oscar futures

Oscar Futures: Our Last-minute Guess at the Nominees

Will all five of these contenders make it in? Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros, Walt Disney Studios, Focus Features and Netflix

Like everyone else, the Oscars hoped things would be back to normal by now. When Venice and Telluride went off without a hitch, it seemed as if the awards industry might be able to pretend it was 2019 all over again with in-person schmoozing, packed premieres, and a Best Picture field full of theatrical hits. That was not to be. Omicron hit just as the season was ramping up, and everyone retreated to the safety of digital screeners and Zoom Q&As. Even more jarring, the widespread sense of hope around this year’s contenders — two years’ worth of movies in one fall season! — steadily eroded. One by one, those films brave enough to risk a wide release peeked their heads above the parapet and were swiftly mowed down. Serious adult moviegoers were staying home and waiting for streaming, which would not have been a huge issue except it was their cash that made the whole system economically viable.

On a less depressing note, that this season has not gone as planned means the big races haven’t, either. There are no hands to shake, no babies to kiss. With no televised acceptance speeches with which to bring down the house, no front-runner feels truly secure. The normal rules of campaigning may not apply; we may get what everyone says they want: an awards season where the focus is truly on the work. But that also means it’s harder to tell which narratives are real and which exist solely on Film Twitter. When I say “drive my car,” do you think John and Paul or Uncle Vanya?

Still, we can be confident at least some people are invested in this year’s race: According to the Academy, more members voted in this year’s nominations than ever before with ballots coming in from 82 countries. In a season that has been anything but normal, prepare for some surprises. Ahead of Tuesday morning’s announcement, here are Vulture’s predictions in eight major categories.

Best Picture

Being the Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

In the era of the expanded slate, all but one of the films that scored a Theatrical Feature Film nomination from the Directors Guild of America have followed it up with a Best Picture nomination. This year’s DGA nominees are Belfast, Dune, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story, and I see no reason why any of them should falter. The trio of CODA, Don’t Look Up, and King Richard also feels secure: Each earned all-important Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nominations from SAG and went on to be recognized by the PGA and WGA as well. Right now, they form the second tier, but there’s still plenty of season ahead.

In previous years, we might have left it at those eight, but the Academy has gone back to ten guaranteed Best Picture nominees. I covered the half-dozen films fighting for the final two spots earlier this week; while I was tempted to throw in a left-field pick like Encanto or House of Gucci, in the end I landed on Being the Ricardos and The Tragedy of Macbeth, both of which boast A-list star power, Oscar winners behind the camera, and subject matter that’s squarely in the Academy wheelhouse.

If you’re counting, that’s two Netflix movies, two Apple TV+ projects, one from Amazon, and two Warner Bros. titles that debuted day and date on HBO Max — leaving only Belfast, Licorice Pizza, and West Side Story holding the line for pure theatrical releases. We truly are living in a new world.

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up
Denis Villeneuve, Dune

The DGA’s picks almost never overlap entirely with the Oscars’ five, but year after year, pundits convince themselves that this time, it’ll happen. After all, these are the top-five Best Picture contenders, why would they not also get nominated for directing? (Somewhere in the Pacific Palisades, a single tear rolls down Bradley Cooper’s cheek.)

If an outsider does sneak in, they probably won’t be American. For three years running, this increasingly international branch has nominated a foreign-language filmmaker. The best bet this season is Hamaguchi, whose unhurried Murakami adaptation — it’s 72 times as long as the Beatles song of the same name — has become the toast of critics circles. But which DGA nominee does he push out? I’ve seen arguments for Steven Spielberg, whose West Side Story remake has lost steam, and Kenneth Branagh of Belfast, whose shamelessly crowd-pleasing instincts could run afoul of this notoriously gatekeeping branch. But what if it’s Spielberg and Branagh because of a wild-card appearance by Adam McKay, whose film snuck into BAFTA’s top five and who hasn’t missed with this branch since reinventing himself as the heir to Voltaire and Jonathan Swift.

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up
Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick … Boom!
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

The core four of this race have felt locked since November. Smith and Cumberbatch leaped to the top of the rankings with star turns at Telluride. Washington’s ability to get nominated for films like Roman J. Israel, Esq. made him a popular preseason pick; his ability to make the Bard’s English feel as natural as modern speech sealed it. Garfield came into the season with a lower profile, but he sang and danced his way into a spot once TTB hit streaming.

