The Power of the Dog is the favourite for several awards – but there are bound to be a few surprises. Nicholas Barber and Caryn James give their predictions for the big categories.
Caryn James: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion's western that isn't really a western, is a masterpiece – beautifully made, brilliantly acted and endlessly thoughtful about the damaging consequences of social and sexual expectations. The film is truly the year's best. But... Coda ticks so many boxes that Oscar voters usually love, with its little-movie-that-could backstory, history-making deaf cast, and an emotiveness a far cry from Campion's restraint. You might as well toss a coin to predict the outcome, but Parasite's win two years ago is a good sign for artistic films, so I'm guessing The Power of the Dog will come through.
Nicholas Barber: Jane Campion's gothic western melodrama, The Power of the Dog, has long been the favourite to win best picture. Several of the other nominees are in with a chance – Coda, especially, is nipping at The Dog's heels – but none of them has as much depth, intrigue, or, well, power. The Power of the Dog should win.
NB: It's bound to be third time lucky for Will Smith. He has been nominated for the best actor prize twice before, but his performance as Serena and Venus Williams's father in King Richard has a perfectly Oscar-friendly balance of movie-star charisma and deglamorised authenticity. Benedict Cumberbatch should win, though. His characterisation of an embittered, conflicted cowboy in The Power of the Dog is complex, riveting, and miles away from the stuffy scientists he usually plays.
CJ: Will Smith has picked up every major award in this category leading up to the Oscars, and is likely to win. For once, the popular choice is a pretty good one. King Richard is no more than sturdy and conventional, but as the determined father of Serena and Venus Williams, Smith makes the film work.
CJ: Jessica Chastain might as well have had "Oscar bait" written across her forehead in fuchsia lipstick in the mediocre Eyes of Tammy Faye, but the strategy of acting-with-makeup worked well enough to get her a Screen Actors Guild award and most likely the Oscar. It would be great to have Olivia Colman win for her amazingly honest, subtle performance as a conflicted mother in The Lost Daughter, but seeing a win for her this year is magical thinking.
NB: Three out of the five nominees are impersonating celebrities, and that always goes down well with the Academy's voters. Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in Spencer, Nicole Kidman plays Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, and Jessica Chastain plays Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. At least, I think it's Chastain under all that prosthetic make-up. Having won the Screen Actors Guild award already, she is likely to win the Oscar. But all it takes is one of Olivia Colman's fearsome glares to show that she should win her second Oscar for The Lost Daughter.
NB: Troy Kotsur has so far won a Bafta, a SAG award, and a Critics' Choice award for playing a dope-smoking deaf fisherman in Coda – and he has made a charming speech in American Sign Language every time. How can the Academy resist? Personally, though (and you may detect a theme here), I'd pick Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog. He is just as strange and magnetic as Benedict Cumberbatch is in the same film.
CJ: It will be a shock if Troy Kotsur doesn't follow his SAG and Bafta wins with an Oscar for his funny, touching performance as the father in Coda. And he would make history as the first deaf actor to win an Oscar, an appealing plus for Academy voters. As good as Kotsur is though, Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves to win for his sly, nuanced performance in The Power of the Dog as a young man with many secrets to keep.
CJ: No suspense here. Ariana DeBose has won every lead-up award so far for her kinetic singing/dancing/acting role in West Side Story. She is wonderful, a dynamo on screen. In this category full of great possibilities, the award should go to Kirsten Dunst for her achingly real performance as the unhappy, unconfident wife in The Power of the Dog, but quiet performances like hers rarely win the prize.
NB: Ariana DeBose is fiery, funny and vulnerable in West Side Story – and that's even before you get to her singing and dancing – so she has earnt the Oscar that she will almost certainly win. The amazing part is that Rita Moreno won an Oscar for playing the same role in the original West Side Story 60 years ago.
NB: Jane Campion was on the best director shortlist for The Piano in 1994. This year she should and will win the Oscar for The Power of the Dog. Any film that is nominated in 12 different categories (and I wouldn't mind if it won in all of them) must have someone exceptional in charge.
CJ: Jane Campion lost to Steven Spielberg in this category 28 years ago when she was nominated for The Piano, and he for Schindler's List. This is her year, and best director is the surest win for The Power of the Dog, a glorious work of art, from the screenplay Campion wrote to the acting and pacing she guided, to the subtly inventive visuals. Against strong competition, including Spielberg for West Side Story, Campion is the year's best director, as voters for the Baftas, the Director's Guild award and most likely the Oscars will agree.
