Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” seems to have taken pole position in the best picture race. Campion won a screenplay Oscar at the 1994 ceremony for “The Piano,” which was also nominated for best pic (it lost to “Schindler’s List.”). Early front-runner “Belfast” should also make the ballot. The Kenneth Branagh memoir has been gaining fans since its fall festival run. Another festival favorite that has shown staying power is Siân Heder’s “CODA,” a Sundance hit which delivers inspiration without the saccharine. Another inspirational-hold-the-saccharine film, “King Richard,” should also land on the best picture ballot. The story of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, and how their father helped pave the way for their success is a tale that touches every parent. Maggie Gyllenhaal tackles a taboo side of motherhood in “The Lost Daughter,” but the rookie director’s star, Olivia Colman, will most likely be recognized. Oscar veteran Steven Spielberg proved that he can tackle just about any genre, and his “West Side Story” should get on the ballot while breakout stars Ariana DeBose (recently a “Saturday Night Live” host), Rachel Zegler and Mike Faist rev up the acting races. Another veteran, Paul Thomas Anderson, has seen his “Licorice Pizza” gain ground, while Denis Villeneuve’s epic “Dune” should slide onto the ballot. “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Joel Coen’s solo directorial effort, has gained traction, and he’s no stranger to the Oscars. Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” is being recognized more for its acting, but don’t count Sorkin’s modern look at a powerful female pioneer. Other films in the mix include “Cyrano,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Parallel Mothers.”
Front-runner “Encanto,” Disney’s latest, features eight songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda and one — “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” — is a genuine hit, both on the charts and on social media platforms including TikTok. “Flee,” the animated nonfiction feature that also made the documentary and international shortlists, is another strong contender in this category. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Sony Animation’s inventive look at humanity’s relationship with technology, should also make the cut, while Pixar’s “Luca” and a second Disney entry, “Raya and the Dragon,” should garner votes. Don’t rule out Japanese auteur Mamoru Hosoda’s “Belle,” another look at how technology impacts our humanity.
The lead actor race looks to be a combination of familiar faces, with past winners Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) and Javier Bardem (“Being the Ricardos”) and previous nominees Andrew Garfield (“Tick, Tick … Boom!”), Will Smith (“King Richard”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”) all snagging SAG Awards nominations. While many called this race early for Smith, Cumberbatch has been picking up several critics’ awards and stars in the current front-runner for best picture. Garfield has been trending upward for showing off his versatility in three prominent films last year. And don’t rule out former winners like Nicolas Cage (“Pig”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Don’t Look Up”) and critical darling Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”) or Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano”), whose film is just now gaining traction.
Though “Spencer” star Kristen Stewart was crowned the early fave for her portrayal of Princess Diana, the actor failed to land a SAG nomination — but the odds are still strong she will land her first Oscar nomination. In the meantime, past Oscar winners Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”), Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”) and Jennifer Hudson (“Respect”) all made the SAG Awards cut, along with prior Oscar nominees Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) and Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”), who is an Oscar winner in the song category and a previous lead actress nominee. But don’t rule out past winners Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Don’t Look Up”) and Frances McDormand (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) or two actors who are earning raves for their film debuts — Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”) and Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”). And keep an eye on Tessa Thompson (“Passing”), as the film and performances have been picking up steam.
Perhaps the most challenging to predict of all the categories, it’s been hard to judge by precursors who will be among the final five. Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”) have picked up all the precursor nominations and many critical noms. Previous Oscar winner Jared Leto (“House of Gucci”) landed SAG Awards recognition as well. Many have raved about Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”) and even though his screen time is limited, he made the SAG Awards cutoff, as did Ben Affleck (“The Tender Bar”), who could be on his way to his first acting nomination after Oscar wins for screenplay and producing. But many have predicted recognition for the “Belfast” duo of Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan, as well as a nom for previous Oscar winner J.K. Simmons for his scene-stealing turn in “Being the Ricardos.” And relative newcomer Mike Faist (“West Side Story”) has also been snaring critical raves as of late.
There’s an abundance of riches in supporting actress, but both Caitriona Balfe (“Belfast”) and Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) feel like safe bets to land Oscar nominations. Also looking good are their fellow SAG nominees Kirsten Dunst (“Power of the Dog”), Ruth Negga (“Passing”) and Cate Blanchett (“Nightmare Alley”), who is also in the running for her comedic turn in “Don’t Look Up.” But there are several acclaimed performances that are tough to ignore, including Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), Ann Dowd (“Mass”) and Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”) and previous Oscar winners Judi Dench (“Belfast”), Marlee Matlin (“CODA”) and Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”). And never, ever count out Meryl Streep, whose acidic turn in “Don’t Look Up” could grab voters. This is the category that tends to have the most surprises on nominations morning, so anything is possible.
It’s generally never a good idea to take the Oscar prognosticator consensus as gospel, but it seems safe to assume that some sort of history will be made come nominations morning. “Power of the Dog’s” Jane Campion is not only poised to be the first woman to receive a second director nomination, she’s also the favorite to run away with the whole prize, having picked up director honors from Venice and a plurality of critics groups. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas Anderson looks like a safe bet to pick up his third directing nomination for the well-loved “Licorice Pizza,” while Denis Villeneuve is likely to pick up his second helming nom for his extravagantly mounted “Dune,” as is Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast,” more than 30 years after his first go-round in the category. With two best director wins to his name already, it would be tough to count out Steven Spielberg picking up his eighth nomination for “West Side Story,” although Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”), Pedro Almodovar (“Parallel Mothers”), Maggie Gyllanhaal (“The Lost Daughter”) and Sian Heder (“CODA”) all have strong outside shots.
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation of a Haruki Murakami adaptation short story, “Drive My Car,” has been wowing audiences despite its three-hour running time. No Japanese film has won this category since 2015’s “Departure.” Challenging the front-runner is Iran’s “A Hero,” directed by Asghar Farhadi, hoping for a three-peat in this category. Bringing the competition are Mexico’s “Prayers for the Stolen,” directed by rookie Tatiana Huezo, while from Europe come Italy’s “Hand of God,” helmed by previous Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino, Austria’s “Great Freedom” by Sebastian Meise, Finland’s “Compartment No. 6” by Juho Kuosmanen and Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” by Joachim Trier, all of which have a shot at the nominations.