Thoughts on 2022 Oscar Nominations

Thoughts on 2022 Oscar Nominations

This year’s crop is a mixed bag, with some pleasant and unexpected surprises, and some that seem tired and just plain off. But generally, the Academy tended to share the love, and it’s becoming more obvious that the new members (more international and inclusive) are having a slight impact.

Note: With far too many funerals to attend, and with having COVID, I haven’t been able to see as many films as I’ve liked. So my thoughts are often due to my reading about rather than experiencing.

Real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog

Best Picture

Belfast

CODA

Don’t Look Up

Dune

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Of the ones I’ve seen, I would be happy to see either The Power of the Dog or West Side Story win; I believe both are worthy, though very different from one another.

CODA is this year’s Sound of Metal: It’s an indie, it’s a surprise feel-good film available on streaming (Amazon Prime and Apple TV+), it features a strong male performance, and it’s about the deaf community. This is the academy’s tip of the hat to the indies, the deaf community, and films from streaming services. It doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning, but as is often the case, the nomination is the award.

Belfast is being tossed about as a possible winner, as it’s arty, full of Kenneth Branagh (writer and director, and a respected actor who doesn’t act in this personal film), features good performances, and is black-and-white, which today screams serious or arty or both.

Dune is expected to mop up in the technical awards, and didn’t get a director’s nod for Denis Villeneuve, which likely limits its chances of winning Best Picture.

King Richard wouldn’t have a made a top 5 list, but is here because it got OK reviews and features two great performances from Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis as Venus and Serena Williams’ parents.

Nightmare Alley and Licorice Pizza are respected films that are from great filmmakers who are doing excellent work this year. Neither is gaining tremendous popularity, but they are getting great reviews.

My money at this point is on The Power of the Dog, with the highest number of nominations (12). It’s a Western (albeit set far outside of the usual window of late 19th century), and it’s a Netflix production—both limiting factors. But it’s such a solid work, with a great screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and some of the best performances of the year.

The only alternative to TPOTD would be West Side Story, which might have been the favorite if it had been more financially successful. Perhaps without the fear of returning to theaters that COVID has wrought in audiences, especially among an older demographic, this might have been a sure-fire winner, especially with Steven Spielberg directing one of his best films. Certainly there is the aura of disappointment around this wonderful film; few seemed to predict the lack of interest and excitement.

Director Jane Campion

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Nothing’s a big surprise here. It’s a bit of a jolt that Denis Villeneuve didn’t get a nomination for the stunning and visionary Dune. But there is often one director left off the list that gets replaced by a director whose picture doesn’t have a chance of winning, but a person the Academy would like to honor. Drive My Car is nominated beyond Picture and Director for its screenplay and as Japan’s representative for Best International Feature Film. It has some of the best reviews of the year, and its appearance here among the nominations is only a surprise to those who haven’t noticed how many other awards this film has been racking up, including the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film.

Branagh is greatly respected, and might have been a lock if Belfast had been more successful critically and financially. Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is a big change of pace for him, but is something of a sprawling mess (not necessarily a criticism). Spielberg would be a worthy winner. But Campion has the edge at this point.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Will Smith, King Richard

Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

This year was looking to be a coronation of Will Smith for an excellent and different performance until The Power of the Dog appeared, featuring a for-the-ages performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. Bardem doesn’t belong on the list (plus he’s already won in the supporting category for No Country for Old Men). Denzel probably won’t win (a good thing), but the nomination says “I love you” from the Academy anyway. I was happy to see Garfield on the list, as this was a great performance but one I feared would be overlooked. I can’t make any kind of prediction here, only that Bardem and Washington won’t win.

Chastain, Colman, Cruz, Kidman, Stewart

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

This category seems the most confusing at the moment. Colman won recently, so she probably won’t win again quite so soon—plus her character (brilliantly portrayed by Colman) is difficult and distancing. Cruz has already won in the supporting category, and this might be just a nod to the respect for her work here. Foreign-language actresses have won before (Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard), but they are rare.

Stewart was considered the anointed one earlier last year, but has since faded. Her presence here is something of a comeback, and she is a dark horse in a year that doesn’t feature a towering performance that most can agree upon. Kidman is actually excellent in Being the Ricardos, and is doing what few others are capable of in terms of voice and characterization. But she is a past winner as well, and the mixed feelings about her performance may count her out.

I had always thought that Chastain would be the winner with her next great performance, and this is that performance. But the film hasn’t been all that successful, and most are seeing it, if at all, on their televisions.

Without a clear frontrunner, this category is both exciting and head-scratching.

Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

Best Supporting Actor

Ciarán Hinds, Belfast

Troy Kotsur, CODA

Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog

J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Starting with those unlikely to win, we have Kotsur (sign of respect only), Plemons (the same), and J.K. Simmons, a previous winner in this category. Some have found fault with his performance and its similarity to his Oscar-winning work in Whiplash. I think they may share some similarities in terms of crankiness, but these are two different characters, and Simmons leans in brilliantly here as William Frawley.

Usually having two actors up for Best Supporting signals a danger of one canceling out the other. I don’t think that will be the case here. At the moment, I think the Oscar will go to Smit-McPhee. There is a chance that respected character actor Hinds might get a career appreciation Oscar à la Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, George Clooney, etc. If so, it might be considered a vote for the film as well in place of other awards such as Picture and Director.

Best Support Actress

Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Judi Dench, Belfast

Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Aunjanuie Ellis, King Richard

Usually when a person in the supporting category “owns” their movie, they have a great chance of winning. Examples like Angelica Houston (Prizzi’s Honor) and Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) come to mind. DeBose has been the front runner for a long time, and she truly owns WSS. To be cynical, she also ticks certain demographic boxes that the Academy prides themselves on honoring. Also, it makes a great story—60 years after the first Anita (Rita Moreno) won, the second wins. Great symmetry and sentimentality there. Also, she deserves it.

Dench can’t make a false move, and probably deserves an Oscar for every other performance. But she already has one. Dunst might have been an early favorite, but she is in the Amanda Seyfriend in Mank category; pretty young thing grows up and spits out a great performance, and gets respect among her peers, but no award.

Ellis is in the “one great scene” category, which often gets a nod, but rarely wins the award. Buckley does a classic supporting turn in The Lost Daughter, genuinely supporting the lead performance by Colman by providing context and taking the heat her older character by demonstrating the selfishness and prickliness that formed the basis for Colman’s performance.

I was disappointed not to see Olga Merediz in this lineup for her work in In the Heights, but that film was completely ignored by the Academy. But if you see it, keep an eye out for her strong work here.

But…this is DeBose’s year.

Other thoughts

Why didn’t West Side Story get a Best Editing Award?

Drive My Car has a lock on Best International Feature

I hope Jane Campion wins Best Adapted Screenplay for The Power of the Dog.

Predictions will come later.

About Mark DuPré

Retired (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Retired film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 45+ years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I continue some ministry duties even though retired from the pastoral position. Right now I'm co-writing a book, working on a documentary (screenwriter and assistant director), and creating a serious musical drama (I am writing the book and lyrics).
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