We may be just over a week from the longest Oscar season in history but there’s no rest for the wicked. The next season is already here with many of the films held last year due to the coronavirus pandemic making big, splashy debuts in 2021 alongside productions already set for this year. It’s gonna be packed and inevitably, another exciting race to watch.
Before getting into the predictions for this season, here’s a primer of the changes coming this year and those being set up for upcoming years that are among the most aggressive in Academy history.
Beginning with the 94th Academy Awards (2021), the Best Picture category will return to a set 10 nominees, rather than a fluctuating number of nominations from year to year that we’ve seen since 2011. The Academy will also implement a quarterly viewing process through the Academy Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, also starting with the 94th Academy Awards. By making it possible for members to view films released year-round, the Academy will broaden each film’s exposure, level the playing field, and ensure all eligible films can be seen by voting members.
For the 94th Oscars (2022) and 95th Oscars (2023), submitting a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form will be required for Best Picture consideration, however meeting inclusion thresholds will not be required for eligibility in the Best Picture category until the 96th Oscars (2024). Beginning that season, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility in the Best Picture category, as part of its Academy Aperture 2025 initiative. The standards are designed to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience. Academy governors DeVon Franklin and Jim Gianopulos headed a task force to develop the standards that were created from a template inspired by the British Film Institute (BFI) Diversity Standards used for certain funding eligibility in the UK and eligibility in some categories of the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) Awards, but were adapted to serve the specific needs of the Academy. The Academy also consulted with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), as it presently does for Oscars eligibility.
As part of the Academy’s sustainability effort, the 93rd Awards season will be the final year DVD screeners will be allowed to be distributed; these mailings will be discontinued starting in 2021 for the 94th Academy Awards. Access to the Academy Screening Room will continue to be made available for all eligible releases. The distribution of physical music CDs, screenplays and hardcopy mailings, including but not limited to paper invites and screening schedules, will also be discontinued next year. Digital links to materials will be permitted. All screeners, DVD or otherwise, will also now be required to include closed captioning.
Let’s get down to some predicting. Something interesting to note is that for the last six years in a row, only one Best Picture winner, 2017’s The Shape of Water, earned below the line technical wins to go along with its BP win. All other winners found themselves in the top spot because of the preferential ballot that was introduced in 2009.
2015: Spotlight (no tech wins, only won screenplay)
2016: Moonlight (no tech wins, screenplay + acting)
2017: The Shape of Water (tech wins + director)
2018: Green Book (no tech wins, screenplay + acting)
2019: Parasite (no tech wins, screenplay + director)
2020: Nomadland (no tech wins, director + acting)
It’s something to keep in mind when looking at what the Oscars will look like next year and in fact, this year’s winners were more spread out than any in recent memory. This year, most Best Picture nominees won at least two Oscars (except The Trial of the Chicago 7, which went home empty-handed). This year, with theaters opening back up with studios and A-list stars looking to make a massive comeback, we could see a big swing from the last few years. The French Dispatch, Dune, West Side Story and more could all find themselves with robust box office and even double-digit Oscar nominations.
Musicals will be in key this year with several Broadway adaptations making their way to the silver screen for the first time like Dear Evan Hanson, tick, tick…Boom! and In the Heights, or as new adaptations like Carmen and West Side Story. Joe Wright’s Cyrano and Leos Carax’s Annette will also stake a claim as original musicals.
Star quality is going to be huge this year with several films boasting massive ensembles like David O. Russell’s untitled filmi starring Oscar winners Christian Bale, Robert De Niro and Rami Malek, Oscar nominees Margot Robbie and Michael Shannon plus Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, John David Washington, Andrea Riseborough, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts and more. Then there’s Netflix’s insane cast for Don’t Look Up: Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Mark Rylance plus Oscar nominees Timothée Chalamet and Jonah Hill alongside Ariana Grande, Gina Gershon, Tyler Perry, Matthew Perry, Ron Perlman, Melanie Lynskey and more. There also The Harder They Fall (Netflix) starring Oscar winner Regina King, Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Jonathan Majors and Delroy Lindo and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch with…hold your breath…Oscar winners Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Christoph Waltz, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton and Fisher Stevens with Oscar nominees Timothée Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Bill Murray plus Jason Schwartzman, Liev Schreiber, Léa Seydoux and Elisabeth Moss. Whew.
