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  • James Kunovski

94th Academy Awards Thoughts & Predictions




“Don’t Look Up”

“Drive My Car”


“King Richard”

“Licorice Pizza”

“Nightmare Alley”

“The Power of the Dog”

“West Side Story

Will Win: CODA

Should Win: Licorice Pizza

Personal Write-In: The Worst Person in the World

So, the Academy is voting with their heart and not their head, and the confectionary CODA will triumph in part due to an expensive and tireless campaign, though mostly through the cozy and warm feeling that film offers. Or, if you’re like me, a sour taste. I am not surprised that The Power of the Dog is losing or alienating voters. Lest you require some attention and a little bit of ambivalence in your filmgoing. I digress. If this was my ballot, let’s just say I would get redemption for Phantom Thread’s loss. PTA sees the newly formed angle on coming-of-age tales in CODA and raises it a reinvention on those tropes with the flair of cinematic gold in Licorice Pizza. We have a few films that will stand the test of time in this line-up. Ideally CODA, as it stands as a representation film, should improve the work of Deaf actors in Hollywood, though the film itself will likely wither, reduced to a kindhearted plane movie for long-haul trips.


Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast”

Ryusuke Hamaguchi for “Drive My Car”

Paul Thomas Anderson for “Licorice Pizza”

Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”

Steven Spielberg for “West Side Story”

Will Win: Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”

Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson for “Licorice Pizza”

Personal Write-In: Joachim Trier for “The Worst Person in the World”

Just like The Graduate fifty-four years ago, Campion’s The Power of the Dog is now situated to win only director. How we got here will be documented by Oscar historians for years. Inside Oscar 3, anyone? Iffy second place contenders will likely let Campion waltz away with this Best Picture-adjacent award. Her film is still the most nominated of the year. Personally, I would choose PTA for weaving a deeply personalised gaze on his Valley with the airy feeling that it’s both a swan-song and a triumphant homage to ‘70s predecessors.

Original Screenplay

“Belfast” “Don't Look Up”

“King Richard”

“Licorice Pizza”

“The Worst Person in the World”

Will Win: “Don't Look Up”

Should Win: “Licorice Pizza”

Personal Write-In: “Shiva Baby”

Oh this one is a head-scratcher. And going with Belfast does not give me any less pause. Sadly, I see Licorice Pizza as freak BAFTA win. Don’t Look Up won the WGA and has a strange amount of support considering how polarising it is. On a preferential ballot replica, Don’t Look Up ended third, and boy, is that film “over-written” so it just seems like an easy choice away from the episodic masterclasses in its company.

Adapted Screenplay


“Drive My Car”


“The Lost Daughter

“The Power of the Dog”

Will Win: CODA

Should Win: The Power of the Dog

Personal Write-In: The Humans

Another unexplained turn of events that I cannot just fathom — reading the front-running script may have caused permanent damage. And Best Picture shouldn’t always be linked with screenplay, though it often is. For a film that has so little nominations, it seems like an easy coupling that is bound to happen. Not that it should. Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter and The Power of the Dog have lyrical, pensive, elaborate and literary scripts that ought to be framed, and eternalised by this win.

Production Design


“Nightmare Alley”

“The Power of the Dog”

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”

“West Side Story”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Nightmare Alley

Personal Write-In: The French Dispatch

If Nightmare Alley counts as an over-designed film, with art deco angles and carnival fanfare, Dune might qualify as a minimalist one, where architecture takes precedence and world building feels like a dream. With the rude exclusion of The French Dispatch where every nook and cranny was minutely detailed, Nightmare Alley could have taken front-runner status. It has everything the Academy froths over; more support for that film would have helped, sadly against the megalith that is Dune, it fell behind in the sprint.



