What’s that you say? It’s WAY too soon to be predicting the 95th Academy Awards? Hogwash, I say! It is never too soon to start looking ahead! Part of what makes this little game of ours so fascinating is staying in front of the curve and watching the way things scatter and unfold as the season matures. So why not have a little fun with Oscar predictions ten or eleven months out from the 95th Academy Awards?
For those of you who think this is a silly practice, shield your eyes a little and just consider this a preview of films to look forward to this year. I will argue, however, that there is a method to the madness in predicting the Oscars this early (and a whole lot of luck as well).
Here’s how I evaluate the race from this far out, in order of weight of impact on my decisioning:
- Plot summary
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness
All those components led to me predicting The Power of the Dog in my initial predictions last year. Jane Campion, a female director for an emerging Netflix studio, with a movie based on an acclaimed novel starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jessie Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Sounds like a movie that could go all the way, right? And if it weren’t for those meddling CODA kids (insert angered Scooby-Doo villain voice here), I might have nailed that one from this far out! The Power of the Dog did lead all movies with 12 nominations and eventually won Director for Campion.
If you are still not convinced it is worth the effort, then consider my predictions from this time last year:
That Soggy Bottom you see was the working title for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, which went on to receive nominations for Picture, Director, and Screenplay. Along with those top two, three of my other predictions cracked the Best Picture lineup. So, predicting five out of ten correct isn’t so bad, right? Considering that The Tragedy of Macbeth was nominated for Lead Actor (Denzel Washington), Production Design, and Cinematography, that’s not a half-bad pick either. The other four, well, nobody’s perfect.
If you still don’t like the idea of predicting from this far out, you will likely never be convinced otherwise. But if we think of this as just a fun practice, then what’s the harm? We do have a long way to go before shit gets real, after all. Let’s fill the void and put a spotlight on a few films that, if nothing else, get me really excited about 2022.
- Director – Steven Spielberg
- Studio – Universal Studios
- Cast – Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Julia Butters, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch
- Plot summary – A semi-autobiography based on Spielberg’s own childhood growing up in post-war Arizona, from age seven to eighteen (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Spielberg reteams with West Side Story scribe Tony Kushner and is coming off a lot of love and admiration surrounding their film. It’s kind of crazy to think that the man who brought us such classics as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, etc, etc, etc…. has only had ONE film win Best Picture. It’s also been 24 years since he won his second, and most recent, Best Director Oscar. Might be time to give the man a well-earned third statue if the film is good enough. That being said, other director autobiopics (that’s an actual word, look it up) like Roma and Belfast have been strong contenders in the Picture race only to fall short in the end. At a certain point, will AMPAS members grow tired of this kind of project that could potentially be seen as self-indulgent?
Killers of the Flower Moon
- Director – Martin Scorsese
- Studio – Apple
- Cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, and Lily Gladstone
- Plot summary – Members of the Osage tribe in the United States are murdered under mysterious circumstances in the 1920s sparking a major F.B.I. investigation involving J. Edgar Hoover (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Can you imagine a showdown between two living legends Scorsese vs Spielberg? That just writes its own narrative. If you thought Spielberg only having one Picture win and two Director wins felt wrong, Scorsese has just one Picture and one Director. Both men make my Mount Rushmore of directors (alongside Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick). Giants, these two. Scorsese reteaming with the two men he has worked with so often – DiCaprio and De Niro – is reason enough to think the film will be a strong player. And considering the team at Apple recently won Picture with CODA, we know the movie is in good hands.
- Director – Damien Chazelle
- Studio – Paramount Pictures
- Cast – Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Katherine Waterston, Olivia Wilde, Tobey Maguire, Jean Smart, Samara Weaving, Eric Roberts, Spike Jonze, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, Jeff Garlin, and Phoebe Tonkin
- Plot summary – Plot unknown. Rumored to be set in period Hollywood. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Damien Chazelle burst onto the scene as a 29-year-old wunderkind in 2014 with Whiplash, and has only gone on to make perfect films from there (La La Land and First Man). Babylon is the film I am most excited about this year – but it is not a personal bias that sees Chazelle standing next to the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese. Chazelle’s three films have garnered 23 nominations and 10 wins. Chazelle won Best Director for La La Land, becoming the youngest Director winner of all time (32 years, 38 days). So aside my love for the young auteur, what’s to say he finds success here again? First of all, the subject matter. If AMPAS has proven anything, it’s that they love movies about themselves (think: The Artist, Argo, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, etc). How can they resist a throwback to the golden age of the silver screen? Especially with that cast!
Untitled David O. Russell Project
- Director – David O. Russell
- Studio – 20th Century Studios
- Cast – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, John David Washington, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Alessandro Nivola, and Matthias Schoenaerts
- Plot summary – Plot details kept under wraps. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Very little is known about the film, but one look at that cast and you can imagine it will be widely talked about if nothing else. David O. Russell has been nominated five times, including thrice for Director (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle). Russell had a hell of a stretch from 2010-2013, garnering Best Picture nominees for each of his efforts in that four-year span (25 nominations between the three). While it’s been a few years – with a few misfires in between – a David O. Russell film usually produces some magnificent performances. It is inarguable that he gets the best out of his cast. If you add Joy to the mix, he has helped produce TWELVE acting nominations among those four films (and three wins)! This will likely be an actor’s showcase, and with the Actor’s branch making up a good chunk of the Academy, watch for it to land in the Picture conversation as well.
- Director – Maria Schrader
- Studio – Universal Pictures
- Cast – Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Samantha Morton, Tom Pelphrey, Patricia Clarkson, and Andre Braugher
- Plot summary – New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor break one of the most important stories in a generation — a story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – The subject matter (Harvey Weinstein) is extremely sensitive and likely touches – in a varying level of degrees, both directly and indirectly – a good number of members in AMPAS. I could see a world where this is our Picture/Director/Lead Actress winner as a result.
