Soto’s bold Oscar predictions 2021

Believe me, I’ve appreciated the glacial pace at which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has emboldened its tastes after fifteen years of Slumdog Millionaires, The King’s Speech, The Artist, and Argo (not that it was all The Magnificent Ambersons before 2008). But in a Best Picture category boasting a couple of my favorites of 2021 expect an upset. It was too good to be true that The Power of the Dog would take the award.

Herewith are my predictions and preferences. I’ve omitted the animated categories because I didn’t pay attention in 2022. Shrug.


Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter
Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Judi Dench – Belfast
Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog
Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard

Like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench will earn nominations for playing the doily draped on an armchair cushion. The only surprise in this bunch is the Academy’s recognition of Jessie Buckley, who plays the younger Olivia Colman in the expository DON’T YOU SEE portions of The Lost Daughter. If Kirsten Dunst wins as the young wife driven to alcoholism by her malevolent brother-in-law (Benedict Cumberbatch) in The Power of the Dog, expect that film to sweep; otherwise, Ariana DeBose should rehearse the acceptance speech.

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana DeBose
WHO SHOULD WIN: Kirsten Dunst, Jessie Buckley


Ciaran Hinds – Belfast
Troy Kotsur – CODA
Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog
J.K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog

If Academy voters accepted that subtlety can tug on their feeble heartstrings as surely as the acting equivalents of sloppy kisses, then they’d accept why Kodi Smit-McPhee’s looooooong arc impressed the majority of critics groups; but these are Academy voters, and the autobiographical “narrative” will shove CODA‘s Troy Kotsur as a deaf father toward the finish line. J.K Simmons, here for the delivery of a caustic/empathetic monologue while looking like Fred Mertz in Being the Ricardos, sits here to remind voters he won six years ago. As for Jesse Plemons, the actor who’s a ringer for Matt Damon’s stunt double, it’s about time the Academy recognized how much steel can comfortably hide beneath doughiness.

WHO WILL WIN: Troy Kotsur
WHO SHOULD WIN: Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee


Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos
Kristen Stewart – Spencer

Thousands of words filed since last fall to explain why the Academy will or will not nominate Kristen Stewart, yet here she is as the neurasthenic Princess Di in Pablo Larraín’s entombed Spencer, which, had justice governed the universe, should’ve killed royalty chic forever. At least voters acknowledged Stewart exists after a decade of excellent work from Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper to supporting work in Being Alice and Certain Women.

In an unusually rich category, Olivia Colman and Penélope Cruz stand out for inhabiting unlikable women with private agendas which don’t prevent them from enjoying themselves; a win by either would convince me that the Academy’s insistence on its new diversity is more than poppycock. Hell, even Nicole Kidman played a Lucy Ricardo worthy of Lucille Ball’s considerable business acumen in Aaron Sorkin’s only watchable film Being the Ricardos (it still earns a C+). But the Academy loves rewarding performances in biopics that emphasize exteriority, as if acting were still dressing up for Halloween (see: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and Renée Zellweger in Judy). Jessica Chastain, nine years since her last nomination, will reap those benefits as a Tammy Faye Bakker whose own performance as televangelist Jim Bakker’s wife would’ve been totally in the Academy’s bailiwick.

WHO WILL WIN: Jessica Chastain
WHO SHOULD WIN: Penélope Cruz, Olivia Colman


Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick … Boom!
Will Smith – King Richard
Denzel Washington – Tragedy of Macbeth

What a drab bunch, thank goodness. Usually the evening’s focus, the Best Actor category settled into somnolence the moment pundits declared Will Smith the winner without having watched a frame of the ponderous King Richard. In another year’s Andrew Garfield’s strenuous flaying in Tick, Tick … Boom! or even Denzel Washington as an uninhabited Macbeth might’ve won. Embodying the kind of Evil Gay that was once a staple of thrillers and pedigreed movies, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog at last finds a part commensurate with his clammy, efficient style.

