The Road to the 94th Oscars, Part 1: Twas the Day Before Noms…

Welcome back, for the first time this season, to The Road to the Oscars! At the time this post goes live, we will be exactly 24 hours from the announcement of the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards. At 8:18 AM ET on Tuesday, February 8, 2022, Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan will be announcing the nominations live on broadcast TV, Twitter, the Oscars website, and YouTube ( ). You’ll also be able to catch the announcements right here on The Avocado, where you can expect a post to go live at 8 AM ET and me to struggle to type up the noms as quickly as possible as in past years. 

For those of you who follow this annual series, I hope my absence hasn’t been too noticeable; these posts take a lot of time to research and write up, and life has really gotten in the way this year. The good news is: I’m still here, I’m still predicting, and I managed to get this in under the wire! The better news is that one piece of guesswork is gone this year, since the Academy is returning to a guaranteed slate of ten Best Picture nominees. Okay, that’s enough preamble – let’s dive in!

The Power of the Dog, credit: Netflix.

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is easily the top contender this year for the most above-the-line nominations. It’s a shoo-in for nominations in Picture, Director (where Campion must be considered the frontrunner for a win right now), Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch, in a tight race with Will Smith for the top spot), Supporting Actor (frontrunner Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Adapted Screenplay (again, the frontrunner), as well as Cinematography, Film Editing, and Score. Kirsten Dunst is a strong contender for a Supporting Actress nomination; she notably missed a BAFTA nom this week, but with Golden Globe and SAG noms under her belt and a bevy of regional critics’ nominations and wins, I have her in the top 5. Jesse Plemons, on the other hand, did manage a BAFTA Supporting Actor nomination after missing with all but a few regional critics and the Broadcast Film Critics (purveyors of the Critics’ Choice Awards). I can’t put him in the top 5 with such a spotty history and Smit-McPhee dominating the conversation, but if the film is as strong as it appears, he could be brought into the fold (along with an appearance in Sound). 

The Power of the Dog may have the highest profile, but it’s actually Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune that I expect to get the most nominations overall tomorrow morning, dominating in the technical categories à la Blade Runner 2049. Dune has swept the guilds this year, earning nominations from all but SAG. The film also earned 11 BAFTA nominations last week, though notably Villeneuve missed in Director; I don’t expect that to repeat with the Academy, who are sure to recognize Villeneuve like the Directors Guild before them. Rest assured that, in addition to Picture and Director noms, Dune will walk away with nominations for Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Score, Sound, and Visual Effects. It has an outside shot at Adapted Screenplay and is my alternate in that stacked category, but breaking into any of the acting categories is a step too far. Maybe Part Two will manage to thread that needle!

West Side Story, credit: 20th Century Studios.

Steven Spielberg’s late-season reimagining of West Side Story has had a strong showing so far, sidestepping the controversy around its problematic male lead and managing a wealth of nominations and wins from critics’ associations. The film will surely be walking away with nominations for Picture, Supporting Actress (frontrunner DeBose, though the beloved Rita Moreno is my alternate in the category, too), Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and Sound. I think Mike Faist will manage to sneak into Supporting Actor, and a good morning for West Side Story (which I’m expecting) will result in nominations in Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing. With all of these expected noms, you’d think that Spielberg would easily take a Director slot. I am indeed currently predicting him, but (spoiler alert) I am also predicting that Ryusuke Hamaguchi makes it in over either Spielberg or Kenneth Branagh (my current thinking is Branagh). 

Speaking of Kenneth Branagh, his autobiographical Belfast started the season strong with a TIFF People’s Choice win, and while it’s piled up nominations and critics’ wins over the past several months, I am not seeing much passion for the film. It will pick up nominations in Picture, Supporting Actress (Caitriona Balfe), Supporting Actor (Ciaran Hinds), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Sound, but I think Branagh is the weakest of the top contenders in Director and will be subsumed by the rising star of Hamaguchi. Short coattails for the film mean that Jamie Dornan won’t make it in for Supporting Actor (justice for Barb and Star!), “Down to Joy” is just barely hanging on as my alternate in Song, and the film is also dropping to my alternate slot in Production Design. 