CJ: This race is a face-off between Hans Zimmer, who has already won a Bafta for his eerie, electronically-infused Dune score, and Jonny Greenwood for The Power of the Dog. Oscar voters clearly like Zimmer. This is his 12th nomination but he has only won once, for The Lion King in 1994, so they may lean his way. The award should go to Greenwood, though. His sophisticated score, ominous without being heavy-handed, nodding to traditional westerns while creating something entirely fresh, is a perfect fit for Campion's vision.
NB: Hans Zimmer may well win for his thunderous Dune score, but the fact that Jonny Greenwood doesn't have an Oscar yet is getting embarrassing. His music for The Power of the Dog is spine-tinglingly eerie – and he also found time to write the scores for Spencer and Licorice Pizza.
NB: Again, The Power of the Dog should win. Nothing else plays such sophisticated games with perspectives and expectations. It's still the favourite, but Drive My Car is catching up...
CJ: It would be lovely if Maggie Gyllenhaal's exquisitely-rendered adaptation of Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter could share the Oscar with Jane Campion's bracing, intelligent screenplay for The Power of the Dog. Since a tie between these two writer-directors is unlikely I'm guessing the award will go to the film with the highest profile, and Campion takes another prize.
CJ: The Worst Person in the World should win for its cock-eyed but authentic and touching take on one woman's identity crisis and serial romances. But being nominated was a surprise in itself for this Norwegian-language gem. The likely winner will be Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza, a coming-of-age film set in Los Angeles, a place close to many voters' hearts, as well as their homes.
NB: Kenneth Branagh's feelgood, semi-autobiographical Belfast has the edge here, although Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza took the prize at the Baftas, and his Oscar is overdue. If I'm honest, I'd like Don't Look Up to win, as flawed as it is, because anyone who writes an apocalyptic satire about the climate crisis deserves a prize.
NB: It will be tough for any cartoon to compete with Encanto, a Disney family fable packed with colour, magic and hit songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. But Flee should win. It says a lot that Jonas Poher Rasmussen's heart-rending chronicle of refugee life has been nominated in the international feature and documentary categories, too.
CJ: What a strong category this year. The Mitchells vs the Machines and Raya and the Last Dragon are stunning and fun, and the documentary Flee (although underwhelming to me) has a lot of support from voters and high-profile film people, including Bong Joon-ho. But the thoroughly charming musical Encanto will win, and should, with its lively, warm, inclusive story about a magical family. The hit We Don't Talk About Bruno wasn't submitted for best song, but its popularity is likely to spill over here.
CJ: It can be perilous predicting a category that has shocked us with so many recent out-of-nowhere winners. My Octopus Teacher?! Icarus?! But I'm confident this time. Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's Summer of Soul (... Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is brilliant, a joyful concert film that is also a trenchant work of history, reclaiming a 50-year old music festival. Plus, Oscar voters seem to like pop music, so the film that should win actually will.
NB: Summer of Soul should win and will win. The footage of the music legends at 1969's Harlem Cultural Festival is magnificent enough on its own; the wealth of social and political context added by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson takes it to another level.
NB: Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's rueful three-hour adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story, has been winning prizes everywhere it goes, and it's been nominated for four Oscars: best international feature, best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. It's a racing certainty to win in this category, if not in one or two others.
CJ: The surest bet going into the Oscars is Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car winning the international film prize. For me, this eloquent Japanese film about a grieving theatre director and the sensitive young woman who drives him around is a close second to Power of the Dog for best picture overall. The fact that it is also nominated in that top category is a sign of how highly it is regarded by Oscar voters, too.
CJ: Will Ari Wegner become the first woman to win the Oscar for cinematography? Yes. Should she? Absolutely, but redressing the way women have been left out of that category is a just a grace note. Wegner's glowing, burnished cinematography gives The Power of the Dog its scope, its realistic feel (could be Montana, but it's actually New Zealand) and serves Jane Campion's artistry and fondness for skewed angles, as her characters peer at the landscape or glance at each other, with lust or menace.
NB: Greig Fraser will win for the vast desert vistas he puts on screen in Dune, but it sometimes feels like a cheat when there is so much CGI mixed in. In a strong category, Janusz Kamiński should win for West Side Story, because his camera whirls through New York with all the elegance and agility of the dancers being filmed.
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