Oscar week is here and if you’re anything like me, it snuck up on you! This year I was really hoping to do a big old write up of all sorts of categories, but I am running up against quite a few deadlines and still trying to do the obligations that no one expects from me but me. So here we are! Six big categories to run through, my amateur opinion to run through them with. As ever, I am not responsible for you using my advice in any sweepstakes you may be involved in, especially because my own predictions have changed since I submitted my predictions at my work sweepstakes. But this is all a bit of fun, awards are pointless and nothing matters, especially because Belfast will win and ruin any good will I had for the ceremony. So hell to it, let’s predict wildly! And while we’re at it, let’s lament those potential better winners! Oscars!
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog
Should Win: Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter
Setting the trend early, the Best Supporting Actress category is filled with some incredibly worthy nominees and some that, while not necessarily bad, feel puzzling. Chief of these examples is Judi Dench for Belfast. Dench is a filler vote, someone for voters to choose because they know who she is and not because she actually gave one of the five best supporting performances of the year. There was room for so many other incredible nominees to break through, but instead Dench’s wobbly accent and Cats-PTSD inducing monologue made it. She’s a great actor, but that doesn’t mean all of her performances deserve recognition. I also don’t feel strongly about Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard, though that may be because the film itself leaves me so cold. She has one great monologue in a kitchen, it will be the clip they show at the ceremony, I don’t want to besmirch a performance from a film I barely remember.
Now we get to three amazing performances from three actors who I think may stand a chance at taking the trophy. Ariana DeBose seems to be the bookies favourite at the moment, for her joyous performance as Anita in West Side Story. She was a totally new actor to me when I saw the film, but her and (the cruelly snubbed) Mike Faist have been my strongest impressions since seeing West. DeBose completely lit up the screen and has frankly earnt her place here for the “America” number alone. Something in my gut though says that Kirsten Dunst will pip her to the post, for The Power of the Dog. I feel like I am way overestimating the winning power of the Dog (classic me, betting on losing dogs), but this feels like the right time for Dunst. After decades in the industry, she has finally secured her first Oscar nomination and it’s for a great role. What should be the cliched “housewife turns to substance abuse” type role is lent a delicate fading of hope by Dunst, in what is my favourite turn from her since Fargo. Speaking of Fargo, the season four star Jessie Buckley is my favourite performer of the bunch for her work in The Lost Daughter. I think Buckley is one of the greatest working actors today and she finally gets Oscar recognition for a character who has to be understandable to the audience despite also making irrational and unlikable decisions. Despite being unlikable though, there is something in Buckley that draws us deep into the character and her work lends the film an anchor from which Colman can work in the present day sections. Her win here seems unlikely, but I can live with that because Buckley will almost certainly be back again to pick up that trophy some other year.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Troy Kotsur for CODA
Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog
This is a weird category, in that I think that every actor in the category is a really great actor, but not all are giving particularly great performances in their nominated films. Case in point, Ciarán Hinds for Belfast. Hinds is an actor who has had a wide and brilliant career, even giving good performances in delightful trash like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. However, he is in Belfast. We’ll talk more about the film itself later, but his role is kind of thankless, just off to the side. I guess he’s one of the best things in the film, but that is low praise. Similarly, Being the Ricardos is a bad movie, yet the brilliant J.K. Simmons is in it. He got nominated because his character appears one note and yet opens up to show another side. But also, he’s incredibly watchable, because he’s an actor who can string bronze out of hay. Again, he is one of the best parts of a film that is not good.
The other three actors however are all very worthy nominees for the roles they’ve played. Two of those three are from The Power of the Dog. Jesse Plemons has never given a performance I didn’t like and this is no exception. He’s a great counter balance to Cumberbatch’s lead, offering a genuine loveliness. One line delivery from him properly warmed my heart, in ways you wouldn’t expect from a film like this. Also not being what is expected is Kodi Smit-McPhee, an actor who has never wowed me but has a knack for choosing films I like (one day Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will get the acclaim it deserves). In Power, his character is a coiled spring, slowly unravelling until he pops. It’s a treat to watch and his performance is my favourite one of this category. For a while, Smit-McPhee was the frontrunner but at the last minute, it seems like Troy Kotsur will take it for CODA. This is no crime. CODA is not a film I am crazy on, but Kotsur is absolutely brilliant. His brutish presence hides a softness and while it’s hardly a big secret, it’s one that made me smile to see appear. He is funny and gross and has the biggest emotional moments of the whole film. If CODA deserves recognition for anything, it’s for Troy Kotsur.