- Director – Noah Baumbach
- Studio – Netflix
- Cast – Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Alessandro Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, Don Cheadle, and Andre 3000
- Plot summary – Follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler studies (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Netflix has produced so many great Oscar contenders over the past few years. The trouble is knowing which film will be at the center of their awards campaign. My bet is Baumbach, who scored six nominations for Netflix with Marriage Story in 2019, will once again have their best shot at the top prize.
Empire of Light
- Director – Sam Mendes
- Studio – Searchlight Pictures
- Cast – Colin Firth, Olivia Colman, and Toby Jones
- Plot summary – Plot unknown. Described as a love story set in and around a beautiful old cinema on the South Coast of England in the 1980s. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – What happens when you put Colin Firth together with Olivia Colman in a love story? We all fall in love with them, that’s what. Sam Mendes is one of my favorite directors working today. His amazing WWI drama, 1917, topped my list in 2019, and I am very excited to see what he does with his two brilliant leads.
Bones and All
- Director – Luca Guadagnino
- Studio – MGM/United Artists
- Cast – Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell, Chloë Sevigny, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green, Andre Holland, and Francesca Scorsese
- Plot summary – Maren, a young woman, learns how to survive on the margins of society (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Guadagnino reteams with Call Me By Your Name stars Chalamet and Stuhlbarg to deliver another coming-of-age story. Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, it sounds like a heartbreaking journey of self-discovery, something Guadagnino has proven he can masterfully tell.
- Director – Sarah Polley
- Studio – MGM/United Artists
- Cast – Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, and Ben Wishaw
- Plot summary – A group of women in an isolated Mennonite religious colony in Bolivia as they struggle to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – It’s crazy to think it has been ten years since Polley’s brilliant masterpiece, Stories We Tell. It’s even more unbelievable that Stories was her most recent directorial effort. Aside from Stories, Polley’s Take This Waltz and Away From Her add to a resume that would have me incredibly excited about whatever she is working on next. Look for this film to show up in several above-the-line categories, most likely in the Lead and Supporting Actress races.
- Director – Yorgos Lanthimos
- Studio – Searchlight Pictures
- Cast – Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Mark Ruffalo, Kathryn Hunter, Jerrod Carmichael, and Christopher Abbott
- Plot summary – The film will be a Victorian tale of love, discovery and scientific daring, Poor Things tells the incredible story of Belle Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by an eccentric but brilliant scientist. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Lanthimos’ The Favourite was nominated for ten Oscars and won Lead Actress for Olivia Colman. The Greek filmmaker is back with another period-piece, this time with a science-fiction twist. I imagine this will play well in Production Design, Costumes, Hair and Makeup, and with Lanthimos’ creativity, that’s just the start. Note that there are a couple of actors – Dafoe and Ruffalo – who are very well overdue for a win. Might Lanthimos do for them what he was able to help Colman achieve with The Favourite?
Everything Everywhere All At Once
- Directors – Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
- Studio – Searchlight Pictures
- Cast – Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate, and James Hong
- Plot summary – An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led. (IMDB)
- Gut Analysis/Timeliness – Can the critics keep this film afloat and in the conversation for the next ten months? That is the biggest drawback with predicting a film released in March. Especially one so absurd and profound as this one. Will Academy members allow it the time it needs to unfold to see its full bloom? I saw several older couples walking out about halfway through the movie, so I am not sure. I could see this one being turned off ten minutes in at a lot of home screenings. If anything, AMPAS has all the time in the year to revisit it. God, I can’t stop thinking about this movie. Maybe this is my wishful thinking spot. Either way, what a gift this movie is, and while it isn’t the type of film that often gets in, my hopes are the younger and more international members put it at the top of their list. A preferential ballot could help a movie like Everything Everywhere All At Once, where passion is often what makes or breaks a film.
A few more films that are high on my radar (synopses provided by IMDB):
- Don’t Worry Darling (Warner Brothers) – A 1950’s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community begins to worry that his glamorous company may be hiding disturbing secrets. Olivia Wilde directs.
- Disappointment Blvd (A24) – A decades-spanning portrait of one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time. Ari Aster directs.
- The Whale (A24) – A reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption. Darren Aronofsky directs.
- Armageddon Time (Focus Features) – A coming-of-age story about growing up in Queens in the 1980s. James Gray directs.
Bardo (?) Plot unknown. The film explores the political and social modernity of Mexico. Alejandro G. Iñárritu directs.
- The Son (Sony Pictures Classics) – Peter as his busy life with new partner Emma and their baby is thrown into disarray when his ex-wife Kate turns up with their teenage son, Nicholas. Florian Zeller directs.
- Nope (Universal Pictures) – The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery. Jordan Peele directs.
- Asteroid City (TBD) Plot unknown. Rumored to be a love story set in Europe. Wes Anderson directs.
Rustin (Netflix) Gay, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. George C. Wolfe directs.
- Avatar 2 (20th Century/Disney) Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the planet of Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what was previously started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na’vi race to protect their planet. James Cameron directs.
- Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple) A young man who works as a Bar Mitzvah party host strikes up a friendship with a mother and her autistic daughter. Cooper Raiff directs.
- Till (MGM/United Artists) – The story of Emmett Louis Till and the legacy of his mother who pursued justice for her lynched son. Chinonye Chukwu directs.
- Elvis (Warner Brothers) A look at the life of the legendary rock and roll star, Elvis Presley. Baz Luhrmann directs.
Strong contenders likely moving to 2023: Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan), Napoleon (Ridley Scott), Maestro (Bradley Cooper), and Emancipation (Antoine Fuqua).