Oscars 2022: Standing on Ceremony at the Finish Line

One challenge for Oscar marathoners: We can waste no time in starting to screen the best-pic noms and other “top” categories straight out of the gate once nominations are announced. One never knows if life will allow one to complete the mission. This year, contenders were announced on Feb. 8, leaving 6.5 weeks to cram in all 53 movies, at a rate of about eight titles a week.

(Sounds worse than it was, as I’m including the 15 shorts in that overall count — although some of this year’s batch proved epically long, such as the half-hour “Robin Robin” in the animation category and the 40-minute “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” from Switzerland in the live-action category.)

That hierarchical hitch means one must save the less interesting categories to view at the end. So these “lesser” features are the freshest in our minds come D-(decision)day. In my case, the dregs tend to be the visual effects and animation feature groups — never been a huge fan of blockbuster action flicks, and since my kids are all in their 30s and older by now, I don’t have much use for formulaic cartoons, either. Or so I thought: Man, this year, I found all the animated features quite relevant and riveting, especially the revolutionary “Flee,” nominated in three categories (also international feature film and documentary feature), and — surprise, surprise — “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which I have neglected to mention much.

(What about us?!)

Another hitch in our git-along: Many of the “top award” entrants get hyped throughout the year and chances are high a marathoner might have already seen them back when they were released, putting even more distance between the viewing and the Oscar race “reveal.”

I’ve been marathoning for 11 years now, and I typically have seen only two of the best-pic noms by the starting gun. This year, though, I had a leg up, having previously seen four of the 10 best-pic noms (“Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story”) plus “tick…tick…Boom!” (nominated for best actor and film editing). All those titles made deep impressions, but with so much time having passed, and so many other celluloid clips crowding my brain, my recall skills are now potentially unreliable, for comparison’s sake.

Still, my husband says I must complete my tour of movie duty and make predictions on these top categories — even though everything’s been written about them and you all have your own views and I wouldn’t be able to influence anyone at this point, with the telecast set to begin mere hours from now.

Check that: According to awards columnist Pete Hammond of the Deadline website, the deadline for Oscar voting is 7 p.m. ET today. Whoa. Still time to sway anyone on the fence. Hammond also notes: “The overall current total of Academy members is 10,487, but 914 of them are emeritus status and don’t vote, likewise for 86 active Associate members.” This year, voters began with a denominator of 276 eligible movies and had not quite five days to whittle those down into the critical categories. I’ll betchu not all 9,487 voters watched all 276 contenders — and I’m pretty sure a smaller share took the time (as I did) to screen even the 53 top nominees. Mainly because it took A LOT of time.

There is definitely something wrong with this system. Shortcuts are no doubt employed. These folks could be voting by feel, pulling filaments of hype from the air, or choosing based on trailers alone (which made, for instance, the international feature “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” look much better than it was because of expert trailer-editing skills).

(Note: I’m not saying the movie was bad — it just wasn’t as good as the trailer portends.)

One mustn’t discount, then, the influence of any small-time blogger upon any big-deal Oscar voter.

So, if anyone is listening, I shall do the dirty work and make your selections for you in what many consider to be the top eight categories.

First, perhaps the most difficult: the writing categories. Eeek. Apologies in advance for my hurried, hack writing.

Original Screenplay

Belfast. Kenneth Branagh’s memoirs as a boy living through “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland proved a gorgeous, intimate portrait of the Irish soul. Part of me thought: Wow, we’re all a little bit Irish, so is it now time to celebrate them (us) as an oppressed people? Viewing the violent conflict through the eyes of a love-smitten Protestant boy — especially when the object of his affection happened to be Catholic, and about a foot taller (another nod to “Romeo & Juliet” or even “West Side Story”) — was an ingenious narrative device. But because the story was largely a diary, point deduction.

Don’t Look Up. Adam McKay’s cleverly veiled clarion call about climate change is truly a statement of our times. It broke Netflix streaming records and obviously seals the popular vote. Biting satire and worthy of the honor, no matter what the snooty elitists say.

King Richard. Loved, loved, loved this movie, but the screenplay wasn’t necessarily the element that stood out, as it was based largely on real events and documented interviews.

Licorice Pizza. Saw this on a late-show date with my husband and — unsure he noticed, but I am confessing now — I dozed off. It’s certainly not one I can go back now to review, as it’s not being streamed. I loved the dialogue that I caught, and it had a lovely improvisational feel. But the story structure seemed jumbled and overwrought, especially after I woke up. Sorry, my bad, but an Oscar winner, even a good bedtime story (in this case, a waterbed) should never induce sleep.