“Nightmare Alley”

“The Power of the Dog”

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”

“West Side Story”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: The Tragedy of Macbeth

Personal Write-In: Spencer

Competition is still competition, but the Academy can’t go wrong here. While Ari Wegner was once considered a lock for her neo-Western beauty in The Power of the Dog, the unexpected rallying behind Greig Fraser’s widescreen desert work in Dune has caused quite a stir. Whether or not it’s the most attractive work in that field remains to be seen. The lone Power win from Critics’ Choice felt like another desperate plea to predict the Oscars. The industry looked the other way. Dune works on the big screen, and voters likely saw it as large as possible. Power is on Netflix. I was under the false impression that Dune was an ugly film — devouring showcase montages of it on YouTube have quelled my bother. One more thing, it’s hard to discredit ASC after they lined up with Mank last year. Now, Dune is obviously not black-and-white (their favourite)… though a win for The Tragedy of Macbeth would have been a miracle, and remains an easy mark next to my hypothetical ballot.

Costume Design




“Nightmare Alley”

“West Side Story”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Dune

Personal Write-In: Spencer

It’s a battle between Cruella and Dune. The former has the added advantage of existing in the world of fashion (ahem: Phantom Thread), while the latter impresses with its lone sci-fi designs in a bubble of period gowns (see: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). While Cruella makes a name through statement fashion, Dune’s costumes have attained a mythological presence alongside the film — reports of it housing the most expensive costume ever made, references from Tarot cards to Caravaggio and a wardrobe for thousands — make it hard to pass by.

Animated Feature




“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

“Raya and the Last Dragon”

Will Win: Encanto

Should Win: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Personal Write-In: The Summit of the Gods

An upset by The Mitchells vs. the Machines would be thrilling, refreshing and the cherry on top a predictable run. Disney reaps its earnings, and so does three-time nominee Encanto which will undoubtedly win. Not the worst winner though nothing on the level of the resounding, moving and timely Flee, or the cracked out film-loving power punch of Mitchells, or the snubbed adult animation by way of Belle and The Summit of the Gods.

International Feature

“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)

Will Win: Drive My Car (Japan)

Should Win: The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Personal Write-In: Memoria (Colombia)

Now imagine if The Worst Person in the World picked up nominations in director and picture. We could have had ourselves a true neck-and-neck two-horse race. Post-nominations, I figured Worst Person, my favourite film from last year would have gained much needed traction and peaked at the right moment, falling right in voters’ laps, above the steady pace of Drive My Car’s season. How can you deny the unexpected power of the Best Picture-nominated Drive My Car? Japan’s film is a definite win making it one of the most polished and artistic visions to succeed in this category.

Documentary Feature




“Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”

“Writing with Fire”

Will Win: Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Should Win: Flee

Personal Write-In: Procession

The forever unpredictable documentary branch loves to shock, because these nominees were a surprise. They broke the “critics choice curse” and they suddenly admire archival documentaries — good for them. Given Summer of Soul’s rightful (surprising) inclusion, there’s not much wiggle room, and I doubt any attention can be brought away from Questlove’s reigning success. Ideally, Flee with its entrancing vision and subversive take on the genre (and category), or Writing with Fire with its raw insight, would take the prize.

Film Editing

“Don't Look Up”


“King Richard”

“The Power of the Dog”

“Tick, Tick... Boom!”

Will Win: King Richard

Should Win: The Power of the Dog

Personal Write-In: Licorice Pizza

This all depends on how the Academy defines “best editing”. If you’re looking for editing that is wholly dependent on casual pacing to create both an artistic finesse and an irreversible mood, you would find that in The Power of the Dog and Dune. Sadly that is often overlooked. For example, The Favourite, the most fine-tuned edit of 2018 was overlooked for something with a little bit more whiplash. Take our three contenders. Don’t Look Up is snappy and improvised, though it might give voters a headache. That leaves Tick, Tick… Boom! and King Richard. Both employ the “most editing” which flourishes here. The latter has the trick of splicing lengthy tennis rallies and is likely on the top of voter’s priorities, giving it the needed edge amongst “invisible” competition.

Makeup and Hairstyling

“Coming 2 America”



“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

“House of Gucci”

Will Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Should Win: Coming 2 America

Personal Write-In: The Green Knight

Dune had this in the bag with their poster boy Baron Harkonnen smeared across “For Your Consideration” ads in tow. Then, the Critics Choice and BAFTAs chose The Eyes of Tammy Faye in lieu. Despite the questionable craft, that substitute was staring us right in the face, and seems as guaranteed as a sound contender with the word “sound” in the title. Makeup for someone known for their distinctive makeup? With a heavily campaigning actress contender behind the work? Seems a bit too obvious. Not my pick though — that goes to the prosthetic wonderland in Coming 2 America.

