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Oscar Nomination Predictions: Expect ‘Dune’ to Dominate in Another Weird Year

By our reckoning, ”The Power of the Dog,“ ”Belfast“ and ”West Side Story“ will also come on strong

AWARDS BEAT

At this point, do we even remember what a normal Oscar season is supposed to look like?

After last year’s elongated, pandemic-wracked, nearly all-virtual season, this was supposed to be the year the Oscars got back to semi-normal. The Academy scheduled the Oscars for the end of March out of what seemed to be an abundance of caution, more theaters reopened and more movies began to play theatrically… and then everything stopped again.

And now, it’s the beginning of February, most awards shows are going virtual and 9,4000 Oscar members have voted for films that most watched on their TVs or computers (or maybe even phones). Nominations will be announced this Tuesday, and then it’ll be more than a month before voters can even begin to cast final ballots for movies that one would hope they’ve already seen.

So just as it wasn’t normal last year, it’s not normal this year, either. But some things are familiar, among them the annual ritual of trying to figure out what voters like. And even as the landscape changes and the makeup of the Academy expands, this part feels familiar. So here are our best guesses as to what we’ll hear at the crack of dawn next Tuesday.

BEST PICTURE
Yes, the Motion Picture Academy membership is becoming more international, but the Hollywood guild awards are still the strongest indicators of what will do well with Oscar voters. And those guilds have been reinforcing what we suspected when “The Power of the Dog” premiered in Venice and “Belfast” followed in Toronto. Those two films were the front runners then, and they still are — and they’re still followed by “Dune” and two later releases, “West Side Story” and “Licorice Pizza.”

If you figure that the Screen Actors Guild Awards’ ensemble-cast nominations make “King Richard,” “CODA” and “Don’t Look Up” likely nominees as well, that leaves two open spots now that the Academy has returned to a guaranteed 10 nominees in the category. The Producers Guild went with “tick, tick…BOOM!” and “Being the Ricardos,” but Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” has racked up guild nominations and Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” has passionate fans and could take advantage of the Academy’s ranked-choice voting system. (Remember, the last time there were 10 guaranteed nominees, the Coen brothers’ divisive “A Simple Man” rode that system to a nom.)

And then there are two more questions. Will “No Time to Die” or “Spider-Man: No Way Home” be rewarded for bringing people back into theaters? And will an increasingly international Academy find room for Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” (which they can’t vote for in the Best International Feature Film category) or Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” (which they can)?

We’re picking this as a year when the Producers Guild matches the Oscars 9-for-10, with “tick, tick…BOOM!” landing one of those last two Best Picture spots and “Nightmare Alley” pushing out “Ricardos” for the other.

Predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
“Belfast”
“CODA”
“Don’t Look Up”
“Dune”
“King Richard”
“Licorice Pizza”
“Nightmare Alley”
“The Power of the Dog”
“tick, tick…BOOM!”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Being the Ricardos,” “No Time to Die,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

THE POWER OF THE DOG
Jane Campion on the set of “The Power of the Dog” (Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

BEST DIRECTOR
Let’s face it: The Directors Branch of the Academy loves to mess with us. Ever since they nominated Michael Haneke and Behn Zeitlin over the Directors Guild’s choices of Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck in 2013, they’ve been showing a stubborn independence in their nominees: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”) over Ridley Scott (“The Martian”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”) over Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”), Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) over Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”).

This might mean that one of this year’s DGA nominees – Paul Thomas Anderson for “Licorice Pizza,” Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast,” Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog,” Steven Spielberg for “West Side Story” and Denis Villeneuve for “Dune” – is at risk of being bumped in favor of, say, Hamaguchi for “Drive My Car” or Almodóvar for “Parallel Mothers.” It might mean that indie director Sian Heder could get in for “CODA” over, say, seven-time nominee Spielberg. Or that Branagh could find himself like Affleck and Cooper, an actor-turned-director snubbed by the Directors Branch.

It’s tempting to say that the DGA’s five is too formidable to change, but the Academy and the guild haven’t matched exactly since 2009, and they grow further apart every time AMPAS admits a new batch of international filmmakers. So we’ll go out on a limb and say that Spielberg actually does get bumped – but by Almodóvar, who’s crashed this category before.

