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Johnny’s Awards Radar: Pre-Oscar Nomination Predictions

A little more than five months ago, I posted my longest, most-researched piece ever, which provided a pre-festival season preview of what the Oscar nominations could look like. Looking back on those predictions now, I have to say how impressed I am that they’re panning out at all — to be fair, some have had more success than others.

While I said “Dune” would lead the field with 11 nominations, I also claimed “Nightmare Alley” would get 10 nominations, and I did not mention “Belfast” a single time… Can’t win ‘em all!

With Oscar nomination morning finally bearing down on us, here is my last quick summary of my final nomination predictions.

BEST SOUND

My no-brainer picks in August were “Dune,” “No Time to Die,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” and “West Side Story,” all of which remain. The last spot is a toss-up between Best Picture contenders “Belfast” and “The Power of the Dog,” but I’m going with the former as its opening riot sequence has the single flashiest use of sound between the two.

Nominees:

  • “Belfast”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “No Time to Die”
  • “A Quiet Place Part II”
  • “West Side Story”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Dune,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “House of Gucci” remain the three locks they’ve been all season, while the work on the titular character in “Cruella” and the special effects makeup of “Coming 2 America” and “The Suicide Squad” look to make the jump, as well.

Nominees:

  • “Coming 2 America”
  • “Cruella”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
  • “House of Gucci”
Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in “Dune.” (Chiabella James/Vanity Fair)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

One of the only two nominations that I have “Nightmare Alley” retaining here is for its costumes, having picked up nominations from Critics Choice, Costume Designers Guild and BAFTA. “West Side Story” will also be added to the pack, joining my original top three picks: “Dune,” “Cruella” and “House of Gucci.”

Nominees:

  • “Cruella”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “House of Gucci”
  • “Nightmare Alley”
  • “West Side Story”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

One of my most-intact categories – the only swap here is “The Power of the Dog” being dropped in favor of “West Side Story.” That means production designer Adam Stockhausen will earn a rare two nominations in the same year for this category, as he will also be up for “The French Dispatch.”

Nominees:

  • “Cyrano”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “The French Dispatch”
  • “Nightmare Alley”
  • “West Side Story”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Hans Zimmer was ordained to win his second Oscar for “Dune” from the jump, but Jonny Greenwood has been a solid runner-up all season, particularly for “The Power of the Dog.” Greenwood’s chances of a double nomination have sunken with the overall prospects of “Spencer,” but the charming work of Germaine Franco has risen to take its place, along with Nicolas Britell’s “Don’t Look Up” and Alexander Desplat’s “The French Dispatch.”

Nominees:

  • “Don’t Look Up”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “Encanto”
  • “The French Dispatch”
  • “The Power of the Dog”
Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides and Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat in “Dune.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

BEST FILM EDITING

“West Side Story” has shockingly fallen off a cliff with the precursors for this category, but this is another where “Belfast” joins the fray as a Best Picture hopeful. The choppy editing of “Don’t Look Up” remains from my original prediction, as well as eventual winner “Dune” and Best Picture contender “The Power of the Dog.” The final slot goes to “Licorice Pizza,” which has yet to miss a major precursor.

Nominees:

  • “Belfast”
  • “Don’t Look Up”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “Licorice Pizza”
  • “The Power of the Dog”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Another obvious category for “Dune” to win, the other four are a bit of a mystery. I maintain “No Time to Die” in the second slot, and I believe “Shang-Chi” will be the only of the four 2021 MCU films to be nominated. Finally, “The Matrix Resurrections” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” will squeak in, the latter of which features a CG resurrection of a character, which is a technique that we’ve seen previously recognized in films like “Rogue One” and “Blade Runner 2049.”

Nominees:

  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”
  • “The Matrix Resurrections”
  • “No Time to Die”
  • “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Four of my five August predictions remain. “Nightmare Alley” looked to be dead and gone while “West Side Story” surged, but the script has flipped as the latter has now missed noms for American Society of Cinematographers and BAFTA, while the former has picked up both. The sole new addition is “Belfast,” and I’m betting on Greig Fraser riding some of the conveniently-timed Batman hype to his first Oscar win.

Nominees:

  • “Belfast”
  • “Dune” (WINNER)
  • “Nightmare Alley”
  • “The Power of the Dog”
  • “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as George Burbank in “The Power of the Dog.” (Netflix)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

My misguided bullishness with regards to “House of Gucci” and “Nightmare Alley” has me with only two holdovers here from August. Thankfully, I – along with everyone else – saw Jane Campion cakewalking her way to the win. The long-awaited successful adaptation of “Dune” also gets in, along with “The Lost Daughter,” Best Picture nominee “CODA” and “Drive My Car,” a critical darling that will appear in one other major category.

