How the Oscar best picture race stands as voting begins this week
Oscar nominations voting begins this week, with the results to be revealed on Feb. 8. Film academy members have had plenty of time to sift through the contenders during the holidays and the current Omicron hibernation, so I’m expecting nothing but informed, intelligent choices, 93 years of checkered history be damned.
The academy returned this year’s best picture slate to a fixed 10 nominees. It’s a wide-open race. Nearly a dozen contenders are competing for the final few spots, and there’s no clear front-runner in sight. Here’s the lay of the land as members prepare to cast their ballots.
Our BuzzMeter experts tell us what films and performances will win on Oscar night. Think you can do better?
In its favor: Kenneth Branagh’s sentimental look at his Northern Ireland childhood features gorgeous actors — Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe — playing the dad and mom, along with Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as the caring, loving grandparents that every kid deserves, particularly a tyke like the movie’s adorable scamp, Buddy (Jude Hill). It’s the sweetest movie about the Troubles you’ll ever see.
Trouble spots: Branagh might not be nominated for director. Detractors dismiss the black-and-white autobiographical drama as “Roma”-lite myth-making. Its box office, like every other movie not featuring a web-slinging superhero, has been modest.
“The Power of the Dog”
In its favor: Jane Campion’s western thriller has won its director numerous prizes and, outside “Drive My Car,” stands as the year’s most acclaimed film. Three of its actors — Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee — figure to be Oscar-nominated. And the film boasts a whopper of an ending, which has sparked plenty of conversation and kept its mentions high.
Trouble spots: While Campion stands as the favorite to win the director Oscar, the film’s overwhelming atmosphere of dread might put off some voters, while others find it all a bit too arty and oblique.
“West Side Story”
In its favor: Exhilarating update of a classic, beloved musical!
Trouble spots: Not everyone thought this classic, beloved musical needed an update, judging from its box office. It’ll earn plenty of love, but, aside from 1962’s “Mutiny on the Bounty,” no remake of a previous best picture winner has ever been nominated for the Oscars’ biggest prize, much less won.
In its favor: The film’s winning blend of earned 1970s nostalgia and playful respect for Hollywood’s past possesses plenty of appeal to the academy’s older members. Pretty much any member who owned a waterbed is voting for this movie.
Trouble spots: Some feel the film’s shaggy-dog story to be a little aimless in its plotting and not everyone has appreciated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s commitment to showing the ‘70s as it was — casual, buffoonish racism included.
MORE THAN LIKELY, YES
In its favor: Big, bold take (let’s stop short of “visionary”) on a sci-fi classic that many thought couldn’t be adapted for the screen. It figures to earn nominations for cinematography, production design, film editing, costume design, sound, score, makeup & hair, and visual effects, plus maybe adapted screenplay and a shout-out to filmmaker Denis Villeneuve for director. Add up all that support, and it’s an easy road to a best picture nomination.
Trouble spots: Villeneuve’s work strikes many as cold and analytical. “Dune” is more easy to admire than love.
In its favor: Will Smith has earned the best reviews of his career playing the demanding coach and father of budding tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. It’s a crowd-pleaser and fought through a crowded field to earn an ensemble nomination from Screen Actors Guild Awards voters.
Trouble spots: SAG voters overlooked Aunjanue Ellis’ fierce turn as Oracene Price, the Williams sisters’ mother and coach. The movie is also on the bubble for its original screenplay, a nomination it needs to boost its best picture prospects.
“Don’t Look Up”
In its favor: Thanks to its A-list cast — Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and so on — it seemed like everyone watched Adam McKay’s apocalyptic farce over the holidays. That’s the first step, and a big one, toward earning a best picture nomination. The movie’s urgent message — environmental disaster is nigh, so please take heed and do something! — gives it a patina of importance.
Trouble spots: Critics pretty much hated it. With a 49 rating on review aggregator Metacritic, it would be one of the worst-reviewed movies to earn a best picture nomination in Oscar history.
SCRAMBLING FOR SCRAPS
In its favor: Made us laugh, made us cry, made us want to go out of our way to avoid hearing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” ever again for fear of going on an uncontrollable weeping jag.
Trouble spots: Teen coming-of-age stories don’t have a strong track record at the Oscars. “CODA” though, with its groundbreaking casting of Deaf actors in primary roles, could transcend that history.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
In its favor: In the middle of this seemingly ceaseless pandemic, “No Way Home” is breaking box office records. How do you ignore the one movie that people are paying to see en masse? Plus, it’s smart, fun and boasts a big, emotional payoff. The academy would seem out-of-touch with audiences if it’s snubbed.
Trouble spots: The academy has no problem with appearing out-of-touch with audiences, having largely ignored Marvel movies in the past. Also, isn’t this like the 800th “Spider-Man” film? They gave the animated feature Oscar to “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” That’ll do for many.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth”
In its favor: Stunning black-and-white visuals, imaginative staging and a ferocious Denzel Washington in the title role. That’s Shakespeare to love.
Trouble spots: Still feels criminally underseen. Also, that striking visual design loses something when viewed at home.
“Tick, Tick ... Boom!”
In its favor: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical stage musical is all about creative struggle and sacrifice and self-doubt and self-loathing, making it very relatable to Oscar voters.
Trouble spots: This is the Oscars, not the Tonys. “West Side Story” might scratch voters’ theatrical itch.
“House of Gucci”
In its favor: Big-budget, big-swing, true-crime tabloid story is shameless, audacious, campy, operatic and self-consciously over-the-top. It’s so fun and frothy!
Trouble spots: Big-budget, big-swing, true-crime tabloid story is shameless, audacious, campy, operatic and self-consciously over-the-top. It’s so tedious and tacky!
“Drive My Car”
In its favor: Won best picture from Los Angeles and New York critics groups, plus the National Society of Film Critics. The other movies to pull off that trifecta — “Goodfellas,” “Schindler’s List,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Hurt Locker” and “The Social Network” — all went on to earn a best picture Oscar nomination.
Trouble spots: Those other movies were widely released ... and not a 3-hour Japanese drama about transcending grief.
“The Lost Daughter”
In its favor: There has been lots of early awards love for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s filmmaking debut, particularly for her sensitive, adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel and Olivia Colman’s lead turn as a woman sifting through her past as a mother.
Trouble spots: The film’s last scene has thrown some for a loop, while others (mostly men) find it difficult to empathize with Colman’s conflicted character.
“Being the Ricardos”
In its favor: Academy voters adore showbiz tales, particularly one in which the main character, in this case Hollywood legend Lucille Ball, overcomes all sorts of obstacles — McCarthyism, unfaithful husband, know-nothing showrunner, the patriarchy — on the road to artistic triumph.
Trouble spots: Its cast, particularly Nicole Kidman as Ball, is much better than Aaron Sorkin’s exasperating ramble of a movie.
In its favor: Guillermo del Toro’s last movie, “The Shape of Water,” won the Oscar for best picture. This follow-up is visually dazzling, full of diverting worlds and freaky carnival characters. And even if you see the ending coming, it makes for a striking final shot.
Trouble spots: That ending doesn’t come soon enough in an overlong movie that struggles at times to create tension and energy.
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