Predicted nominees:
Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”
Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”
Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”
Denis Villeneuve, “Dune”

Watch out for: Guillermo del Toro, “Nightmare Alley”; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”; Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”

Denzel Washington in “Macbeth” (Apple TV+)

BEST ACTOR
If this feels like one of the thinnest Best Actor fields in recent years, that’s probably because great performances like Joaquin Phoenix’s in “C’mon C’mon,” Clifton Collins Jr. in “Jockey” and Nicolas Cage in “Pig” just never got much mainstream awards traction. Of the actors who did get that traction, three feel like locks: Will Smith in “King Richard” and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog,” both of whom have been riding high all awards season, and Andrew Garfield in “tick, tick…BOOM!,” who arrived with a bang – sorry, a boom – in November.

Denzel Washington might not feel like a sure thing for “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” but it’s hard to imagine that he won’t land his ninth Oscar nomination. Peter Dinklage’s own work in an adaptation of a classic play, “Cyrano,” is richly deserving of a spot, as is Bradley Cooper for his film noir turn in “Nightmare Alley.” But “Being the Ricardos” seems to have seized attention lately, and its star Javier Bardem has been popular with the Academy for quite a while.

Predicted nominees:
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”

Watch out for: Bradley Cooper, “Nightmare Alley”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “Don’t Look Up”; Peter Dinklage, “Cyrano”

eyes of tammy faye jessica chastain
Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures)

BEST ACTRESS
Most of the top contenders in this category have already won Oscars, with the field including Olivia Colman, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Jennifer Hudson and Lady Gaga (who won for songwriting, not acting). Colman and Kidman are all-but-assured of nominations, while Gaga will likely join them even if “House of Gucci” itself has plenty of detractors.

In addition to Cruz and Hudson, contenders for the last two spots include Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”), a critics’ favorite in a film that has failed to connect with guild voters; Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), another case where the performance outshines the film; three-time winner Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”; and a trio of newcomers, Alana Haim, Emilia Jones and Rachel Zegler in “Licorice Pizza,” “CODA” and “West Side Story,” respectively.

Cruz once seemed to be a long shot, but she and the film have picked up momentum lately, so we’re guessing that she lands a nom and so does Chastain in a tight race with Hudson for the final spot.

Predicted nominees:
Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”
Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”
Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci”

Watch out for: Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza”; Jennifer Hudson, “Respect”; Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

Belfast - Jamie Dornan Jude Hill
“Belfast” (Focus Features)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Screen Actors Guild nominees in this category were Troy Kotsur for “CODA,” Kodi Smit-McPhee for “The Power of the Dog,” Bradley Cooper for “Licorice Pizza,” Jared Leto for “House of Gucci” and Ben Affleck for “Tender Bar.” SAG is usually a pretty reliable Oscar predictor, but the last three of those nominees all seem vulnerable: Cooper because his “Pizza” role is little more than a cameo, Leto because his over-the-top performance has become a focal point for “Gucci” detractors and Affleck because “The Tender Bar” hasn’t gotten any other awards attention. Plus, waiting in the wings are two different actors from “Belfast,” Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds, as well as Jesse Plemons for “The Power of the Dog” and J.K. Simmons’ scene-stealing turn in “Being the Ricardos.”

We’re guessing that Kotsur and Smit-McPhee are in, that Cooper gets nominated for his big cameo to make up for not being nominated for “Nightmare Alley” and that both “Belfast” boys grab the final two spots over a hard-charging Simmons.

Predicted nominees:
Bradley Cooper, “Licorice Pizza”
Jamie Dornan, “Belfast”
Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast”
Troy Kotsur, “CODA”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”

Watch out for:” Jared Leto, “House of Gucci”; Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”; J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”

Aunjanue Ellis in “King Richard” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
In this category, SAG voters seem likely to have chosen almost the whole Oscar lineup, starting with Kirsten Dunst for “The Power of the Dog,” Caitriona Balfe for “Belfast” and Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story.” The final two SAG nominees, Cate Blanchett for “Nightmare Alley” and Ruth Negga for “Passing,” aren’t as locked in and are facing challenges from Aunjanue Ellis in “King Richard,” Jessie Buckley in “The Lost Daughter” and sentimental favorites Rita Moreno in “West Side Story” and Judi Dench in “Belfast.”