The Worst Person in the World. No ordinary love story, this Norwegian import was ultimately about finding love for oneself. Creative storytelling, and the stop-action scene in which our protagonist tests another course in life with an alternative lover is one for the books. The worry is I can’t fully appreciate the screenplay because I experienced the dialogue only through subtitles — and Oscar voters may feel the same. A sentimental favorite, but …

Prediction & Pick: Don’t Look Up

[Update post-Oscars: “Belfast” was the winner.]

Adapted Screenplay

I haven’t read/accessed the source material on any of these nominees — oh, no! Is that a chore I must add to my Oscar marathoning rules in order to properly choose in the future? Worse, I haven’t even read about the source material, been too busy watching movies. My stalwart husband, however, has read the “Dune” series and testifies Denis Villeneuve’s vision is finally a great adaptation.

CODA. This singing-signing-themed darling is now neck and neck in the best picture race with the alpha “Dog.” I think its chances are good. But “CODA” is a remake of the French-language film “La Famille Bélierso,” so I am less inclined to choose something for adaptation whose source material is another movie. (Although I’m certainly curious how American Sign Language and French signing compare.)

Drive My Car. Pure genius. Too long.

Dune. Shall I let my husband influence me?

The Lost Daughter. Possibly my favorite screenplay of the movies in the running — only because “Drive My Car” needed editing. Admittedly, though, the morning after I watched “The Lost Daughter,” I couldn’t recall the ending — I had to go back and review the final shot, which is so important in evaluating a screenplay. Coulda been the wine. Still, all that doll stuff was disturbing and unpredictable, which are my criteria for screenwriting: stories that keep me guessing and take twisted turns.

The Power of the Dog. This may be, technically, the best adaptation. And I may be advised to pick it, considering I have virtually snubbed this 12-time-nominated movie thus far. Then again, I’m not trying to get a good score. There is no money on the line. Only my reputation. Already damaged. This endeavor is not at all about being right — only about justice.

Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Pick: The Lost Daughter

[Update post-Oscars: “CODA” was the winner.]

And now, for the remaining, highest-achiever categories, just gonna list ’em. Not gonna sweat my rationale, as I have no reason left.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Ariana DeBose was the winner!]

Actor in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Troy Kotsur (“CODA”)

[Update post-Oscars: Troy Kotsur was the winner!]

Actress in a Leading Role

Prediction: Penélope Cruz

Pick: Jessica Chastain

[Update post-Oscars: Jessica Chastain was the winner!]

Actor in a Leading Role

Prediction & Pick: Will Smith

[Update post-Oscars: Will Smith was the winner!]

Directing

Prediction: Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)

Pick: Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Jane Campion was the winner.]

Best Picture

Prediction: CODA

Pick: West Side Story

[Update post-Oscars: CODA was the winner!]

Notice the absence of “The Power of the Dog” in that last bit. What can I say? I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Plus, between “The Piano” and “Dog,” can’t help but wonder if Campion has a sadistic streak.

And maybe I’m a little masochistic, but my Oscars 2022 marathon is finally, officially a wrap — although I still plan to watch “Writing With Fire” upon its release tomorrow, just to say I’ve seen 100% of all nominees in the top 23 categories. My viewing score is 98%. My guessing score will be far, far lower because I’m not in it for the win. It’s an honor just to experience all the nominees. And better luck next year.

The whole thing is a crapshoot, and I’m pooped.

See you all virtually tonight. Congratulations to all the artists who make the movies magic. And keep an eye peeled for winners holding their Oscar statuettes upside down to signify their protest of the eight categories cut from the telecast. I’m with them — thumbs down on ABC’s decision.

[Update post-Oscars: 6 of 8 correct. But never saw the Will Smith outburst coming. My overall score, though, is abysmal — the worst ever at 47%. Mostly because I didn’t appreciate “Dune,” and couldn’t trust the popular choice.]

Oscars 2022: The Envelope, Please

Do they still use envelopes? You really can’t call those $200-apiece cardboard craft projects envelopes.

The 94th annual Academy Awards are upon us. My penultimate round of picks, made under duress:

Music (Original Song)

Can’t go wrong with Queen Beyoncé. “King Richard” was the only sports movie ever that made me cry.

Prediction: “Be Alive”

Still, the artistry of Billie Eilish can’t be denied. This music video captures more emotion than the movie did — in fact, the Bond clips kinda ruin the video. Anyway, it won’t win, but I sure like the poetic convergence of “Be Alive” and “No Time to Die” in this category. Keeping the movies alive that keep us alive!

Pick: “No Time to Die”

[Update post-Oscars: “No Time to Die” was the winner!]

Feeling obligated to share the also-rans, just in case you missed them. You can play them while you “read” (scroll). And de verdad, “Dos Oruguitas” shouldn’t win — not only because no one can remember how to spell it, but because even Disney is voting against it by promoting “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” instead; see quibble at the end of the post.