Original Song

“Be Alive” from King Richard

“Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto

“Down to Joy” from Belfast

“No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

“Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days

Will Win: “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

Should Win: “Be Alive” from King Richard

Personal Write-In: “So May We Start” from Annette

It feels like we’ve been talking about “Academy Award-winner Billie Eilish” since that headline announcement and the ever-delayed No Time to Die was just a blip on our radar. Winning the Grammy for an unreleased film does wonders for bountiful awards prospects. There needs to be a huge change in the tide for someone else to rise to that steamrolling success. In other years, “Dos Oruguitas,” or “Be Alive” could do so.




“No Time to Die”

“The Power of the Dog”

“West Side Story”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Dune

Personal Write-In: Memoria

Once again, a combination of prestige with inspired (and loud) technique leads Dune to a victory. An easy tick next to a ballot. It’s also good to see Best Picture contenders with more imaginative sound work back where they belong.

Documentary Short Subject


“Lead Me Home”

“The Queen of Basketball”

“Three Songs for Benazir”

“When We Were Bullies”

Will Win: When We Were Bullies

Should Win: Audible

Personal Write-In: Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker

A unanimously underwhelming category… Audible was a misguided and truncated feature that somehow leads my favourites, Lead Me Home’s main focus was on drone shots, The Queen of Basketball feels underdeveloped and formulaic, Three Songs too contrived, and When We Were Bullies was absolutely awful. When We Were Bullies, despite my disdain, will likely win because it follows a personalised journey where subject and filmmaker interlock. A funny description sure, but look at Collette and Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 for reference.

Live Action Short

“Ala Kachuu – Take and Run”

“The Dress”

“The Long Goodbye"

“On My Mind”

“Please Hold”

Will Win: Please Hold

Should Win: Ala Kachuu – Take and Run

Personal Write-In: You’re Dead Helen

More tepid company, even if the shortlists provided a wealth of inspired alternatives. Though Riz Ahmed’s The Long Goodbye has gained pundit’s awareness, I feel voters will be confused by its delivery. Not that they should be. English language shorts usually win. Please Hold deals with the injustice of the American prison system with twinges of Black Mirror. It is a bit choppy but it works, and voters can feel good about themselves for recognising it. Isn’t that what the shorts come down to nowadays?

Animated Short

“Affairs of the Art”



“Robin Robin” “The Windshield Wiper”

Will Win: Robin Robin

Should Win: Anything but Robin Robin and Affairs of the Art

Personal Write-In: Namoo

How did animation shorts become this strange? Seriously, don’t know where to start with this one. Robin Robin has that Netflix push and big stars, and though I found it seriously annoying and way too confusing for what it’s worth, I see that being an easy pick. Let’s shoot through the others. Affairs of the Art is actively hard to watch; so is Bestia but not for the same reason. BoxBallet is actually kinda cute and a good alternate though the source country will hold it back and The Windshield Wiper is divine even if the pretension is on an eleven.

Visual Effects


“Free Guy”

“No Time to Die”

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Dune

Personal Write-In: The Tragedy of Macbeth

A sure-fire lock. The artistic prestige that swells here (and excludes mainstream blockbusters) combines with Dune’s high screener priority to make it the night’s most guaranteed win. Especially when there is no Ex Machina to Mad Max: Fury Road to struggle, or upset, for that top prize.

Original Score

“Don’t Look Up”



“Parallel Mothers”

“The Power of the Dog”

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: The Power of the Dog

Personal Write-In: Spencer

Hans Zimmer has an Oscar. Though you would be remiss to forget considering how many times he’s been branded as an habitual loser. A frontrunner who has just been out of reach for years on end. Even though Zimmer loses for iconic scores, Gladiator, Inception, Interstellar, he deserves another Oscar. The industry senses that too. If voters favour a more flourishing musical sound, and less the jarring, blasting air horns that occupy Dune’s soundscape, Encanto might upset. Or it’s just not meant to be… Another reason why Zimmer might have this in the bag? Alexandre Desplat, who snagged two wins from under Zimmer in recent years, is noticeably absent for The French Dispatch. Side note: a Greenwood double nomination would have been bliss.


