Oscars 2022: Who should win, and who will win?

Ireland has its biggest haul of nominations since 2016, but has won few awards so far

"We want to get as many people under the tent as possible," Will Packer, producer of the 94th Academy Awards, recently told IndieWire. "I thought of it more like a Super Bowl, where the NFL can't control who the teams are going to be."

Well, that’s encouraging. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be seeking to widen its tent by emulating a sport played seriously in only one or two countries. Maybe they’ll throw a penalty flag on the stage if somebody forgets to thank their agent.

The last few weeks of an interminable awards season, now taking up half the year, have been dominated by chatter about efforts to counteract the decade-long slide in viewership figures. Arriving mid-pandemic, the 2021 event – an intimate affair at Union Station – was always likely to be the least viewed ever: there was less flash; many of the films had not received a proper release. So it proved. Yet that prior knowledge has not stopped the organisers from making the most vigorous efforts yet to manoeuvre the event away from its cinephile roots.

Any suggestion that a two-tier system is not in place is plainly absurd. The editing and the make-up awards will be recorded before the show properly starts

The power balance has shifted. Three years ago, just weeks in advance of the show, the academy announced that four awards would be given out during the commercial breaks. Days later, following a huge backlash from members, the decision was reversed. At this weekend's ceremony, a full eight categories will be pre-taped before the live show in an effort to "allow more time for comedy, film clips and musical numbers". Hollywood royalty went livid at the news. "All of us are on the same line," Steven Spielberg said. "And that means for me we should all have a seat at the supper table together live." This time, the academy, allegedly under pressure from broadcaster ABC to keep the show tight, did not blink. Any suggestion that a two-tier system is not in place is plainly absurd. The editing and the make-up awards will be recorded before the show properly starts. There was never any serious suggestion that Nicole Kidman or Jessica Chastain (or whoever) would be getting their best actress Oscar in that obscure penumbra. Meanwhile, two songs from the cartoon Encanto – one not nominated – will be performed in the auditorium. Better that than see the winner of best original score get his Oscar live.


Less damaging to the traditions of the academy, but somehow stupider was the decision to announce the winners of two Twitter polls: one for #OscarFanFavorite and one for #OscarCheerMoment. Both polls were of course immediately dominated by fans of superheroes, Johnny Depp and that awful Amazon version of Cinderella. No Oscar will be awarded. But Spider-Man No Way Home will, most probably, have its empty moment. Even in the early 1970s, when the stage was psychedelic and kaftans were everywhere, the academy would not have dreamt of kowtowing so shamelessly to a public uninterested in Oscar heritage.

None of this will be of concern to the average viewer in Europe. The awards are broadcast live in the small, small hours when only fanatics and professionals are still awake. The highlights will most likely blend the pre-pre-recorded awards seamlessly into the action. You may not even get to see “The Flash Speed Force from Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (it’s a contender apparently) take #OscarCheerMoment. What matters most is who is going to win what Oscar and why.

We were frequently told “nothing will ever be the same again” after Covid-19. The ranting above suggests there is ample evidence for that being true of the Oscar ceremony. It is, however, remarkable how quickly the race itself got back into familiar habits. Three of the 10 films up for best picture premiered physically at the festivals that kick off the awards derby in early autumn: Dune and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog at Venice; Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast at Telluride. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, this year’s sole non-English-language film in the race, premiered at a busy Cannes in July. Only one, Sian Heder’s Coda, opened for punters before September. Many of the top prizes have settled on favourites, but, as has so often been the case in recent years, the biggest prize of all is still up for grabs. Welcome back.

The awards season shuffling has not worked out favourably for the strong Irish contingent – the healthiest since the famous 2016 ceremony. It will require the greatest upset in Oscar history for Jessie Buckley, nominated for The Lost Daughter, to get past Ariana De Bose, up for West Side Story, in best supporting actress. Ciarán Hinds, nominated in best supporting actor for Kenneth Branagh's Belfast, will enjoy his night, but, after a strong early showing by Kodi Smit-McPhee, that prize now looks to be going to deaf actor Troy Kotsur for Coda. The best chance for a domestic win is in best original screenplay, where Branagh is in a two-horse race with Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza.

What else? Will Smith has barely stumbled in his march towards a career-honouring best actor prize for playing Richard Wilson, father to Venus and Serena, in King Richard. The two competitions to watch are best actress and best picture. Almost any of the five nominees could win in the former. The critics favour Kristen Stewart for Spencer and Penélope Cruz for Parallel Mothers, but Jessica Chastain, who went through an Oscar-friendly transformation in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, has edged a tad ahead with wins at the Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice.

Now the fun bit. Over the last decade, thanks largely to the introduction of a proportional voting system, best picture has become the hardest of the major awards to predict. So it again proves. Belfast and The Power of the Dog were top contenders for five months, but the former’s failure to win much saw it slump behind in the closing stretch. The Dog seemed to have it in the bag. Heder’s Coda, tale of a deaf fishing family from New England, had, however, been creeping up since selling for a record amount at Sundance in 2021. It won the ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild. It beat home favourite Belfast to best screenplay at Bafta. Last weekend, it took top prize from the Producers Guild of America, which also uses PR voting system. Jane Campion’s recent embarrassment at the Critics’ Choice Awards, where she had to apologise for a misjudged joke concerning the Williams sisters, will probably not hurt her chances in best director – she is an unbackable 1/40 at time of writing and Heder isn’t nominated – but it may open the door further in best picture. Could Coda, an Apple TV release, really pass out Netflix’s Dog to become the first film from a streamer to win? Well, you would need to go back to 1932 to find a film with so few nominations taking that top prize. But the momentum is behind it. That’s something.