Blanchett is acting royalty and would also be winning points for “Don’t Look Up,” so that could give SAG a fourth match. While Negga remains a strong contender, the relatively lower profile of her film could hurt her in a showdown with Ellis for that last spot – and they both need to worry about Buckley, who has been getting increasing buzz for her performance as a younger version of Olivia Colman’s character in “The Lost Daughter.” (Shades of Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart’s nominations for playing the same character at different ages in “Titanic” — or Winslet and Judi Dench earning nominations for playing younger and older Iris Murdoch in “Iris”!)  

Predicted nominees:
Caitriona Balfe, “Belfast”
Cate Blanchett, “Nightmare Alley”
Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”
Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog”
Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard”

Watch out for: Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”; Rita Moreno, “West Side Story”; Ruth Negga, “Passing”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“CODA,” “Dune,” “Nightmare Alley,” “tick, tick…BOOM!” and “West Side Story” were all nominated by the Writers Guild in this category – but at least three very strong Oscar contenders — “The Power of the Dog,” “The Lost Daughter” and “Drive My Car” — weren’t eligible for the WGA’s awards. If you drop those three in – “Power” is a lock, “Daughter” is likely and “Car” is quite possible – then you’ll only have room for two more, with “CODA” and maybe “West Side Story” over “Dune” and “tick, tick.”

Predicted nominees:
“CODA”
“Drive My Car”
“The Lost Daughter”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Dune,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” “Passing”

licorice pizza cooper hoffman
“Licorice Pizza” (MGM)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Three of the spots seem likely to go to WGA nominees “Licorice Pizza,” “Don’t Look Up” and “Being the Ricardos,” and one will certainly go to WGA-ineligible “Belfast.” That leaves one opening, with the contenders including “King Richard,” “The French Dispatch,” “Parallel Mothers” and “C’mon C’mon.” The Academy’s Writers Branch is often one of its quirkiest and most open to independent voices, so it’d be nice to think that “C’mon C’mon” or “Parallel Mothers” could sneak in here – but this year, it may well go to the most mainstream option, “King Richard.”

Predicted nominees:
“Being the Ricardos”
“Belfast”
“Don’t Look Up”
“King Richard”
“Licorice Pizza”

Watch out for: “C’mon C’mon,” “The French Dispatch,” “Parallel Mothers”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The American Society of Cinematographers, which usually matches the Oscars four-for-five, nominated “Belfast,” “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and “Nightmare Alley.” It’s hard to imagine the Academy not following suit on the first four of those films, but “Nightmare Alley” was the surprise of the ASC nominations, and it could well slip out of the Oscars in favor of Janusz Kaminski’s work on “West Side Story.” (Five of Kaminski’s six nominations have come on films he’s shot for Steven Spieberg.)

Predicted nominees:
“Belfast”
“Dune”
“The Power of the Dog”
“The Tragedy of Macbeth”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Cyrano,” “Nightmare Alley,” “No Time to Die”

BEST FILM EDITING
This is often a category that clues you in on which dramatic films have the juice to go all the way with the Academy: For the last 40 years, every Oscar Best Picture winner except “Birdman” (which was designed to look like it wasn’t edited) has been nominated in this category alongside what are often louder, more frenetic films. So if “Belfast” and “The Power of the Dog” are true contenders to win the best-pic Oscar, they’ll show up here. But “Dune” and “No Time to Die” are too big and bold not to be favorites as well, while the 1961 version of “West Side Story” won this award.

Predicted nominees:
“Belfast”
“Dune”
“No Time to Die”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Don’t Look Up,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley”

Jason Momoa Dune Stillsuit
“Dune” (Warner Bros.)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
In the design categories, it’ll be impossible to ignore the world-building of “Dune,” the moody richness of “Nightmare Alley” and the dazzling Wes Anderson sampler pack “The French Dispatch.” From there, it’s a matter of whether voters want theatrical (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”), artistic period (“Cyrano”) nostalgic (“Belfast”), urban theatrical (“West Side Story”) or ’70s San Fernando Valley (“Licorice Pizza”), among others.

And here’s a bonus: According to the Academy, the official name of “The French Dispatch” is “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star,” so nominations announcers Leslie Jordan and Tracee Ellis Ross are going to have to say that whole mouthful a couple of times.

