Film Fracas: The 2022 Oscars’ Most Intriguing Award Matchups

Everyone loves a good matchup, especially during March Madness. But this March, we’re talking about an entire different madness: movie madness.

Coinciding with this year’s NCAA Tournament is the 2022 Academy Awards, which feature hefty matchups of their own. Each category may be a five-way race, but several awards find specific nominees fighting head-to-head for their chance to hoist the trophy – just as the Elite Eight finishes up and college basketball’s best teams strive for their “One Shining Moment.”

With a Best Picture race highlighted by films like The Power of the Dog, CODA, Belfast, and King Richard, we’re in for an exciting night celebrating the top films of 2021. While some nominees are all but expected to come away on top (King Richard’s Will Smith and West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose in particular), there are a handful showdowns to watch for during Oscar night.

Here are seven of the most intriguing award matchups, with the nominees I expect to emerge victorious during the 2022 Academy Awards.

Best Picture

CODA vs. The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog maintained a steady lead in the Best Picture race the past few months, declaring its superiority over other favorites like Belfast and King Richard. But another nominee is sneaking up on it, capping off its dark horse campaign by taking home the biggest prize at the SAG Awards. That film is CODA.

We have to keep in mind that the SAG Award was for cast, and The Power of the Dog wasn’t even nominated. Whether that speaks to the film’s efficacy among voters, it’s hard to say that the SAGs truly translate – The Power of the Dog boasts strong direction, performances, cinematography, and music, all characteristics of a well-rounded Best Picture winner. Let’s recall that The Power of the Dog also won the Golden Globe for Best Drama over CODA.

But CODA has quickly turned into the Saint Peter’s of the Best Picture race. It started out as the likable Cinderella story, but at this point, we should be looking at it as equally deserving as any nominee in recent years. It’s that good of a film. It may not have a Best Director nomination, a rarity among Best Picture winners, but it’s an absolute force – and the film I except to come out on top.

Tim’s Pick: CODA

Best Actress

Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos) vs. Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)

Nicole Kidman and Jessica Chastain make for an intriguing Best Actress matchup, because their performances are ever so similar. Neither film they’re nominated for is exceptionally strong (neither Being the Ricardos nor The Eyes of Tammy Faye are up for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenplay). But both are solid biopics detailing the lives of 20th century TV icons – albeit the very different modes of TV sitcom and televangelism. Plus, the actresses carry both films.

But Jessica Chastain creeps ahead by a small margin, and deservedly so. While Kidman was very impressive as Lucille Ball, Chastain is exceptional as Tammy Faye. She delivers with a boundless charisma and expressiveness that make her the most confident pick amongst a crowded field. Her tribute to an unfairly maligned TV star showcased Faye’s oft-forgotten radical inclusivity – a rewriting of her narrative with a welcome sense of warmth.

Still, the two actresses split wins between the Golden Globes and the SAGs, meaning this is still a very close race. In fact, all five nominees have garnered consideration at one time or another – Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, and Kristen Stewart. This category is loaded. However, I do think voters are more aligned with my thinking that Chastain simply stands out the most. Kidman has won Best Actress before, so I’m hoping this is Chastain’s first.

Tim’s Pick: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)

Best Supporting Actor

Troy Kotsur (CODA) vs. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Like the Best Picture showdown, Best Supporting Actor is CODA pitted up against The Power of the Dog. Troy Kotsur, the father in CODA, is equal parts humorous and empathetic, the kind of character you get more attached to as a film goes on. Kodi Smit-McPhee, the son in The Power of the Dog, resonates as well, with a performance that is similar to Kotsur’s – guided by body language and carefully crafted dialogue, unveiling more layers as time goes on.

The obvious storyline is that Kotsur is a deaf actor cast as a deaf character – a progressive stride for the film medium and a wonderful opportunity to act through more than just crafty lines. His performance is loud, not from a vocal standpoint, but in terms of gestures and facial expressions. It’s the next big step for deaf cinema, following recent triumphs in last year’s Best Picture nominee The Sound of Metal and 2017’s short film winner The Deaf Child.

Early on, Ciaran Hinds (Belfast) stood as the arguable favorite, but he faded as Kotsur and Smit-McPhee have risen (perhaps his lack of screentime compared to the current frontrunners hurt his chances). Kotsur’s wins at both the Golden Globes and the SAGs make him the expected winner in this category, and it would continue his great story – and CODA’s momentous run – all the way through Oscars night.