Who joins them? Javier Bardem of Being the Ricardos has SAG on his side, and I’m wary of going against an actor playing a famous showbiz figure from the 20th century. However, DiCaprio’s BAFTA nod has me leaning Leo. The Brits use a multistep jury process that’s meant to spotlight underappreciated performers; the fact that the Hollywood princeling got in anyway suggests he was near the top of the vote tallies. Besides, DiCaprio’s on a decade-long hot streak with the Oscars, and you figure the surging Don’t Look Up is due to show up somewhere in the acting categories.

Best Actress

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Welcome to the hardest acting race to figure out. Stewart seemed locked in as the Best Actress front-runner before snubs at SAG and BAFTA threw her campaign into jeopardy. While a win is probably out of the question, I’m holding out hope she can still make it in. Is this delusional? Probably, but here are my rationalizations: An unapologetically arthouse film like Spencer was never going to be SAG’s cup of tea, and BAFTA has a complex about fictional portrayals of Princess Diana. (They didn’t go for Emma Corrin in The Crown either.)

Kidman and Colman also got overlooked at BAFTA, but those are misses we can chalk up to the weird jury system and move on with our lives. As respected past winners leading on-the-bubble Best Picture contenders, they feel like the surest things in this unpredictable race. So does Gaga, whose Method-lite performance has unexpectedly become the only one to show up at all the major precursors. Bravo!

Which way you go with the last slot depends on how you interpret the BAFTA nominations. (Warning: We’re getting into the weeds here.) The top-two vote getters in the acting categories are automatically in; the rest of the nominees are determined by a small jury. Gaga was likely one of the top two, but who was the other? My hunch is it was Alana Haim since Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to L.A. performed surprisingly well across the pond. I’ll take a chance on Haim’s unvarnished debut in a Best Picture player over SAG nominees Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Hudson, whose early-season biopics are carrying far less buzz.

Best Supporting Actor

Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza
Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
Troy Kotsur, CODA
Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Ostensible Best Picture front-runners Belfast and Power of the Dog face off in this category as Hinds’s twinkly-eyed grandpa goes up against Smit-McPhee’s creepy murder-twink. Each is strong enough to conceivably pull a co-star in on their coattails. Dog seems to be edging slightly ahead, which leads me to believe the well-liked Jesse Plemons will be our nomination-morning surprise. He’ll knock out Jared Leto, whose prosciutto-faced House of Gucci performance will probably nominated for a Razzie, and Ben Affleck, whose avuncular work in The Tender Bar has had trouble breaking through the hubbub over the actor’s personal life.

Filling out the category are CODA breakout Troy Kotsur, a longtime bit player who charmed on the campaign trail, and Licorice Pizza’s Bradley Cooper, whose scene-stealing turn as Jon Peters is resonating with industry voters despite the fact that it lasts about as long as a Jackson Maine guitar solo.

Best Supporting Actress

Caitríona Balfe, Belfast
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Ruth Negga, Passing

Round two of Belfast versus Power of the Dog, though precursor-wise, both Balfe and Dunst have lagged behind DeBose, whose surge has been the rare bit of unalloyed positivity in West Side Story’s star-crossed awards journey. I don’t put as much weight into Ellis’s SAG snub as other pundits do: The guild spread the love this year, and if a film got into the best-cast category, it generally only got one stand-alone nom to go with it. (The sole exception, weirdly, was House of Gucci.) King Richard hasn’t missed anywhere else, so I think Ellis makes the bracket. Negga is the name with the best chance of falling out of the top five, but we’ve said that all season long, and her elusive performance keeps showing up — most recently at the BAFTAs. As Loving proved, never underestimate the power of Negga and gerunds.

Best Original Screenplay

Being the Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza

While we’re undoubtedly in for some shockers Tuesday morning, I can’t see any here. Belfast was ineligible at the WGA, but it’s an easy pick for the Oscar lineup, and WGA nominee The French Dispatch is an equally easy pick to slide out. Conventional wisdom has it that the race will come down to Belfast versus Licorice Pizza, but if Don’t Look Up maintains its momentum, watch out.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

The Lost Daughter and Power of the Dog were the big WGA ineligibles on this side of the ballot. Both should get in: Dog is the Oscar front-runner, and I suspect this most hippest of branches won’t hesitate to extend a “Welcome to the club” nomination to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Also likely are the screenplays for Dune and CODA, seamless adaptations that bely how hard it is to translate dense sci-fi and French humor, respectively. That leaves West Side Story, Drive My Car, and The Tragedy of Macbeth in the mix for the final spot. Though West Side Story has had some eye-catching snubs recently, it’s my answer here thanks to Tony Kushner’s graceful modernization of often creaky material.

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Oscar Futures: Our Last-minute Guess at the Nominees