The Road to the 94th Oscars Part 2: The Triumph of the Dog?

A year after Nomadland made its way largely unopposed to monumental Best Picture and Director wins for Chloe Zhao, Jane Campion’s subversive Western The Power of the Dog has hit a major roadblock en route to what was looking like another certain Picture-Director win for a female auteur. That roadblock? CODA, an indie film about the hearing teenage daughter of a Deaf family released by a little upstart company named Apple. Either way, it’ll be a groundbreaking night for streaming services. 

The Power of the Dog. Photo credit: Netflix.

Until the end of February, there was really no question of The Power of the Dog taking Picture – it won the Silver Lion for Best Directing at the Venice Film Festival; it was the second runner-up for the TIFF People’s Choice Award; it won most of the regional critics’ awards that didn’t go to Drive My Car or Belfast; and it won Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes (not much of an indicator, but an indicator nonetheless). CODA, on the other hand, had won a record-breaking number of awards at Sundance in early 2021, gotten snatched up for a ridiculous amount of money by Apple, and then settled in the background, quietly earning a few regional critics’ nominations and a handful of Supporting Actor wins for Troy Kotsur before surprising with a Best Picture – Drama nom at the Globes and then a Best Ensemble nom from the Screen Actors Guild (where The Power of the Dog was snubbed despite three individual noms to CODA’s one). 

With little precursor warning, the race shifted dramatically at the end of February when CODA won the SAG for Best Ensemble and the underdog narrative started to build. The two films split the two biggest precursors, with The Power of the Dog taking the BAFTA for Best Film and CODA pulling off a major upset earlier this week with the Producers Guild. Historically, these two awards are the best indicators of Best Picture, though both have been much less consistent since the mid-2010s (with the PGA still having a slight edge). CODA also won with the Writers Guild for Adapted Screenplay (though The Power of the Dog wasn’t eligible with the WGA), while The Power of the Dog won Best Picture at the clout-chasing Critics’ Choice Awards and Campion won the top prize from the Directors Guild. 

That PGA win has shifted this into a neck-and-neck race that has many predicting CODA as the new frontrunner, but I’m throwing caution to the wind and sticking with The Power of the Dog. The Academy has been treating Picture and Director like paired awards a lot lately, and there’s little question that Campion is at long last winning Director. CODA would also need to overcome a significant disadvantage with the technical branches, which nominated The Power of the Dog almost across the board: the only films to win Best Picture with three or fewer total nominations are Wings (1927), The Broadway Melody (1929), and Grand Hotel (1932). The PGA win may indicate that that is happening, but I just can’t buy into it.

CODA. Photo credit: Apple TV+.

CODA and The Power of the Dog will also be facing off in Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s work in The Power of the Dog seemed like a sure thing for much of the season, mopping up most of the critics’ awards and precursors until Kotsur took the SAG, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice. Kotsur must be seen as the frontrunner now, and I think the Academy will take the opportunity to recognize only the second-ever Deaf actor nominated for an Oscar (the first being Kotsur’s co-star, Oscar winner Marlee Matlin). Adapted Screenplay is a tighter race, with CODA edging out The Power of the Dog for the BAFTA and taking the uncontested WGA, but The Power of the Dog winning many other precursors. The Academy has leaned towards spreading the love of late, and with my prediction that The Power of the Dog takes the top two awards, I have to give the edge to CODA here as well (similar to Nomadland vs. The Father last year, though the former’s Picture win was never in question). 

The Power of the Dog is in another tight above-the-line race for Best Actor with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face-off against Will Smith’s work in King Richard. Smith has been the favorite all season, and though Cumberbatch is the clear best chance among The Power of the Dog’s four acting nominees after Smit-McPhee’s collapse, I don’t see any reason to bet against Smith here. Similarly, Kirsten Dunst finally earned her first Oscar nom for The Power of the Dog in Supporting Actress, but Ariana DeBose’s work in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake has been unstoppable all season long, and we are likely to watch Anita join Vito Corleone and The Joker as the only characters to ever win Oscars for multiple actors.