Tim’s Pick: Troy Kotsur (CODA)

Best Original Screenplay

Licorice Pizza vs. Belfast

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best – if not the best – modern directors, yet he’s never gotten over the Academy Award hump. His 11 career Oscar nominations are impressive, but the masterful auteur has never gone home with a big prize – Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenplay. His streak of nominations continues with Licorice Pizza, my personal favorite film of 2021, and a Valley hangout movie that I could only dream of living in.

But Anderson’s excellent screenplay is mired by a bit of controversy over a character’s mocking impressions and the co-leads’ age-inappropriate romance. It’s a media coverage blip that may make it hard for him to overcome Kenneth Branagh, whose Belfast has the personal touches to attract the interest of voters. Branagh has boasted five nominations of his own before Belfast, so he’s a strong filmmaker in his own right.

The Writers Guild of America didn’t go with either screenplay, opting instead for Don’t Look Up. But I still consider this a two-way race between Anderson and Branagh. Right now, it seems as if Belfast – once thought to be a popular choice for Best Picture and Best Director – may have the best chance to come away with Best Original Screenplay than anything else. I love PTA, I love Licorice Pizza, but I’m going with Belfast for this one.

Tim’s Pick: Belfast

Best International Feature

The Worst Person in the World vs. Drive My Car

It’s been a great run for international films at the Oscars lately, with Roma and Parasite finally getting recognition as films outside of the traditional Hollywood circuit. Asian cinema specifically is experiencing quite the renaissance, from Bong Joon-ho to Park Chan-wook to Hirokazu Kore-eda. Drive My Car turns that attention to Japan with another Best Picture nomination for a foreign film, not to mention a solid choice for Best International Feature as well.

Drive My Car’s biggest competition is The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian film that follows 2021’s Another Round as another Scandinavian gem. Like Another Round, it was also nominated for Best Screenplay – and deservedly so. Worst Person was, in fact, Letterboxd’s top film of the year last year. So, despite Drive My Car’s Best Picture nod, it’s not a surefire winner for Best International Feature.

Both films are deeply affecting and emotionally poignant, but I still like Drive My Car simply for the fact that it’s a whopping three-hour slow-burn. For those willing to invest in this slice of grief catharsis, it’s completely worth the emotional energy. The Worst Person in the World has some momentum and the attention of Judd Apatow and PTA on its side, but Drive My Car still has its foot on the gas.

Tim’s Pick: Drive My Car

Best Animated Feature

Luca vs. Encanto

Could this be the rare year that Pixar comes up short? Since 2007, the Disney studio has won Best Animated Feature nine out of 14 times, including the past two years (for Soul and Toy Story 4). Luca is its nominee this year, but it faces steep competition from Encanto, which has stolen our hearts with its colorful South American setting and lovable music.

Encanto is yet another fantastic musical from the Latin American world, following Coco (another Pixar film that has won Best Animated Feature). So it wouldn’t be a groundbreaking win, though producer Yvett Merino could become the first Latina woman to come away with this award. It’s very much deserving of the win, too. With a well-crafted story, intriguing character arcs, and lots of big sing-alongs, Encanto is quick to win over its audience.

Luca is also great, don’t get me wrong. A story set off the coast of Italy, it’s an easy film to love, just like Encanto. But Encanto has the benefit of five straight weeks as the No. 1 on the Billboard charts for its superb soundtrack (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is the surprise hit of 2021, and it came in a Disney movie). It’s likely to ride its musical success all the way to the Oscar stage.

Tim’s Pick: Encanto

Best Cinematography

Dune vs. The Power of the Dog

World-building is a tall task for any director. In introducing viewers to a whole new cinematic universe, you must completely immerse them in the landscapes and civilizations, and Denis Villneuve accomplishes this task with prowess with Dune. He wouldn’t have done it without the help of cinematographer Greig Fraser, who helps bring the science fiction of Dune to life – from the setting of an entirely different planet.

Fraser has fierce competition from The Power of the Dog’s Ari Wegner, who expertly frames her film in its early 20th century Western Americana setting. The Power of the Dog thrives off its technical strengths, from performances to writing to cinematography, and the latter is no exception. Wegner is only the second woman to ever be nominated for Best Cinematography (following Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison) and would be the first woman to ever win this award.

However, Fraser is simply too good to lose this category, as he hopes to follow in the footsteps of previous action/sci-fi winners in this category – from Inception to Gravity to Blade Runner 2049. His work on The Mandalorian and The Batman prove he’s at the top of his game. Wegner and Fraser are both outstanding, but Fraser will be the last one standing for his work on Dune.

Tim’s Pick: Dune

Featured Image Credit: Kirsty Griffin/Nextflix (The Power of the Dog), Apple TV+ (CODA), Rob Youngson/Focus Features (Belfast), Sideshow and Janus Films (Drive My Car)

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