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Oscar voting has begun. Here’s what our critic would put on his fantasy ballot

Hidetoshi Nishijima, left, and Tôko Miura in the movie “Drive My Car.”
Hidetoshi Nishijima, left, and Tôko Miura in the movie “Drive My Car.”
(Courtesy of Pacific Arts Movement)
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What will the Oscars look like? After last year’s COVID-downscaled festivities at Union Station, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is planning what feels like a return to basics. The ceremony, set for March 27, will have a host. It will be held at the Dolby Theatre, the Oscars’ traditional Hollywood home, presumably with up-to-the-minute safety protocols in place. As for what will be nominated — well, we’ll find that out on Feb. 8. My hope is that on the heels of a strange, often tumultuous but altogether remarkable year for new movies, the academy will present us with a slate of nominees that reflects, to some degree, the nimbleness and enduring vitality of the medium.

The first round of voting starts this week, and while I don’t have a ballot to cast, here’s what I would nominate if I did. Please note: These are preferences, not predictions. I can’t vote, but I can dream.

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BEST PICTURE

A woman reaches out to touch a window.
Tilda Swinton in “Memoria.”
(Sandro Kopp / © Kick the Machine Films, Burning, Anna Sanders Films, Match Factory Productions, ZDF-Arte and Piano, 2021)

“The Disciple”

“Drive My Car”

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“Memoria”

“Parallel Mothers”

“Passing”

“The Power of the Dog”

“Procession”

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“The Souvenir Part II”

“West Side Story”

“The Velvet Underground”

This year, for the first time since 2011, there will be 10 Oscar nominees for best picture. Here are the 10 I’d nominate, four of which are non-English-language films and two of which are documentaries. (Ridiculously, no nonfiction feature has ever been nominated for best picture; it’s high time that changed.) It was a remarkable year with too many favorites; apologies to “Days,” “Petite Maman,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” and a few others that narrowly missed the cut.

After sweeping awards from the nation’s top critics’ groups, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s masterpiece deserves more than just an international feature prize.

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A black-and-white split screen photo shows three people lying together and one playing drums.
A split-screen from Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground” documentary with, from left, Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and drummer Moe Tucker.
(Apple TV+)

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DIRECTOR

On a grassy plain with mountains beyond, a man looks over the shoulder of a woman seated behind a movie camera.
Writer-producer-director Jane Campion, center, and associate producer-first assistant director Phil Jones on location shooting “The Power of the Dog.”
(Netflix)

Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”

Joanna Hogg, “The Souvenir Part II”

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”

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Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “Memoria”

I never dreamed we might see a replay of Campion vs. Spielberg, but I hope we do: Twenty-eight years after “The Piano” squared off with “Schindler’s List,” they’re in contention again for some of their finest work. For a while I was tempted to hand Hamaguchi two nominations, the second one recognizing his other terrific new release of 2021, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.”

A man stands against a white wall with dark foliage in the foreground of the photo.
“Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood on Dec. 3, 2021.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang’s best movies of 2021 include ‘Drive My Car,’ ‘The Power of the Dog’ and ‘The Green Knight.’

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ACTRESS

A woman stands looking pensively out a window.
Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in “Spencer.”
(Neon)

Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”

Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”

Jasna Đuričić, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”

Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

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Tessa Thompson, “Passing”

In a year stuffed with biopic star turns, Stewart’s remarkable performance as Princess Diana in “Spencer” is the only one that sticks, the only one that goes beyond (impeccable) surface mimicry to express something mysterious and complicated about the nature of celebrity. The other four actors I’ve chosen are all, blessedly, playing fictional characters; if you haven’t yet seen Đuričić’s searing work in “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” well, you and a few academy members probably have that in common.

A woman looks through a chain link fence.
Jasna Đuričić in “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
(Courtesy of TIFF)

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ACTOR

A man sits in a sheet-covered chair in a dark room, aiming a pistol toward the camera.
Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell in “The Card Counter.”
(Focus Features)

Oscar Isaac, “The Card Counter”

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Lee Kang-sheng, “Days”

Hidetoshi Nishijima, “Drive My Car”

Simon Rex, “Red Rocket”

Will Smith, “King Richard”

Shockingly, no actor named Oscar has ever been nominated for the lead actor Oscar. Make it happen this year, voters!

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A man in a white T-shirt sits slumped in a chair.
Lee Kang-sheng in “Days,” directed by Tsai Ming-liang.
(Grasshopper Film)

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Two women seated outdoors on a grassy area with an iron railing behind them.
Ann Dowd, left, and Martha Plimpton star in “Mass,” a film about a meeting between two sets of parents in the aftermath of a school shooting.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog”

Kathryn Hunter, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Ruth Negga, “Passing”

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Park Yoo-rim, “Drive My Car”

Martha Plimpton, “Mass”

Talk about double, double, toil and trouble: It feels odd to separate Plimpton from her equally stellar “Mass” collaborator Ann Dowd, or to nominate Park without “Drive My Car’s” superb Tôko Miura (though she’s arguably a lead).

