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“Where’s the western in this western?” I take it personal.

2022 Oscars

Was Sam Elliott being “a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H”? After all, as Jane Campion observed, “He’s not a cowboy; he’s an actor”. On the other hand, it seems fair enough that Sam ain’t never seen cowboys that “look like Chippendale dancers before”. Particularly since this also comes from a man who ain’t never seen the Queen in her damn undies.

The big debate over this year’s Oscars isn’t whether a streamer can win Best Picture – that’s more a question of which streamer can win Best Picture – but rather how much further the ceremony’s TV ratings can tumble after last year’s disaster. Will Packer, like Steven Soderbergh last time, is a first-time producer of the shindig. Chances are, he can’t do any worse. But we can still hope, right?

I mean, he’s brought in a roster of missable hostesses (Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes) and presenters (Tony Hawk, Hollywood’s trans poster boy Elliot Page, Rachel Zegler after she got pissy about the lack-of invite). And there are desperate attempts to appeal to Bond (sixtieth anniversary), the days when Best Picture winners could be really good (The Godfather at fifty), and actually popular songs that didn’t get nominated for Best Song Oscar in favour of ones that aren’t and didn’t (Encanto’s We Don’t Talk About Bruno will be performed).

Then there’s the entirely superfluous, if not to say acutely embarrassing, Fan Favourite contest. These things are inevitably completely pointless and loaded dice, hence the Top Ten finalists Army of the Dead, Cinderella, Dune, Malignant, Minamata, The Power of the Dog, Sing 2, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Suicide Squad and Tick, Tick… Boom! It begs the question, did Netflix block vote to get Dog and Boom places, in the same way Depp defenders and Snyder Bros did to get Minamata and Army of the Dead places respectively? Even more ignominious is the Oscars Cheer Moment – I mean, really – that features two MCUs (Endgame, No Way Home), a DC/Snyder (Justice League), The Matrix, and er, Dreamgirls. Will any of this noticeably halt the ratings tumble? 9.85m watched in 2021, 58% down on 2020’s all-time low of 23.6m. Not a chance.

Perhaps, if there were something to root for, like a funny host ripping the piss. Or a movie in contention everyone loves. Sam Jackson’s getting an honorary Oscar, thanks to being a “cultural icon” (which basically means people still rate the Pulp Fiction performance he was robbed of an Oscar for, despite innumerable, pissed-off autopilot performances since).

Instead, audiences well know not to avoid a show with its woke flag flying. Schumer even wanted Zelenskyy on, via satellite. Apparently, all this year’s statuettes will be come with attractive blue-and-yellow carry cases. Still, even Oscars has to climb down judiciously from high-priority globalist goals in order to get attendee numbers up to par: Will Smith will be able to accept his Oscar without being vaxed up to the nines (his valid medical exemption being his status as Will Smith). If they’re really lucky, though, some poor sod will get so adrenalised while accepting, they’ll develop chest pains “on pitch”.

That won’t be Jessica Chastain, apparently none-too-sure her Best Actress is done and dusted, hence her noble decision to stand with those wonderful makeup and hairstyling people who lathered her in latex as Tammy Faye. Yes, Documentary Short Film, Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design and Sound are being pre-taped to allow more time elsewhere for all that painfully absent amusement and rampant virtue signalling. I actually wouldn’t argue with excising the first three of those awards – as no one cares about them apart from the winners – but if they really wanted to cut something, the crap musical numbers would have been the best place to start.

Best Picture
Winner: CODA
I’d like to win: Drive My Car
The Interesting Choice: Dune

This year’s Best Picture nominees represent the least illustrious line up since… last year’s. CODA winning probably seems like a bright idea – it’s ostensibly a feel-good movie that also manages to wear its progressiveness lightly – but given the allusions one might draw from the last couple of years’ winners, it presents a frosty harbinger. After all, we had Parasite, just as the coof was kicking off. Then we had Nomadland, announcing how we’ll soon own nothing and be happy, per Mr Schwab. Coda’s literal meaning, rather than its acronym, is epilogue, conclusion, finale. Which could just mean the Oscars… or western civilisation as a whole.

