Benedict Cumberbatch in 12-time Oscar nominee The Power of the Dog

Before this morning's super-early (7:18 a.m.!) announcement of contenders for the 94th Annual Academy Awards, things were looking good for The Power of the Dog not only regarding possible nominations, but potential wins, including for Best Picture, at the forthcoming March 27 ceremony. Jane Campion's critically lauded Netflix Western, after all, had already been recognized by every precursor under the sun – the British Academy of Film & Television Awards (BAFTA), the Critics' Choice Awards (CCA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Golden Globes, etc. – and barring a trio of distinct threats for the title, the movie looked likely to lead the field in terms of overall nomination tallies.

But after announcement hosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan wrapped up their duties by revealing this year's 10 nominees for the biggest Oscars prize of all, things no longer looked good for The Power of the Dog, especially in terms of Best Picture. They looked freaking great. [Scroll past the commentary for the full list of contenders, with my correct predictions in boldface.]

As widely expected, Campion's film wound up the nomination champ among 2021 releases, receiving a whopping 12 – the most Oscar nods for any movie since 2017's The Shape of Water. Those included all the anticipated ones: Picture; Directing; Screenplay; performers Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee for Actor, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor, respectively. But beyond additional probabilities such as Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score, The Power of the Dog also landed in the less-secure craft categories of Best Production Design and Sound. And when the nominees for Supporting Actor were revealed, we didn't hear the names of the largely predicted Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, or Jared Leto. But we did hear the name of Campion's fourth ensemble member Jesse Plemons, who was nominated for his first Oscar alongside Smit-McPhee, and who helped make this five years in a row in which two co-stars from one movie found themselves in the same acting race. All told, The Power of the Dog found itself nominated in almost every conceivable category it could have appeared in, and would have made a clean sweep if it had shown up among Costume Design nominees, too. That, however, would have been asking too much. Aside from occasionally taking them off, I'm not sure Cumberbatch's proudly ripe rancher changes his clothes once in the entire film.

Timothee Chalamet in Dune

The best bet among releases hoping to equal or better The Power of the Dog's nomination total was probably Denis Villeneuve's Dune, and the Frank Herbert adaptation – the only film among this year's Best Picture contenders to gross more than $100 million at the domestic box office – did indeed fare awfully well, scoring a second-place 10 nominations, and showing up in all five of The Power of the Dog's craft categories plus Best Costume Design, Visual Effects, and Makeup & Hairstyling. And while performance nods were always going to be unlikely (and none came to pass), the sci-fi epic did also score an Adapted Screenplay citation amongst heavy competition. So why shouldn't Dune be considered every bit the potential Best Picture victor that Campion's work is looking to be? Because if you're decent at basic math, you'll notice that's 10 out of 10 nominations mentioned – meaning that Villeneuve himself was left out of the Best Directing race. (I'll have to double-check, but I'm pretty sure that the last movie to get so many Oscar nods without Directing being one of them was Spielberg's The Color Purple 36 years ago.) A Best Picture win without a corresponding Directing nod isn't out of the question; over the last decade, Argo and Green Book both pulled off the feat. But it does make Dune's journey to the top far less likely. (Villenueve can at least take solace in being a double nominee for producing and co-writing his film … and hope for an even better Oscars result after Dune Deux hits next year.)
Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, and Jude Hill in Belfast

As for the two other conceivable threats to Power of the Dog's dominion, Kenneth Branagh's black-and-white memoir Belfast and Spielberg's West Side Story remake, the Best Picture contenders tied for third place with seven nominations each. Yet while both scored some major gets this morning, there were also some rather surprising didn't-gets. Belfast landed in numerous high-profile categories, including Directing, Original Screenplay, and both supporting-performance races, with Ciarán Hinds acknowledged over co-star Jamie Dornan, and Judi Dench – receiving her eighth acting nomination over a quarter-century! – included over co-star Caítriona Balfe. The latter was a significant surprise considering that Dench didn't get any recognition at all from the BAFTA/CCA/SAG/Globes precursors and Balfe was cited by all four. (Only one other performer this year also made a clean sweep with those awards bodies but was denied Academy recognition, but we'll get to her later.) But also unexpected was Branagh's movie being ignored by the cinematographers' branch – as this year's The Tragedy of Macbeth can attest, voters do love their black-and-white – and especially the editors' branch, where Belfast's absence might be truly telling in terms of ultimate heat. Since 1981, only one Best Picture nominee that didn't make the Film Editing lineup went on to win the year's top prize, and that was 2014's Birdman, a movie famously edited to look like it had no edits at all.