What will and should win at the 2022 Academy Awards

Don't Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

Will win The Power of the Dog
Should win The Power of the Dog

Coda’s win at the Producers Guild changed everything. But The Power of the Dog, a far superior film, should have enough legs to collapse over the line.

Kenneth Branagh
Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Paul Thomas Anderson
Jane Campion
Steven Spielberg

Will win Jane Campion
Should win Jane Campion

The first woman to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes should walk to her first Oscar for direction. That would make two women in a row. About time.

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

Will win Will Smith
Should win Benedict Cumberbatch

Smith's performance as Richard Williams is a worthy of that unofficial career Oscar. But Cumberbatch exercises muscles we didn't know he possessed.

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

Will win Jessica Chastain
Should win Penélope Cruz

Cruz deserves a second Oscar for her turn as an older new mother in Pedro Almodóvar’s beautiful tricksy melodrama. Would be the first person to win this prize for a non-English language performance since 2007.

Ciarán Hinds (Belfast)
Troy Kotsur (Coda)
Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog)
JK Simmons (Being the Ricardos)
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Will win Troy Kotsur
Should win Kodi Smit-McPhee

Kotsur would be the first deaf actor to win an award since his Coda co-star Marlee Matlin in 1986. Smit-McPhee deserves it as the fulcrum around which Power of the Dog swivels.

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

Will win Ariana DeBose
Should win Jessie Buckley

The electrifying DeBose will join Rita Morena as an Oscar winner for playing the same role in West Side Story. Buckley, the standout in The Lost Daughter, will be back.

Drive My Car
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog

Will win The Power of the Dog
Should win Drive My Car

The fine adaptation of Thomas Savage’s Power of the Dog is now in a two-horse race with Coda.

Don't Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Worst Person in the World

Will win Licorice Pizza
Should win Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson has never won an Oscar. He should finally convert for his charming, deceptively structured take on Valley life in the 1970s. But it is close.

Summer of Soul
Writing With Fire

Will win Summer of Soul
Should win Attica

Summer of Soul, study of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, has been on a crowd-pleasing roll since its premiere at Sundance last year. But Stanley Nelson’s doc on the 1971 Attica prison uprising deserves attention.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon

Will win Encanto
Should win The Mitchells vs The Machines

It looks as if Disney’s Encanto, on the back of strong box office and a pop hit, is cruising to victory. Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines is the cleverer family film.

Drive My Car (Japan)
Flee (Denmark)
The Hand of God (Italy)
Yanna (Buhtan)
The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Will win Drive My Car
Should win Drive My Car

Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car has built deserved word of mouth since its premiere at Cannes. Spare a thought for the fine Flee, likely to lose in documentary, international and feature categories.

Nightmare Alley
The Power of The Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

Will win Dune
Should win The Power of the Dog

Dune looks likely to boss most technical races. But Ari Wegner could become the first ever female winner in this category for her spooky work on Power of the Dog.

Don't Look Up
King Richard
The Power of the Dog
Tick, Tick… Boom!

Will win Dune
Should win The Power of the Dog

Hank Corwin from Dune will probably become the first editor not to have their win broadcast live since the 1950s. The less flashy work on Power of the Dog deserves a prize.

Ala Kachuu – Take and Run
The Dress
The Long Goodbye
On My Mind
Please Hold

Will win The Long Goodbye
Should win The Long Goodbye

A year after a best actor nomination for Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed could win his first Oscar for this imaginative accompaniment to his own concept album.

Affairs of the Art
Robin, Robin
The Windshield Wiper

Will win Robin, Robin
Should win The Windshield Wiper

Aardman’s lovely Christmas flick for Netflix should walk it. But the experienced Alberto Mielgo’s painterly The Windshield Wiper deserved a shot.

Lead Me Home
The Queen of Basketball
Three Songs of Benazir
When We Were Bullies

Will win The Queen of Basketball
Should win Three Songs for Benazir

Ben Proudfoot’s study of a veteran female basketball player has the edge. But Three Songs for Benazir, study of life in an Afghani refugee camp, is equally fine.

Don't Look Up
Parallel Mothers
The Power of the Dog

Will win Dune
Should win The Power of the Dog

It's Hans Zimmer (Dune) versus Jonny Greenwood (Dog) in another category that will no longer be awarded during the live ceremony. Might Greenwood always prove too angular for the academy?

Be Alive (King Richard)
Dos Oroguitos (Encanto)
Down to Joy (Belfast)
No Time To Die (No Time to Die)
Somehow to Do (Four Good Days)

Will win No Time to Die
Should win No Time to Die

No Bond film won for over 50 years here. Billie Eilish could make it three in a row. Van Morrison an outsider for Down to Joy

Nightmare Alley
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

Will win Dune
Should win The Tragedy of Macbeth

Dune has the most production design. The theatrical minimalism in Macbeth has little chance.

Nightmare Alley
West Side Story

Will win Cruella
Should win Nightmare Alley

Everything here is in the "to die for" range of design. Few would begrudge the inestimable Jenny Beavan a third Oscar for Cruella.

Coming 2 America
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
House of Gucci

Will win The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Should win Dune

We hardly need say why the job done on Jessica Chastain in Tammy Faye is the favourite. But there were so many great looks in Dune.

No Time To Die
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

Will win Dune
Should win Dune

Vroom. Broom. Shudder. Dune owns this category. Though there was some striking craft in No Time to Die.

Free Guy
No Time To Die
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Spider-Man: No Way Home

Will win Dune
Should win Dune

Nobody else bar the Dune crew need turn up. And why should it be otherwise? They have put the hours in.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist