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Alan French’s Picks – The 94th Annual Academy Awards – Who Will & Should Win

We’re here at the precipice of the 94th annual Academy Awards. The ceremony will award the best of film in 2021 (even though some mistake it for the 2022 Oscars). Let’s jump right into a contentious season and fire off some picks.

Best Animated Short

And the nominees are:

Affairs of the Art

Bestia

Boxballet

Robin Robin

The Windshield Wiper

Who Will Win: Bestia

Who Should Win: Bestia

Who Could WinRobin Robin

Without Disney/Pixar here, many have defaulted to Robin Robin from Netflix. It’s a Christmas short from Aardman Studios and features a celebrity cast. Netflix backs it, so it has everything that helps us identify winners in this category. However, the frontrunner often stumbles when from big studios. Bestia has been campaigning hard, even bringing the puppets for a photo-op with Steven Spielberg. It’s also racked up wins at festivals. It has resonated with the right people, and the subject matter feels relevant given world events.

Best Documentary Short Subject

And the nominees are:

Audible

Lead Me Home

The Queen of Basketball

Three Songs for Benazir

When We Were Bullies

Who Will Win: The Queen of Basketball

Who Could WinAudible

Who Should WinAudible

Seems like an Audible vs. The Queen of Basketball. Coin flip. I’m leaning on the Steph Curry/Shaq support thrown towards The Queen of Basketball in the last few weeks.

Best Live Action Short

And the nominees are:

Ala Kachuu

The Dress

The Long Goodbye

On My Mind

Please Hold

Who Will Win: The Long Goodbye

Who Should WinPlease Hold

Who Could WinPlease Hold

The Long Goodbye features Riz Ahmed as the star and the recipient of the Oscar. They will not miss a chance to award him after his near upset of Best Actor last year. Please Hold could upset because it feels like Black Mirror, but the opportunity to celebrate Riz will be too great for most.

Best Original Score

And the nominees are:

Don’t Look Up

Dune

Encanto

Parallel Mothers

The Power of the Dog

Who Will Win: Dune

Who Should Win: The Power of the Dog

Who Could WinThe Power of the Dog

Who Should Have Been HereSpencer (for Encanto)

Dune winning gives Hans Zimmer his first win since The Lion King. Bet on that, especially given the narratives that have grabbed hold (he invented instruments). The Power of the Dog makes for an interesting runner-up, but momentum shifting away from the film hurts.

Best Original Song

And the nominees are:

“Be Alive” from King Richard

“Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto

“Down to Joy” from Belfast

“No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

“Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days

Who Will Win:No Time to Die”

Who Should Win: Be Alive”

Who Could Win: “Dos Oruguitas”

Who Should Have Been Here:

“No Time to Die” has been out for more than 2 years and continued to dominate the precursors. The only real knock against the film is the length of time the song has been out, and that Billie Eilish/Finneas already have a contender for next year’s Oscar. Even so, Bond songs have become a mainstay here. “Be Alive” presents an opportunity to give Beyoncé an Oscar. Lin Manuel Miranda could also win for “Dos Oruguitas,” especially given the fact that the music has taken hold in the charts. The three-way race favors the entrenched candidate, and “No Time to Die” looks to complete its two-year journey.

Best Sound

And the nominees are:

Belfast

Dune

No Time to Die

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Who Will Win: Dune

Who Should WinDune

Who Could WinWest Side Story

Who Should Have Been HereA Quiet Place Part II (for Belfast)

Dune is an easy call. It’s going to dominate the crafts, and here’s example 1. The only real challenger is West Side Story, which could have stolen Sound Mixing in the split sound era.

Best Production Design

And the Nominees Are:

Dune

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story

Who Will Win: Dune

Who Should WinThe Tragedy of Macbeth

Who Could Win: Nightmare Alley

Who Should Have Been HereThe French Dispatch (for West Side Story)

The 5 nominees are all great, but Dune had the most challenging road to travel. Not only does it succeed, but the lived-in world of Dune is one of the highlights of the film. It could ultimately split, but this is the kind of work this branch embraces.

