94th annual Academy Awards: The Power of the Dog, Belfast, and Dune expected to dominate this year's nominations

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The Power of the Dog — Photo courtesy of Netflix
The Power of the Dog — Photo courtesy of Netflix

It's that time again. The 94th annual Academy Award nominations will be announced next week, on Tuesday, Feb. 8, and considering how tumultuous a cinematic year 2021 turned out to be, it's safe to say there are going to be quite a few surprises.

Sure, Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog, Kenneth Branagh's Belfast, and Denis Villeneuve's Dune are going to come away with a large haul of nods in several key categories. But after that? If anyone tells you they know exactly how this is going to turn out, don't you believe them.

Why is that? Even more than last year's eclectic slate of nominees, with box office declines being what they are — Spider-Man: No Way Home and its almost two billion worldwide ticket sales notwithstanding — and the continued dominance of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and HBO Max, it's almost impossible to tell what floated an Academy member's boat and what they left stranded in drydock.

What did voters watch? What never made it to the top of their massive screener pile? Did critics groups and other precursor awards from the likes of SAG or the Producer's Guild sway things one way or another? How will the Academy's return to a set slate of ten Best Picture nominees shape things in the remaining categories? These and other questions are currently sitting at the forefront of my mind, and I'm curious to see how it turns out.

The number one thing I'm curious to learn is whether or not Academy members took the time to watch Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car, winner of the top prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics — not to mention also top honors from our hometown Seattle Film Critics Society. No motion picture that has conquered this particular critical trifecta has ever failed to land a Best Picture nomination.

Sadly, considering this is a three-hour meditative sojourn, part of me worries not enough voters will give Hamaguchi's triumphant modern masterwork the time of day. Hopefully, I'll be proven wrong, but I'm not holding my breath.

There are other giant question marks, not the least of which is whether or not Kristen Stewart will land a Best Actress nomination for her blisteringly raw turn as Princess Diana in director Pablo Larraín's Spencer, the most honored performance of 2021. Shockwaves went through the Oscar prognostication world, though, when Stewart was unexpectedly denied a SAG nomination. Will the same thing happen Tuesday morning when this category's nominees are finally revealed?

Things I'm personally hoping for even though I think they're all pretty big long shots: Nicolas Cage landing a Best Actor nod for Pig; The Matrix Resurrections showing up in Visual Effects and Sound; Penélope Cruz snagging a Best Actress slot for Parallel Mothers; Cyrano making the cut for Costumes, Makeup & Hair, plus Production Design; and Candyman scoring a surprise nomination for Best Original Score.

I'd also love to see Rebecca Hall's Passing make an appearance in a good half-dozen categories, but as Netflix has sadly left this film out in the cold to die, I'm not holding out much hope, save a lone Best Supporting Actress nom for Ruth Negga.

Here are my predictions for the top categories, as well as one personal pick that has no chance of happening. Check back next week to see how I did.

BEST PICTURE

  • Thoughts: The Academy has returned to a guaranteed list of ten, so no longer will a Best Picture nominee need to score 5% of the first-place votes to garner a slot. This opens the door for foreign, animated, independent, and giant box office hits to snatch a seat at the table. Heck, even a documentary could make the cut this year. I'm not predicting that will be the case, but dang, wouldn't that be kind of cool?
  • Prediction: Being the Ricardos, Belfast, CODA, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, tick, tick...BOOM!, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story
  • In the Hunt: Don't Look Up, Drive My Car, Encanto, FLEE, House of Gucci, The Lost Daughter, No Time to Die, Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Personal Pick: Shiva Baby

    BEST DIRECTOR
  • Thoughts: There are so many cool choices the Academy could make in this category, but I have a sneaky suspicion the final ones will mirror the recently announced Director's Guild nominees. Granted, that hasn't happened in seven decades, so maybe I'll be wrong.
  • Prediction: Kenneth Branagh — Belfast, Denis Villeneuve — Dune, Paul Thomas Anderson — Licorice Pizza, Jane Campion — The Power of the Dog, Steven Spielberg — West Side Story
  • In the Hunt: Siân Heder — CODA, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi — Drive My Car, Adam McKay — Don't Look Up, Pedro Almodóvar — Parallel Mothers, Joel Coen — The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • Personal Pick: Julia Ducournau — Titane

    BEST ACTOR
  • Thoughts: This category is going to have some heavyweight contenders. It is likely one that is going to make me silently scream in rage when a few of my personal favorites end up not making the cut.
  • Prediction: Javier Bardem — Being the Ricardos, Will Smith — King Richard, Benedict Cumberbatch — The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield — tick, tick...BOOM!, Denzel Washington — The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • In the Hunt: Peter Dinklage — Cyrano, Leonardo DiCaprio — Don't Look Up, Hidetoshi Nishijima — Drive My Car, Clifton Collins, Jr. — Jockey, Cooper Hoffman — Licorice Pizza, Bradley Cooper — Nightmare Alley, Nicolas Cage — Pig
  • Personal Pick: Dev Patel — The Green Knight

    BEST ACTRESS
  • Thoughts: Back in September, this felt like Kristen Stewart's to lose. Now she's on the verge of not even getting a nomination. Can't say I saw that coming.
  • Prediction: Nicole Kidman — Being the Ricardos, Lady Gaga — House of Gucci, Olivia Colman — The Lost Daughter, Kristen Stewart — Spencer, Rachel Zegler — West Side Story
  • In the Hunt: Jessica Chastain — The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jennifer Lawrence — Don't Look Up, Alana Haim — Licorice Pizza, Penélope Cruz — Parallel Mothers, Tessa Thompson — Passing, Jennifer Hudson — Respect, Frances McDormand — The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • Personal Pick: Isabelle Fuhrman — The Novice

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
  • Thoughts: Don't know why, but I feel like this could be the category with the most surprises, as I think only Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Power of the Dog is safe.
  • Prediction: Ciarán Hinds — Belfast, Troy Kotsur — CODA, Jared Leto — House of Gucci, Kodi Smit-McPhee — The Power of the Dog, Ben Affleck — The Tender Bar
  • In the Hunt: J.K. Simmons — Being the Ricardos, Jamie Dornan — Belfast, Benicio del Toro — The French Dispatch, Jeffrey Wright — The French Dispatch, Bradley Cooper — Licorice Pizza, Mike Faist — West Side Story
  • Personal Pick: Colman Domingo — Zola

    BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
  • Thoughts: This is going to be a fun category, but that doesn't mean I think there will be a ton of shocks.
    Prediction: Caitríona Balfe — Belfast, Jessie Buckley — The Lost Daughter, Ruth Negga — Passing, Kirsten Dunst — The Power of the Dog, Ariana DeBose — West Side Story
  • In the Hunt: Judi Dench — Belfast, Marlee Matlin — CODA, Meryl Streep — Don't Look Up, Aunjanue Ellis — King Richard, Ann Dowd — Mass, Cate Blanchett — Nightmare Alley, Rita Moreno — West Side Story
  • Personal Pick: Kathryn Hunter — The Tragedy of Macbeth