My year-ahead predictions for the last Oscars went almost as well as my actual winner predictions the night before the ceremony: some yes, many no. But I can't resist, so why not try again this year? Here is what I think could be nominated at the 96th Academy Awards, sight mostly unseen:
The Color Purple
Dune: Part Two
Killers of the Flower Moon
The Miracle Club
Taking these in alphabetical order... Blitz is about WWII England, an obsession of the Academy's that dates back to Mrs. Miniver. It's entirely possible, more than likely even, that this doesn't even get a "FIRST LOOK!" still until next year, but I'm taking a risk and betting it shows up in one of the September film fests. The Color Purple is an adaptation of the musical, not a remake of the 1985 film that went oh-for-eleven at the Oscars (the 2005 Broadway production went one-for-eleven at the Tonys, winning Best Actress for LaChanze; the 2015 revival won two). Book, film, or stage, there's never been a bad version of The Color Purple, and I expect it to remain bulletproof. The first Dune was the juggernaut of the 94th Academy Awards, winning six of its ten nominations; since the Academy is very generous towards sequels to Oscar juggernauts, expect Dune: Part Two to repeat most of that. I know Downsizing was a disappointment, but otherwise, Alexander Payne is well-liked by the Academy; I expect The Holdovers, which reunites him with maybe-shoulda-been-nominated Sideways star Paul Giamatti, could be his ticket back. Killers of the Flower Moon is a Scorsese-directed epic, 'nuff said. While there's not always room for a "nice" movie like Best Picture winner CODA, there is something about The Miracle Club - maybe my own fandom for its stars and subject? - that makes me think it could have the juice. Oppenheimer is clearly Christopher Nolan's passion project, the one he's been most excited to make, plus it's a fascinating subject in a time period (again, WWII!) the Academy adores. Pain Hustlers is a modern tale inspired by current crises, and since not all "important" films can be period pieces, why not? Speaking of important period pieces, last year I predicted Rustin, but it wasn't done in time - no matter, I'm still predicting this biopic of the gay civil rights activist to make it this year. Finally, for some reason, people are clamoring to get Adam Sandler an Academy Award nomination, and I personally feel that for that to happen, the whole movie has to go along for the ride: thus, Spaceman, based on the novel about the first independent Czech astronaut (hey, it's got Carey Mulligan - prestige!).
Last Year: 4/10 - Avatar: The Way of Water, The Banshees of Inisherin, The Fabelmans, Women Talking
Blitz Bazawule, The Color Purple
Steve McQueen, Blitz
Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
Johan Renck, Spaceman
Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon
A past winner who's also one of The Greats (Martin Scorsese), two past nominees who are probably long overdue for more love (Steve McQueen, Christopher Nolan), and two whom you may not have heard of (Blitz Bazawule, Johan Renck). Well, why not? The average Jane had certainly never heard of Morten Tyldum, Daniels, or 4/5 of the 2020/21 lineup! The only thing that would give one pause is the tendency of late to give at least one slot to an "arthouse" type: Östlund, Hamaguchi, Vinterberg, Pawlikowski. I can't predict who'll be under the radar, I can only guess who's on mine.
Last Year: 2/5 - Martin McDonagh, Steven Spielberg
Bradley Cooper, Maestro
Colman Domingo, Rustin
Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers
Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
Adam Sandler, Spaceman
I don't know if Maestro will necessarily do as well as people think or hope it will, but I do think the Academy's actors branch responds favorably to their fellow performers making their own opportunities - whatever else happens, Bradley Cooper may be in. My belief in Spaceman, as mentioned above, is based around Adam Sandler, so, of course, he's in for that - honestly, it's not too dissimilar from Colman Domingo in Rustin, where the performance makes the film. On the other end, it's not often that the director carries the bulk of the buzz leading into a film, but I still have high hopes that Cillian Murphy - who worked with Nolan on Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy - will make enough of an impression to make the cut. And then there's only once-nominated Paul Giamatti, who many believe was snubbed for Sideways, reunited with that film's director...when he wins, you heard it here first.