A black-and-white photo of a person squatting and looking downward.
Kathryn Hunter in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” directed by Joel Coen.
(Apple TV)

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SUPPORTING ACTOR

A man holds up his arms in a martial arts pose.
Tony Leung Chiu-wai in Marvel Studios’ “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
(Marvel Studios)

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Anders Danielsen Lie, “The Worst Person in the World”

Jamie Dornan, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”

Tony Leung Chiu-wai, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Vincent Lindon, “Titane”

Masaki Okada, “Drive My Car”

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Supporting actor may be the single most competitive acting category of the year; my next tier of five — Richard Ayoade (“The Souvenir Part II”), Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”), Colman Domingo (“Zola”), Mike Faist (“West Side Story”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”) — would make a strong category of its own.

Masaki Okada, left, and Hidetoshi Nishijima in a scene from "Drive My Car."
(Sideshow/Janus Films)

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

A seated woman leans against a seated man with white hair.
“Parallel Mothers” director Pedro Almodóvar, right, with the film’s star Penélope Cruz at the Whitby Hotel on Oct. 9, 2021.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Radu Jude, “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”

Chaitanya Tamhane, “The Disciple”

Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers”

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Joanna Hogg, “The Souvenir Part II”

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”

Almodóvar won this category 19 years ago for “Talk to Her”; it took another 17 years for another non-English-language script (“Parasite”) to prevail. It should really happen a lot more often.

A woman dressed in black leans forward, her hands on a low white wall.
“The Souvenir Part II” writer-director Joanna Hogg.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

A man with round glasses and a short beard with a wall of books behind him.
Playwright Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, “Drive My Car”

David Lowery, “The Green Knight”

Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”

Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”

Tony Kushner, “West Side Story”

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Kushner received Oscar nominations for his previous two scripts for Spielberg, “Munich” and “Lincoln.” He deserves a third for a “West Side Story” screenplay that, given the well-known, well-worn nature of the material, was far more thoughtfully and robustly reimagined than it had to be.

A man with a shaved head and a short beard wears a black shirt and stands before a red wall hung with a framed mirror.
“Green Knight” writer-director David Lowery.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

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CINEMATOGRAPHY

A man and a woman stand on the desert-like surface of an alien planet.
Timothée Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson in “Dune.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Michal Sobocinski, “The Disciple”

Greig Fraser, “Dune”

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Andrew Droz Palermo, “The Green Knight”

Eduard Grau, “Passing”

Janusz Kaminski, “West Side Story”

Mixed as I was on “Dune,” the movie’s deeply transporting images, shot by the redoubtable Greig Fraser, leave no room for argument. Any other day, “Passing” might have been joined here by two other superb black-and-white films, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Bruno Delbonnel) and “C’mon C’mon” (Robbie Ryan).

A black-and-white movie still of two women in 1920s cloche hats and coats, walking on a street.
Ruth Negga, left, and Tessa Thompson in “Passing,” directed by Rebecca Hall.
(Netflix)

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INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

Side-by-side photos of two pregnant women in hospital gowns and a man and a child at a sink.
Neither “Parallel Mothers,” left, nor “Petite Maman” was submitted by its home country for Oscar consideration, but both would have been formidable contenders for best international feature.
(Iglesias Mas / Sony Pictures Classics; Pyramide Films)

“Drive My Car”

“Memoria”

“Parallel Mothers”

“Petite Maman”

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“The Worst Person in the World”

It’s my party and I’ll pick movies that weren’t submitted or shortlisted if I want to, pick movies that weren’t submitted or shortlisted if I want to, pick movies that weren’t submitted or shortlisted if I want to.

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DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nina Simone performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969.
Nina Simone performing at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, featured in the documentary “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” directed by Questlove.
(Searchlight Pictures)

“All Light, Everywhere”

“Flee”

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“Procession”

“Summer of Soul”

“The Velvet Underground”

A heartrending animated escape drama, two enveloping 1960s concert films and two movies that skillfully fragment and interrogate the very medium they’re in.

In "Flee," a man tries to cope with his experiences as a refugee boy from Afghanistan.
A scene from the documentary “Flee.”
(Courtesy NEON)

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ANIMATED FEATURE

An animated princess holds out her hand, with a bird above her palm.
The 2021 anime feature “Belle.”
(Studio Chizu)

“Belle”

“Flee”

“Luca”

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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“Raya and the Last Dragon”

Ridiculously, no Japanese animated feature has triumphed in this Disney-dominated category since “Spirited Away” 19 years ago. Mamoru Hosoda’s dazzling “Belle” would be a lovely choice to break the streak (even if, amusingly, it features an extended visual tribute to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”).

Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina) in “Raya and the Last Dragon."
Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina, in “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
(Disney)

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