf parents, has started winning awards. Lots of rewards. Could it be that The power of the dog peaked too soon? could Campion’s remarks at the Critics Choice Awards hurt the film’s chances? Or will the lingering bias against Netflix be part of the pushback? But keep in mind, as Variety’s Clayton Davis told me, in the race for the Oscars, this isn’t the most beloved film. It is the most loved. With The power of the dog you like it or you don’t. But thanks to the preferential ballot, CODA could be the second choice of many voters. With a soft feel-good story centered on an authentic deaf family, CODA could hold the message Oscar voters are looking to send.