This Sunday, everyone who is anyone in Hollywood will dress up in their finest gowns and tuxedos and descend upon the Dolby Theater to honor the best in film from the past year. This year’s Academy Awards will be hosted by the hilarious trio of Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes, and Amy Schumer, and with eight categories now removed from the main telecast, the 94th edition of the glamorous ceremony is expected to wrap up in a nice and clean three hours.
But we already know that — and the real excitement for any Oscars ceremony is finding out what we don’t know, like who will win. Going into the night, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is the clear leader, boasting an impressive 12 nominations. But is that number alone large enough to guarantee a Best Picture win, or could AppleTV+’s small indie CODA swoop in for the upset? After her fellow actors snubbed her for SAG, can Kristen Stewart bounce back to the top of the heap for Best Actress, or are Jessica Chastain’s prosthetics too eye-catching to ignore? Is Nicole Kidman even in the running? And can anyone compete with Will Smith? Below, NYLON offers our predictions for the winners of each major category, using awards season trends to guess which nominees will prevail and appealing to our personal tastes to decide who should.
Who Will Win: The Power of the Dog
Who Should Win: The Power of the Dog
This year’s Best Picture race has been one of the most contentious, inspiring spirited debate that has sometimes, disturbingly, spilled over into unnecessarily vitriolic hate. Last September, many had pegged Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s wide-eyed reflection on Troubles-era Ireland, as the frontrunner, thanks to its People’s Choice win at the Toronto International Film Festival (a reliable bellwether of future Oscar glory). That same month, a somewhat dimmer spotlight was being placed onto Jane Campion’s queer western The Power of the Dog, which had just taken home the Silver Lion in Venice for the Oscar winner’s direction. Pundits considered the two films to be neck-and-neck in the race, but as Belfast began to be exposed as little more than Roma pastiche, Power slowly eked out a lead, especially when the gorgeously-shot slow-burner started popping up near the top of many critic’s year-end lists (my own included).
In fact, Power’s future Best Picture win seemed written in stone until CODA, a small Sundance-winning indie about the hearing child of a deaf family, made a late break in the race. Its top wins from the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild, and Writers Guild; its BAFTA screenplay victory; and its near-spotfree dominance in the Supporting Actor race (more on that later), has pushed the film into the top spot for many. Nevertheless, I’m holding out hope that the more cinematic film will prevail. While The Academy has opted for crowd-pleasers over more challenging fare before (Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2006, Green Book over Roma in 2019), it’s also true that those films had the support of other branches. While CODA will most certainly walk away with at least one trophy on Sunday, I’m sticking to my guns to say it won’t be The Big One. A technical feat that also feels thematically radical, The Power of the Dog will end the night with this year’s biggest trophy — and all will be right in the universe.
Who Will Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog
Who Should Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog
The one thing working against The Power of the Dog’s Best Picture chances? Jane Campion’s guaranteed win for Best Director. Like the aforementioned Brokeback Mountain and Roma, both which won Best Director before losing Picture, there is a solid chance that voters will choose to reward Campion’s peerless directorial work and throw their Best Picture votes behind a more populist choice.
Now, I know. I know. I still haven’t gotten over the unnecessarily snide, senselessly ignorant comments Campion lobbied at Venus and Serena Williams at the Critics Choice Awards either. But in this race, there is truly no more deserving nominee. This year’s crop of directors features several heavy-hitters: Steven Spielberg, a three-time Oscar winner already, achieved the impossible by making a sixty-year-old musical feel fresh; Ryusuke Hamaguchi makes three hours breeze by; Paul Thomas Anderson’s guiding hand has never felt more assured; and Kenneth Branagh — well, he should be happy to be nominated. (We all know his spot belonged to Dune’s Denis Villeneuve.) But what Campion achieves with Dog — the intricate tale she weaves through impressively subtle foreshadowing, the vivid imagery she captures alongside DP Ari Wegner, and most of all, the career-best performances she extracts from her expertly curated group of actors — is transcendent. After losing to Steven Spielberg in this same category almost three decades ago (when she was nominated for the brilliant The Piano), the pair are up against each other yet again. Only now, it’s Jane’s turn to reign supreme.
Who Will Win: Will Smith for King Richard
Who Should Win: Will Smith for King Richard
While many other categories for this year’s ceremony have truly run the gamut (show me someone who called this year’s Best Actress frontrunner even two months ago and I’ll show you a liar — or at least a very powerful mystic), Best Actor has felt firmly set in place since the first frame of King Richard debuted at Telluride last September. As the titular character, Will Smith loses himself in a showy role that capitalizes on his undeniable charm and palpable charisma. One of the last in a dying breed of bona fide Movie Stars who has never won an Oscar (despite being nominated twice before), Smith’s dominance this season was almost predestined. The Academy loves an “it’s their time” narrative, and nobody fits that bill this season more than Will Smith. A case could certainly be made for almost every other nominee (Benedict Cumberbatch’s transformation into an alpha-male is the crux of Power’s unsettling intrigue; Andrew Garfield’s secret singing and dancing prowess felt like a genuine discovery; and Denzel reciting Shakespeare monologues in starkly-lit corridors — c’mon), but with such varying performances, the winner will most likely be the obvious choice. After netting wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTA, Will is pretty much cruising to his first Oscar statuette — and thanks to his fiercely committed recreation of an incredibly controversial figure, very few will be able to begrudge him for it.
Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Who Should Win: Kristen Stewart for Spencer or Penélope Cruz for Parallel Mothers
If Best Actor has felt like a lock all season, then Best Actress has felt like its bratty little sister, temperamentally changing its mind at almost every turn. What started as The Year of Kristen Stewart following the premiere of Spencer at Venice last September ended with a nail-biting nominations ceremony, where many were unsure if the Twilight star would even make the final cut. In between, others rose up to the plate — from House of Gucci’s Lady Gaga (who did not receive a nomination) to The Lost Daughter’s Olivia Colman and Being the Ricardos’ Nicole Kidman (who became a real threat following her surprise Golden Globe win).
But who could have seen Jessica Chastain waiting in the wings? Though her complete disappearance into the titular role of The Eyes of Tammy Faye had kept her in the conversation all along, few saw her in the lead until her upset at the SAG Awards (where Stewart had notably been snubbed). With The Academy cooling on Being the Ricardos (its only nominations came from the Actor’s Branch) and seemingly ruling out Colman (who won for The Favourite just three years ago before being nominated again last year), Chastain took the lead, where she has stayed ever since.
And while I adore Jessica, her performance as Tammy Faye, though undeniably impressive, is not better than Kristen Stewart’s, who breathes life into Princess Diana in a way never before seen, nor Penélope Cruz’s, who commands the center of Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers — not through crazy prosthetics, severe makeup, and exaggerated mannerisms (as Chastain does), but with real sensitivity and heart. Either performer would be a more deserving champion.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur for CODA
Who Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog
Let’s get one thing out of the way. There is only one true winner of this category and that is West Side Story’s terrific Mike Faist. Alas, The Academy’s acting branch failed to see what I did in his heartbreaking update on Riff, and thus I am left to place my bets on Troy Kotsur, whose moving portrayal of a deaf father struggling to hold onto his way of life and the family he holds near and dear is heartbreaking in the best kind of way. Of CODA’s three nominations, Kotsur’s is the most deserving of a win (the acting in Sian Heder’s little-indie-that-could is its strongest feature).
And yet, after spending the past few weeks rewatching the year’s nominated films, I can’t help but give my vote to Kodi Smit-McPhee. Though the young Australian gives a much more restrained performance than his competitors (save for his costar, Jesse Plemons, whose nomination was the category’s true surprise), his command over his story is the most dynamic. It’s a performance that truly “supports” its lead; as the delicate Peter, Smit-McPhee deliberately plays up his softness to emphasize Cumberbatch’s forced hardness. It’s also a performance that deepens with time. To know how the film ends (which I won’t spoil, but you can read about) is to immediately look at Peter in a new light. Part of what makes Power such an electrifying rewatch is looking for clues about Peter’s true motives after you’ve seen how everything ends.
But Smit-McPhee is only 25, with a full career ahead of him. (If we don’t see him in next year’s award blitz as part of Baz Luhrmann’s splashy Elvis cast, there’s always his role opposite Cate Blanchett in Alfonso Cuarón’s new AppleTV+ show Disclaimer.) In this way, I’ll be happy to see Troy Kotsur walk away with a trophy on Sunday night — so long as we get another speech like this.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose for West Side Story
Who Should Win: Ariana DeBose for West Side Story
Similar to Supporting Actor, my true choice for this category (Passing’s Ruth Negga) was unjustly kept out of the running — a decision that makes no sense when one considers that space was made for Dame Judi Dench, who wasn’t even the most deserving supporting performer in Belfast (that would be Caitríona Balfe). That at least makes my decision-making easier though, especially given how uniformly strong the category’s other performances are. The Lost Daughter’s Jessie Buckley was this category’s big surprise, but it was a welcomed one after so much attention had been paid to her co-star Olivia Colman’s lead performance. After toiling away in Hollywood for decades, turning in one iconic performance after another, Kirsten Dunst is finally getting her Oscar moment thanks to The Power of the Dog. Her performance as a struggling widow-turned-depressed alcoholic is glorious; like everything else in the film, her character choices are precise and effective. And a similar narrative can be formed for Aunjanue Ellis, who also started working in the ‘90s but is only just now getting her due. A standout in King Richard, Ellis is steely and magnetic as Williams mother Oracene Price. Though some believe she was more of a co-lead than a supporting player, who cares? You try watching this scene and making a case against her, no matter what category she’s nomianted in. (You can’t.)
But this is Ariana DeBose’s year. After breaking out in Ryan Murphy’s The Prom, DeBose finally got a musical worthy of her talents with West Side Story, and Steven Spielberg clearly took full advantage of everything she had to offer when directing her as the fierce Anita. DeBose’s win would be a nice callback to Rita Moreno’s win in 1962 for playing the same part, but DeBose doesn’t deserve a trophy on nostalgia alone. A true triple threat (actor, dancer, and singer), DeBose is a force onscreen and her presence brings vibrancy and color to the tragic musical. Many scenes have stuck with me over the past year, but Ariana leading a rendition of “America” on the streets of Manhattan while her bright yellow sundress twirls with the beat? That’s cinema, baby.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: Belfast
Who Should Win: The Worst Person in the World
The Academy loves nothing more than to spread the love around. So as Belfast’s chances in other categories dwindled, turning the one-time frontrunner into a possible “also-ran,” its chances in Original Screenplay seemed to increase. An easy way to award a prominent film that’s been outshined elsewhere? A chance to honor a beloved Hollywood fixture who’s been nominated before but has never actually won? Kenneth could easily be this year’s Spike Lee (who finally won a Screenplay Oscar for BlackKklansman decades into his illustrious career).
The only problem with this? Other nominees do more with their screenplay than Belfast does: Zach Baylin avoids biopic tropes by focusing on family as much as tennis in King Richard. Paul Thomas Anderson weaves a series of free-wheeling vignettes into an enjoyable hangout tale that shows more than it tells in Licorice Pizza. And in The Worst Person in the World, my favorite of the bunch, Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt deconstruct novelistic tropes to craft a story that is both humorous and poignant, probing young adult anxieties to provide new shades of depth to the classic “millennial” movie in the process. It’s a truly daring script that sticks with you long after you’ve finished the film, and it’s the kind of win that could draw even more attention to a film many would love, but few would be inclined to seek out. But, hey, even if Belfast wins, we can at least look at the bright side: Don’t Look Up will still go home empty-handed.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: CODA
Who Should Win: Drive My Car
Just like Best Picture, the Adapted Screenplay battle has mostly come down to two players: Jane Campion, for turning Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about queer cowboys into The Power of the Dog, and Sian Heder, for reimagining the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier for American audiences. Campion’s tricky screenplay was long in the lead, but in recent weeks, it has been unseated by Heder’s more straightforwardly uplifting tale of the power of family.
In a perfect world, however, neither would win, and the trophy would be bestowed upon Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, who take a short story from Haruki Murakami and mold into one of the most emotionally-wrenching films of the year. Drive My Car is masterly-directed and brilliantly-acted, but it’s also wonderfully written; its screenplay (the pacing, the characterization, the perfectly-calibrated monologues) is felt in a way it’s not in other films. (CODA is enjoyable in spite of its somewhat cliché story.) The second recent film to use Murakami’s stories as a basis for a dreamy film about difficult topics (after my favorite Burning), Drive My Car is unrivaled in this category. Too bad it probably won’t be recognized as such.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
Who Will Win: Drive My Car
Who Should Win: Drive My Car
At the very least, I’m comforted by the fact that Ryusuke Hamaguchi will almost surely leave the Dolby Theater with at least one trophy in his hand on Sunday. This year’s crop of nominees for International Feature is particularly strong: I’ve already professed my love for The Worst Person in the World; The Hand of God is Paolo Sorrentino’s most enjoyable film in years (I like to think he was reinvigorated by the back-to-back success of The Young Pope and The New Pope); and, of course, Flee was my #1 favorite film of last year. But as the only foreign-language feature to crack the Best Picture lineup (not to mention the super-competitive Best Director), Drive My Car is…well, cruising down an otherwise empty lane to an inevitable victory. And who could argue with that? With a talented cast of actors bringing its beautiful screenplay to life, the three-hour drama about grief and theater has become a completely unexpected stateside hit — and for very good reason too. History will look back very fondly on this win.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Who Will Win: Encanto
Who Should Win: Flee
Surprisingly enough, Animated Feature has what is perhaps this year’s strongest across-the-board lineup. Seriously, there is not one bad film in the bunch. Encanto gave us “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” The Mitchells vs. The Machines gave us giant Furbys. Luca gave us a beautiful animated version of Call Me By Your Name (no matter what the director says). Raya and the Last Dragon gave us an empowering feminist fable. And Flee gave us hope.
But this is the Oscars, after all, and when it comes to animated films, no one can compete with a Pixar release (unless you live in the Spider-Verse). This gives Encanto the easy edge, a probability that only increased the more popular the film (and its soundtrack) got following its release. But while I really do love Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ode to finding your own path, it is tough to argue against the merits of Flee. A documentary that takes viewers on an emotional roller-coaster, it is not the typical film found in this category — but for that very reason, it deserves the win. Using animation to enhance its story about an Afghan refugee desperate to find a safe place to call home, Flee provides the best testament to the power of animation. But don’t take my word for it: just ask Oscar-winning directors Bong Joon Ho and Alfonso Cuarón.