And The Winner Is… 2022 Oscar Preview

B.J. Quinn

The 94th Academy Awards are due to take place on March 27 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. After last year’s low-key ceremony – delayed because of the pandemic and featuring movies that, for the most part, sidestepped theatres in favour of VOD – this year’s event aims to bring the sparkle back to tinseltown. Thankfully, they won’t be short on stars on the night. Steven Spielberg is back to reclaim his throne, after directing a West Side Story adaptation which has proved a hit with critics and audiences alike. Lady Gaga’s transformation from popstar to screen siren is all but complete thanks to her strong performance in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. And hey, Smith is having a comeback, riding high on the wave of King Richard, a sports biopic where Smith plays Richard Williams father and trainer of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. As of now, there has been no indication what the event will look like: Will there be a crowd? A red carpet? Does anybody really care? What we do know is that this year’s ceremony will have a host, which is something we did without for the last two years. Who it will be is still undecided, though there have been reports that British actor and Marvel superstar Tom Holland is in the running. It would be a bold choice to have such a young talent carry the entire show, but the boy can sing and dance, to be fair. In fact, he’s due to star as Fred Astaire in an upcoming biopic. So perhaps the Oscars could prove a dry run before he dances ‘Cheek o cheek ‘ on the big screen.

The nominations are set to be anounced February 8, and while nothing is certain, we have a fair idea of who will make the cut. Last year’s Academy Awards fell victim to the pandemic, and although the outcome was far from fatal – Chloé Zhao making history as the first woman of colour to win for best director was the evening’s high point – the impact was clear. Under the radar films such as Sound of Metal and Promising Young Woman became surprise front runners. This was due to the fact that many distribution companies thought it wise to postpone their tent-pole releases until after the initial waves of COVID had eased, a decision which saw films like, No Time to Die, West Side Story and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch hold their breath until the coast was clear – or, as it turned out, clear enough.

Categories, Potential Winners And Losers…

Best Animated Feature
A category oft-dominated by Disney Studios, and this year looks no different. Highlights include the animated documentary, Flee, and two movies driven by hand-drawn aesthetics: Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines, the hilarious family road trip through the robot apocalypse; and Pixar’s Luca, the coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless Vespa rides. Meanwhile, Disney has two contenders with Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto, with the latter sure to take home top prize. Following a young Colombian girl facing the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers, Encanto is a bona-fide crowdpleaser and a marvel to look at.
Should win: Encanto
Will win: Encanto

Best Supporting Actress
This year’s selection boasts a heap of Irish talent and will be our nation’s best chance of claiming a golden statuette. Kerry’s own Jessie Buckley has been going from strength to strength after her feature debut in 2017’s Beast. This year, Buckley lights up The Lost Daughter, while Ruth Negga puts on a tour de force, co-starring in Rebecca Hall’s Passing. Dublin native Caitriona Balfe gives Belfast, written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, its beating heart, an achievement which has surely locked her in for a nomination. Elsewhere, Ariana DeBose is captivating in West Side Story and has already picked up a Golden Globe for her efforts. Kathryn Hunter is sublime as the three witches (that’s right, 3-in-1) in Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of MacBeth and is this category’s dark horse. And as for Kirsten Dunst, her performance in The Power of the Dog is nothing short of a masterclass.
Should win: Kirsten Dunst
Will win: Ariana DeBose

Best Supporting Actor
With a Golden Globe already in the bag, Kodi Smit-McPhee is leading the charge for this year’s supporting actors. The 25-yearold’s performance in The Power of the Dog is quiet and understated, but the amount of screen time he has – he should really be battling for the Academy Award for Lead Actor against co-star Benedict Cumberbatch – will be hard for voters to ignore. With the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) awards snubbing both Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds (who both feature in Belfast), it’ll be challenging to see if they can bounce back. It could be Dornan or Hinds, but not both. Bradley Cooper was a delight in Licorice Pizza, but it’s hard to see the Academy put Cooper over, considering his limited screen time. Then again, stranger things have happened – I’m looking at you, Beatrice Straight!
Should win: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Will win: Kodi Smit-McPhee

Best Actress
Kristen Stewart seemed to have everything sewn up after her captivating turn as Princess Diana in Spencer. Since then, a double whammy of losing out on a Golden Globe to Nicole Kidman and being snubbed by SAG has turned Stewart’s Oscar campaign upside down. It doesn’t help that she’s surrounded by stiff competition in Olivia Coleman (The Lost Daughter) and Jessica Chastian (The Eyes of Tammy Faye). The fact Coleman already has an Oscar to her name (The Favourite, 2019) might harm her chances, but don’t be surprised if the Academy adds to her collection, they’re suckers for a bashful Brit. One actress who is destined to be overlooked, however, is Agatha Rousselle. Making her screen debut in Titane, which picked up the Palme d’Or last year at the Cannes Film Festival, she puts on a truly captivating physical performance. But if you’re looking for a dark horse, look no further than Lady Gaga. Her role in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci raised a few eyebrows for a liberal take on the Italian accent. But she is a star, something Hollywood is short on at the moment. Could this be Gaga’s Cher moment? Don’t count on it, all you Little Monsters out there.
Should win: Agatha Rousselle
Will win: Kristen Stewart

Best Actor
This will be a close race, and it essentially boils down to three: Will Smith for King Richard; a lively Andrew Garfield for Tick, Tick… Boom!; and chaps-wearing, banjopickin’, Buck Henry’s #1 fan, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog. Smith is the fan favourite; he’s riding high on a Hollywood comeback and is playing on home soil, after all. Garfield has come alive in 2021, putting on a hell of a show wherever he goes, be it Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Eyes of Tammy Faye or Tick, Tick… Boom!, a nonstop musical which gets the best out of the young English actor. Cumberbatch is a shoo-in for the BAFTA, but as for the Oscars, I predict Hollywood is about to get Jiggy Wit It, at long last.
Should win: Ben Cumberbatch
Will win: Will Smith

Best Director
The directing race looks to have two sure bets with Belfast boy Kenneth Branagh (Belfast) and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog). Both have been enjoying success on the awards circuit up to now, with Belfast finding a way into American hearts, becoming the feel good movie of the year. Campion won the Golden Globe back in January, so it’s hard to argue against her. Plus, it helps that The Power of the Dog is so beautifully crafted, truly the work of a master. Now, if the Academy really wanted to make our eyes roll, they would pick Spielberg, who offers up a picture as visually bright as it is painfully dull in West Side Story – thank god he left the songs intact, at least.
Should win: Jane Campion
Will win: Jane Campion

Best Picture
Now for the biggest prize of the night. Let’s start by narrowing the playing field. Many will be rooting for Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s mesmerising space opera, but, as happens so often with blockbusters vying for Oscar glory, fans will have to lower their expectations and make-do with cleaning up the technical fields instead. Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up showcases a host of star names, but its mixed audience reaction and limited theatre run (moving to Netflix two weeks after its cinema release) doesn’t bode well. West Side Story could easily walk away with this one and it wouldn’t surprise anybody. But, for my money the Best Picture Oscar is a two-horse race: The Power of the Dog and Belfast. Branagh’s trip down memory lane is both grand and intimate, and if it doesn’t win the BAFTA I’ll eat my hat. The Power of the Dog, on the other hand, isn’t as easy to put in a box; it’s evocative, mysterious and constantly plays with audience preconceptions. With Best Picture predictions, I always ask myself, “what note does the Academy want to end on?” Here we have two choices: celebrating a complicated study of queer desire way out west; or a simple and sentimental tale about the power of family and pop tunes.
Should win: The Power of the Dog
Will win: Belfast