Drive My Car, credit: Bitters End.

I’ve mentioned Ryusuke Hamaguchi twice now, so it’s about time I address Drive My Car, which is experiencing quite a surge. The Cannes Screenplay winner became only the sixth film to sweep Best Picture with the three major U.S. critics’ groups (NYFCC, LAFCA, and the National Society of Film Critics). It didn’t manage a Picture nom with BAFTA, but with twice as many nominations in the category at the Oscars, I am confident it will make it in, and repeat its three BAFTA nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay, and International Feature Film. Drive My Car’s biggest competition in International Feature Film will come from Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, which is unlikely to pull off any other nominations, though Renate Reinsve’s selection by the jury for an Actress nomination with BAFTA was a welcome surprise. 

Speaking of films that are surging, Apple’s 2021 Sundance pick-up CODA is making itself known late in the season, managing Picture and Supporting Actor nominations with SAG, the HFPA, and the BFCA, and a trio of noms with BAFTA (Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay). Emilia Jones is unlikely to repeat that Actress nomination tomorrow, and Marlee Matlin has been depressingly absent from the Supporting Actress conversation throughout the season, but Troy Kotsur has to be considered a guaranteed Supporting Actor nominee. Kotsur won’t be alone, either: I am predicting CODA to make it into the Picture and Adapted Screenplay lineups. 

On the other side of the coin is King Richard, a film that was widely predicted to make a huge mark on this year’s Oscars race and more or less fizzled upon its premiere. Will Smith is still going to be vying with Benedict Cumberbatch for an Actor win, and Picture, Original Screenplay, and Song nominations are all but certain. Aunjanue Ellis has been in and out of Supporting Actress, but I think her strength is showing after last week’s BAFTA nomination and she will make it in.  

King Richard, credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

We last heard from Adam McKay when he managed a Director nomination for 2018’s Vice, a feat he is unlikely to repeat for Don’t Look Up, though the Netflix hit is coming for a healthy haul of nominations, including Picture, Original Screenplay, Score, and Song. After an unexpected BAFTA nomination (and presumably not a jury pick, at that!), Leonardo DiCaprio has to be considered a contender for an Actor nom, and I’m picking him over Peter Dinklage (for Cyrano, unlikely to show up anywhere Tuesday morning) as my alternate in the category. If the Academy is leaning towards the film, it could appear in Film Editing as well – it pulled off an ACE nomination and thus is my alternate pick in the category.

Another director looking to make it back into the race is Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Licorice Pizza is all but certain to appear on the Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing lists tomorrow. Bradley Cooper should also appear in Supporting Actor, marking his ninth (!!) nomination across all categories. Less certain is breakout star Alana Haim; Actress has been a highly competitive category all season (more on that in a minute). Haim is the only contender in a likely Picture nominee, but acclaim for the film has been mostly focused on Anderson. She popped up in the BAFTA noms last week (though it’s anybody’s guess if she was in the top two or was a jury pick), unlike most of the other Actress contenders, so I can’t count her out and am picking Haim as my alternate.

Easily winning the award for this year’s most annoying title to type is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick…BOOM!, which was shut out by BAFTA but has a very strong Actor contender in Andrew Garfield and is likely to appear in Sound. The film did well with the HFPA and BFCA and pulled off a couple of guild nominations, including a coveted Producers Guild nom. It’s towards the bottom of the list, but especially with the list expanded to ten films, I think tick, tick…BOOM! takes a Picture slot. 

Coming off of Frances McDormand’s third Actress win, Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth was expected to be a top contender this year, but it never really came together. McDormand seems to be totally out of the Actress conversation, though her co-star Denzel Washington is in the thick of it and likely to pull off an Actor nom. Adapted Screenplay is probably not in the cards, but the Academy loves black-and-white cinematography (see also: Belfast), so expect it to show up in Cinematography and Production Design. It’s competing with Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos for my alternate slot in Picture. Being the Ricardos, while not a top contender, is likely to earn nominations for its co-leads, Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. It’s impossible to bet against Aaron Sorkin showing up in Original Screenplay, so I won’t even consider it. My heart wants to give the alternate Picture slot to Macbeth, but I can’t argue with three above-the-line noms and have to give it to the Ricardos.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye, credit: Searchlight Pictures.

