Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 94th Academy Awards was that it happened at all. In a world full of distractions and doom, the Oscars have flown well under the radar, much to the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC executives hoping to reverse years of downgrades.
At various other warm-up events — BAFTAS, SAGS, Critic’s Choice Awards, and more — the seemingly Ironman-like race for the Oscars has coalesced into a familiar narrative. The clearer the transformation of actors, the greater their chances of winning. Artsy and hard-hitting movies may be champions, but don’t count the crowd-pleasing gems.
If that’s the drama you’re looking for, it’s behind the scenes, as Oscar producer Will Packer tries to make a TV show that appeals broadly to honor a collection of films with only a small audience. Spider-Man: No Way Home.
While some of the competition in some of the larger categories has calcified over time, the potential for major disruption will help Oscar watchers stay tuned for Sunday. Now, let’s dive into that Oscar pool.
One of my first thoughts watching Dog Power is how specific and lively the film is, especially for one shot in New Zealand. But the skies are open and the charm of the countryside in western Montana looks like it’s about to lose sand dunes. One of the strengths of Denis Villeneuve’s dream project is its sense of wide world development. From the brutal architecture of the concrete fort to the old world touches that show the history of the Atreus family, every object has a sense of place and history.
Familiar singing and power chords from Hans Zimmer for sand dunes should easily drown out the artistic twang of Johnny Greenwood’s compositions for Dog Power.
Best make-up and hairdo
When in doubt, remember that voters choose not the best, but the most. The clearer the transformation, the better. In that case, no one comes close Tammy Faye’s eyesa film where makeup is even part of the title.
Smart money is active sand dunes for this category but I’m not sure the hallucinatory visions that Zendaya (and sand dunes almost three hours running) will convince voters. For a category that has been eliminated from live broadcasting, it’s a tight race. Will voters fall in love? Don’t Look Uppop art collage? Dog PowerNature portraits like Terrance Malik? my voice? Tick, Tick … Boom — post-modern music in musicals where movies flip between flashbacks with ease.
Best costume design
In a fair world, sophisticated dresses and suits meet film noir style nightmare gang will lead sir. But remember: it’s the best, not the best. So the two-tone punk fashion of cruel will take home the gold trophy.
Another colliding category, another melee race. Leading the pack is the remaining open and closeup views Dog Power. But don’t count west side storywith Janusz Kaminski giving the classic musical a vibrant film makeover.
Best international features
Do yourself a favor. Get up early. Put it in a strong coffee pot and get ready to watch Drive My Car. Three hours later, you’ll understand why this master class in slow release storytelling will win.
Best documentary features
Blurry, an animated film about the plight of refugees and one man’s escape from Afghanistan, is becoming more timely every day. Nevertheless, Questlove’s Summer of the Soul concert films are filled with joy and moments of musical bliss, enough to captivate many voters.
Best animation features
What could possibly compete with the released film? We’re Not Talking About Bruno? Charm will salsa get to the podium, but if you haven’t watched The Mitchells vs. Machines, You are missing one of the most original cartoons in years.
Best original screenplay
It’s not easy to win here. Will voters choose sentimental stories? Belfast? The firm determination of the tennis father King Richard? I would love to see fans Worst People in the World, a beautiful film about the romantic ruin of Norway, take home the prize. But I suspect the Academy’s progressive voters will film climate change metaphors Don’t Look Up a winner.
Best adaptation scenario
Go take a risk here. Easy money is there Dog Power, written by Oscar-winning auteur Jane Campion herself. But I suspect (or hope for) good intentions surrounding Maggie Gyllenhaal’s persistence The Lost Princess will cause irritation.
Best supporting artist
When west side story yet to make waves this Oscar season, Ariana DeBose’s vibrant performance as Anita is the key to winning.
Best supporting actor
Perhaps the most certain thing this season, Troy Kotsur will triumph over his performance as a cruel and cursing father. CODA. The fact that the deaf actor was long ready to retire before auditioning for the role made the win even sweeter.
If this were a tribute to the most daring performance, it would be Kristen Stewart for her role as Diana, Princess of Wales, in Spencer. To take such a beloved icon and inhabit a character without fear, in doing so gives us a real woman, shaking with frustration, is simply incredible. That said, the award will be given to Jessica Chastian as Tammy Fayeto add a new layer of vulnerability to familiar TV caricatures.
I think what Andrew Garfield achieved as screenwriter Johnathan Larson in Tick, Tick … Boom nothing less than a magic trick, but he wasn’t even in the conversation. While I’d like to see Denzel Washington piss off his grounded version Macbeththe race seems to depend on Will Smith in King Richard and Benedict Cumberbatch at Dog Power. As he often does, Cumberbatch completely disappears into the role of Phil’s stinky banjo-hitting ranch hand. But I suspect all of his acting methods won’t be able to counter Smith’s enchantment attacks. The Academy likes Will. We love Will. As Richard Williams, Smith gave us something to root for, while stretching his acting muscles.
While there’s been a lot of talk about Steven Spielberg’s love for the past few weeks, take a look at Campion taking home his first Oscar as a director. Dog Power. “The West where nobody shoots guns” is how Canadian producer Roger Frappier described it. Instead, it was the carefully calibrated secrets that the Campion expertly drew.
For months now, it seems Dog Power destined to be the best picture winner. The way Campion incorporates a western setting with new sensibilities and a surprisingly gay subtext fits perfectly into the modern Oscar formula. But something strange happened in the race to the podium. CODA, a heartwarming film about a singer who fights with her deaf parents, is starting to win awards. Many awards. Could it be? Dog Power peaking too early? Can Campion Comments at the Critics Choice Awards hurt movie chances? Or will the lingering bias towards Netflix be part of the disapproval? But keep in mind, as Clayton Davis of Variety told me, the Oscar race isn’t about the most beloved movie. That’s what I like the most. With dog power, you like it or not. But thanks to preferential voting, CODA could be the second choice of many voters. With a mushy feel-good story centered around an authentic deaf family, CODA can save the message that Oscar voters want to convey.
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