Predicted nominees:
“Cyrano”
“Dune”
“The French Dispatch”
“Nightmare Alley”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Belfast,” “Licorice Pizza,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
This category usually has two or three nominees in common with production design, but “Dune,” “French Dispatch,” “Nightmare Alley,” “West Side Story” and “Cyrano” could make that number higher this year. Still, voters in the Costume Designers Branch probably won’t ignore “Cruella,” in which the title character is an outrageous designer, and they could also go for “House of Gucci” (thick with fashion), “Spencer” (the ultimate ’80s and ’90s fashion plate) or “Licorice Pizza” (’70s duds).

Predicted nominees:
“Cruella”
“Cyrano”
“Dune”
The French Dispatch”
“Nightmare Alley”

Watch out for: “House of Gucci,” “Licorice Pizza,” “West Side Story”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Making a famous person look like a different famous person is always a ticket to success in this category, so “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” should be rewarded for making Jessica Chastain look like Tammy Faye Bakker. (And while Paolo Gucci isn’t exactly a famous person in most circles, Jared Leto’s transformation into the wannabe designer is certainly eye-catching.) But elaborate prosthetic effects are often recognized, too, which means recognition for “Dune” and maybe even “Coming 2 America,” a sequel to the film that won this award decades ago.  

Predicted nominees:
“Cruella”
“Dune”
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
“House of Gucci”
“Nightmare Alley”

Watch out for: “Coming 2 America,” “No Time to Die,” “West Side Story”

The French Dispatch
“The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The 11-time nominee Hans Zimmer and the one-time nominee Jonny Greenwood will almost certainly be nominated again this year for their scores to “Dune” and “The Power of the Dog,” respectively – the question is whether either of them will receive a second nom as well, since Zimmer is also on the shortlist for “No Time to Die” and Greenwood is also on it for “Spencer.” Zimmer is probably the likelier of them to pull a twofer, if his Bond score can hold off the likes of Kris Bowers’ music for “King Richard,” Alberto Iglesias’ score for “Parallel Mothers” and Germaine Franco’s work on “Encanto,” which could make her only the 10th woman (and first Latina) nominated in the category. Meanwhile, Alexandre Desplat’s score to “The French Dispatch” and Nicholas Britell’s for “Don’t Look Up” are clear favorites for noms, too.

Predicted nominees:
“Don’t Look Up”
“Dune”
“The French Dispatch”
“No Time to Die”
“The Power of the Dog”

Watch out for: “Encanto,” “King Richard,” “Parallel Mothers”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
This category could bring us Billie Eilish v. Beyonce v. Jay-Z v. U2 v. Van Morrison, but the Academy’s Music Branch has always seemed less enamored by stars than, say, Golden Globe voters. So while Eilish is a lock for her James Bond theme song, the others face formidable competition from a Lin-Manuel Miranda song from “Encanto” – no, not “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which Disney didn’t submit that one — as well as Sparks’ wry overture to “Annette,” the comic highlight “Just Look Up” from “Don’t Look Up” and from the Jennifer Hudson/Carole King/Jamie Hartman collaboration from “Respect.”

Oh, and 12-time nominee Diane Warren has another song on the shortlist this year, “Somehow You Do,” and is eminently in the hunt for her 13th nomination and first win. But then, you probably could have guessed that.

Predicted nominees:
“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto”
“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” from “Respect”
“Just Look Up” from “Don’t Look Up”
“No Time to Die” from “No Time to Die”
“So May We Start” from “Annette”

Watch out for: “Be Alive” from “King Richard”; “Somehow You Do” from “Four Good Days”; “Your Song Saved My Live” from “Sing 2”

BEST SOUND
Back when the Oscars split sound into two categories, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing (all of two years ago), the same films were often nominated for both, although mixing would typically include more music-driven films and editing would include more big, loud ones. This year’s Best Sound category will probably bring a mixture of both, with “Dune,” “No Time to Die” and “Spider-Man” representing the action-packed movies and “West Side Story” doing the same for musicals.

The last spot could be an unexpected show of strength for “Belfast” or “The Power of the Dog,” or it could let voters recognize how important sound is to “A Quiet Place Part II.” But the other musical on the shortlist may well prove irresistible to the Sound Branch – after all, how can they possibly overlook “tick, tick…BOOM!,” a movie whose title is made up of three sounds?