Best Cinematography

And the nominees are:

Dune

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story

Who Will Win: Dune

Who Should WinThe Tragedy of Macbeth

Who Could WinThe Power of the Dog

Who Should Have Been Here: Passing (for West Side Story)

Dune pushes Greg Frasier into the spotlight, and The Batman has helped him stay there. Films with visual effects and production design nominations fare even better in cinematography. Dune has all three nominations and seems poised to win each category. If Ari Wegner were to win for The Power of the Dog, she would be the first woman to win Best Cinematography. Fingers crossed she can pull it off. Bruno Delbonnel delivered great work with The Tragedy of Macbeth, but he’d have to overcome four Best Picture nominees to pull the upset.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

And the nominees are:

Coming 2 America

Cruella

Dune

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

House of Gucci

Who Will Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Who Should Win: Dune

Who Could Win: Dune

Who Should Have Been Here: The Green Knight (for Cruella)

Jessica Chastain has pushed her makeup team into the spotlight, and she’s contending for the Best Actress win. Tammy Faye was known for her makeup, and combining her eccentricity with age makeup gave this film the foundation for a win. As the only Best Picture nominee, Dune could be the upset pick. The film has the showcase characters to do it. However, voters may choose to reward it elsewhere.

Best Costume Design

Cruella

Cyrano

Dune

Nightmare Alley

West Side Story

Who Will Win: Cruella

Who Should WinCruella

Who Could WinWest Side Story

Who Should Have Been HereThe French Dispatch (for Cyrano)

Cruella is a sweeper and has the looks to justify it. The storytelling with costumes stands out, and the only real challenger this year comes from West Side StoryCruella is an easy call

Best Film Editing

Don’t Look Up

Dune

King Richard

The Power of the Dog

Tick, Tick… Boom!

Who Will Win: King Richard

Who Should WinKing Richard

Who Could WinDune

Who Should Have Been Here: Summer of Soul (for Don’t Look Up)

King Richard could pull a Raging Bull, winning only Best Editing and Best Actor on the night. Otherwise, it’s like a one-and-done. It has the advantage as a kinetic sports film with a populist bend. All of the nominees have a knock against them in some way. Dune cannot seem to win prizes for its editing. The Power of the Dog suffers from claims it’s too slow. Tick, Tick… Boom! has underperformed all season. Don’t Look Up is 30 minutes too long. This seems like a toss-up, but there are plenty of reasons to pick King Richard as the hedge.

Best Visual Effects

Dune

Free Guy

No Time to Die

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Who Will Win: Dune

Who Should WinDune

Who Could WinNo Time to Die

Who Should Have Been Here: Godzilla vs. Kong (for Free Guy)

Dune won this the moment it was released. A real challenger never emerged.

Best Animated Feature

And the nominees:

Encanto

Flee

Luca

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Raya and the Last Dragon

Who Will Win: Encanto

Who Should Win: Flee

Who Could Win: Flee or The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Who Should Have Been HereBelle (for Encanto)

Encanto surged in popularity due to social media, despite some mediocre returns at the box office. However, Disney+ came through considerably and helped launch the film into the public consciousness. There was room for an upset here before it emerged, with The Mitchells vs the Machines and Flee both jockeying for position. While Mitchells won the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature, Flee has support from at least three branches of the Academy. In fact, it’s already historic for earning Documentary, Animation, and International Feature nominations.

With each of those splitting the vote, plus the nominations in Score and Original song, Encanto has run away with this.

Best Documentary Feature

And the nominees are:

Ascension

Attica

Flee

Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Writing with Fire

Who Will Win: Summer of Soul

Who Should Win: Flee

Who Could Win: Flee

Who Should Have Been HerePresident (for Ascension)

The nomination was the hurdle here. Summer of Soul will be the populist choice, and it’s exceptionally well made. Nearly impossible to take issue unless you enjoy Flee. I happen to be in that camp, but just barely. Flee’s historic nature and highly personal story open the door for an upset. However, Summer of Soul seems to be too populist to overcome.

Best International Feature

And the nominees are:

Drive My Car

Flee

The Hand of God

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

The Worst Person in the World

Who Will Win: The Worst Person in the World

Who Should Win: Drive My Car

Who Could Win: Drive My Car

Who Should Have Been HereParallel Mothers (blame Spain for not selecting it as their country’s submission, replacing The Hand of God).

I’m picking the upset in favor of Worst Person for three reasons. 1) I don’t trust the Academy to sit down and watch Drive My Car. There’s been negativity about the film’s length since day 1, and it seems that enough Critical support bullied some voters into watching it. Thank god for that. 2) The Academy leans Eurocentric in their International Feature choices. 11 of the 21 winners this Century have been European. 3) Late breakers benefit this race, and Worst Person (like Parallel Mothers and CODA) fits that definition. Its American debut occurred at Sundance and hit voters at the right time.

