Predicting the Oscars is a game that I love when I’m good at it (I will never tire of sharing that year when I got 21 out of 24) and loathe when I’m lousy at it (let’s not mention that year I got only eight right). So, with that caveat in mind, let’s put on our prognosticating hats and take a look at the top categories. As always, I’m including both my prediction and my own vote (if I were an Academy voter; alas, I am not), as well as a nod to a movie or performance that I wish had made the final cut.
Conventional wisdom is that Jane Campion’s eerie Western “The Power of the Dog,” which has won multiple pre-Oscar awards, is the front-runner here, and it’s released by Netflix, which has very deep pockets when it comes to advertising/campaigning. So it’s a safe bet … or at least it was, until a sweet, crowd-pleasing indie won the Producers Guild and Writers Guild awards last weekend, changing the conversation. Sian Heder’s “CODA,” the story of a young woman finding her voice as a singer with the support of her deaf family, is a feel-good movie at a time when that’s needed badly, and it has a lot of momentum going into Oscar night. Likewise Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age-in-Northern-Ireland tale, “Belfast,” could sneak in, and I wouldn’t entirely rule out a surge for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” The other six nominees are the longest of long shots, and can buy each other drinks during the ceremony.
My vote: “The Power of the Dog”
Wish you were here: “Parallel Mothers”
Pity that Jane Campion saw fit to make an insensitive remark about Venus and Serena Williams during her Critics Choice Awards acceptance speech (she apologized the following day) — up until then, she seemed to be marching quite smoothly toward her first Oscar as director. (Campion had already made history in the category as the first woman ever to be nominated twice; her previous nod was in 1994 for “The Piano.”) She still seems likely to win, but it’s less of a sure thing; Branagh or Spielberg could surprise. Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) are less likely.
Prediction: Jane Campion
My vote: Jane Campion
Wish you were here: Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers”
This category was looking pretty interesting for a while, with no obvious front-runner and an assortment of Oscar veterans. Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, and Nicole Kidman are all previous Oscar winners and Jessica Chastain is a three-time nominee; only Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”) is a first-timer. But Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) took the SAG award and seems to have some momentum; voters may well have decided that it’s her turn. Kidman, in “Being the Ricardos” could surprise — actors love movies about actors — as could Cruz in “Parallel Mothers,” in a role that’s one of her career-best.
Prediction: Jessica Chastain
My vote: Penélope Cruz
Wish you were here: Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci”
This one seems preordained: Will Smith is beloved in Hollywood and has never won an Oscar (he has two previous nominations in this category), and “King Richard” was one of the year’s great movie pleasures, anchored by Smith’s vivid, thoughtful portrayal of a complicated tennis dad. If there’s an upset (quite unlikely), I’d look to Andrew Garfield, who’s been exceptionally charming throughout awards season, or Benedict Cumberbatch, who’ll definitely win an Oscar someday and whose remarkable work in “The Power of the Dog” might have taken the prize in a different year.
Prediction: Will Smith
My vote: Benedict Cumberbatch
Wish you were here: Peter Dinklage, “Cyrano”
Best Supporting Actress
In a category full of new-to-Oscar faces — Ariana DeBose, Jessie Buckley, Kirsten Dunst, and Aunjanue Ellis are all getting their first academy nods, alongside eight-time nominee Judi Dench — one rose to the top. DeBose, absolutely electric as Anita in “West Side Story,” has been sweeping the pre-Oscar awards (SAG, BAFTA, Critics Choice) and looks unstoppable. Dunst might be a longshot, for her subtle and lovely work in “The Power of the Dog,” but this looks like a simple call.
Prediction: Ariana DeBose
My vote: Ariana DeBose
Wish you were here: Ruth Negga, “Passing
Best Supporting Actor
If you’ve seen “CODA” (and it’s well worth seeking out, on Apple TV+), you were likely dazzled by the work of first-time nominee Troy Kotsur, as a deaf father movingly seeking to connect with his hearing daughter. (Give him the Oscar for one scene alone; if you’ve seen the movie, you know the one I mean.) He’s been picking up the most pre-Oscar awards steam; the two others most likely, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jesse Plemons in “The Power of the Dog,” are nominated for the same movie, which might mean a split vote.
Prediction: Troy Kotsur
My vote: Troy Kotsur
Wish you were here: Mike Faist, “West Side Story”
Elsewhere, I’ll make a guess that the screenplay awards might go to Jane Campion (adapted) and Kenneth Branagh (original), that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” might win in its lone category (visual effects), and Lin-Manuel Miranda just might get his EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony awards) by winning best original song, for “Encanto.” And somebody will come out of nowhere and be a winner that nobody predicted. See you Oscar night!