Will Win: Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos
Should Win: Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter
I am not exactly enamoured with this field of nominees. Again, it’s a selection of very talented actors but absent of any career best roles. I will get it out of the way now, I haven’t seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye, so have no idea if Jessica Chastain is any good in it. She wears a lot of prosthetics, plays a real person and has been playing the awards season game well. I have a manager who thinks she’ll take the prize but I’m doubtful personally. I’m also going to be controversial, I don’t think Kristen Stewart is that great in Spencer. It hurts me to say that because the film has not seen the love it deserves, but I found Stewart’s performance (the sole Oscar nomination for the film) alienating in all the wrong ways. She has also not been getting much recognition this season, so I don’t think a win is on the cards, but her performance of Diana is one that will attract many voters regardless. Penelope Cruz is deserving of her place here though, for great work in Parallel Mothers. The film is a rollercoaster of melodramatic emotions and without someone to latch onto, many audiences would feel lost. Cruz is exactly that figure though, someone who the audience can latch onto with ease. There is something about her in Spanish speaking roles where she suddenly is an amazing actress (especially her collaborations with Almodovar), which is a trend Parallel Mothers thankfully falls into.
It is a toss up about who my favourite actress of the race is, between Cruz and Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, but I think I settle on Colman. She plays the same character as Jessie Buckley (talked about a little earlier up the page), yet does so in a way that feels totally unique. I think it’s a credit to the two actors to say that they make the same character feel totally separate and of course, Colman brings her best with her interpretation. She bubbles under the surface, being hard to read and yet paradoxically never too hard to understand. She’s not as great as in The Favourite, but she’s still the best of this bunch. Unfortunately though, I have a gut feeling that Nicole Kidman will win for Being the Ricardos. I can’t put into words why I think she’ll win, but I just feel it. That’s a special shame because her performance is terrible and exactly the kind of performance I hate. She plays an existing (and beloved) figure, looks unrecognisable and has multiple showy monologues. It hits you over the head with capital a Acting and I never believed it for a second. Yet I still feel like it’s where the Academy will lean. Let that show you how low my estimations of that strange little group are.
Will Win: Will Smith for King Richard
Should Win: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog
In most years, the Best Actress category is the one with the performances I like the best whereas Best Actor is just men being gruff and playing historical figures. In a move of progressiveness though, this year the Best Actress category is uninteresting and Best Actor is full of some genuine gold. Not among that genuine gold is Javier Bardem for Being the Ricardos. Again, I don’t like this film and its reliance on big Acting, that abandons subtlety or grace for long monologues about old actors. I’m happy Bardem is getting a chance to play roles other than weird bad guys, but this is not the direction I want him to move in. We’ll brush over this briefly, I have not seen The Tragedy of Macbeth yet. I’ll try and see it before the actual ceremony but it has me intrigued. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have captured the attention of the Academy, as Denzel Washington is one of very few nominations for the film. I wish him luck, but he’s another actor who is here so often that a loss won’t be a big blow.
Big three time. Isn’t Andrew Garfield great? Just, in everything. He’s done stuff I liked more than Tick Tick Boom but this remains an impressive display of his talent. It is literally all singing, all dancing and so while it’s showy, what it shows is that Garfield is very talented indeed. He’d be a great outsider winner. That almost certainly won’t happen though, as one of these two gentlemen will take it. Current favourite is Will Smith for King Richard. I don’t like this film and I’m also not crazy on Smith as an actor (apologies to anyone offended). This is certainly some of his best work, but from me that’s low praise. But, he’s overdue an Oscar, maybe this is his year, before I Am Legend 2 or Bright 2 obliterates the actors existing good will. I’d personally go with the early frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog. He’s an actor who I’ve liked before but never been that crazy on, yet in this role I was totally absorbed by him. His character has this rough exterior and it fades through the film, allowing you to glimpse through at the layers crafted underneath. I have no doubts that another watch would reveal even more to this great performance, but I’ll just appreciate it this much for now.
Will Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog
Should Win: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car
I wouldn’t always talk about Best Director in my Oscar predictions, but this year I feel like there’s actually decent reason to discuss this category as well as Best Picture. As ever, I should clarify that as an observer it’s always hard to break down what makes a great director, but I’ll do my best to justify why these directors do or don’t stand a chance in the running. We’ll start with everyone’s favourite menace to society Kenneth Branagh, nominated for Belfast. He is nominated alongside four complete titans in the field and for a film that feels almost accidentally made. The only reason he could win is because it does feel very much like a personal film from him, but I wouldn’t write that acceptance speech if I were Ken. Similarly, a win for Steven Spielberg seems unlikely, despite him being Steven Spielberg. Don’t get me wrong, West Side Story is a cracking little film, but it has been very underseen and is Spielberg being the usual brilliant Spielberg. He’s great, but that’s no surprise. Similarly low in the odds for running is Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza. It’s a film that has been really well loved by many and one that demonstrates the trademark attention to detail that PTA brings to all of his films. However, it feels like a lot of the hype has died down, we’ll see how well it does at the actual ceremony.
