In Depth

Oscar predictions 2022: who will win the top awards?

There are ten nominees for Best Picture this year in the hopes of broadening the Oscar talent pool

The highlight of the glittering Hollywood awards season is almost here, with speculation building around which films, directors, and A-listers could win big on the night. 

The 94th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre on 27 March 2022. “This is the first time since 2008 that the ceremony will take place in March,” said Screen Daily, “having moved to avoid conflicting with the Winter Olympics.” 

Here’s who could be taking home the top awards, and what the critics have to say on their chances.

Best Picture

For the first time in more than a decade, the Academy has reapplied its rule of ten nominees for Best Picture to broaden the talent pool.

“We have seen next year’s big Oscar winner, and it is Belfast,” declared Rolling Stone, after Kenneth Branagh’s sentimental memory piece about growing up in Ireland received a “rapturous” screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year. It’s at least a “particularly strong candidate”, said the magazine, “if not the outright winner”. 

The first reactions to another coming-of-age drama, Licorice Pizza, rightly suggested that it would be a contender. Germain Lusssier, entertainment editor for Gizmodo, described the LA-based screenplay as “perfection”, while IndieWire’s chief film critic David Ehrlich said it reaches “god-tier” heights. After eight Oscar previous nominations and no wins for director Paul Thomas Anderson, this movie could finally be the one that gets him an award, said Vanity Fair

Others think the Best Picture will go to a musical. “Few films have ever won more Oscars than the 1961 musical West Side Story,” said pop culture writer Kyle Buchanan at The New York Times. Now nods in the picture and director categories are all but certain for Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake. Though other contenders “fit the bill, they can’t hold a candle to the scale and grandeur” of this musical retelling. 

Other nominees:

  • Coda
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Drive My Car
  • Dune
  • King Richard
  • Nightmare Alley
  • The Power of the Dog

Actor in a Leading Role

Forbes said in October that “the best actor Oscar is Will Smith’s to lose”. His portrayal of Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, in King Richard has been described as one of the year’s great screen performances, but “of course, being the first frontrunner of the season is a dangerous game”, said Forbes

Meanwhile, Western epic The Power of the Dog should “well and truly silence Benedict Cumberbatch critics for good”, said the Metro, calling it “unquestionably” the performance of his career. The Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw has already deemed it “the year’s best film”, and the Academy would “save time” by giving him the best actor title now, said the Evening Standard

But The Tragedy of Macbeth may well return Denzel Washington “to his rightful place on the throne”, said Observer. Joel Coen’s take on the Shakespeare play will remind audiences why two-time Oscar-winner Washington “is the true king of Hollywood”.

Other nominees:

  • Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
  • Andrew Garfield, tick, tick… BOOM!

Actress in a Leading Role

Kristen Stewart is a “luminous Lady Di” in Spencer, an imagining of “three agonizing days in the reluctant royal’s life” over a Christmas holiday spent at Sandringham, said USA Today. The film could finally be her “ticket to the Oscars” - after all, “the Academy loves a British royal”, it adds. 

Penelope Cruz’s “remarkable” performance in Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers “goes beyond typical excellence”, said The Globe and Mail’s film editor Barry Hertz. The actress portrays both “victim and crusader” in this movie, and it’s a performance that “should live in the hall of Almodovar’s many great women on the verge of a nervous breakdown”. 

Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman plays Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s “strenuously unrelaxed comedy-drama inspired by the legendary US TV show I Love Lucy”, said The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. She “doesn’t really look like Lucille Ball,” said NME, but it “doesn’t really matter, because Kidman captures Ball’s essence – equal parts perky and plucky – in a way that feels authentic”.

Other nominees:

  • Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
  • Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Actor in a Supporting Role

Belfast “glows brightest” when Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench are on screen, said The Independent. Though the 69-year-old had said he wasn’t “listening to rumours that he may be nominated for an Oscar”, he was pleased that “nice that people are really appreciating” the film, reported Belfast Live.

Kodi Smit-McPhee “is probably the most exciting young actor to vie for awards this season”, said Vogue. But he’ll be battling against his Power of the Dog co-star Jesse Plemons, who the magazine said also delivered an “Oscar-worthy” performance. 

Other nominees:

  • Troy Kotsure, Coda
  • J. K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Actress in a Supporting Role

“Of the four acting categories this awards season, supporting actress is the most competitive,” said Variety.

Kirsten Dunst is “long overdue” an Academy accolade, and her performance as Rose, the wife of a rancher, in The Power of the Dog is “among her very best yet”. Dunst told USA Today that she “screamed” when she heard that her fiance, Plemons, had also been nominated. “I just can’t believe we got nominated together for the same movie”.

