Oscars 2022: Here's how the races are shaping up after the nominations

Los Angeles, California - The Academy Awards announced its list of nominations last week and typically, there was a lot to talk about.

The 94th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 27.
The 94th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 27.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Dune earned 10 nominations, but not one for its director, Denis Villeneuve. House of Gucci's Jared Leto was recognized for the 17 pounds of latex he wore, but not his Super Mario-inspired Italian accent. And The Power of the Dog pretty much hauled in every possible nomination it could, landing a leading 12 nods.

Does that mean the best picture Oscar belongs to Jane Campion's Western? Let's investigate with an early look at where the major Oscar races stand a week after nominations and – checking notes – good Lord, a full month before final voting begins. So that means anything can happen!

Anything save for Encanto losing the animated feature Oscar. The kids would riot in the streets!

Best Picture

The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is favorite for the Best Picture award.
The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is favorite for the Best Picture award.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Press

The Power of the Dog, as mentioned, had itself a day when nominations were announced, picking up every key category that was expected – director, screenplay, editing, cinematography, score – and a few contested ones.

Jesse Plemons earned a supporting actor nomination, joining co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the acting races. The film also found love for production design and sound. That's a deep well of support spread across eight different voting branches.

Its competitors, meanwhile, came up short in categories they needed. Belfast was absent from editing and cinematography, and its standout actor, Caitríona Balfe, curiously went missing. (Did some voters put her in lead, while others selected supporting?)

Jennifer Lopez felt like she was "going to die" without Ben Affleck
Celebrities Jennifer Lopez felt like she was "going to die" without Ben Affleck

West Side Story was shut out in screenplay and editing. King Richard did OK in picking up a screenplay nomination and recognition for Aunjanue Ellis' sterling supporting turn. But can it win best picture without a director nod?

There's time for these movies to recalibrate. And, who knows, maybe every voter will block out three hours on their calendars and have their lives changed by Drive My Car. But the race right now belongs to The Power of the Dog.

Best Director

bJane Campion is set to win her first Oscar for directing.
bJane Campion is set to win her first Oscar for directing.  © IMAGO / Future Image

I thought the directors branch would shun Kenneth Branagh and not Villeneuve. So if you're looking at things from a (pint) glass half-full point of view, Belfast isn't doomed. Except in this category, which has belonged to Jane Campion since The Power of the Dog began screening at fall festivals.

The 67-year-old New Zealand native has been collecting awards ever since the season kicked off. From the Golden Globes, to the Venice Film Festival, to virtually every critics' list, Campion is as close to an Oscar guarantee as it gets.

Having missed out on the big one in 1994 with The Piano, this might just be her year.

Lead actress

Olivia Colman in a scene from The Lost Daughter.
Olivia Colman in a scene from The Lost Daughter.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Press

This is the year's most exciting race, one that could have had an entirely different set of nominees – say, Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza), Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Jennifer Hudson (Respect), Renate Reinsve (The Worst Person in the World), and Rachel Zegler (West Side Story).

Nicole Kidman was one of three actors from Being the Ricardos nominated, which was the extent of the film's recognition. It's a movie about actors, their insecurities and their struggles with those know-nothing writers and producers, so it's no surprise that the thespian crowd adores it. They feel seen.

Kidman will probably win the Screen Actors Guild honor, but she'll face stiffer competition from Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter when the academy at large weighs in. Colman is in the better movie and has accrued the kind of reverence usually reserved for the likes of Meryl Streep. Yes, she just won an Oscar four years ago, but the way time works these days, that feels like a lifetime ago.

The other nominees – Kristen Stewart (Spencer), Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), and Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) – face longer odds. But with no clear front-runner, it's still fair for them to ask: why not me?

Lead actor

Will Smith plays Serena and Venus Williams' father in King Richard.
Will Smith plays Serena and Venus Williams' father in King Richard.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Press

This isn't as wide open as lead actress – but it also isn't as settled as some people might think it is.

Will Smith has been out in front since King Richard premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, and for good reason. For one, he's outstanding as the demanding dad and tennis coach trading on his charisma, but also doing strong character work. Also: Smith is a longstanding movie star who has never won an Oscar. It is time.

Benedict Cumberbatch will challenge for his image-stretching turn as the menacing, banjo-playing cattle rancher in The Power of the Dog. But how many Oscars will the academy bestow on that film? You also can't dismiss Denzel Washington, a 10-time nominee, playing the title role in the Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth. Or even Andrew Garfield, sensational as playwright Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick ... Boom!

Let's keep our minds open to the possibilities a bit longer.

Supporting actress and actor

Ariana DeBose has a good shot at winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Ariana DeBose has a good shot at winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  © IMAGO / Future Image

West Side Story has always belonged to the actor playing Anita. Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the role in the 1961 film version, and it looks like Ariana DeBose will be dancing away with the same prize 60 years later. It's a demanding part, and DeBose put her own steely stamp on it.

DeBose's primary challenge will come from Kirsten Dunst, a talented actor who broke through as a preteen in Interview With the Vampire and Little Women, never letting up in the ensuing three decades. Like Smith, she has never won an Oscar. If the academy would like to make that right, her work as the lonely, lovely Rose in The Power of the Dog offers a strong enticement.

Moving on to supporting actor, a first viewing of Power offers plenty of rewards. But it's Kodi Smit-McPhee's astonishing work as Peter, the frail, seemingly doomed son of Rose, that compels you toward a second viewing. He'll face strong competition from CODA's Troy Kotsur, who became the second deaf actor to earn a nomination for playing a deaf character.

Kotsur combined ribald humor with an aching vulnerability as the film's loving dad, a performance that goes straight to the heart.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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