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.]

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 …

Counting down to Oscars 2022 … tick … tick … BOOYAH!

Only an Oscar marathoner like me — who has screened 98% of all the movies nominated in the top 23 categories (52 of 53, all told) — can fully register the convergence of talent spanning this year’s contenders. Cross-pollination of projects makes busy bees of many A-listers, especially as they emerge from pandemic-induced hibernation.

As far as I can tell, no one is up for multiple awards in separate categories this year, but nothing in the rulebook bars that from happening.

At least a dozen times in Oscar history, actors and actresses have been nominated for multiple awards in the same season. Such freaky-deaky overlap first occurred in 1938, during the 11th annual awards, when Fay Bainter was nominated as best actress for her role in “White Banner” and took home the Oscar for best supporting actress for her turn in “Jezebel.” In 2020, Scarlett Johansson was nominated for both leading actress (“Marriage Story”) and supporting actress (“Jojo Rabbit”) — winning neither. The most recent time an actor has been nominated in two categories and actually won one was in 2004, Oscars LXXVII, when Jamie Foxx clinched best actor honors for “Ray,” and was an also-ran for best supporting actor in “Collateral.” Although featured in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (nominated for visual effects) as the laser-gifted villain Electro, Foxx’s name won’t be etched on any statuettes this year.

That 2021 Marvel vehicle, though, is like a clown car packed full of cinematic double-timers.

“Spider-Man” sure gets around! Consider:

Benedict Cumberbatch: Not only does he seem to be leading the pack in the best actor category for “The Power of the Dog,” Cumberbatch’s familiar Doctor Strange in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” helped “No Way” open to a staggering $260 million at the box office amid a pandemic, eventually becoming the third-biggest U.S. box office grab in movie history. Yes, way! But no way do I want him to win. I thought he was more chilling in “The Imitation Game” (2014) as computer nerd Alan Turing.

Andrew Garfield: Cumberbatch’s fellow British rival for best actor — yes, both of these karma chameleons are English — also found his way into “No Way” by reprising his 2012-14 Peter Parker part. Garfield, who won a best actor Tony for the 2018 revival of “Angels in America” but never an Oscar (he was previously nominated for “Hacksaw Ridge” in 2017), may seem a triple threat this year. He was simply dynamite impersonating Jonathan Larson in “tick…tick…Boom!” having taken vocal training for a year and learning to play the piano well enough to pass as fluent. Still, I fear he was nominated for the wrong performance. His Jim Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was even more masterful than his Larson, as he convincingly portrayed the Southern televangelist through his arc from straight-laced to crooked. I wouldn’t be sorry if Garfield won, but my heart this year is with Will Smith.

Zendaya: Yet another “Spider-Man” ensemble member represented in multiple Oscar-worthy projects is Zendaya, so incomparable that only one name suffices. In “Spider-Man” as in real life, she is Tom Holland’s eye candy, but she’s also the ethereal, ephemeral vision with the piercing-blue spicy eyes in “Dune.” Although she didn’t get enough screen time in either movie to broker a nomination, she is sure to be rewarded (again) come Emmy season for her rapturous work in HBO’s “Euphoria.”

Bradley Cooper: The nine-time Oscar nominee (four acting nominations, four producer nominations, and one writing nomination) produced and stars in the hellish circus fever dream “Nightmare Alley,” and also goes on a rampage as Jon Peters, Barbra Streisand’s erstwhile significant other, in “Licorice Pizza.” No silver lining here; “Nightmare Alley” can’t possibly win for best picture. But it is kinda wild to recall that Cooper directed and starred in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born,” playing opposite the character Streisand played in the 1976 remake, which Peters produced. (Sadly, Lady Gaga, Cooper’s co-star from the 2018 “Star” vehicle, was snubbed — however you make the Italian gesture for “snubbed” — this year for her fashionable turn in “House of Gucci.”)