I mentioned above that Actress has been one of the more competitive categories this season. The aforementioned Kidman and Haim are strong contenders, but the top two in the category right now would have to be Olivia Colman, for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter, and Lady Gaga for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. Colman is the only likely nominee from a very strong cast, but The Lost Daughter should also appear in Adapted Screenplay. House of Gucci, like The Tragedy of Macbeth, was expected to have a strong showing a few months ago but has seen its prospects dim as the long season has waned on; though many are predicting Jared Leto will show up in Supporting Actor, I think the film’s only noms besides Gaga will be for Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling. 

So we have Kidman, Colman, and Gaga, with Haim as alternate, leaving three contenders: Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Kristen Stewart for Spencer, and Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers. I spoiled one of my answers with the picture above: Chastain has been campaigning hard and gave a transformative performance, thanks in part to the film’s Makeup and Hairstyling (it’s the frontrunner in that category). Stewart was seen for much of the season not just as a guaranteed nominee, but the frontrunner for the win, which is why I’m surprised to find myself putting her in the fifth slot at best. Besides Stewart, the next-best chances at a nom for Spencer are in Costume Design, where it’s my alternate. As for Parallel Mothers, Pedro Almodovar’s latest is cleaning up on the arthouse circuit, but I think it will be underseen without a chance at an International Feature Film nom (Spain shockingly snubbed it for The Good Boss, which will not be getting nommed). As such, I’m keeping Cruz off of my list, though I am putting the film as my Original Screenplay alternate, since if there’s one place the Academy likes to recognize Almodovar, it’s in screenplay. Although Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, 2021 Sundance hit Passing, has enjoyed something of a late surge, with a remarkable four BAFTA nominations, I think it’s far too late to indicate support for Tessa Thompson in the Actress race. Ruth Negga is likely to make it into Supporting Actress for the film, but that’s probably it. 

Flee, credit: NEON.

Some final thoughts before we all head down into the comments to discuss the predicted nominees:

  • Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley will have to settle for a handful of technical nominations. Costume Design and Production Design seem likely, and it’s my alternate in Cinematography, Film Editing, and Makeup and Hairstyling.
  • Although Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch didn’t impact the race as much as might be expected after the runaway success of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the film’s Production Design and Score should still be appreciated enough for nominations.
  • Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World are the strongest International Feature Film contenders; the category will likely be filled out by Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee. Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6 is my alternate in the category.
  • Flee is likely to pull off an unprecedented accomplishment, with nominations in International Feature Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature. Animated Feature will likely be filled out by the usual big-budget American suspects – Encanto, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Raya and the Last Dragon – but I am, as always, holding out hope that something off the beaten path can sneak in and putting Mamoru Hosada’s Belle as my alternate.
  • In Documentary Feature, Flee is likely to be joined by Summer of Soul, The Rescue, Procession, and Ascension (though given the Academy’s tendency to ignore populist favorites, who knows if Summer of Soul will actually make it in!). There’s a pair of powerful documentaries about the early days of COVID-19 in contention, The First Wave and In the Same Breath. They may cancel each other out, but Matthew Heineman has strong name recognition so I am putting The First Wave as my alternate. 
  • Cruella should round out Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling.
  • The latest Bond feature, No Time to Die, made a big impact at the box office during the waning days of the Delta wave of COVID-19, and it should be recognized with a respectable nominations haul. Billie Eilish’s theme is a guaranteed Song nom, as is the film’s Sound. I’m also predicting it in Visual Effects and as my alternate in Score. 
  • Given its box office success, I’m surprised I’m not predicting Spider-man: No Way Home outside of Visual Effects, but here we are. 

Okay folks! For those that are still with me, thanks for reading along, and I’ll see you down in the comments! For everyone else, you’re already in the comments, so why am I still writing?