Picking the Oscars in a year when movies were more virtuous than vivid

Although there have been some wonderful movies this year, many were more virtuous than vivid, a trend that started years ago but seems to be intensifying.

'BELFAST' (photo credit: TULIP ENTERTAINMENT)
'BELFAST'
(photo credit: TULIP ENTERTAINMENT)

While many were hoping for a return to normalcy with the 2022 Oscars, which will be held in Los Angeles on the evening of March 27 (3 a.m. on March 28 in Israel), unfortunately, there will still be restrictions in place and the ceremony will be held with a smaller audience than usual, once again. 

The awards will be broadcast live on Yes Movies Drama and the pop-up channel, Yes Days of Gold, at 3 a.m. on Monday. An edited and translated version will be broadcast on these two channels on March 29 at 9 p.m., as well as on StingTV and Yes VOD.

Israel did not score a nomination for Best International Feature (or even make the shortlist) this year, but debut director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter received three nominations, for Best Actress (Olivia Colman), Best Supporting Actress (Jessie Buckley) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of the novel by Elena Ferrante), and two of its producers – Talia Kleinhendler and Osnat Handelsman-Keren of Pie Films – and one of its executive producers, Tmira Yardeni, are Israelis.

There have been a number of controversies, as there always are. This year, many Academy members have expressed anger over the fact that eight of the awards, including those in major categories such as editing and score, will not be part of the main broadcast.

There has also been a great deal of debate over whether the Academy will finally reward a movie – The Power of the Dog – produced by Netflix, which many see as a threat to the future of movie theaters. Chances are, you saw most of the nominated movies at home on a streaming service, although a handful of the nominees were released in theaters only.

 'POWER OF THE DOG' (credit: NETFLIX/KIRSTY GRIFFIN) 'POWER OF THE DOG' (credit: NETFLIX/KIRSTY GRIFFIN)

Although there have been some wonderful movies this year, many were more virtuous than vivid, a trend that started years ago but seems to be intensifying. It may be even more fun – and say just as much about the world today – to predict the Oscar races as it was to watch the movies. So here are a few educated guesses as to what will take home the trophies on Sunday night. 

BEST PICTURE: A few years ago, following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy enlarged its membership to include voters who are more international, diverse and younger. The influence of this new contingent of voters was felt in 2019, when Parasite won Best Picture, overturning conventional wisdom that a movie in a language other than English could never win the top prize. Since then, it has been harder than ever to predict the awards, although movies with an uplifting (and politically correct) message and fact-based dramas such as biopics have always tended to impress the Academy, and that is certainly true this year. 

Until a couple of weeks ago, the glacially paced Western The Power of the Dog, often described as a critique of “toxic masculinity,” seemed poised to become the most boring Best Picture winner of all time, supplanting last year’s equally tasteful but tedious winner, Nomadland

 'CODA' (credit: Apple TV+) 'CODA' (credit: Apple TV+)

However, several indicators that Oscar predictors watch have shined a light on CODA, the movie about a family of deaf parents with a hearing daughter, which can be seen in Israel on Apple TV+. It is modest and charming, which are not hallmarks of Best Picture winners, but it is a feel-good movie, particularly when compared to Power and a number of the other contenders, which certainly is a harbinger of Oscar success. 

It is of critical importance that it won the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Award, since actors are the largest branch of the Academy, and that it just won the Producers Guild Award. The fact that it is only nominated in three categories, which in the past would have meant that it was not a contender, may not be that important this year. 

Belfast is considered to be another front-runner, and a few years ago, this classy, black-and-white semi-autobiographical film by Kenneth Branagh, starring many acclaimed actors including Judi Dench, would have been a shoo-in to take home the top prize. 

But although Belfast won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, once considered a reliable predictor of a Best Picture win, this year it is unlikely to break through at the Oscars. It’s just too straightforward and un-trendy. 

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story reboot got good reviews but did not generate the kind of enthusiasm needed for a win. Paul Thomas Anderson’s hipper-than-thou Licorice Pizza is just too playful and silly to win in this category. 

 THE OSCARS - ABC's 'The 94th Oscars' stars Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes. (credit: ABC/ART STEIBER/COURT OF YES) THE OSCARS - ABC's 'The 94th Oscars' stars Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes. (credit: ABC/ART STEIBER/COURT OF YES)

Some have suggested that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car could become the second Asian film to conquer this category, but it seems more likely that it will only take home the Best International Film Award. Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley, Dune and King Richard, however strong they looked at some point, are likely to be also-rans. 