Nominees:

  • “Coda”
  • “Drive My Car”
  • “Dune”
  • “The Lost Daughter”
  • “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I fared a little better here, despite being too optimistic about the chances for “Mass.” This category is ultimately one of the easiest to predict as the five BAFTA nominees aligned with my predictions and have me confident the Oscars will also match up. Is it possible that Paul Thomas Anderson finally earns his first Oscar, or will Branagh win en route to “Belfast” taking the top prize? I’m optimistic the Academy will do the right thing.

Nominees:

  • “Being the Ricardos”
  • “Belfast”
  • “Don’t Look Up”
  • “King Richard”
  • “Licorice Pizza” (WINNER)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The acting categories have been by far the most volatile this season, and that continues to be the case at this stage. I had Bradley Cooper winning in August and still believe he’ll sneak in, but the front-runner is now Kodi Smit-McPhee. These two are joined by Jared Leto’s very best Mario impression, as well as Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) and “Belfast” boy Ciarán Hinds.

Nominees:

  • Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”)
  • Ciarán Hinds (“Belfast”)
  • Troy Kotsur (“CODA”)
  • Jared Leto (“House of Gucci”)
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”) WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Kirsten Dunst may not be winning like I thought, but she’s sticking around for a nomination. She is joined by Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”), who should sweep. The rise of “King Richard” and “Belfast” adds Aunjanue Ellis and Caitríona Balfe to the equation, and Ruth Negga should be the only nomination for “Passing.”

Nominees:

  • Caitríona Balfe (“Belfast”)
  • Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) WINNER
  • Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”)
  • Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”)
  • Ruth Negga (“Passing”)
Will Smith (center) as Richard Williams in “King Richard.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

BEST ACTOR

The usual heavyweights are here – such as Leo and Denzel – but the award will come down to Will Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch, who are both trying to win their first Oscars. I still think the former has the legacy to earn it, but Cumberbatch might be the more impressive of the two and shouldn’t be slept on. Andrew Garfield will be the only new addition to my predictions, swapping in for Bradley Cooper. 

Nominees:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (“Don’t Look Up”)
  • Andrew Garfield (“tick, tick…BOOM!”)
  • Will Smith (“King Richard”) WINNER
  • Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”)

BEST ACTRESS

One of my most poorly-aged categories, I’m of the thinking only one of my August nominees will survive… and it may just be eventual winner, Lady Gaga. She is the only potential nominee to hit all the major precursors, and her BAFTA appearance suggests she may be the top vote-getter. Alana Haim has also surged with her BAFTA nomination and may take that fifth slot. Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman and Olivia Colman look to round out the group.

Nominees:

  • Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”)
  • Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”)
  • Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”) WINNER
  • Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”)
  • Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”)
Director, producer and writer Jane Campion (seated) on the set of “The Power of the Dog.” (Netflix)

BEST DIRECTOR

Three of my five August predictions remain, with Campion as the front-runner, Villeneuve a solid second and PTA surging. The last two spots are torn between a combo of Kenneth Branagh, Steven Spielberg and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. The decline of “West Side Story” has me believing Spielberg will be the odd man out, especially given the directors branch tendency to nominate at least one director of a non-English film.

Nominees:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”)
  • Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”)
  • Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) WINNER
  • Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”)
  • Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”)

BEST PICTURE

I have six of my August nominees surviving in Best Picture: “Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” “West Side Story” and “The Power of the Dog.” I had that last one winning it all then and still do. In addition, I believe “House of Gucci” will sneak in by virtue of its two acting noms and one or two tech noms. “CODA” managed to maintain its Sundance dominance all the way to year’s end. Warner Bros. also got “King Richard,” and “Belfast” is still a top-two contender at this point. “tick, tick…BOOM!” rounds out the group and can make Netflix the first studio in decades to have three Best Picture nominees in a single year.

Nominees:

  • “Belfast”
  • “CODA”
  • “Don’t Look Up”
  • “Dune”
  • “House of Gucci”
  • “King Richard”
  • “Licorice Pizza”
  • “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
  • “tick, tick…BOOM!”
  • “West Side Story”

And there you have it! That’s where I’m at on the eve of the nominations. I’ll make my final call in late March after all the guilds and other award bodies have their say, so stay tuned!

And as always: Desert Power.

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Johnny Sobczak View All

Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."

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