Let's try this again, shall we? It is some measure of the speed with which Covid descended that, in mid-February of last year, when we attempted to predict the 2021 best picture nominees we didn't even feel it worth mentioning that health issues might intervene. Yet we still got three right.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank always looked like Oscar pictures. Minari had already debuted to acclaim at Sundance (so had The Father, which we have no excuse for leaving out). Tenet and Hillbilly Elegy, also among our selections, were nominated in other categories. The rest were all delayed and reappear below.
The moral is that the film business, for all the disasters that nature can visit, still follows creaky established practices. We know the directors who matter. We sense the concerns that energise the Academy. Strange things still happen.
We can safely predict that all these titles will, at the very least, be finished
Both Sound of Metal and Promising Young Woman had premiered by February last year, but almost nobody had yet identified them as awards contenders. Maybe news about next year's winners is already out there in the trade papers.
Maybe not. We will surely see a return to more conventional practices by the end of the year. Cannes could conceivably air some of the features below in July. Toronto will almost certainly be creaking into action by September. Then again, just check out how little we knew about the coming world in late winter of 2020.
We can safely predict that all these titles will, at the very least, be finished. There is an outside chance that Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon will be done, but the great man has worked slowly in recent years. So it would be foolish to bet on that.
The first five here were all in last year's predictions. Next year the Oscars sensibly go back to a guaranteed 10 best picture nominees. So we need make no covering "if there are only eight" remarks.
WEST SIDE STORY
Directed by Steven Spielberg
The first of our returning titles has been boosted by a well-received trailer unveiled during the TV broadcast of this year's Oscars. Of course, folk have whinged about Spielberg remaking a classic best picture winner. But people revive West Side Story onstage all the time with barely a whisper of complaint. Let the great man have a crack at an American classic. Rita Moreno returns. Tony Kushner of Angels in America remodels the script.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
Directed by Wes Anderson
One of several titles here that will play at Cannes if Cannes happens, The French Dispatch has Anderson sending a huge, starry cast about a fictional French city in the mid-20th century. Del Toro! Ronan! Swinton! Seydoux! McDormand! Murray (Bill)! They are all here. If it is anywhere near Anderson's best then it is sure to be in contention. Could he break his own record of nine nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel?
Directed by Andrew Dominik
This could hardly sound more delicious. The director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford casts the fast-rising Ana de Armas as the lead in an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates's oblique take on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Bobby Cannavale is Joe DiMaggio. Adrien Brody is Arthur Miller. "I have seen the rough cut of Andrew Dominik's adaptation and it is startling, brilliant, very disturbing," Oates wrote recently. If it's all that then it's well in.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Hmm? Hard one to call here. We can safely bet that Villeneuve's take on a classic fantasy novel will compete for all the flashy technical awards. He has best picture form with Arrival. Oscar-nominated cast members include Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet and Josh Brolin. But, after debuting to strong reviews, Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 faltered with audiences and the upper reaches of awards season. We'll see. Least secure of our returning features?
Directed by Leos Carax
A decade or so ago it would seem like madness to include a Leos Carax musical featuring the music of Sparks. But the younger, more international Oscars electorate that voted for Parasite and Moonlight are probably as excited about the director's long-awaited follow-up to Holy Motors as are the world's critics. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in a film that is currently slated to open Cannes at the start of July.
Directed by Sian Heder
There were three Sundance premieres among this year's nominees. So we would be nuts not to include at least one here. Heder's remake of a French drama concerning a young woman living life in a fishing community with her deaf parents (the title stands for "child of deaf adults") won the US dramatic competition at Sundance and sold for a record $25 million to Apple+ TV. Irish actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo co-stars.
Directed by Rebecca Hall
The reviews at Sundance were positive rather than ecstatic. But this is precisely the kind of film that has always scored with Oscar. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play two black American old friends – Negga's character "passes" for white – meeting up in pre-war New York. The performances have been universally praised and Negga can probably count on a second nomination of her own. Based on Nella Larsen's admired novel.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
Directed by Jane Campion
No harm to Campion, but this probably counts as the most "Oscar-baity" title here (the Spielberg film suffers from remake condition). Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch star in an adaptation of Thomas Savage's novel concerning a man taking up arms against his brother's new wife. Campion is among only seven women to have been nominated for best director at the Oscars. She is the only woman to have won the Palme d'Or. Need we say more?
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Don't get too excited. PTA has not set to work on a film based on the evolution of Great British Bake Off (though why not?). Our assumption is the title is only provisional. Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson's late collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, stars opposite Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie in the tale of a child actor making his way about LA during the 1970s. There are a lot of familiar PTA themes there.
IN THE HEIGHTS
Directed by Jon M Chu
Look, I know the issue here. Is it really possible that adaptations of two stage musicals following young people in titular quarters of New York City could make it into the best picture category? Well, maybe. Just think how the trade papers would lap up that rivalry. Anyway, Chu's take on Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes's elegy to Washington Heights has "crowd-pleaser" written all over it. Anthony Ramos and Corey Hawkins star in a film set to fire up the summer.
Also watch out for: Canterbury Glass; C'mon, C'mon; Cry Macho; The Eyes of Tammy Faye; House of Gucci; A Journal for Jordan; Next Goal Wins; Nightmare Alley; Respect; The Tragedy of Macbeth.