To Drive My Car‘s credit, it has the Best Picture nomination. Parasite and Crouching Tiger represent 2 of 3 wins from East Asia, and both had Best Picture, director, and screenplay nominations (as does Drive My Car). If you want to play it safe, Drive My Car is the pick and the apparent frontrunner. As someone who has Drive My Car as my number 2 film of the year, this is not the way I want to lean. I just don’t trust the Academy to follow through here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

And the nominees are:

CODA

Drive My Car

Dune

The Lost Daughter

The Power of the Dog

Who Will Win: CODA

Who Should Win: Drive My Car

Who Could Win: The Power of the Dog

Who Should Have Been Here: Zola (for CODA)

The CODA surge has manifested itself here, which has ramped up its chances in Best Picture. Without competition from The Power of the Dog, it easily took WGA. Power showed weakness earlier in the season, losing to The Lost Daughter at the USC Scripter awards. Combined with the faux-pas from Mrs. Campion, The Power of the Dog lost a stranglehold on this category. It can still take the top prize, but a vote here rewards director Sian Heder, a chance they will not have in director. There is also a chance that Dune pulls an upset here, especially if the craft categories decide to pool together for Villeneuve. His snub in director was not on their hands after all. This would be more indicative of Villeneuve’s support within the Academy.

Best Original Screenplay

And the nominees are:

Belfast

Don’t Look Up

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

The Worst Person in the World

Who Will Win: Licorice Pizza

Who Should Win: The Worst Person in the World

Who Could Win: Belfast

Who Should Have Been Here: Parallel Mothers (for Don’t Look Up)

A dart throw. You can make an argument in nearly any direction. BAFTA went Licorice Pizza, which made all the sense in the world until WGA went to Don’t Look UpBelfast seemed like the apparent frontrunner but could not win on its home turf. The Worst Person in the World could upset Drive My Car in International Feature, and if it’s that strong, it could easily take over a directionless field. Even King Richard makes sense as a feel-good Best Picture nominee.

I’m leaning into BAFTA and hoping that the below-the-line support of PT Anderson converts here. Belfast should be our number 2, but Don’t Look Up looms as the spoiler.

Best Supporting Actress

And the nominees are:

Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter

Ariana DeBose- West Side Story

Judi Dench – Belfast

Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard

Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose – West SSide Story

Who Should Win: Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard

Who Could Win: Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard

Who Should Have Been Here: Ruth Negga – Passing (for Dench)

What should have been a hotly contested race became a blowout. DeBose dominated the season, repeating the success of Rita Moreno from the original West Side Story. If there’s an upset pick here, it should be Ellis. She’s received considerable support from Smith on the trail, and she’s the heartbeat of the film. Dench overcoming her own co-star and representing Belfast also throws a wrench in things, but neither Ellis nor Dench has the needed support to overcome a juggernaut.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

And the nominees are:

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

Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur – CODA

Who Should Win: Troy Kotsur – CODA

Who Could Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog

Who Should Have Been Here: Anders Danielsen Lie – The Worst Person in the World (for Simmons)

Easily one of the best categories of the show. Kotsur emerged as the voice of CODA and jumpstarted the film’s campaign for Best Picture. He is one of the surest things on Oscar night, even with talent on display from Smit-McPhee, Plemons, and Hinds.

Best Actress

And the nominees are:

Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter

Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers

Nicole Kidman – Being the Richardos

Kristen Stewart – Spencer

Who Will Win: Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers

Who Should Win: Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers

Who Could Win: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Who Should Have Been Here: Tessa Thompson – Passing

Full disclosure, picking Cruz goes against conventional wisdom until the last week. On paper, Chastain has been the runaway favorite. She’s won SAG and Critic’s Choice. Cruz missed these nominations. However, there are a few things to note.

1) Cruz’s film comes from Sony Pictures Classics, the studio that engineered the Anthony Hopkins upset over Chadwick Boseman last year. 2) Cruz represents the runaway best performance in the category. Some may have preferences, but the general consensus favors Cruz in the stronger film, while Chastain is transformative in a movie with few supporters. 3) The long season has opened up this category. With time to watch Parallel Mothers, it has become a late-breaker. 4) Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem, is also on the circuit for his own Best Actor nomination. This may have also helped Cruz get a boost.