All but guaranteed to walk away with Best Director is Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. There’s a lot of cynical reasons for this. Her name has been front and centre for the marketing of the film, it’s a way of celebrating a Netflix film without letting it win Best Picture and it looks progressive having a woman win Best Director two years in a row. There is also an uncynical reason for Campion winning and that is that she has crafted a brilliant film. She has wrangled in top tier editing, cinematography and performances, all in a film that feels incredibly controlled. It’s hard as an outsider to know what else to credit directors for other than that. However, Campion is not my choice. Instead, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is my choice for the miraculous Drive My Car. Like Campion’s film, control is the word. This film is three hours long, yet somehow feels perfectly balanced. The longer a film is, the more it has to justify every minute and yet justify Hamaguchi does. I would not cut a single scene. I love Drive My Car and am backing it in every race this year, but this is one category where its loss would not feel a tragedy. Four titans (and one Branagh) enter the thunderdome, only one can leave.
Will Win: Belfast
Should Win: Drive My Car
It is the one everyone scrolls down to read every year, because it’s the only one that matters! Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a selection to set my soul on fire. There’s some good stuff, sure, but we have to shovel our way through the shit before we get to it, and even then we may discover yet more shit. Speaking of, Don’t Look Up! I don’t like this film and I don’t really know anyone who does. Yet, it seems to have some swell of support behind it. If it won, it would be pretty much the funniest possible outcome, causing an immense shitstorm through all sections of the internet. I am almost rooting for it. Not as bad but more unlikely a winner, King Richard is nominated for Best Picture. How? Moving on. CODA is being touted by many as the current favourite, but I am prepared to once again underestimate this film and its odds. It does nothing for me aside from a few nice scenes and some great performances, yet many like it. There’s a chance of victory, I’d rather something else win though, a win would seriously damage the films legacy when much greater films are in contention.
We now start to move more towards worthy nominees, but ones that also don’t stand a chance. Case in point, West Side Story. It’s gorgeous, an entertaining watch and a take on material that has previously won Oscars. However, it stands no chance. Dune also stands no chance. It’s a brilliant blockbuster made with genuine craft, yet it is big space nonsense. Maybe when Dune: Part Two comes out it will pull a Return of the King and get enough awards for the whole franchise, but this first entry will have to be happy with some technical awards through the night. Licorice Pizza is also a really well made and really likable movie, but it is rocking around with too many controversies in its boat to be a slam dunk of a choice. I liked it quite a lot when I first saw it, but I haven’t thought about the film much since, probably a bad omen. Elsewhere, we find Nightmare Alley, an excellent film made by an Oscar winner that no one saw and that most people who did see thought was too dark or too long. I, however, loved it. It’s big and indulgent, sure, but it’s a true craftsman getting to indulge so I was happy to be there. It also has no chance. So it goes.
Big three time! For most of this season, The Power of the Dog has been the Best Picture frontrunner, and why shouldn’t it be? It has big themes, it looks amazing and it just gives more and more to you as you continue to think about it. There are two reasons I don’t think it’ll get Best Picture though. First, its heat has faded. Awards season is all about riding the rollercoaster for as long as you can, but it seems like Power hasn’t quite got there. Second, it’s a Netflix film. That still feels like a big bridge for the Academy to cross, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. No, I think we’re at Belfast. I hate Belfast. The last three months have allowed a bad impression to only further sour, letting this poorly made film fester under the spotlight of my brain. But it’s in black and white, it plays songs people know and it has “crowd pleaser” written all over it in big gold font. With the way Best Picture is voted on, it is exactly the middle of the road kind of rubbish that could Green Book its way to a win. Exactly the kind of win that would shut out a worthy competitor like Drive My Car. It is the film in this race I am most in love with by a large margin, a patient ode to the transformative power of love, grief and art. The fact it could even be nominated here is honestly enough of a win for me, because it stands no chance of winning. But man, if it won, I would almost certainly throw my back out again celebrating, like I did with Parasite. It seems like my spine may be safe though, sadly.