Nightmare Alley had no chance going in, and even less now. Dune will probably win the most awards of the 94th ceremony, and it’s the only one there with an even halfway respectable box office tally, but no one’s going to crown half a movie, a science fiction movie at that, champ. West Side Story, even if it weren’t a once-powerhouse director running on fumes, is a pointless remake of a previous Best Picture Winner that only serves to highlight how much better that film is. Licorice Pizza has too much “Ewww!” content in its adult-minor romance to get far (if it were a twink tale like Call Me By Your Name, that might be a different matter for eager voters). Don’t Look Up has probably been seen by more people than any other nominee, and many clearly buy into Adam McKay’s Greta-gristing guff, but it’s a dead-eyed “satire” that only wishes it were fit to sieg heil Dr. Strangelove. Drive My Car is a shoe-in for Best International Feature – the only occasion when a movie nominated in both International Feature and Picture categories didn’t win the former was The Emigrants, and that was nominated on successive years (bizarrely enough).

Which leaves Belfast, King Richard, CODA and The Power of the Dog. Dog seemed like the frontrunner for the longest time, and it still has a decent shot, but various developments have knocked it down a notch of late: Campion’s faux pas; other nominees seeing late surges in other awards ceremonies; the simple fact that it isn’t an easy film to love. Belfast is well liked, but it has very little status on the awards circuit; even BAFTA only half-embraced Sir Ken. Its subject matter puts it in the class of “emotional” vote winners, though, which in theory applies to King Richard too. There, the failure is probably going for respectable biopic slog rather than swinging for the fences with shameless uplift. Which CODA has to spare, as well as Apple’s marketing muscle – Netflix will rue the day if Apple take Best Picture after so little prior effort – and a run of awards ceremonies successes over the last few weeks.

My ranking, in ascending order of merit: Don’t Look Up; Nightmare Alley; West Side Story; The Power of the Dog; Licorice Pizza; King Richard; Belfast; Dune; CODA; Drive My Car.

Best Director
Winner: Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
I’d like to win: Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)
The Interesting Choice: Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)

Even nominating Spielberg for West Side Story is a joke; shouldn’t he, as director, have at very least ensured his star-crossed lovers possessed an iota of chemistry, and employed a cinematographer capable of making a musical look like, I don’t know, a musical? Branagh’s direction of Belfast is decent enough, and way more restrained than usual, but that in no way forgives him for past transgressions, all the way from Dead Again to Poirot. Hamaguchi has no chance, but it would be interesting to see him, as least likely candidate, get recognition. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza lacks the obvious achievement of earlier efforts (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread). So it looks like Campion, the only real contender from the start, and a popular choice because she’s a woman and has been around forever. True, she can put her foot in it, getting all holier than thou about Sam Elliott one day and having to eat humble pie after saying the wrong thing to the Williams Sisters the next, but there’s no one else who ticks the right boxes.

Best Actor
Winner: Will Smith (King Richard)
I’d like to win: Will Smith (King Richard)
The Interesting Choice: Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!)

To be honest, I don’t think Smith is really all that deserving of the big award – although, that’s never stopped anyone getting it before. Right, Roberto Benigni? He is, however, far more agreeable than Denzel Washington’s bored Macbeth and Javier Bardem’s curiously psychotic Dezi Arnez. Benedict Cumberbatch, meanwhile, makes for a fine gay cowboy if that gay cowboy is also an English gay cowboy approximating a duff American accent. Otherwise, not very. Which leaves Andrew Garfield, whose performance is commendable. The only problem being, neither the movie nor the character he plays are, very.