Probably the closest above-the-line race is in Best Actress, where none of the nominees star in Best Picture nominees. Kristen Stewart, seen as the frontrunner for most of the season for Spencer, stumbled into a likely on-the-bubble nomination and I don’t see her competing for the win here. Nicole Kidman hasn’t gotten much traction for her solid work in the spotty Being the Ricardos; Olivia Colman seemed to take Stewart’s place as the frontrunner for The Lost Daughter, but there’s been very little buzz around the nomination; and Volpi Cup winner Penelope Cruz has been campaigning hard for her work in Parallel Mothers, but without much to go off of from precursors it’s difficult to judge how successful she’s been. That leaves us with Jessica Chastain, the undeniable frontrunner heading into Sunday for her work in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which is also almost definitely winning Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Chastain won the SAG, the Critics’ Choice, and a pile of regional critics’ awards; with Stewart the only repeat nominee from BAFTA (where she lost to Joanna Scanlan), it’s hard to bet against Chastain finally picking up the Oscar she deserved for Zero Dark Thirty and more than earns for her work in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Original Screenplay is looking like a consolation prize for Belfast, with Kenneth Branagh set to earn his first Oscar after earning eight nominations in seven different categories over the past 32 years. His closest competition is Paul Thomas Anderson, looking to win for Licorice Pizza in his own 11th nomination (including two others for Licorice Pizza in Director and Picture). The passion pick here is The Worst Person in the World, and of course we shouldn’t count out populist favorite Don’t Look Up, but I have a hard time seeing it go to something other than Belfast or maybe Licorice Pizza

Dune. Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Heading into the technical categories, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is looking ready to clean up. The narrative of The Power of the Dog‘s Ari Wegner potentially becoming the first woman to win Best Cinematography is a strong one, but I find it hard to bet against Dune after it beat out The Power of the Dog for the top prize from the American Society of Cinematographers and BAFTA’s cinematography award. Although King Richard took the American Cinema Editors’ Drama award, I don’t anticipate the Academy voters will go for a less flashy film in Best Film Editing when Dune is right there. Dune is also the clear favorite for Production Design, Score, Sound, and Visual Effects, though there’s always a chance the Academy throws some red meat to the folks that pay the bills with a win in the latter category for Spider-man: No Way Home. Dune has an outside shot at Costume Design (and, for that matter, Makeup and Hairstyling), but Cruella should walk away with that one. 

In a not at all shocking turn of events, Diane Warren’s annual nomination has no chance of winning in Best Original Song, where the race appears to be neck-and-neck between “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die and “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto. Will Lin-Manuel Miranda complete his EGOT? I’m thinking yes, but it’ll be very close. 

Flee is the first film ever to earn nominations in Animated, Documentary, and International Feature. It’s an underdog in all three categories, even more so because voters likely aren’t in agreement about where they want to honor it. It doesn’t stand a chance in International Feature – that’s Drive My Car’s to lose, and I find it highly unlikely it will (and even then, The Worst Person in the World is the backup there, not Flee). Encanto is the clear favorite in Animated Feature, though I think if something competes with it, it’s Flee, not The Mitchells vs. the Machines. In my opinion, the best chance for Flee is in Documentary Feature, where the clear favorite is Summer of Soul. The populist favorite in Documentary Feature often doesn’t win because it doesn’t get nominated to begin with (see: Jane, Apollo 11, etc.). When it does get nominated, it usually wins (My Octopus Teacher, Free Solo, etc.), which doesn’t bode well for Flee here. That said, I have to take a risk somewhere, and this is where I’m doing it: Flee will win Documentary Feature. 

So where does that leave us? The Animated, Documentary, and Live Action Short crapshoot. Netflix’s Robin Robin is certainly the most widely seen Animated Short, and without a heartwarming Disney juggernaut in play this year, the easy favorite to win. The Queen of Basketball is considered the favorite in Documentary Short, but I’m actually going to go with Audible in this race – the Shorts races always feel close, and I think this stellar short film centered on a Deaf high school football player may have a visibility advantage in a year where Deaf narratives are featuring so prominently. In Live Action Short, everything is depressing this year (shock of shocks), and the smart money is on Riz Ahmed’s The Long Goodbye. I don’t think it’s happening – perhaps I’ve been swayed by Owen’s review! – but I’m going to go with The Dress

How to Get Away with Mordor’s Final 94th Academy Awards Predictions:

Best Picture – The Power of the Dog
Best Director – Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Best Actress – Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Actor – Will Smith, King Richard
Best Supporting Actress – Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Best Supporting Actor – Troy Kotsur, CODA
Best Original Screenplay – Belfast
Best Adapted Screenplay – CODA
Best Animated Feature – Encanto
Best Documentary Feature – Flee
Best International Feature – Drive My Car
Best Cinematography – Dune
Best Costume Design – Cruella
Best Film Editing – Dune
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Production Design – Dune
Best Visual Effects – Dune
Best Score – Dune
Best Song – “Dos Oruguitas,” Encanto
Best Sound – Dune
Best Animated Short – Robin Robin
Best Documentary Short – Audible
Best Live Action Short – The Dress

And that’s that for this 94th Oscars season! Join me down in the comments to discuss this tumultuous end to what was seeming like a fairly straightforward season, and don’t forget to cast your own ballots in Owen’s Oscars Pool contest!