For the first time in more than a decade, the Oscars have given us 10 best-picture nominees, and it’s an eclectic bunch that runs the gamut from space operas to psychological westerns. But which films have the inside track to actually take home the gold?
As your resident Projectionist, I’ve sized up all 10 nominees. Some have a real shot at winning best picture, while others could score in different categories if voters are eager to spread the wealth. In the meantime, you’ve got almost two months to catch up with these titles before the Oscars on March 27. Get cracking!
If the best-picture race comes down to “Belfast” and “The Power of the Dog,” as many expect, then the Oscar nominations may have exposed a few weaknesses for Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white dramedy: Namely, “Belfast” failed to score bellwether nominations for editing and cinematography, while “The Power of the Dog” clinched both. And though “Belfast” did earn two acting nominations, those honors went not to the actors who had campaigned the most, Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, but to their older co-stars, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench, in the supporting categories.
Still, all of that may not matter in the end if voters are drawn to the good-natured “Belfast” over more challenging fare on their ballots. We’ll get our first sign if the film wins the best-cast honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Feb. 27 — the rare race where “The Power of the Dog” did not make the cut — and if “Belfast” can follow that potential victory with a key win from the Producers Guild in mid-March, just as final Oscar voting begins.
Likeliest win: Best picture.
Apple earned its first best-picture nominee with this tear-jerker about a deaf family and its hearing daughter, who yearns to become a singer. Not bad, after an eye-popping Sundance Film Festival sale a year ago was followed by a quiet summer debut on the service.
These nominations (as well as Denzel Washington’s best-actor nod for Apple’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth”) may coax more people to open the Apple app on movie night, and if that momentum continues to build, it could help propel Troy Kotsur — who’s awfully moving as the gruff father in “CODA” — to the front of a fluid supporting-actor race.
Likeliest win: Best supporting actor.
‘Don’t Look Up’
Is there something in the air, besides a fearsome comet? In the days before the Oscar nominations were announced, both the Vulture film critic Alison Willmore and the Ringer podcast host Sean Fennessey predicted that “Don’t Look Up” would be our ultimate best-picture winner. So do their hunches still hold water?
I’m less inclined to think so, since the writer-director Adam McKay’s environmental satire failed to pick up key nominations in directing or acting, indicating that the film may actually be one of the weaker contenders in this field. Still, it’s one of Netflix’s most-watched original movies ever, and unlike some of the period dramas on this list, it won’t have to strain too hard to sell voters on its modern-day relevance.
Likeliest win: Best original screenplay.
‘Drive My Car’
Can “Drive My Car” follow the path of “Parasite” and become the next film not in the English language to clinch best picture and director Oscars? It’s incredible that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Japanese drama about grief and art has come this far at all, since unlike the Palme d’Or winner “Parasite,” it was shut out of the top three prizes during the Cannes Film Festival last summer, taking only a screenplay award.
But significant year-end support from critics’ groups helped “Drive My Car” crash the Oscar race, where it claimed nominations for picture, director, adapted screenplay and international feature. Hollywood doesn’t know Hamaguchi as well as it got to know the “Parasite” auteur Bong Joon Ho during that film’s prepandemic Oscar season, so multiple wins may be hard to come by, though there’s at least one category where “Drive My Car” should cruise to an easy victory.
Likeliest win: Best international feature.
Look, it’s no mean feat for a massive sci-fi film to make its way into the best-picture race, and “Dune” scored 10 nominations total, one of only two movies to earn a double-digit haul. (“The Power of the Dog” is the other.) It also helps that even though “Dune” debuted simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters, it can still boast the biggest box-office performance of all the best-picture nominees, having earned nearly $400 million worldwide.
But the absence of Denis Villeneuve from the best-director race was shocking, given his Directors Guild nomination and the recent tendency for this academy branch to nominate technically audacious work. Any chance that “Dune” could leverage that snub into an “Argo”-like best-picture win may be muted by the announcement of the film’s sequel: Perhaps the academy is more inclined to see how well Villeneuve wraps things up.
Likeliest win: Best visual effects.
You knew it would be a good nomination day for “King Richard” when the first category announced, for supporting actress, included the film’s terrific Aunjanue Ellis. Sure enough, this inspirational tennis drama picked up a solid six nominations, including original screenplay, editing, and best song for Beyoncé’s “Be Alive.”
But let’s be honest, this is the Will Smith show. Smith has never won an Oscar, but his charismatic performance as the father of the tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams has now given the 53-year-old actor his strongest shot yet. I’d feel more certain if there had already been some televised precursors where Smith’s acceptance speeches could have brought the house down, but as long as he triumphs at the Screen Actors Guild Awards at the end of this month, he should segue smoothly to an Oscar victory.
Likeliest win: Best actor.
Any best-picture nominee that also picks up director and screenplay nods is doing something right, but I’m a little surprised that’s all “Licorice Pizza” has to work with. Previous Paul Thomas Anderson movies like “Phantom Thread,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master” and “Boogie Nights” earned plenty of nominations for their cast members, but the “Licorice Pizza” lead Alana Haim and its showy supporting actor Bradley Cooper didn’t manage to punch through. None of the film’s below-the-line department heads were recognized, either.
With eight previous nominations and no wins, the writer-director Anderson is one of Hollywood’s most overdue figures to take home an Oscar, but he’ll need a film with more across-the-board support if he wants a shot at best picture.
Likeliest win: Best original screenplay.
Guillermo del Toro’s last film, “The Shape of Water,” was one of the most Oscar-nominated movies in history: Earning 13 nominations, it won best picture. His follow-up, the noir remake “Nightmare Alley,” is somewhat less successful, with a nomination haul of just four.
Still, though “Nightmare Alley” was expected to be recognized for its dazzling production design and cinematography, its best-picture chances were on the bubble after the film flopped in wide release, taking in just $10.8 million domestically. That this downbeat drama made it into the race at all should serve as the film’s biggest victory.
Likeliest win: Best production design.
‘The Power of the Dog’
Who could have predicted that our nomination leader wouldn’t be a flashy technical marvel like “Dune” or “West Side Story” but instead the handsome, restrained “The Power of the Dog”? Jane Campion’s western overdelivered on Oscar morning, picking up every expected nomination as well as a few that were more on the bubble, like supporting actor for Jesse Plemons and nods in editing and production design.
With 12 nominations total and Campion making history as the first woman to pick up two nominations for directing (her first was for the 1993 film “The Piano”), “The Power of the Dog” has by far the most momentum in Oscar’s homestretch. The only question is whether this drama, which some find a bit cool to the touch, can pull off dual wins in picture and director, or whether Campion will win while another more conventionally crowd-pleasing movie takes best picture.
Likeliest win: Best director.
‘West Side Story’
After seeing Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” in early December, I thought the film could follow the path of its 1961 predecessor and win best picture. Not quite. Though it did get key nominations in that category and for Spielberg’s directing, only the supporting actress Ariana DeBose was nominated from the film’s cast — nothing for its lead, Rachel Zegler, its breakout, Mike Faist, or its returning MVP, Rita Moreno. And the absence of Tony Kushner from the adapted-screenplay race suggests that “West Side Story” never fully emerged from the long shadow cast by the first film.
Spielberg and Kushner will have another Oscar opportunity with their coming original drama “The Fabelmans,” but in the meantime, though I expect “West Side Story” to lose all of its technical races to “Dune,” DeBose is well-positioned to follow in Moreno’s footsteps and win an Oscar for playing the fiery, anguished Anita.
Likeliest win: Best supporting actress.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.