Apple earned its first Oscar nominations this year (Wolfwalkers for Animated Feature and Greyhound for Sound). It paid a stunning $25M for Sian Heder’s Sundance 2021 hit CODA but the barely two-year old studio, while no indie, is choosing to release the film on Apple TV+ in August, a traditional dead zone for releases and meaning it’s skipping festivals where it could easily sweep up audience wins. They’ve been cagey on a theatrical distribution of the film (although it must, the rules of last season were an exception due to COVID) but it seems like a no-brainer to drop this at Telluride and Toronto and give it an October or November release instead. Especially after its unprecedented quadruple wins at Sundance: the Audience Award, Directing, Grand Jury Prize and Ensemble. Instead of following Netflix’s path they should be forging their own.
Speaking of, what to do about Netflix? Once again, the world’s biggest streamer aimed for Best Picture domination and once again only managed two nominees last season and fell short big time with wins in the top categories. This year, they again have a huge slate: Blonde, Bruised, Don’t Look Up, The Harder They Fall, The Hand of God, Passing, The Power of the Dog, tick, tick…Boom! and the Untitled Nora Fingscheidt with Sandra Bullock aka Unforgiven. And we’re only in May. Who knows what they might pick up through Cannes, Telluride, Venice and TIFF. Netflix’s big failure in the last few years as they started to become an Oscar force has been backing the wrong horses. As a progressive force in how we watch movies, they’ve been surprisingly conservative and traditional in their choices of what to prioritize. That may get them nominations, but it’s not going to get them the wins they crave.
Another big question is Cannes. Normally in May, we’d have the lineup for the French fest by now and be able to make some educated guesses on non-English language contenders as well as big studio films ready to make a debut. With this year being in July we won’t know for another month the full lineup but we know that Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch will be there from reigning Best Picture studio Searchlight Pictures, Carax’s Annette and Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero from Amazon. Many have already begun to peg Farhadi as this year’s most likely ‘non-American’ director contender in the vein of Paweł Pawlikowski and Thomas Vinterberg. Makes sense for the Iranian director who’s helmed two Foreign Language Film (as it was known at the time) Oscar winners: A Separation and The Salesman.
Here is my first take on Best Picture for the 2022 Oscars, with an alphabetized list of likely contenders then a ranked list.
Belfast (Focus Features) – November 12
A young boy and his working class family experience the tumultuous late 1960s. Directed and written by Kenneth Branagh and starring Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench.
Untitled David O. Russell aka Canterbury Glass (20th Century Studios)
Plot details are currently under wraps. Stars Oscar winners Christian Bale, Robert De Niro and Rami Malek, Oscar nominees Margot Robbie and Michael Shannon plus Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, John David Washington, Andrea Riseborough, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts and more.
CODA (Apple) – August 13
As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Directed by Sian Heder and starring Emilia Jones, Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and Lonnie Farmer.
Cyrano (MGM) – December 24 (limited)
And updated, musical version of the life of Cyrano de Bergerac. Directed by Joe Wright and starring Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Brian Tyree Henry and Ben Mendohlson.
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
The story of two low-level astronomers, who must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet earth. Directed by Oscar winner Adam McKay and stars Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Mark Rylance plus Oscar nominees Timothée Chalamet and Jonah Hill alongside Ariana Grande, Gina Gershon, Tyler Perry, Matthew Perry, Ron Perlman, Melanie Lynskey and more.
Dune (Warner Bros) – October 1
Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy. Directed by Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve and stars Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgård.
The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures)
A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine”. Directed by Oscar nominee Wes Anderson and starring Oscar winners Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Christoph Waltz, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton and Fisher Stevens with Oscar nominees Timothée Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Bill Murray plus Jason Schwartzman, Liev Schreiber, Léa Seydoux and Elisabeth Moss.
The Harder They Fall (Netflix)
When an outlaw discovers his enemy is being released from prison, he reunites his gang to seek revenge in this Western. Directed by Jeymes Samuel and starring Oscar winner Regina King, Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Jonathan Majors and Delroy Lindo.
A Hero (Amazon Studios)
Plot details are currently under wraps but “tackles many contemporary issues of our modern societies.” Shot in Shiraz, Iran and stars Sarina Farhadi, Amir Jadidi and Mohsen and Mohsen Tanabandeh.