Lin-Manuel Miranda: OK, this is where things get fun. Broadway’s self-appointed ambassador not only directed the movie version of “tick…tick…Boom!” (which apparently missed a best-pic nod by a hair) but he also helped infect this year’s Oscars with enough Tony as to confuse voters about whose party it is next Sunday. Get ready to rumble, Oscar vs. Tony! And Miranda’s Nuyorican fingerprints are all over “Encanto,” an enchanting entry into the animated feature category for which he work-horsed the music. Not only has the flick collected oodles of awards and #hashtag hits, but it also has entered Miranda into the best original song category for “Dos Oruguitas” (“Two Caterpillars”). A very hungry caterpillar indeed. Plus, Miranda opines about music in the documentary feature that I predict will win: Questlove’s “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” My only question: Why was his “In the Heights” overlooked — the movie for which I first subscribed to HBO Max, opening my Pandora’s box of streaming via the FireCube? Side note: A P.R. high school classmate, Olga Merediz, played Abuela Claudia in that movie and also originated the role on Broadway, for which she was nominated for a Tony, which is why I had to see it as soon as it was released. Sweet release. And so … we’ve come full circle, as far as Miranda goes.

My former school chum Olga Merediz (right) with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Grace (Nina Rosario) at the “In the Heights” premiere.
Did the release of Steven Spielberg’s fabuloso “West Side Story” on Dec. 10, 2021, completely erase from our memories the “In the Heights” release just six months earlier?

Awkwafina: Speaking of coincidences and highly animated features, the mythical dragon Sisu in “Raya and the Last Dragon” is voiced by self-deprecating actress, rapper, and comedian Awkwafina who (SPOILER ALERT!) casts the fatal blow to the evil dragon in “Shang Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings.” Typecast much? Awkwafina’s birth name is Nora Lum, but she chose Awkwafina at age 15 as a “shield of confidence” (and apparently a reminder to stay hydrated). Sisu’s name is a Finnish word meaning courage, guts, grit, and determination. Fits her.

Olivia Colman: Another actress with animation voice-over in her arsenal — which few people may be aware of — is Her Highness Olivia Colman, who played the villainous AI called Pal in the animated feature nominee “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (an obvious nod to HAL from fellow Brit Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”). Colman’s certainly not lost in space, but she does give an out-of-this-world, non-robotic performance in “The Lost Daughter,” for which she’s up for best actress.

PAL (on left) vs. HAL 9000

Maya Rudolph: Finally, a mainstay on “SNL” from 2000 to 2007, Rudolph seems to prefer to be heard and not seen in this year’s Oscars race. She appears briefly in “Licorice Pizza” as casting director Gale, mostly in a long shot and making hilarious gestures. She also voices the mom, Linda Mitchell, in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” as well as the mom, Daniela Paguro, in Pixar’s “Luca” — two nominees in the best animated feature category. A mother of four herself, Rudolph knows motherhood from many angles. One of her claims to fame is her own mom’s identity: Minnie Riperton of five-octave “Lovin’ You” fame. Too bad Riperton didn’t get a shoutout in “Summer of Soul.”

Maya and mom Minnie, lovin’ each other.

Another fun mother-child discovery: The namesake of the film “Luca” is voiced by an actor of that famous mom story from Oscars 2015, “Room.” Canadian Jacob Tremblay was only 9 when he gave an arresting performance as the boy who knew of nothing beyond four walls and his caretaker mother. His film debut two years earlier, though, was another animated feature: He played Blue in “The Smurfs 2” (2013). He’s more sea-green in “Luca,” a “Little Mermaid”-type story for boys about sea monsters and vroom-vroom (not “Room”) — in which our misfit hero is trapped inside his own skin.

Then there’s the mantra that Luca and his best bud, Alberto, use to silence their inner voice of self-doubt: “Silencio, Bruno!” Errr, we don’t talk about Bruno? An “Encanto” reference, for you youngsters and hipsters. Full circle again, back to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Boom! Booya!!