When it comes to tennis biopic King Richard, “no king would be complete without his queen”, said Backstage Magazine. Aunjanue Ellis’s performance as Will Smith’s on-screen “powerhouse” partner is “staggering”. King Richard “might just be her best work to date”. 

Rita Moreno took home the best supporting actress title in 1961 for her portrayal of Anita del Carmen in the original West Side Story. Sixty years on, Ariana DeBose is similarly tipped for success, “earning critical raves and awards chatter” for her performance as protagonist Maria’s best friend in Spielberg’s remake, said The New York Times.

Other nominees:

  • Judi Dench, Belfast
  • Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Directing

The Power of the Dog, written and directed by Jane Campion, “received a four-minute standing ovation” at the Venice Film Festival in September and picked up the Silver Lion Award for best director. The film “shimmers with intelligence”, and offers “echoes” of Campion's previous Oscar-winning “masterpiece” The Piano, said Nicholas Barber in his five-star BBC review.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s nomination, alongside the three others Drive My Car received yesterday, “thrilled the director’s native Japan”, said Variety. His “moving and meditative drama” has been “the awards season sensation from overseas”, and has launched Hamaguchi “onto the radar of discerning moviegoers around the world”.

Other nominees:

  • Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
  • Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Original Screenplay

Licorice Pizza is “a star-making affair” that captures “a freewheeling first love, and a blissful, conked-out vision of Americana that now feels like a fever dream”, said The Guardian. It’s one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “most charming and sentimental efforts” at the romantic coming-of-age comedy, said Cinema Blend. It is “almost certain” to be nominated for best original screenplay, and a “win may be within reach”.

Don’t Look Up has silenced “haters” by scoring four Oscar nominations this season, said Gold Derby. It’s a “clever, unapologetically brash satire” that “despite an abundance of cinematic virtues” has “been met with more negative reviews than raves”, said ArtsFuse. It’s an “A-list bomb of a movie”, but it’s made it to the Original Screenplay nominees list. 

Other contenders include:

  • Belfast
  • King Richard
  • The Worst Person In The World

Animated Feature

“Oscar nomination morning was heavenly for the creative team behind Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” said The Playlist. It’s “surprisingly delightful, moving story about a dysfunctional family learning how to connect again”, added Rolling Stone. And though an official announcement of a sequel has yet to be made, “one has to wonder if a confirmation is imminent” following the nomination, said The Playlist.

Disney’s first Southeast Asian action and adventure movie Raya and the Last Dragon has also been wracking up nominations this awards season, and could soon add an Oscar to its accolades. Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen’s screenplay is “pacy and propulsive”, though the action may be the “most distinctive” feature, said Empire. “It’s frequently breathtaking.” 

Other contenders include: 

  • Luca
  • Flee
  • Encanto

 Best Feature Documentary

“True to its title Ascension has been on the rise since it premiered in June at the Tribeca Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature and directing kudos for its filmmaker Jessica Kingdon,” said GoldDerby. And it has been “racking up critical and awards plaudits ever since”. The film explores modern China and what it means to pursue the “Chinese dream” in the 21st century, a topic which has becomes “especially urgent” in the light of the 2022 Beijing Games, as well as the government’s “recent crackdowns on its tech sector” and persecution of Uyghur Muslims. 

Another likely winner is Ahmir Thompson’s Summer of Soul, which “expands the map of modern cultural and social history while putting into the spotlight great musicians whose importance has long remained overshadowed by white pop heroes”, said Richard Brody in The New Yorker. It will no doubt be “recognized for its significance and also for the pleasures that it offers”. 

Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “innovative” animated documentary, Flee, also scored “rave reviews” at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize, said IndieWire

Other nominees:

  • Attica
  • Writing with Fire

Best Costume 

The “splashes of colour” in Paul Tazewell’s West Side Story costumes are “among the most memorable things about the movie”, said Brody in The New Yorker, but they are likely to “take a back seat to the extreme creations” of Cruella. The “flamboyant work” of the Disney film’s costume designer, Jenny Beaven, “has to be considered the favourite”, as it tapped into “her own youthful memories of ‘70s London fashion”, said IndieWire. The costumes of Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan for Dune should not be counted out, either. They showed “imagination and scope” with the “modern-medieval” costumes referencing “nomadic tribes of the desert, Greek mythology, and Goya paintings”.

Other nominees:

  • Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran, Cyrano
  • Luis Sequeira, Nightmare Alley

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