Best Actress
Winner: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)
I’d like to win: Kristen Stewart (Spencer)
The Interesting Choice: Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Olivia Colman plays a psycho, but not a psycho you can get behind. Besides, she has an Oscar for a relatively recent performance, so I think she can be counted out. Penélope Cruz also has an Oscar, but while there are plenty of raves for both her and Parallel Mothers, she hasn’t gathered much awards momentum. Stewart, meanwhile, has her devoted fan club, as passionate as those for Depp and Snyder, plus she gets to fly the LGBTQI+ flag, which always helps a campaign – although someone else seems to have first dibs on that banner this year. Her problem is mainly that reaction to Spencer has been decidedly mixed, and her Lady Di just isn’t a performance you can readily divorce from the movie itself. Really then, it’s been about Nicole Kidman and Jessica Chastain. I’m definitely not a Kidman fan, but even that aside, I can’t see how she can win (her second Oscar) for a performance that captures nothing of Lucille Ball’s humour and energy. Chastain is even more buried beneath prosthetics than Kidman (who counters with added facelifts to boot), but they like that kind of thing at the Oscars. As long as it isn’t in an SF or fantasy movie.

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Troy Kotsur (CODA)
I’d like to win: Kodi Smith-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)
The Interesting Choice: Ciarán Hinds (Belfast)

Kotsur wasn’t really all that in CODA, but since he’s deaf, his win’s a good bet. Smit-McPhee was hitherto the leading contender; he’s a reliable actor within a certain range of types, and Dog definitely plays to his strengths. Plemons, by contrast, barely registers, particularly as it’s one of his stolid, interior turns. Likewise, JK Simmons is fine in Being the Ricardos, but it’s hardly his peak in that kind of serviceable supporting part. Hinds is a ditto, but since no one’s remotely expecting him to win, it might be refreshing if he did.

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
I’d like to win: Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)
The Interesting Choice: Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog)

In some ways, I’d like to see Dunst rewarded for all those great performances over the years; I’d just rather it wasn’t for the one-note sous she plays in Dog. Jessie Buckley wasn’t that remarkable in The Lost Daughter, but regardless, she doesn’t have any traction. Belfast would have more of a chance if they’d nominated the wonderful Caitríona Balfe rather than the kind of performance Judi Dench can deliver in her sleep. Ellis is very good, if perhaps a little feminine for a Williams sister. But this, mystifyingly, seems to be DeBose’s to lose. That’s possibly because she ticks the LGBTQI+ box. It certainly can’t be down to her merely passable West Side Story showing (unless it’s an Oscar for nearly being raped by toxic white males. Which is entirely possible. Although Rita Moreno won for that first, sixty years ago).

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: Belfast (Kenneth Branagh)
Interesting Choice: The Worst Person in the World (Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier)

One of the less confident categories among pundits. Don’t Look Up says the right things (to the crowd, anyway), but is it funny? (No.) Licorice Pizza would represent a chance to give PTA an “overdue” statuette, but reward him for a movie focussing on that relationship? If Hollywood keeps rewarding those plots, even the general public may catch on. King Richard’s the height of serviceable biopic storytelling. Belfast is a Roma-lite in its studious, black-and-white autobiographical bent; there’s nothing very lustrous there, but it’s still the movie’s best chance for recognition on the night.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: CODA (Sian Heder)
I’d like to win: Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Interesting Choice: Dune (Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth)

I don’t know how Dune, which feels like it has less of the novel’s detail than Lynch’s movie yet has more than twice the run time to play with (well, eventually), gets a screenplay nod. Still, the perversity of it winning would be interesting. The Lost Daughter is popular amongst some, but still an outsider. Drive My Car may come up trumps for plot and character development, but it’s also victim to gross indulgence (of the Uncle Vanya variety). The Power of the Dog was probably going to win this by default at one point, but CODA’s uplift has seen it make strides in the past month or so. Besides, as Joe Dante pointed out, Dog manages to omit crucial parts of the novel.

Best Animated Feature
Winner: Encanto
I’d like to win: Raya and the Last Dragon
Interesting Choice: Flee

It would be interesting if an adult animated documentary won, and it also hits the necessary progressive buttons, but this is surely Encanto’s to lose, with The Mitchells vs. the Machines a runner-up contender.

Best International Feature
Winner: Drive My Car
Interesting Choice: The Hand of God

Drive My Car likely has this in the bag (see comments under Best Picture). If it doesn’t, The Worst Person in the World is probably second, followed by Flee. I wouldn’t expect anything from Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom or The Hand of God, although the latter being nominated, as a lesser Sorrentino, suggests it was put forward based on past glories.