Visual Effects

For the first time ever, I enjoyed seeing all the action movies tied to this category.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” broadened me culturally. So much humor and I didn’t fall asleep during the battle scenes as I typically do. The story was weak, though. Super far-fetched. (As if the rest aren’t?) One point against it: The VFX team used the exact same “ring of fire” portal effect for the characters to step through to other dimensions as was used in “Spider-Man.” Is there a setting on the MacBook for “ring of fire portal”?

“Dune” — Just wasn’t feeling the sandworms. Sleep-inducing. Like a lullaby. Check back when we get to Part Two. [UPDATE: While watching the run-up interviews on March 27, all the VFX artists were explaining their techniques, and I might have made the wrong call here. “Dune” probably has the artistic edge. If only the movie hadn’t felt so dull.]

“No Time to Die” — Big surprise! The hero dies! (You knew that, right?)

Prediction: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Can’t bet against the most popular movie of the year. I honestly felt queasy as he swung around, so I guess those were some rad visual effects. Enjoyed the star power and the multiverse science stuff, too. But because of the ordinary “ring of fire” effect, it loses points and can’t be my pick.

Pick: Free Guy

“Free Guy” is the only movie in this category I’d be inclined to rewatch. It’s “Groundhog Day” meets “The Truman Show.” Chris, if you’re reading this, you MUST check out this flick. Augmented reality is part of my daily life, so it stimulated my imagination — and not just in scenarios featuring Ryan Reynolds, but, yeah, that, too. Now I gotta cue up “Deadpool”! (Yes, I’m the only one in the universe who hasn’t seen it.)

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

Costume Design

“Cruella” was smashing, but its extreme fashions catered to mostly one person. “Cyrano” was credible, but nothing too special — and seeing Peter Dinklage’s wardrobe only made me feel worse for the protagonist of the live-action short “The Dress,” about a woman with dwarfism who struggled to find any nice clothes to fit her. Throughout “Dune,” I felt the urge the do laundry. Nothing against the stylistic “Nightmare Alley”

Prediction & Pick: West Side Story

… but nothing can compare to “West Side Story,” whose wardrobists had to outfit an entire mob. While the costume design was enmeshed in its production design — could the dance at the gym have been better coordinated? — every garment in every frame simply sizzles and energizes. They paid homage to the original while freshening and upping their game. The costumes contribute more to the characters than any other nominee.

[Update post-Oscars: “Cruella” was the winner.]

Cinematography

This is the one category in which I will yield to the front-runner — although I am still secretly (or not so secretly) rooting for “West Side Story.” I think the power of “The Power of the Dog” is all in its cinematography, so throwing it a bone here.

Prediction & Pick: The Power of the Dog

[Update-post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

International Feature Film

Flabbergasted that the critics gave a 100% score to Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” about a reluctant teacher in the most remote classroom on Earth. That and Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s near-pornographic, self-indulgent, autobiographical “Hand of God” are the only two I can safely eliminate. (Sure, now you’re all gonna race to stream that one.) Denmark’s “Flee” and Japan’s “Drive My Car” were brilliant — but “Flee” has other chances to win in the animated feature and documentary feature categories. Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” was probably the most relatable and engaging entrant for me — I also had the chance to see it in the theater, so maybe that gave it an advantage. (I featured it in an earlier post.) But it has a chance to win in the original screenplay category, whereas I doubt “Drive My Car” will snag best picture or adapted screenplay. So making the most charitable pick here.

Prediction & Pick: Drive My Car

[Update post-Oscars: “Drive My Car” was the winner!]

Documentary Feature

Ah, cursed category in which I was unable to screen all five submissions. “Writing With Fire” remains elusive (its public premiere is March 28, the day after the Oscars telecast), so I’m not wholly qualified to judge. It also received 100% positive reviews from the critics, but who knows — many Academy voters may not have gotten through all their screening materials. It certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ink, being a journo flick. It may indeed win. But this category is so strong, it’s anybody’s race. I wrote a whole post early on about “Attica,” and “Ascension” simply blew me away — a fly-on-the-wall study of the Chinese work ethic, classism, and that pervasive “Made in China” label. The sex-doll factory alone! “Flee,” again, was mesmerizing. Yet I’m compelled to go with the most entertaining and the best-edited documentary — the solid-gold “Summer of Soul.”

Prediction & Pick: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

[Update post-Oscars: “Summer of Soul” was the winner!]

Animated Feature

Prediction & Pick: Flee

[Update post-Oscars: “Encanto” was the winner.]

“Encanto” fans will call this pick blasphemy, but I’m making the choice based on art here, not formula. Besides, my favorite song/scene in “Encanto” is “Surface Pressure” — and no one ever talks about that one (instead “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” gets all the attention — it wasn’t even the nominated song, and yet it will be performed during the live telecast, upstaging its own nominee). “Surface Pressure” also contains the only Titanic reference I recall among all 52 Oscar nominees I’ve seen.