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez in West Side Story

West Side Story, meanwhile, also had a fine morning, if not quite as fine as its team certainly hoped. Unlike Villeneuve, Spielberg was cited in the Directing race (payback for Color Purple, baby!), with his eighth citation placing him among the four most-nominated directors of all time – tied with Billy Wilder and only trailing Martin Scorsese's nine and William Wyler's 12 – and making the guy the only individual to date nominated at least once, including in Best Directing, in each of the last six decades. His musical was also recognized, expectedly, in such categories as Best Cinematography, Production Design, and Supporting Actress, with Ariana DeBose cited for her Anita and sentimental favorite Rita Moreno (the Oscar-winning 1961 Anita) bypassed. Moreno, however, wasn't alone among West Side Story's misses. Other widely considered performance options such as Rachel Zegler and Mike Faist didn't make the cut; Tony Kushner, the legendary scribe whose new WSS script was widely praised, was denied for Adapted Screenplay; and like Belfast, Spielberg's latest was a no-show in the Film Editing race. I presume there's no reason to repeat that Birdman stat. (To add perceived insult to perceived injury, the Academy's editing branch managed to find room for a rival musical – tick … tick … Boom! – that wasn't nominated for Best Picture. Ouch.)

So as of this morning, things are looking mighty fine regarding The Power of the Dog's Best Picture chances, adding that the category's other contenders, in this apparent spread-the-wealth year, all received half or less-than-half the number of nods Campion's Western did: with six, King Richard (but no Directing); with four, Don't Look Up (no Directing) and Nightmare Alley (no Directing, Screenplay, Editing, or performers); and with three, CODA (no Directing or Editing) and Licorice Pizza (no Editing or performers).

Hidetishi Nishijima in Drive My Car

Oh yeah! And also with four, in what was absolutely my favorite unexpected development of the morning, the meditative, late-breaking, three-hour Japanese drama Drive My Car. There was literally no film I was rooting for harder this year, and while its Best International Feature citation was always going to be a done deal (and it's now a done-deal winner in that race, too), nods for Adapted Screenplay, Directing candidate Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and Best Picture were considered far less certain. Let's hear it, though, for the increasingly international Academy, because following Roma and eventual Best Picture winner Parasite, this is the third subtitled release in four years to be up for the Oscars' highest honor. And because we so infrequently get respect, let's hear it for film critics, too! Only five movies prior to Drive My Car have ever received the trifecta of Best Picture prizes from the country's three most prestigious film-critic organizations – the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association – and all five wound up at least nominated amongst the Oscars' Best Picture, Directing, and Screenplay lineups. The streak now continues with six. I couldn't be happier.

I know who could be happier this morning, however: Lady Gaga. Although, like Belfast's Caitriona Balfe, she amassed all the precursor love in the world, it wasn't enough to get the pop star/movie star/Star Is Born star her second Best Actress nod in four years, with House of Gucci only recognized in the Makeup & Hairstyling category, and Lady Gaga's slot perhaps usurped by Parallel Mothers' Penélope Cruz – who, like Belfast's Judi Dench, received no BAFTA/CCA/SAG/Globes recognition whatsoever. The diva's Academy dissing aside, it's going to be fun predicting the Best Actress champs at both the Oscars and BAFTA this year; 11 nominees between them, none of whom is cited in both races. Cool! (On a side note, this is the first time in 16 years that the Best Picture race includes precisely zero Best Actress candidates. Far less cool.) But hopefully Lady Gaga can find consolation in knowing she's not alone among unlucky performers: Fellow SAG nominees Balfe, Jennifer Hudson, Ruth Negga, Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, and her Gucci co-star Jared Leto didn't make the cut, either. (In Leto's case, for the second year in a row, thank heaven for small favors.)


On a personal level, there were loads of other names and titles I would have liked to have seen recognized: C'mon C'mon's Joaquin Phoenix; Passing's Tessa Thompson; Drive My Car's Hidetishi Nishijima; Being the Ricardos' Nina Arianda (the best-in-show performer was the only member of her movie's central quartet not acknowledged); Mass' actors and script; Annette songwriters and Sparks brothers Ron and Russell Mael; Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch , which failed to be cited for anything. (No nod for Original Score? Fine. No screenplay recognition? Okay. But no Production Design? Seriously?!)