WHO WILL WIN: Will Smith
WHO SHOULD WIN: Benedict Cumberbatch


Belfast – Kenneth Branagh
Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay, David Sirota
Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
King Richard – Zach Baylin
The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier

The Oscar frontrunner before pricklier and gooier films hustled to the front of the line, Belfast will see its only major award win for Kenneth Branagh, not previously known as a writer but who in late middle age has become, improbably, a director of big bland hits.

WHO WILL WIN: Kenneth Branagh
WHO SHOULD WIN: Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier


CODA – Siân Heder
Drive My Car – Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal
The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion

Read Thomas Savage’s novel and you’ll appreciate how Jane Campion condensed and visually embellished The Power of the Dog; she’ll win her second screenplay Oscar (the first: Original Screenplay for 1993’s The Piano). I’d be perfectly cool with Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, though, for transforming a short story into an epic as rich as Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

WHO WILL WIN: Jane Campion
WHO SHOULD WIN: Jane Campion or Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe


Drive My Car (Japan), dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Flee (Denmark), dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen
The Hand of God (Italy), dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan), dir. Pawo Choyning Dorji
The Worst Person in the World (Norway), dir. Joachim Trier

A toss-up. Should enough voters have watched The Worst Person in the World it might elbow the hambone The Hand of God out of competition. I’m fine with Joachim Trier’s’s win but would prefer Drive My Car , which, like Belfast, might see its only reward.

WHO WILL WIN: The Worst Person in the World or Drive My Car
WHO SHOULD WIN: Drive My Car or The Worst Person in the World


Dune – Greig Fraser
Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen
The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner
The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel
West Side Story – Janusz Kamiński

Janusz Kamiński’s work in West Side Story wasn’t merely a command of color; Max Ophuls would’ve been proud of the dollies and pans that made this fictional world a lesson in how an aging filmmaker like Steven Spielberg can still rally his powers. But everyone who liked Dune did so in large part because many (i.e. me) thought a coherent adaptation couldn’t be done after David Lynch’s 1984 botch even though many (i.e. me) preferred the hysterical botch, thus Denis Villeneuve’s movie needs recognition.

WHO WILL WIN: Greig Fraser
WHO SHOULD WIN: Janusz Kamiński


Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car
Steven Spielberg – West Side Story

To adapt a Haruki Murakami short story with skill would’ve been enough, but what Ryusuke Hamaguchi achieves in Drive My Car is conducting, not directing: a juxtaposition of tones, locations, and performance styles, with a leisurely pace adducing his mastery of the material. Only Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza approximated Hamaguchi’s triumph — and it wasn’t even Hamaguchi’s best film of 2021. Fortunately, The Power of the Dog also shows a director whose command had me holding my breath. There’s no reason to think Jane Campion will become the third Best Director winner (and second consecutive winner) in Oscar history unless voters note how Uncle Steven can still impress with the choreographing of the human form.

WHO WILL WIN: Jane Campion
WHO SHOULD WIN: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Jane Campion


Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

Upon winning the Producers Guild’s award for Best Picture, CODA suddenly looked like an upset, which sucked: an Academy that had awarded Parasite and Nomadland — sound, solid, both — its top trophy had matured enough to consider the implacable, ice-cold The Power of the Dog. But comments by Sam Elliott suggest Jane Campion stirred voters without converting them; Elliott’s part of the same aging white contingent that rewarded Crash over Brokeback Mountain because cowboys and butt sex are as fiendish a pairing as Donald Trump and a lawsuit (a pity Ernest Borgnine remains unavailable for comment).

As visually appealing as a clown painting at a doctor’s office, as interested in human behavior as a ferret, CODA is a film I reviewed in August because I needed to up my required review quota, after which I forgot about it three minutes later. For affect-free family entertainment, give me Belfast. Voters want to feel good about themselves: self-congratulation as self-love. I don’t accuse them of fooling themselves; most viewers not interested in criticism loved this story of an affectionate Deaf family. About the only love shown in The Power of the Dog was Kodi Smit-McPhee’s toward a rope.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Drive My Car, The Power of the Dog

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