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Previewing and Predicting the 94th Academy Awards

Kirsten Dunst in "The Power of the Dog"

It's time to seriously consider who will take home Oscar gold this Sunday March 27th at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, starting 8 p.m. EST. Presenters for this year's ceremony include Halle Bailey, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jamie Lee Curtis, Woody Harrelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Shawn Mendes, Tyler Perry, and Tracee Ellis Ross. That's in addition to Ruth E. Carter, Kevin Costner, Anthony Hopkins, Lily James, Daniel Kaluuya, Zoe Kravitz, Mina Kunis, Lady Gaga, John Leguizamo, Simu Liu, Rami Malek, Lupita Nyong’o, Rosie Perez, Chris Rock, Naomi Scott, Wesley Snipes, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Yuh-Jung Youn.

Yes, all this talent above is overwhelming, but what you really need to know is how you can beat your friends at picking the winners this Sunday. Here's our predictions for the show's biggest winners—as well as a plan for a contingency if matters don’t go according to plan for you.

BEST PICTURE: Jane Campion's “The Power of the Dog” will likely be the first Netflix title to lasso the Best Picture honor.

The first major prize of this awards season was given at the 78th Venice International Festival last September, when Campion received the Silver Lion award for directing. From there, her 1920s Western, drenched with toxic masculinity, grief, and love, settled for second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award Toronto International Film Festival, after being bested by Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast.” However, when it comes to this year's Oscars, Campion’s film scored the most nominations—12—while "Belfast" has received seven chances for a trophy. Meanwhile, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama “Dune” scooped up 10 nods, including Best Picture. But it mainly earned most its nominations in the below-the-line categories.

Campion is also now the first female ever nominated twice as Best Director, her first being for 1993’s “The Piano.” She claimed the Palme d’Or at Venice that year and also earned an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. At this point, “The Power of the Dog” is the most likely film this year to claim both Best Picture and Best Director. Earlier this year, “The Power of the Dog” managed to win Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture—Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Kodi Smit-McPhee. Campion is also the first female director to earn more than ten Academy Awards nominations for a film. 

Last year, it was clear that Chloé Zhao’s "Nomadland" was the one to beat ever since it claimed the Golden Lion at Venice. Something about these modest wanderers in their RVs allowed movie lovers to enjoy the freedom of the road and the Southwest States and their wonderful outdoor panoramas. Is “The Power of the Dog” a similar grabber? It seems so. Plus, it will likely be just the third time that a female-directed film won Best Picture, starting with Kathryn Bigelow who took both prizes for her 2008 war film “The Hurt Locker.” She and Zhao will likely welcome Campion to their club.

POSSIBLE SPOILER? Sian Heder’s Best Picture nominee "CODA," which took the ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild—an honor equal to Best Picture.

BEST DIRECTOR: I will stick by Campion.

POSSIBLE SPOILER: Helmer Ryusuke Hamaguchi for “Drive My Car,” which also earned three other Oscar nominations—namely, Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is also the first Japanese-language film to compete for Best Picture.

BEST ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain for her performance in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," playing the notorious televangelist who preached to the choir and took their money, singing to her fans with layers upon layers of makeup and heavy faux eyelashes. Chastain is overdue for a win, having received two previous Academy Awards nominations: Best Supporting Actress for 2011’s “The Help” and Best Actress for 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”

POSSIBLE SPOILER: Olivia Colman—AKA a human awards magnet who won this prize for her ditzy rabbit-loving Queen Anne in 2018’s "The Favourite." In this year's "The Lost Daughter," she plays a reluctant mother who plunges into a whirlpool of maternal conflict. Colman also was nominated last year as the caretaker daughter of Anthony Hopkins who suffers from dementia in 2020’s“The Father.”

BEST ACTOR: Will Smith headlines in the biopic “King Richard” as the determined father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams. Like Chastain, Smith has previously competed at the Oscars. He was nominated for bringing the boxing legend Muhammad Ali to life in the 2001 film “Ali” and he portrayed a real-life homeless salesman who protects his young son in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” He is also up for Best Picture as a producer of his current contender.

POSSIBLE SPOILER: Benedict Cumberbatch, for his work as macho rancher Phil Burbank in "The Power of the Dog." The British performer has previously been nominated for Best Actor in 2014’s “The Imitation Game.” 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ariana DeBose, who broke out on the sixth season of TV competition series in "So You Think You Can Dance" in 2009, while making it into the top 20 competitors. She was up for a Best Featured Actress Tony in 2018 for her role in as Disco Donna in the jukebox musical Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. She is also a critical darling for her role as Anita in the big-screen remake of “West Side Story.” The part of the Manhattan-loving Puerto Rican transplant has earned her much acclaim and several accolades, including a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The latter made her the first Afro-Latina and openly queer woman of color to win the award. DeBose is as closest thing to a lock to take the gold this year.

POSSIBLE SPOILER: A 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst stole the show as a bratty child bloodsucker in 1994’s “Interview with the Vampire” opposite a less-than-engaging Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Now in “The Power of the Dog,” her Rose is a teetotaler turned alcoholic who becomes increasingly unhappy when she, her gay son Peter, and her new husband move into his brother's house, who treats her rather badly. By now, Dunst should have received more awards gold in her career. Perhaps she could pull an upset.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Troy Kotsur is a stand-out in "CODA," as a father of a clan that has three deaf members who make a living catching fish. 

POSSIBLE SPOILER: Kodi Smit-McPhee’s role as Peter in “The Power of the Dog.” 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: “The Power of the Dog” is likely to allow Campion to pair a trophy for Adapted Screenplay with the one she previously received for Best Original Screenplay for “The Piano.”

POSSIBLE SPOILER: Maggie Gyllenhaal was previously nominated as a Supporting Actress for her role as single mother and journalist in 2009’s “Crazy Heart." As a writer/director, she could possibly take this prize for her adaptation of Elena Ferrante's "The Lost Daughter."

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Paul Thomas Anderson could earn his first-ever Oscar with the coming-of-age tale “Licorice Pizza” for his original script, although he isn’t likely to win Best Picture or Best Director, his other two nominations.

POSSIBLE SPOILER: "Belfast""s script might just be that film’s only Oscar win.

Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly thirty years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

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