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  • by Jeff Beck

Predictions for the 94th Annual Academy Awards

With the Oscars less than a week away, it's time to lay down my official predictions. However, this year I'm doing things a bit differently. With so many categories that appear to be locks, it seems like it would be a whole lot easier to list the predictions in their entirety (minus the shorts, which have nothing to base predictions on) and provide notes on categories that are still in contention after, so let's get right to it:

Best Picture: The Power of the Dog

Best Director: Jane Campion, the Power of the Dog

Best Actor: Will Smith, King Richard

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, CODA

Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sian Heder, CODA

Best Film Editing: Dune

Best Cinematography: Dune

Best Production Design: Dune

Best Costume Design: Cruella

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Best Original Score: Dune

Best Original Song: "No Time to Die," No Time to Die

Best Sound: Dune

Best Visual Effects: Dune

Best Animated Feature: Encanto

Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul

Best International Film: Drive My Car

Starting from below the line and heading up, the first category that is still a bit up in the air is Best Cinematography. "Dune" is the most obvious pick here as it won at both BAFTA and the American Society of Cinematographers Awards, but "The Power of the Dog" is still very much in play here and could sneak in to take it at the last minute, especially if it's going to win the big prize at the end of the night. If it does manage to pull off the upset, it could be very telling in where the night is headed.

Best Film Editing is also a slightly troublesome category after seeing "No Time to Die" (not nominated here) win at BAFTA, "West Side Story" (not nominated here) win at the Critics' Choice, and "King Richard" (which felt like a really random choice) win at the ACE Awards. Given all of this, it feels like something that would easily go to "Dune," especially because it's an epic spectacle. That said, watch for another possible sneak attack from "The Power of the Dog," which could also claim it on the way to Best Picture.

For the longest time, Adapted Screenplay felt like a very solid lock for "The Power of the Dog." That is, until BAFTA surprisingly went with "CODA," which has now caused a bit of a conundrum. We saw last year that BAFTA's last-minute change from "Nomadland" to "The Father" carried over to the Oscars, so it now seems logical to assume that AMPAS will do the same again. It would once again be a bit of course correction by the industry in that "The Father" was a much better screenplay than "Nomadland," just as "CODA" is a much better screenplay than "The Power of the Dog," which gives us only more reason to believe that the change will be repeated. However, and I promise that this is the last time I have to say this, watch out once more for "The Power of the Dog" to take it, as original expected. All three of these categories remain strong possibilities for it precisely because it would be highly unusual for a Best Picture winner to end up with just Best Director, a feat which hasn't happened for several decades.

Original Screenplay should also be mentioned here because the category has been on a somewhat unusual path throughout the season. "Belfast" and "Licorice Pizza" have been the top two contender throughout, with the former winning at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice, and the latter winning the BAFTA. However, a very interesting thing occurred at the Writers Guild Awards, where "Belfast" wasn't even allowed to compete due to their nonsensical rules. In what seemed like it would be an easy victory, "Licorice Pizza" shockingly lost to "Don't Look Up," marking a sharp decline in the former's chances at the Oscars, and thus leaving Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast" as the top contender.

With all four acting categories and Director seemingly on lock-down, we at last come to Best Picture, which has also been the subject of much debate in the last couple of weeks. After "The Power of the Dog" had a rather dominating run through the critics awards, "CODA" started going on a rather impressive streak when it came to the industry awards. It first won big at SAG, where it took both Best Cast and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, which was followed by the surprising win for Adapted Screenplay (in addition to Kotsur's expected win) at BAFTA, and finally a big upset victory at the Producers Guild of America Awards (it won WGA as well, but "The Power of the Dog" was not allowed to compete, thanks once again to their nonsensical rules).

A lot of people seem to think that now puts "CODA" in the frontrunner position when it comes to Best Picture, and I won't say that that's impossible, but I will say that, if it comes true, it would be one of the biggest upsets ever to have occurred in the history of the Oscars, simply because of the number of stats it would have to break in order to do so. These include the following:

  1. No nomination from the Directors Guild of America. There has only been one film in the last 70 years ("Driving Miss Daisy") to win Best Picture without a nomination here.

  2. No Oscar nomination for Film Editing. Putting aside "Birdman" (which was made to look like it has no editing), a film hasn't won Best Picture without a nod here in over 40 years.

  3. No film with less than five Oscar nominations has won Best Picture in nearly 90 years. "CODA" only has three nominations total, which doesn't show a whole lot of support. If the film did indeed have enough support to win Best Picture, it seems like we would've seen it get a surprise nomination somewhere, such as Film Editing, an additional Acting nod for Jones or Matlin, or even Director.

  4. No nomination for Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes. For the last 16 years straight, the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner has been found here.

  5. Very few wins from critics groups. Typically, a Best Picture winner will have at least a few big wins from the critics, but "CODA" didn't make much of a mark throughout this part of the season.

In any given year, breaking ONE long-standing stat is extremely difficult. "CODA" would have to break several, subsequently causing quite a bit of chaos in its wake if it should win. That's not to say it shouldn't win. In fact, it would be a great pick for Best Picture. Certainly a much better selection than "The Power of the Dog." It's just to say that there are an awful lot of enormous hurdles that it will have to clear to get there, whereas "The Power of the Dog" has absolutely none, having gotten all of the required nominations along the way.

In fact, "The Power of the Dog" is the ONLY film out of all ten nominees for Best Picture to have done this, meaning that all of the others would have to break at least one stat to win ("Belfast" is right behind, missing only the nomination for Film Editing). Even so, just looking at the Oscar nominations themselves, we see a very clear preference for Campion's film. Whereas "CODA" merely got the exact three nominations it was expected to (Picture, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay), "The Power of the Dog" insanely over-performed, getting not only what it was expected to get, but also nabbing nods for Sound, Production Design, and an additional nomination for Supporting Actor (Jesse Plemons), for a whopping total of 12.

Of course, all of this is the logistical approach, that is, the rules that tell us what has the best chance of winning. But who knows, maybe this will be the year where everything goes out the window and emotion prevails. There's clearly a good deal of love for "CODA," a feel-good crowd-pleaser that would make quite a bit of history if it wins. However, even so, I just don't have enough confidence to predict what would easily be the biggest Oscars upset in my lifetime. Many were shocked when "Shakespeare in Love" beat "Saving Private Ryan" and when "Crash" beat "Brokeback Mountain," but those winners followed the "rules." Besides, "The Power of the Dog" fits the recent Academy mold for a Best Picture winner much better: An average or mediocre film that's forgotten rather quickly.

Regardless of what wins, many of these categories are going to be nail-biters right up until the second they're announced, which should certainly make it much more exciting than last year's rather dull (and embarrassingly mishandled) affair. Speaking of embarrassing, supposedly the Academy is still planning to chop out eight of the categories and mangle the acceptance speeches into a highlight reel later on in order to make room for lots more completely unnecessary filler, because that's apparently more important than fulfilling their mission statement about honoring film and the people who make them. It's still not too late for them to change their minds and do the right thing, but at this point, I wouldn't count on them listening to reason.

The ceremony takes place on Sunday, March 27th. Be sure to check back for a complete list of winners.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


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