Best Documentary Feature
Winner: Flee

Ascension, in its visual critique of (Chinese) capitalism, arrives in the seductive, image-soaked, soundtrack-driven tradition of Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi). Historic perspective on the African-American experience is always in just now, and Attica, per Dog Day Afternoon, is juicy subject matter arriving off the back of raves. However, Summer of Soul, located two years earlier and more instinctively upbeat, has Disney+ exposure on its side. Writing with Fire – “The Most Inspiring journalism movie – maybe ever” per The Washington Post, which must mean it portrays journalists telling the truth, which would make it a fantasy, not a documentary – concerns Dalit-caste women’s news agency Khabar Lahariya moving from print to digital. Flee, of course, has triple-strike cachet going for it; it’s about an Afghan refugee; it’s about a gay Afghan refugee; it’s an animated doc – hence the dual nomination for Best Animated Feature – so pushing creative boundaries as well as progressive ones! The only thing missing is also making it a superhero movie. Favourite appears to be Summer of Soul; while the divided nominations may lead to a split vote, I’m going with Flee’s all-round cred getting it ahead.

Best Documentary Short
Winner: The Queen of Basketball

Audible features deaf American Footballers (CODA has that category of representation stitched up, sorry Netflix). Lead Me Home charts homelessness in America (perhaps Netflix could donate some of its vast pools of cash to address the problem, or even just the budget of the next Ryan Reynolds or Dwayne Johnson project. Instead, I suspect we'll be paging Mr Schwab). The Queen of Basketball is aspirational and sports-related and features someone who recently died (Lusia Harris, the greatest women’s basketball player, yay). Three Songs for Benazir is about a young, newly married Afghan man wants to join the Afghan National Army (again from Netflix, a powerhouse for equality, artistry and all-round benevolence). When We Were Bullies is what is says in the title (Jay Rosenblatt tracks down his school bullies from fifty years ago: sheesh).

Best Live Action Short
Winner: Please Hold

A selection of thoroughly cheerful little numbers here: Ala Kachu – Take and Run addresses Krygyz bride kidnapping; The Dress, the life of a lovelorn little person; The Long Goodbye splutters into a frenzy of terror, fanning fear porn over the far-right (Riz Ahmed obediently stirring the Hegelian pot); On My Mind is about the loss of a spouse; Please Hold presents a nifty riff on Ridley Scott’s Barclays advert (“I just want to talk to somebody!”) via Robocop-style automated justice and incarceration. It seems Riz has an Oscar coming, push-button exercises in eliciting outrage at endemic racism being so hot right now (see last year’s winner Two Distant Strangers); while any hope the Academy wouldn’t be quite so led-by-the-nose may be forfeit, I have to hold out for an iota of restraint.

Best Animated Short
Winner: Robin Robin 
I’d like to win: Robin Robin

Bestia, a dark tale of a porcelain secret police woman given to dreams of cutting up her dog is unlikely to win. Although, given the Academy’s all-encompassing progressive tendencies, they may view its depiction of bestiality as something of a triumph. Affairs of the Art is a hand-drawn animation, also adult-skewing and replete with various grotesque characters, the lead wanting to become an artist (so points for originality there). The Windshield Whisperer is CG animated but with an effect akin to rotoscoping, an effect I didn’t find altogether pleasant, and comprises a collection of vignettes on the theme of “What is love?Boxballet contrasts boxer and ballerina, and is Russian, so it can’t win. The other reason it can’t win is that Aardman is nominated for Netflix’s Robin Robin, a likeable festive tale of a robin that grows up as a mouse and falls in with Richard E Grant, on fine form as a magpie (which helps, as the robin herself is quite annoying). Cats, inevitably, are depicted as evil.

