What Oscar(s) do these contenders need to win in order to take best picture?

Ariana DeBose sings and dances in a scene from "West Side Story."
If Ariana DeBose wins an Oscar for her supporting turn in “West Side Story,” will that help the film take the best picture prize?
(Photo by Niko Tavernise/Niko Tavernise)

Even with cowboys that look, at least to one pair of tired eyes, like Chippendales dancers, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is looking like it’s going to win best picture when the Oscars are handed out March 27.

But that doesn’t mean that some of the other contenders don’t have a pathway to taking that award. In some cases, all it might take is a victory in one other category — probably a category in which it bests “The Power of the Dog.” Some of these projected wins feel like long shots ... but I’m telling you there’s a chance. Let’s look at the roads these movies must take toward that final envelope on Oscar night.



Optimal Oscars evening: Writer-director Kenneth Branagh wins for original screenplay. Young Jude Hill does something adorable. Van Morrison performs his nominated song and doesn’t do or say anything stupid.

Oscar it needs: Original screenplay. Branagh isn’t likely to win for director. Van Morrison isn’t winning. Ciarán Hinds, good as he was as the grandfather, won’t prevail for supporting actor. The sound trophy is probably going to “Dune.” So, if “Belfast” hopes to pull off a best picture Oscar, it’s going to have to win adapted screenplay, because movies don’t win best picture without taking at least one other prize. (The last to do so was “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1936, though it did receive a leading eight nominations.)

Branagh could win. No one has campaigned more this season — and he’s good at it. His primary rival, Paul Thomas Anderson for “Licorice Pizza,” disdains lobbying, though he has been out and about supporting the release of his fine film. Anderson should win. He has 11 nominations without an Oscar. But ... this is the Oscars. Great filmmakers often go unrecognized. (Stanley Kubrick only won once — for “2001’s” visual effects.) Call original screenplay a coin-flip, one that “Belfast” must win to take the big prize.


Optimal Oscars evening: It aces all three of its nominations: supporting actor, adapted screenplay and picture.

Oscar it needs: Troy Kotsur would appear to have momentum and a ton of a goodwill for the way he combined
ribald humor with aching vulnerability as “CODA’s” loving dad. His Screen Actors Guild Awards gave voters a chance to meet him, and he delivered a moving and, yes, funny acceptance speech as the first Deaf actor to win a SAG Award.

Seeing co-star Marlee Matlin in a film reinforced the actor’s desire to tell stories as a Deaf man.

Could “CODA” win best picture if supporting actor is its only other award? It’d be a long shot. For it to strike fear in the hearts of its competitors, “CODA” probably also needs that adapted-screenplay prize, and it’d need to leapfrog two heavy favorites — Campion for “The Power of the Dog” and Maggie Gyllenhaal for “The Lost Daughter” — to prevail.

But that wouldn’t even be the most surprising element of a “CODA” best picture scenario, as the movie didn’t earn key nominations for either director or editor. Perhaps this is another unprecedented year (remember “Parasite” just two years ago, the first non-English language film to win best picture) and voters go with the feel-good movie in these doomscrolling days.


Optimal Oscars evening: It makes good on most of its 10 nominations. Chants of “Denis, Denis, Denis” break out toward the end of the evening in solidarity with the film’s snubbed director, Denis Villeneuve.

Oscar(s) it needs: All of them ... or at least most of them. You might recall “Mad Max: Fury Road” barreling through the crafts categories seven years ago, winning Oscars for film editing, costume design, makeup and hairstyling, production design, sound editing and sound mixing. Six Oscars! “Spotlight,” which won best picture, took only one other prize — original screenplay.

That precedent doesn’t bode particularly well for the “Dune” team, though if the film pulls off a surprise and wins adapted screenplay, it could take a page from that “Spotlight” playbook. So maybe its backers simply need to keep reminding people how Frank Herbert’s novel was considered unadaptable ... and Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Villeneuve did it. I mean, it’s going to take two movies, but they did it!

Our BuzzMeter experts tell us what films and performances will win on Oscar night. Think you can do better?


Optimal Oscars evening: Will Smith wins his first Oscar! And Beyoncé too!

Oscar it needs: Things look promising for Smith after his SAG Awards win. But for “King Richard” to pose a best picture threat, it probably needs to demonstrate a bit more across-the-board support. And who better than Beyoncé to lead the charge?

The original song category is quite competitive this year, though. “Be Alive,” the power ballad that Beyoncé co-wrote to play over the closing credits of “King Richard,” hasn’t exactly burned into the public’s consciousness, unlike her primary competition — Billie Eilish’s Bond theme, “No Time to Die,” and “Dos Oruguitas,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lovely Spanish love song from “Encanto.”

With its emphasis on Black pride and community, “Be Alive” does possess a similar anthemic power to “Glory,” the John Legend and Common song from “Selma” that won seven years ago. The Oscar remains within reach.


Optimal Oscars evening: Three Oscars for Jane Campion — directing, writing and producing! And someone else to raise a trophy!

Oscar it needs to win: It goes without saying that if Jane Campion doesn’t win for director — an outcome that has long felt as fixed as Queen Elizabeth outliving us all — then “The Power of the Dog” is in big trouble. But a director Oscar doesn’t ensure that best picture will follow. Just ask Alfonso Cuarón. If Campion wins both director and adapted screenplay, that’s better. And if her movie prevails over “Dune” somewhere else — film editing, score (go, Jonny Greenwood!), cinematography — or if Kodi Smit-McPhee takes his rightful place as the supporting actor winner, then “The Power of the Dog” should be in good shape for the win.


Optimal Oscars evening: Ariana DeBose wins supporting actress as expected. And then someone else makes it to the podium before the best picture envelope is opened.

Oscar it needs to win: How about Paul Tazewell becoming the first Black man to win the costume design Oscar? Maybe a third Oscar for cinematographer Janusz Kaminski? Another Oscar for Steven Spielberg, who has yet to win this century? This century!