WINNER: ‘CODA’

BEST DIRECTOR: Only seven women have been nominated in this category and only two have won, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010 and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland in 2021. Jane Campion, the director of The Power of the Dog, was nominated in this category for The Piano in 1993 and is heavily favored to win for Power. Ironically, CODA, the movie that may edge out Power for Best Picture, was also directed by a woman, Sian Heder, but she did not get a nomination. Campion has a respected body of work and is well-liked and will win even if her movie does not win Best Picture. 

WINNER: Jane Campion for ‘The Power of the Dog’

Before I get into the acting awards, there has been much discussion online of whether there should still be separate gender-based categories. This led me to think about ways the acting awards could be modified in the future. If there were only gender-neutral Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories, then it would cut the acting categories in half and that seems a pity. 

What I would propose, if the awards are ever revamped in this way, would be to add separate categories for comic and dramatic performances, like the Golden Globes have. That would help actors who shine in funny roles, such as Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Cameron Diaz, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and so many others, get a fair shot at Oscar gold, since the awards currently tend to reward more serious performances. Just a thought. And remember, you read it here first. 

BEST ACTOR: Will Smith, who plays Richard Williams, the father of tennis players Serena and Venus Williams, in King Richard, is heavily favored to win this year. He is a wonderful comic actor who has also given great performances in dramas but has never won before. He has been nominated twice in the past – I thought he should have won in 2002 for playing Muhammad Ali in the biopic Ali – and it looks like this is his year. 

WINNER: Will Smith for ‘King Richard’

BEST ACTRESS: This category is seen to be the most wide-open of all. Some are predicting that Olivia Colman will win for her acclaimed performance in The Lost Daughter, but she won in 2019 for The Favourite, so this would seem to make a win this year less likely. 

Penelope Cruz, who is nominated for Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, won an Oscar over a decade ago for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and will not win again this year. The other three actresses are nominated for portraying real people. Nicole Kidman, despite not being much of a comedian, won praise for playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Kristen Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana in Spencer was divisive, with some saying they preferred Emma Corrin, who played Diana on The Crown

Jessica Chastain, who has been nominated twice before, is believed to have a slight edge for her performance as scandal-plagued televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. She will get extra points for the fact that she sported heavy makeup and big hair to play Bakker. 

WINNER: Jessica Chastain for The ‘Eyes of Tammy Faye’

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: There are many worthy nominees in this category, but the winner is likely to be Troy Kotsur, who was truly the heart and soul of CODA. He plays the father in the family, and he has been especially funny and charming when he won previous awards this season. Deaf since birth, if he wins he will be the second deaf actor to win an Oscar. The first was his CODA co-star, Marlee Matlin, in 1986.

WINNER: Troy Kotsur for ‘CODA’

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is another category where there is a very clear favorite: Ariana DeBose in West Side Story. She plays Anita, the role for which Rita Moreno won this award in 1962. It is not easy to follow in a legend’s footsteps, but DeBose made the role her own. 

WINNER: Ariana DeBose for ‘West Side Story’

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Maggie Gyllenhaal won widespread praise for her adaption of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, and she could edge out Jane Campion for her adaptation of the novel The Power of the Dog. 

WINNER: Maggie Gyllenhaal for ‘The Lost Daughter’

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Paul Thomas Anderson has been nominated in screenplay categories four times in the past, and his movie this year, Licorice Pizza, has a truly original script, which is refreshingly quirky and enjoyable. Belfast is the only other plausible winner, but Licorice will likely lick it. 

WINNER: Paul Thomas Anderson for ‘Licorice Pizza’

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE: This is always a highly competitive category, but Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami story, is the front-runner. Its biggest competition is Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, a thinking person’s rom-com from Norway. 

WINNER: ‘Drive My Car’

BEST DOCUMENTARY: The Danish animated documentary Flee is nominated in this category, as well as for Best Animated Feature and Best International Feature, but it is likely to be bested by the low-key charm of Questlove’s Summer of Soul, a look at a little-known 1969 music festival in Harlem that has come to be known as the “black Woodstock.”

WINNER: ‘Summer of Soul’