Javier Bardem in “Being the Ricardos”

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog”

Andrew Garfield in “Tick, Tick... Boom!”

Will Smith in “King Richard”

Denzel Washington in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Will Win: Will Smith in “King Richard”

Should Win: Andrew Garfield in “Tick, Tick... Boom!”

Personal Write-In: Hidetoshi Nishijima in “Drive My Car”

I am not going to pretend that this Will Smith steamroll makes me particularly excited. Then again, I have to recognise it’s the type of performance that relies on its harmlessness and a few tearjerking heart-to-hearts to get it over the finish line. King Richard is a career-defining role for Smith, and a win, and his speech will be the main post-show draw for otherwise uninterested viewers. Garfield, Cumberbatch and Washington were phenomenal in their roles, and though I was sure each would get their moment this season, I can stay rested knowing Garfield flourished in a musical, Cumberbatch in pure villainy and Washington in a thespian showcase that in another year could have clinched a third.


Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter”

Penélope Cruz in “Parallel Mothers”

Nicole Kidman in “Being the Ricardos”

Kristen Stewart in “Spencer”

Will Win: Penélope Cruz in “Parallel Mothers”

Should Win: Penélope Cruz in “Parallel Mothers”

Personal Write-In: Alana Him in “Licorice Pizza”

Once the starting gun fired on this race, Stewart led the pack with a bountiful number of wins from critics groups. Kidman was a valid alternative for voters alienated by Spencer’s elusive style, yet that didn’t really go anywhere. Chastain took off under a one-month window with Critics’ Choice piggybacking off the SAG win in desperation to predict the Oscar. Then, in the last couple days of the race, a flurry of anonymous ballots revealed Cruz to be the unanimous favourite. She is an international darling and her character is raw, sympathetic and fiery. Her win would be an all-timer and would age like fine wine. I’m still trying to digest it all. Yet Cruz winning would be the dessert at the end of a flavourless feast.

Supporting Actor

Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast”

Troy Kotsur in “CODA”

Jesse Plemons in “The Power of the Dog”

J. K. Simmons in “Being the Ricardos”

Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Power of the Dog”

Will Win: Troy Kotsur in “CODA”

Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Power of the Dog”

Personal Write-In: Anders Danielsen Lie in “The Worst Person in the World”

It takes a lot to be excited about this line-up. Every alternative suggestion, of inclusions by way of Domingo, Faist, Isaacs or Lie proves more thrilling. Despite a never-ending critics-led winning parade for Kodi Smit-McPhee’s understated and benevolent Hitchcockian work in The Power of the Dog, this is Troy Kotsur’s Oscar to lose. Kotsur’s campaign, story, plus the undeniable heart of his performance is hard to push against, especially after the SAGs initiated an avalanche in his favour.

Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley in “The Lost Daughter”

Ariana DeBose in “West Side Story”

Judi Dench in “Belfast”

Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog”

Aunjanue Ellis in “King Richard”

Will Win: Ariana DeBose in “West Side Story”

Should Win: Jessie Buckley in “The Lost Daughter”

Personal Write-In: Charlotte Rampling in “Benedetta”

An anonymous ballot where five voters chose each nominee as their personal favourite has sent me spinning. It raises the possibility that DeBose, who has swept without much questioning could still win, albeit with just a couple points over twenty percent. What’s my stance on the nominees? Buckley swells in intimacy, Italian and resentment, and boosts Colman’s work — a true hand-in-hand show. A vote for DeBose is an easy vote for the character, plus the dancing helps you stand out. Dench somehow finds herself nominated for the most underwhelming roles; Belfast is no exception. Dunst pulls off a minute vision of repressed femininity in an emotionally barren world, and stitches that film’s main connective tissue to the audience. And Ellis actually steals the show from Will Smith more than once. It proofs tougher to choose than it lets on.


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