House of Gucci (MGM) – November 24
The story of how Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci, plotted to kill her husband, the grandson of renowned fashion designer Guccio Gucci. Directed by Oscar nominee Ridley Scott and starring Oscar winners Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Jared Leto, Oscar nominees Adam Driver and Salma Hayek plus Jack Huston, Reeve Carney and Camille Cottin.
The Humans (A24)
Set inside a pre-war duplex in downtown Manhattan, The Humans follows the course of an evening in which the Blake family gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving. As darkness falls outside the crumbling building, mysterious things start to go bump in the night and family tensions reach a boiling point. Based on the Tony-winning Broadway play. Directed by Stephen Karam and starring Oscar nominees Steven Yeun, Richard Jenkins and June Squibb with Beanie Feldstein and Amy Schumer.
A Journal for Jordan (Sony Pictures) – December 10 limited, December 22 wide
1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King, before he is killed in action in Baghdad, authors a journal for his son intended to tell him how to live a decent life despite growing up without a father. Directed by Denzel Washington and starring Michael B. Jordan with a screenplay by Burnham Schwartz and Virgil Williams based on the article “From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By” by Dana Canedy.
King Richard (Warner Bros) – November 19
A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Oscar nominee Will Smith, Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott, Aunjanue Ellis, Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney.
The Last Duel (20th Century Studios) – October 15
King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel. Ridley Scott’s second entry and starring Oscar winners Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Oscar nominee Adam Driver and Jodie Comer.
Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) – December 3 (limited)
An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is. Directed by Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro and starring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, David Strathairn, Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen with Clifton Collins, Jr. and Ron Perlman.
Mothering Sunday (Sony Pictures Classics)
A maid living in post-World War I England secretly plans to meet with the man she loves before he leaves to marry another woman. Directed by Eva Husson and starring Oscar winners Olivia Colman, Colin Firth and Glenda Jackson, with Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
A pair of brothers who own a large ranch in Montana are pitted against each other when one of them gets married. Directed by Oscar winner Jane Campion and starring Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, Thomasin Mckenzie, Frances Conroy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Adam Beach and Oscar winner Keith Carradine.
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson aka Soggy Bottom (MGM) – November 26 limited, December 25 wide
Set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, the film follows a high school student, who is also a successful child actor. Directed by Oscar nominee Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Joseph Cross, Skyler Gisondo and Benny Safdie.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24)
Adaptation of the Shakespeare classic where a Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power. Directed by Oscar winner Joel Coen (without brother Ethan this time) and starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand with Henry Melling, Brendan Gleeson and Corey Hawkins. Shot in black white in a 4:3 ratio.
West Side Story (20th Century Studios) – December 10
An adaptation of the 1957 musical which won 10 Oscars, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds a la Romeo and Juliet. Directed by Oscar winner Steven Spielberg and starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Corey Stoll and Oscar winner Rita Moreno, who won Best Supporting Actress for playing Anita (DeBose’s role here) in the original film.
My ranked Best Picture predictions for May 2021.
1. Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures)
2. West Side Story (20th Century Studios)
3. Dune (Warner Bros)
4. House of Gucci (MGM)
5. The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24)
6. Belfast (Focus Features)
7. Untitled David O. Russell aka Canterbury Glass (20th Century Studios)
8. The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures)
9. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson aka Soggy Bottom (MGM)
10. The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Films currently without distribution or possibly unfinished in time
- Armageddon Time (Focus Features)
- Benedetta (TBD)
- Decision to Leave (TBD)
- Limbo (TBD)
- The Lost Daughter (TBD)
- Presidents (TBD)
- Shake Your Cares Away (TBD)
- The Survivor (TBD)
- Three Thousand Years of Longing (MGM)
- Triangle of Sadness (TBD)
- Where Is Anne Frank? (TBD)
Other contenders: Annette (Amazon Studios), C’mon C’mon (A24), Cry Macho (Warner Bros), Don’t Worry Darling (New Line), Eternals (Disney), A Hero (Amazon Studios), Last Night in Soho (Focus Features), Mass (Bleecker Street), Next Goal Wins (Searchlight Pictures), The Northman (Focus Features), Red, White and Water (A24).