Last Year: 3/5 - Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, Bill Nighy
Fantasia Barrino, The Color Purple
Emily Blunt, Pain Hustlers
Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Helen Mirren, Golda
Yes, Lily Gladstone in Lead: maybe I've just grown accustomed to her face in that single still that's been released but with all the buzz about the connection she and Scorsese made and what she brought to the film's depiction of the Osage and Indigenous peoples, plus the ol' "why not" of "allowing" a central female take the lead (thank you, Michelle Williams!)...yeah, this makes sense to me. At least for now. Now let me be cynical and say the combination of biopic and prosthetics will be too much for voters to resist voting for Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda, even taking into account the controversy over the ... well, what do we call the equivalent of "blackface" for Jewish people? I'm not predicting it anywhere else, but Jessica Lange reprising her Tony-winning performance as Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night (a role that should have won Katharine Hepburn the Oscar, goddammit) is too good to be true, too perfect a narrative to miss. I think the Academy is actually pretty good about nominating Hollywood's most talented female stars, so perhaps Emily Blunt's portrayal of a woman caught in the claws of the opioid crisis is the one to do it. The Color Purple needs a strong Celie, and if it's good enough for Best Picture, that will be due to Fantasia Barrino in the lead role, just as Whoopi Goldberg was the make-or-break performance in the 1985 iteration.
Last Year: 0/5 (but predicted Williams in supporting)
Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, Poor Things
Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon
Robert Downey, Jr., Oppenheimer
Mike Faist, Challengers
Stephen Graham, Blitz
When Challengers - the tennis drama about Zendaya and her athlete beaux - comes out this Autumn, do you think the men will both go Lead, both go Supporting, or split? I'm betting on the last, and that it's the husband who's supporting, especially since Mike Faist was the "who is that?" breakout of the West Side Story remake. I predicted Willem Dafoe last year for Poor Things, but the release was delayed - why change trains now? Obviously, the winner this year (as I decree it now) will be Robert Downey, Jr., a genuinely great actor whose comeback narrative in 2008 was undeniable but whose "genuinely great actor" narrative will be even more palatable now that he's in a character role. Stephen Graham...been hoping for good things for this guy for a while now, and after a scene-stealing turn in The Irishman, a BAFTA nod for Boiling Point, plus accolades that date all the way back to This is England - isn't it time? Speaking of The Irishman, Robert De Niro deserved more for his performance in Scorsese's previous film - maybe this next reunion will fare better for him?
Last Year: 2/5 - Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan
Best Supporting Actress
Da'vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
Maggie Smith, The Miracle Club
The roles of Shug Avery and Sophia are scene-stealers for The Color Purple, and anyone cast in those roles is a lock for awards consideration (unless you're Jennifer "My presence was used for my celebrity, not my talent" Hudson) - Taraji P. Henson could be getting her second nomination (and first win!) while Danielle Brooks reprises her Tony-nominated role. Air has already happened, Viola Davis is getting a lot of praise, but can it sustain the buzz 'til the end of the year? If they campaign smartly, yes. Da'vine Joy Randolph is a terrific actress who's been ready for laurels, and Alexander Payne does very well with this category: nods for Kathy Bates, Virginia Madsen, and June Squibb, plus almost-maybe-by-a-hair for Shailene Woodley and Hong Chau. Maggie Smith I adore, the movie looks well-made, I'm optimistic.
Last Year: 0/5 (but predicted Williams who was nominated in lead)
Best Original Screenplay
Asteroid City - Wes Anderson, story by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Blitz - Steve McQueen
The Holdovers - David Hemingson
The Miracle Club - Jimmy Smallhorne / Timothy Prager / Josh D. Maurer
Rustin - Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, story by Julian Breece
Last Year: 3/5 - The Banshees of Inisherin, Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Fabelmans
Best Adapted Screenplay
Dune: Part Two - Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve, from the novel by Frank Herbert
Killers of the Flower Moon - Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese, from the book by David Grann
Oppenheimer - Christopher Nolan, from the book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin
Pain Hustlers - Wells Tower, from the article "The Pain Hustlers" and the book The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes
Spaceman - Colby Day, from the novel Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
Last Year: 1/5 - Women Talking
Do these look foolish? Who are you predicting?