Yet look at all the additional awesome that did occur this morning! Danish entry Flee receiving a first-ever trio of Best International Feature, Documentary Feature, and Animated Feature nods! The Power of the Dog's Ari Wegner scoring the second-ever nomination for a woman (following Mudbound's Rachel Morrison in 2018) in the Best Cinematography category! First-time Oscars recognition for long-deserving performers Kirsten Dunst, Aunjanue Ellis, Ciarán Hinds, Jesse Plemons, and Kristen Stewart … plus the not-so-long-but-totally-deserving Jessie Buckley! Best Original Song voters continuing their lunatic tradition of citing a film almost no one has heard of – this year's is Four Good Days – over far more familiar releases and tunes by the likes of Arianda Grande and Bono and the La La Land guys! (I probably should have seen this coming given that the Four Good Days song “Somehow You Do” is by frequent Academy inclusion Diane Warren, now going for her first win on her “lucky” 13th nomination.) Free Guy for Visual Effects! Coming 2 America for Makeup & Hairstyling! (Say what you will about the Eddie Murphy comedy – the makeup and hair ruled.) Summer of Soul and The Mitchells vs. the Machines, respectively, for Best Documentary Feature and Best Animated Feature – movies I adore that I didn't predict for fear of being wrong! Reverse-jinxes sometimes do work!

Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Speaking of those predictions, if you've been following my Oscars-prognostication attempts over the years, will it surprise any of you to learn that I did traditionally mediocre? A little better than in 2021, certainly: 79 correct guesses (as opposed to 71) for 105 slots. But still nothing to brag about, and I went a shoddy two-for-five in Documentary Feature, which I'd blame on not having seen a ton of documentary features last year, except … Nah. I just pooched that one. I did, however, manage to go five-for-five in Makeup & Hairstyling, a feat admittedly made easier by the Academy's elimination process that gave us a short list of 10 possible contenders weeks before nominations were announced.

And thanks to my wise/lazy decision to just pick the same Best Actor lineup that SAG chose, I also scored a perfect 100 percent by going with Javier Bardem, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington (his ninth acting nod!) – the first time in 41 years that every Best Actor nominee was also a previous acting nominee at the Oscars. (You'd have to go back even further to find a group of five – as this year's quintet is – who were all former Best Actor contenders, as opposed to being cited in the lead or supporting races.) Plus, with Bardem married to Best Actress contender Penélope Cruz, and supporting nominees Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst also romantically attached parents, my published dream of the two couples double-dating on Oscars night can actually come to pass! I'm available for babysitting, guys! My rates are totally reasonable!

Amy Forsyth, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin, and Troy Kotsur in CODA




Don't Look Up

Drive My Car


King Richard

Licorice Pizza

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story



Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story



Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Kristen Stewart, Spencer



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



Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Judi Dench, Belfast

Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard



Ciarán Hinds, Belfast

Troy Kotsur, CODA

Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog

J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard


Belfast, Kenneth Branagh

Don't Look Up, Adam McKay, David Sirota

King Richard, Zach Baylin

Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Worst Person in the World, Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier



CODA, Siân Heder

Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe

Dune, John Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion






The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Raya & the Last Dragon



Belfast, “Down to Joy”

Encanto, “Dos Oruguitas”

Four Good Days, “Somehow You Do”

King Richard, “Be Alive”

No Time to Die, “No Time to Die”



Drive My Car, Japan

Flee, Denmark

The Hand of God, Italy

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Bhutan

The Worst Person in the World, Norway






Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Writing with Fire

Willem Dafoe in Nightmare Alley



Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story



Don't Look Up


King Richard

The Power of the Dog

tick … tick … Boom!




Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story






Nightmare Alley

West Side Story





No Time to Die

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Nightmare Alley


Don't Look Up



Parallel Mothers

The Power of the Dog




Free Guy

No Time to Die

Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings

Spider-Man: No Way Home



Coming 2 America



The Eyes of Tammy Faye

House of Gucci




Lead Me Home

The Queen of Basketball

Three Songs for Benazir

When We Were Bullies



Ala Kachuu – Take & Run

The Dress

The Long Goodbye

On My Mind

Please Hold



Affairs of the Art



Robin Robin

The Windshield Wiper

Bradley Cooper in Licorice Pizza

Total Number of Nominations

The Power of the Dog – 12

Dune – 10

Belfast – 7

West Side Story – 7

King Richard – 6

Don't Look Up – 4

Drive My Car – 4

Nightmare Alley – 4

Being the Ricardos – 3

CODA – 3

Encanto – 3

Flee – 3

The Lost Daughter – 3

Licorice Pizza – 3

No Time to Die – 3

The Tragedy of Macbeth – 3

Cruella – 2

The Eyes of Tammy Faye – 2

Parallel Mothers – 2

tick … tick … Boom! – 2

The Worst Person in the World – 2

Ascension – 1

Attica – 1

Coming 2 America – 1

Cyrano – 1

Four Good Days – 1

Free Guy – 1

The Hand of God – 1

House of Gucci – 1

Luca – 1

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – 1

The Mitchells vs. the Machines – 1

Raya & the Last Dragon – 1

Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings – 1

Spencer – 1

Spider-Man: No Way Home – 1

Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – 1

Writing with Fire – 1

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