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Best Picture

Having picked up Best Picture and Best Director awards at this year’s BAFTA’s, Jane Campion’s beautifully crafted Western epic “The Power of the Dog” (pictured) is the frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. It’s nominated in 11 categories — a sign of its all-round excellence — and it would be a (minor) shock if it didn’t pick up the main prize.

Among its contenders, “CODA” — a coming-of-age drama about a 17-year-old girl who is the only hearing member of her family; her parents and brother are all deaf — has started to pick up serious heat in recent weeks. With three of the four leading characters played by deaf actors, it is an important milestone in the representation of deaf culture in the cinema and its momentum has only built since it picked up the Best Ensemble award at the SAGs.

Speaking of representation, “King Richard” is a film about exactly that. The ‘Richard’ of the title being Richard Williams, father and coach to tennis legends Venus and Serena, whose well-documented dominance — and reimagining — of a predominantly white, somewhat elitist, sport was in large part down to the force of his personality, as well as their own.

Many critics were unconvinced by Adam McKay’s dark comedy “Don’t Look Up” — a satirical take on the climate crisis, in which two astronomers try to make politicians and the media take their warnings of an imminent apocalypse seriously. But actual climate activists and scientists have made it clear the film is, in fact, closer to the truth of their dealings with governments and the press than perhaps even McKay realized.

There’s a strong possibility this could be the year the Academy finally recognizes the stellar work of Paul Thomas Anderson. His coming-of-age comedy drama “Licorice Pizza” is yet another example of his singular cinematic vision and would be a worthy winner.

Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast” was an early favorite on its release last year — it’s got the blend of sentimentality and skill that is often favored by the Academy — but has perhaps lost a little of its buzz recently.

A few years ago, the idea that Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s meditation on grief and art — “Drive My Car” — could be awarded Best Picture by the Academy would have been laughable. But since “Parasite” won in 2020, that has changed. Hamaguchi’s engaging and important movie stands a chance.

The other three nominees — “Nightmare Alley,” “Dune” and “West Side Story” — certainly can’t be written off either, helmed as they are by three masterful filmmakers (Guillermo del Toro, Denis Villeneuve and Steven Spielberg respectively). But our feeling is that none of them will win.

Our prediction: “The Power of the Dog”

Best Director

There’s some serious talent in this category, with five phenomenal filmmakers up for the prize. Steven Spielberg’s nomination means he has now been nominated in the category in six consecutive decades — an astonishing achievement. Kenneth Branagh has made arguably his best film ever, Ryusuke Hamaguchi now has Hollywood’s backing for his already stellar international standing, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s (pictured) ninth film simply cements his reputation as one of the greats. But we think Jane Campion’s triumphant return after a dozen years away will see her win it.

Our prediction: Jane Campion

Best Actress

The big story in this category is the non-appearance of Lady Gaga, whose depiction of Patricia Reggiani in “House of Gucci” earned nominations in just about every other award show going, but was snubbed by the Academy. Of the actual nominees, the most buzz surrounds Jessica Chastain (pictured) for her portrayal of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” After two previous nominations (one in this category), Chastain will be hoping it’s third time lucky. But it’s a hard-to-call category: Kristen Stewart’s remarkable transformation into Princess Diana in “Spencer” and Nicole Kidman’s star turn as Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos” will definitely run her close. If Olivia Colman hadn’t won this award in 2019, then she would probably be a stronger contender for her role as Leda in “The Lost Daughter.” Penélope Cruz was superb in “Parallel Mothers,” but would be a surprise winner here.

Our prediction: Kristen Stewart

Best Actor

Javier Bardem put in a great performance as Lucille Ball’s on- and offscreen husband Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos,” but may be let down by the role itself, which lacked the depth to really dazzle. He’s an outsider in this category. In fact, it’s tough to see anyone beating out the clear favorite Will Smith (pictured), whose portrayal of Richard Williams in “King Richard” was both passionate and powerful, commanding the screen. And has already won him a slew of awards. The third nominee to play a real person — Andrew Garfield as the musical genius Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick… Boom!” — created an energetic and eye-catching turn, but won’t win. Smith’s strongest challenge comes from the final two nominees — Denzel Washington was as compelling as ever in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s fierce take on a character blinded by self-deception in “The Power of the Dog” was superb.

Our prediction: Will Smith

Best Supporting Actress

The five nominees all put in superb performances, but the smart money for this year’s award is on Ariana DeBose (pictured, front left) for her scene-stealing work as Anita in “West Side Story.” Her main competition will come from Kirsten Dunst (as widow and alcoholic Rose in “The Power of the Dog”), whom the Academy have long spurned (this is her first nomination) and Aunjanue Ellis, who went toe-to-toe with Will Smith at his best in “King Richard” and came out shining. The revered Dame Judi Dench (“Belfast”) and Irish up-and-comer Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”) are rank outsiders.

Our prediction: Ariana DeBose

Best Supporting Actor

“The Power of the Dog” sees two of its co-stars nominated — Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee — both of whom would be deserving winners. J.K. Simmons is a magnificent actor, one of the best around, but will not win this year for his work in “Being the Ricardos.” Nor will Ciarán Hinds, nominated for a fine performance in “Belfast.” It will be a huge surprise if Troy Kòtsur (pictured) doesn’t win this prize; first of all, it might be the ‘safest’ category for the Academy to recognize “CODA” in (Kòtsur is the first deaf male to be nominated for an acting Oscar) and, secondly, he gave a brilliant performance.

Our prediction: Troy Kòtsur

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