Best Original Score
Winner: Encanto (Germaine Franco)
I’d like to win: Encanto
Interesting Choice: Don’t Look Up (Nicholas Britell)

I’m not a fan of the whack-jazz Ker-azee noodling of Don’t Look Up (it’s consistent with everything about the movie being excruciatingly overbearing), but since it has no chance, it would be an interesting winner. Parallel Mothers’ score seems to be striving to go somewhere it can’t quite reach. Johnny Greenwood’s The Power of the Dog would be great if it wasn’t overtly derivative of the superior Deadwood theme. Zimmer’s Dune score is irritatingly pedestrian in inspiration – desert = Middle Eastern stylings – if expertly hitting all the right epic notes. It’s the favourite, but I’m going for jaunty Encanto. Some of the songs, well most of them, aren’t my cup of tea, but the score itself is very likeable.

Best Original Song
Winner: No Time to Die (Billie Eillish)
I’d like to win: Somehow You Do (Diane Warren, Four Good Days)
The Interesting Choice: Somehow You Do (Diane Warren, Four Good Days)

Somehow You Do is the only nominee resembling a solidly composed song, as opposed to the melody-free drone of Beyoncé, the typically dirge-like miserabilism of Van Morrison or Billie Eilish following in the footsteps of the last Bond theme (so minimalist, it’s hardly there: cos, listen to my voice). Encanto’s bland Dos Oruguitas winning would merely highlight the wrong Encanto song was nominated, so seems unlikely.

Best Sound
Winner: Dune
I’d like to win: Dune
Interesting Choice: No Time to Die

Villeneuve fosters good sound design, and West Side Story, The Power of the Dog and Belfast will probably all be eclipsed by the big guns here. No Time to Die might be amusing, simply because the picture is generally recognised as far from an artistic triumph. Or any kind of triumph.

Best Production Design
Winner: Dune
I’d like to win: The Tragedy of Macbeth
Interesting Choice: Nightmare Alley

Again, I don’t think The Power of the Dog or West Side Story, more elevated as they are in terms of nomination status, are likely to get the better of Villeneuve’s SF colossus. Nightmare Alley would be a deserved choice, though, the picture’s aesthetic by far its most successful element. I rate The Tragedy of Macbeth highest, a striking complement of design and photography.

Best Cinematography
Winner: Dune
I’d like to win: The Tragedy of Macbeth
Interesting Choice: Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog and West Side Story are again outliers, one a very good rendering of Montana if you want it to resemble New Zealand, the other great if you like really ugly-looking movies. Alley’s photography is as proficient as Dune’s, but Dune just has more of it. Plus, it won the cinematographers’ award.

Best Make Up and Hairstyling
Winner: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
I’d like to win: Cruella
Interesting Choice: House of Gucci

It pains me to say this, but all that face plaster will likely give Chastain Best Actress and Tammy Faye this award to boot. If we’re applauding prosthetics, House of Gucci is far more deserving. Dune too, for that matter. Coming 2 America has no hope. Cruella would be my preference.

Best Costume Design
Winner: Cruella
I’d like to win: Cruella
Interesting Choice: Cyrano

Cyrano’s the least likely, more still than West Side Story and Nightmare Alley (the latter is a little too meticulous). I’d argue this is between Dune and Cruella, and Dune’s designs are markedly inferior to the 1984 adaptation.

Best Film Editing
Winner: King Richard
I’d like to win: Dune
Interesting Choice: Don’t Look Up

Just why is Don’t Look Up, a sloppy, overlong satire even in the final five? An editor worth their salt would have cut out all the parts that didn’t land, leaving no movie at all. Dune might win this, as assuredly paced and well-poised as it is, but I’m plumbing for the possibility that King Richard’s tennis action is recognised. The Power of the Dog may have to settle for Best Director alone, and Tick, Tick… Boom! for nothing.

Best Visual Effects
Winner: Dune
I’d like to win: Dune
Interesting Choice: Free Guy

It would be amazing if Dune didn’t get this, as neither of the MCUs (Spider-Man: No Way Home, and surprisingly Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) maintain the same level of photo-real consistency. No Time to Die’s effects are pretty good, as far as they go. Free Guy is probably the fourth most likely to win.

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