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Pittsburgh City Paper Oscar preview and predictions

click to enlarge The Power of the Dog - PHOTO: KIRSTY GRIFFIN/COURTESY OF NETFLIX
The Power of the Dog
The snubs at this year's Academy Awards are a good sign. The fact that we’re back complaining about all of the phenomenal movies from 2021 that got robbed of Oscar nominations means that there’s such a large crop of deserving films, something that couldn’t be said in 2020.

So the predictions will come below, and feel free to laugh at how wrong I am. But in the meantime, let me use a few quick sentences to rant while being happy as a clam that we can be back having these conversations:


Anyway, on to the picks for the Oscars' biggest and most debated main categories:

Best Picture

Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

Who Will Win: The Power of the Dog. I’ll say it once so I don’t repeat myself, but it’s hard to tell at this point how Jane Campion’s bizarre moment of calling out the Williams sisters at the Critics Choice Awards will play into the final voting for The Power of the Dog as a whole. But on its face, Campion’s slow-burn Western has been the frontrunner for most of the season and has positioned Netflix for its first Best Picture. The heartfelt Coda has come on strong in late-season awards shows, but I still think Power of the Dog carries through.

Who Should Win: The Power of the Dog. It’s really close between this film and Drive My Car, another restrained masterpiece, but in the end, I lean towards the favorite by a razor-thin margin.
click to enlarge Drive My Car - PHOTO: COURTESY OF JANUS FILMS
Photo: Courtesy of Janus Films
Drive My Car
Best Director

Kenneth Branagh, (Belfast)
Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza)
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)

Who Will Win: Jane Campion. Strangely, it seems like Campion’s work here is less in doubt than the films overall. Which is fine, as she puts on a masterclass in technique and control. It’s hers to lose, and it feels way less in doubt than the Picture race.

Who Should Win: Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Considering I’ve given Power of the Dog all the love so far, I’m going to say that Hamaguchi deserves it here, although Anderson’s incredibly fun work and Spielberg’s work perfecting blockbuster filmmaking both deserve love. Yet, Hamaguchi’s utter mastery in turning a three-hour meditation on grief and art into a fully enjoyable movie deserves the top prize.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)
Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick, Boom!)
Will Smith (King Richard)
Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Who Will Win: Will Smith. All of the early signs seemed to be pointing towards Cumberbatch, but Smith has dominated the recent awards show and seems poised for his first Best Actor win for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of the aforementioned Williams sisters of tennis fame. Don’t be surprised if an upset happens here, but it appears to be Smith’s to take.

Who Should Win: Benedict Cumberbatch. We’re entering the redundant portion of the evening, but yeah. Cumberbatch was stunning here, a tour-de-force of machismo, vulnerability, and brutal self-hatred. Although additional props to Washington, who found a new brutal spin on the Shakespearean legend.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)
Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter)
Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers)
Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos)
Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain. This is shaping up to be by far the closest of the big races, so expect the unexpected here. However, it seems to be trending towards Chastain’s to lose, who gives a great performance, but more importantly, an ALL CAPS ACTING performance that the Academy tends to award.

Who Should Win: Kristen Stewart. The fact she has fallen back to being an also-ran here is baffling to me. She absolutely carries one of the more underappreciated films of the year, and gives the best performance of 2021, across any category.

Best Supporting Actor

Ciaran Hinds (Belfast)
Troy Kotsur (Coda)
Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog)
J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos)
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur. Another one where the race has slowly shifted as the year has gone on, Kotsur has taken over from Smit-McPhee as the clear favorite here.

Who Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee. Really, either of these two actors winning would be great, but Smit-McPhee’s haunting and strange performance in the film was one that really stuck with me as time went on.
click to enlarge Belfast - PHOTO: COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES
Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features
Best Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter)
Ariana Debose (Westside Story)
Judi Dench (Belfast)
Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog)
Aunjunae Ellis (King Richard)

Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose. This one is starting to feel like a runaway. In a film that it feels like the Academy really wants to honor, but is up against some stiff competition, DeBose is a shoo-in. Her electrifying take on Anita is a deserving winner here.

Who Should Win: DeBose.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Sian Heder (Coda)
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe (Drive My Car)
Jon Spaihts, Denis Villenueve, and Eric Roth (Dune)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter)
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

Who Will Win: Coda. I’m probably wrong on this one, as Power of the Dog has held strong here throughout the season. But in this scenario, Coda has been under-recognized, so I’m saying they steal this one for their heartwarming and well-crafted script.

Who Should Win: Drive My Car. If you adapt a Murakami short story into a three-hour movie that still adeptly holds the original author’s tone and mood, you deserve this.
click to enlarge The Worst Person in the World - PHOTO: COURTESY OF M2K FILMS
Photo: Courtesy of m2k Films
The Worst Person in the World
Best Original Screenplay

Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)
Screenplay by Adam McKay, Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota (Don’t Look Up)
Zack Baylin (King Richard)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza)
Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World)

Who Will Win: Belfast. This has turned into a two-horse race, with Belfast and Licorice Pizza trading blows. And while it’s insane to me that Anderson may now be going 0-for-8 on Oscar noms, it feels as though Branagh is pulling away here.

Who Should Win: Anything but Don’t Look Up. But seriously, Licorice Pizza and the acerbic and beautiful Worst Person in the World are both very deserving here.

Best Cinematography

Gregg Fraser (Dune)
Dan Laustsen (Nightmare Alley)
Ari Wegner (The Power of the Dog)
Bruno Delbonnel (The Tragedy of Macbeth)
Janusz Kaminski (West Side Story)

Who Will Win: Dune.

Who Should Win: Dune.

Best Animated Feature

The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon

Who Will Win: Encanto.

Who Should Win: Abstaining, as I have not watched all the contenders.
click to enlarge King Richard - PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
King Richard
Best Original Song

“Be Alive,” (King Richard). Music and Lyric by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“Dos Oruguitas,” (Encanto). Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Down to Joy” (Belfast). Music and Lyric by Van Morrison
“No Time to Die,” (No Time to Die). Music and Lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
“Somehow You Do” (Four Good Days). Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

Who Will Win: “No Time to Die.”

Who Should Win: “No Time to Die.”

Best Original Score

Nicholas Britell (Don’t Look Up)
Hans Zimmer (Dune)
Germaine Franco (Encanto)
Alberto Iglesias (Parallel Mothers)
Jonny Greenwood (The Power of the Dog)

Who Will Win: Dune.

Who Should Win: The Power of the Dog.

Best Documentary Feature

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Writing With Fire

Who Will Win: Summer of Soul.

Who Should Win: Summer of Soul.

Best International Feature Film

Drive My Car (Japan)
Flee (Denmark)
The Hand of God (Italy)
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)
The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Who Will Win: Drive My Car.

Who Should Win: The Worst Person in the World.


Most Pittsburgh Film of 2021

Sweet Girl
The Amusement Park

Winner: The Amusement Park. There was a real dearth of Pittsburgh set/shot movies that came out this year. But fear not, with COVID-19 restrictions lifting there is going to be an influx of Pittsburgh films. In the meantime, however, we’re going to cheat somewhat and go with The Amusement Park, because despite it being made in 1975, an unreleased George Romero film that was filmed at Kennywood being discovered in 2021 was the most Pittsburgh film to occur this year.

The 94th annual Academy Awards will air Sun., March 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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