And that segues into what I consider the top eight categories — all four acting awards, best picture, best director, and, most important, the two writing awards (original and adapted screenplay). That’s too much pressure for me to process tonight. No doubt you’ve made up your mind already on those and don’t need me to weigh in, anyway. No mistakes, no pressure! tick…tick…BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

[Update post-Oscars: My score was a dismal 3 of 7 among these.]

Oscar vs. Tony: A Race of Show Vehicles

Music and musical theater are getting a strong hearing in this year’s Oscars race. From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cameo-loaded “tick…tick…Boom!” to Steven Spielberg’s remastered “West Side Story,” the Academy Awards have gotten so showy that moviegoers might start expecting playbills and intermissions.

I sure needed an intermission for “Drive My Car,” that Japanese import clocking in at three hours and one of 10 best picture nominees this year. Although it’s not a musical, it borrows heavily from the theater. It’s the saga of a stage actor-director tasked with directing a production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” at a theater festival in Hiroshima soon after the death of his wife. Four-time Oscar-winning “Driving Miss Daisy” it’s not, but we witness Mr. Kafuku studiously internalizing the lines of the play while in transit, and — when the theater company insists on assigning him a driver because of a fatal accident that occurred in bygone days — his young driver, Misaki, is also transformed by hearing the work over and over again. Any devotee of theater would devour this film as the ultimate life-imitates-art vehicle.

A momentary detour: Who could miss the parallels between these “Drive My Car” scenes and the Oscar-nominated animation feature “Shang Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings,” in which Katy (Awkwafina) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) make their living as valets? Katy, a daredevil driver, is tasked late in the film with driving the gang through an enchanted forest that’s hell-bent on swallowing them up.

If I were Billy Crystal trying to frame an opening number for the Oscars, I’d capitalize on this chauffeur-charged theme, somehow hitching it to the famous truck scene in “Licorice Pizza,” in which Alana is behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler, driving BACKWARDS, with soulmate Gary (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s real-life son, Cooper) egging her on.

Piling on with the behind-the-wheel vignettes this awards season is the live-action short “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run,” about a Kyrgyz woman with higher-ed aspirations who is kidnapped into marriage. Without giving too much away, the scene in which her equally independent-minded mentor teaches her to drive proves a most valuable life lesson.

But back to this post’s driving theme: how live theater, aka Tony, has merged into this year’s Oscar lane. Are we Broadway-bound or in La-La Land?

Among best picture nominees with songs at their heart, besides “West Side Story,” is “CODA,” about a girl who is the only hearing person in her family who listens to her inner voice to pursue a career in singing, by way of her high school show choir. Lots of gleeful (and tearful) moments. (Ed: In music, a “coda” is a passage that brings a piece or a movement to an end. But this one I didn’t want to end.)

Prancing through the costume design category is “Cyrano,” a de facto, if lackluster, musical. “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage showcases his stunted four- or five-note range in a score that, frankly, bores to tears. Skip it, if you can. But don’t dare miss Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magic as he showcases his connections and MT chops in both “tick…tick…Boom! and “Encanto.”

Do any of these showtune-fueled flicks have a chance of winning? Let’s harken back to that tragi-comic moment at the end of the 2017 Academy Awards telecast when the producers of “La La Land” were giving their acceptance speeches for best picture before the show-stopping realization that Warren Beatty had announced the wrong winner? (Cue “Moonlight.”)

A “La La Land” win would have been plausible, because Americans do dig their movie musicals. If you also dig lists, check this out: At least 132 movie musicals — including so-called jukebox musicals — have won some sort of Oscar over the years, starting with 1929’s “The Broadway Melody” (Outstanding Picture award) and most recently 2017’s “Coco,” which won both for animated feature film and for original song, “Remember Me” — which bodes well for “Encanto.”

Closely aligned with jukebox musicals this year are those movies that celebrate and elevate karaoke to an art form. (Any musical theater nerd is known to practice karaoke devoutly.) Katy and Shang in “Shang Chi” blow off steam by hitting the karaoke bars after work — to viewers’ and listeners’ delight. And the tender-hearted live-action short from Denmark, “On My Mind,” is about a man driven to sing Elvis’ version of “Always on My Mind” as if on a life-or-death mission. Although this man-vs.-machine saga has slim chance of winning, if you have 18 minutes to spare, it’s gorgeous and well worth your time — and will leave you with an endearing earworm. (Lead actor Rasmus Hammerich does all his own singing; bartender Camilla Bendix is also blisteringly authentic, down to her makeup.) Showing here:

The curtain rises, in just four short nights …