The 94th annual Academy Award nominations were announced on Tuesday and my gut reaction was an unusual feeling of satisfaction. Aside from voters’ baffling love for the smug, preachy “Don’t Look Up” and the perfectly serviceable “Being the Ricardos,” I didn’t really see much to gripe about.
Overall, this is an impressive crop of nominees — including a Best Picture lineup featuring several films from my Top 10 list and honorable mentions. Granted, I don’t see how these mostly admirable picks slow the Oscars’ rapid descent into irrelevance. Last year’s telecast was the lowest rated in the ceremony’s history, demonstrating that mainstream audiences haven’t cared about the awards in quite some time.
That’s likely because critical darlings and multiplex favorites often fall into separate categories. The year’s highest-grossing Best Picture nominee is “Dune,” which didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. (Netflix claims “Don’t Look Up” is a massive hit, but they haven’t released any hard data to prove it.)
Despite the awards’ diminished impact on pop culture, they’ve grown more exciting for nerds like me. The Academy’s increasingly international membership means a wider range of films, performers and crew members make the cut. It also means the nominees often look significantly different than the precursor awards, which ramps up the evening’s unpredictability instead of making it a march toward the inevitable.
As always, here are some brief thoughts on a few of the most popular categories, including who I think should win and my sure-to-be incorrect predictions of who might.
Best Animated Feature:
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
“Raya and the Last Dragon”
Disney is usually the juggernaut in this category, but this might be a rare year they don’t pull off the win. “Encanto” could certainly prove me wrong, considering it’s a smash on Disney Plus and the catchy “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” currently sits atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But the studio also has two other movies in contention, so there’s a chance they could split the vote. If that happens, look for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” to emerge victorious. I’m not complaining either way — they’re both excellent.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
“Drive My Car”
“The Lost Daughter”
“The Power of the Dog”
I like “Dune,” but the screenplay is the film’s weakest element. Any of the other four would be a worthy winner, but I’m guessing “Drive My Car” takes home the statue as a consolation prize since it won’t win in the bigger categories. Still, that depends on what kind of night “The Power of the Dog” is having. If it dominates in other categories, it could easily win here too.
Best Original Screenplay:
“Don’t Look Up”
“The Worst Person in the World”
I’d love to see “The Worst Person in the World” pull off a surprise win, but something tells me the trophy will go to a more traditional audience favorite like “Belfast.” That’s mostly because “Licorice Pizza” and “Don’t Look Up” have proven to be fairly divisive with audiences.
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”
I was excited to see Plemons and Simmons show up here, but the nomination is the win for both. I’m rooting for Troy Kotsur, who makes history as the first deaf man nominated for an acting Oscar, because his work in “CODA” is hilarious and heartful in equal measure. But I don’t know what’s going to happen here — I could honestly see Kotsur, Hinds or Smit-McPhee winning. They all have enthusiastic supporters.
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”
I didn’t expect to hear Buckley’s name announced in this category, but it’s a pleasant surprise. Her work in “The Lost Daughter” is harrowing, but her character is divisive. Voters don’t always like that. Dench, Dunst and Ellis are all outstanding as well, but I think the victor — and my favorite of the five — will be DeBose. If so, she’ll win for the same role that earned her costar Rita Morena an Oscar back in 1962. (Sadly, the category is so stacked it took me a second to realize Ruth Negga wasn’t nominated for her incredible work in “Passing.” What a bummer.)
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”
Bardem’s fine in “Being the Ricardos,” but his spot should’ve gone to Nicolas Cage (“Pig”) or Hidetoshi Nishijima (“Drive My Car”). Regardless, I’m rooting for Garfield even though he won’t win. Instead, I think Smith emerges victorious thanks to a quirky, ostentatious performance (Oscar voters tend to award “most” rather than “best”) and the “it’s time” narrative.
Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Penelope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”
Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”
Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
This is the night’s biggest question mark for me. Kidman absolutely should not be here, but the Academy loves honoring frequent nominees, especially when they play Hollywood icons. That adoration could very well propel her all the way to an acceptance speech. Stewart was once considered the frontrunner, but her film left a lot of viewers cold. I would’ve preferred to see Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”) or Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”) get the nom over Kidman, but since they’re not here I’m hoping for a Cruz win. Her work in “Parallel Mothers” is phenomenal.
Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”
Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”
Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”
Spielberg hasn’t won in this category since 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan,” but he breaks an astounding record with his latest nomination: he’s now the first person to earn Best Director nominations — eight total — in six different decades. Still, even though I’m cheering for him, it’s not his year. Campion is one of the night’s biggest locks and makes some history of her own. She becomes the first woman in history to receive two Best Director nominations (her first was for 1993’s “The Piano”). If she wins, she’ll only be the second woman ever (after Kathryn Bigelow, for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”). Those stats are both commendable and a scathing indictment of the Academy’s definition of “best” over the past 94 years.
“Don’t Look Up”
“Drive My Car”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”
I won’t lie: I’m fine with anything other than “Don’t Look Up” winning the top prize, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see it happen. We’ve had two great Best Picture selections in a row (“Parasite” and “Nomadland”), so we’re due another “Green Book.” From this group, my personal preference is “Licorice Pizza,” but I don’t see that happening. If voters honor a conventional winner, I think it’ll be “The Power of the Dog.” If they choose chaos, my nightmare comes true.
Watch ABC on Sunday, March 27 at 8 p.m. to see who wins. For the first time in several years, the ceremony will have a host — although, as I’m writing this, they haven’t been announced yet. I’m curious to see if the eventual selection will shake up the notoriously monotonous evening or maintain the status quo.