Let’s also play devil’s advocate and play out the Chastain win. 1)  Renée Zellweger’s win for Judy is the blueprint, down to the Makeup nomination. 2) Zellweger’s film also won makeup, which I predicted will go to Eyes of Tammy Faye earlier. 3) Chastain’s support of the technical branches is a big deal. She recently announced she would skip the red carpet to support her makeup team should they win (Makeup will be given out in the hour before the ceremony). Standing in solidarity with the craft teams may be the final boost she needs to get over the finish line.

This is a close one, so pick at your own peril. Either winner would be worthy, so this might be the coin flip that decides your Oscar pool. This could even go to Colman or Stewart. Their films seem to have lost momentum, and neither seems due for their Oscar now (it would be Colman’s second). Kidman seems well out of this, as Ricardos buzz seems almost non-existent.

Best Actor 

And the nominees are…

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

Who Will Win: Will Smith – King Richard

Who Should Win: Will Smith – King Richard

Who Could Win: Andrew Garfield

Who Should Have Been Here: Nicolas Cage – Pig (For Bardem)

Will Smith seems to have locked up his Oscar, and it’s tough to say he’s an undeserving winner. It’s a unique performance, he’s transformative, and most importantly, he’s one of the biggest stars in the industry over the last thirty years. If Denzel did not already have one, there would be chatter. Garfield and Cumberbatch are threats, but neither could find significant support from the British voters at BAFTA. A lack of momentum for either leaves Will with a coronation.

Best Director

And the nominees are…

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

Who Will Win: Jane Campion – The Power of Dog

Who Should Win: Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog

Who Could Win: Kenneth Branagh – Belfast

Who Should Have Been Here: Julia Ducournau – Titane (For Branagh)

This should be an easy win for Campion. She’s dominated the entire season to the point where there is no obvious challenger. That is perhaps the most vital point in her favor here. While the Serena/Venus speech may have submarined her in chances in Adapted Screenplay, where there are viable alternatives, one never presented itself here. This is perhaps the strongest lock of the night, but if she gets upset, look for residual love for Belfast and Kenneth Branagh to be the reason.

Best Picture

And the nominees are…

Belfast

CODA

Don’t Look Up

Drive My Car

Dune

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Who Will Win: The Power of the Dog

Who Should Win: Drive My Car

Who Could Win: CODA

Who Should Have Been Here: The Worst Person in the World (for Don’t Look Up).

We got ourselves a neck and neck heartbreaker on our hands. The Power of the Dog leads with 12 nominations, won the Director’s Guild, and has been out in front all season. CODA would have the fewest nominations for a Best Picture winner since Grand Hotel in 1932. We’re talking about a once-in-a-century upset. Yet, we live in a world where Saint Peter’s made the Elite Eight. Records are made to be broken.

CODA has come on insanely strong in the last two months. After winning Best Ensemble (the equivalent of Best Picture) at the SAG awards, it then went on to win the WGA (Power of the Dog was ineligible) and the PGAs. That is a formidable trio, but the questions over the lack of nominations have plagued CODA.

Meanwhile, the perceived frontrunner, The Power of Dog, feels like it’s been in freefall. They were up 9 in the bottom of the ninth but could not stop the bleeding. Losing SAG and WGA would not have been the worst, but the PGA loss stings.

So, where does this leave us? The momentum is with CODA. But the lack of below-the-line support is scary. Additionally, The Power of the Dog maxed out its nominations. At one point, it was so strong that it pulled in nominations many did not expect. Editing, an extra Supporting Actor, and Sound came their way. If those branches continue to support this film, Power of the Dog can still hold its own.

Ultimately, I’m predicting The Power of the Dog will hold on for two reasons. 1) Below-the-line support of the immaculately made Power of the Dog will overtake the Producers and Actors driven by passion.

2) The PGA preferential ballot featured more nostalgic nominees that likely dropped out early in their voting. Specifically, voters that included Being the Ricardos or Tick, Tick…Boom! in their lineup was already more inclined to embrace a crowd-pleaser like the heart-driven CODA. In a way, CODA represents a nostalgic play. These voters are likely to rank King Richard and Belfast high on their ballots, which leads us to the most significant issue.

3) The first films likely to fall in the preferential ballots are likely to add support to The Power of the Dog. Those first three films (in no particular order) will be Nightmare Alley, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. All three films are made by, and for, cinephiles. While no voting block is a monolith, they are more likely to support the more artistic vision. This undeniably favors The Power of the Dog as a result.

If you believe in miracles or momentum, you should look for a CODA win. As I noted, stats are likely to fall tonight in many categories. But I very much expect Netflix to finally triumph, even if they stumble to the finish line.

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