Predicted nominees:
“Dune”
“No Time to Die”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
“tick, tick…BOOM!”
“West Side Story”

Watch out for: “Belfast,” “The Power of the Dog,” “A Quiet Place Part II”

jamie-foxx-electro-spider-man-no-way-home
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony Pictures)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
It seems silly to say this about a category whose other contenders include “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but “Dune” is clearly the 800-pound gorilla here. Denis Villeneuve’s epic is a surer bet than any of the Marvel movies, which include “Black Widow” and “Eternals,” neither of which were nominated in the top categories at the Visual Effects Society’s awards. But Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” seem likely to make the cut, as they did at VES, and the Academy’s interest in rewarding effects in less superhero-y movies will no doubt help “No Time to Die.”

Will memories of how “The Matrix” revolutionized VFX back at the end of the last century help the long-delayed fourth installment, “The Matrix Resurrections?” They just might.   

Predicted nominees:
“Dune”
“The Matrix Resurrections”
“No Time to Die”
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Watch out for: “Black Widow,” “Eternals,” “Godzilla vs. Kong”

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
There’s a clear top five in this category, but when was the last time Oscar voters in the category went for the five favorites? It certainly wasn’t last year, when high-profile films like “I’m No Longer Here” and “Night of the Kings” were nudged out by “Better Days” and “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” In fact, it almost never happens that the favorites are all nominated, which is why it’s hard not to be skeptical of the chances that Japan’s “Drive My Car,” Iran’s “A Hero,” Denmark’s “Flee,” Italy’s “The Hand of God” and Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” will be the five nominees.

Of those, though the first two seem unassailable and the first three highly likely. (Voters nominated documentaries in the category last year and the year before, so “Flee” won’t meet resistance on that count.) If “Worst Person” (which didn’t do as well as expected at the European Film Awards) or “Hand of God” falls out, the likeliest beneficiaries could be Finland’s “Compartment No. 6,” Germany’s “I’m Your Man” or even one of the category’s sleepers, Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.”

Still, while it wouldn’t be surprising to see some kind of upset in the category, the top five are favorites for a reason.  

Predicted nominees:
“Drive My Car”
“Flee”
“The Hand of God”
“A Hero”
“The Worst Person in the World”

Watch out for: “Compartment No. 6,” “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” “I’m Your Man”

“Encanto” (Disney)

BEST ANIMATED FILM
If you go by this year’s guild awards, this category is cut-and-dried. Almost every group that hands out awards for animated films (editors, sound mixers, sound editors, art directors, visual effects artists … ) has gone for the same five films: “Encanto,” “Luca,” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Sing 2.” But while those five films – three from Disney/Pixar, one from Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix and one from Illumination/Universal – are no doubt serious contenders, the Academy hasn’t nominated a slate of five major-studio films in almost a decade.

If one of the five falls out, it’s most likely to be “Sing 2” – and if a work of indie animation slips in, as one probably will, the top candidates are the documentary “Flee,” the Japanese film “Belle” and the Czech drama “My Sunny Maad.” Of those, “Flee” has by far the highest profile, and should land a nomination unless Oscar voters balk at an animated documentary.  

Predicted nominees:
“Encanto”
“Flee”
“Luca”
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
“Raya and the Last Dragon”

Watch out for: “Belle,” “My Sunny Maad,” “Sing 2”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The documentary-feature category has had a lot of unexpected upsets in recent years, with presumed favorites losing out on what seemed to be sure nominations. (Sorry about that, “Apollo 11” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”) In some of those cases, anecdotal evidence suggests that large number of voters simply assumed that those films wouldn’t need their help, and that they could do more good by voting for underdog films. So should Questlove be worried that the same fate could befall the obvious front runner, “Summer of Soul?” Well, yeah, he should.

But assuming voters have learned their lesson and “SoS” sails through, it’s not clear what will accompany it. “Flee” is probably the next best bet, on its quest to be the first film nominated for international film, documentary feature and animated feature, followed by Jessica Kingdon’s sweeping look at current-day China, “Ascension.” From there, the top contenders on the 15-film shortlist seem to include, in no particular order, “Attica,” “The Rescue,” “Simple as Water,” “President” and “In the Same Breath.” We’ll go with the visceral punch of “Attica” and the heartrending “Simple as Water,” assuming that latter film doesn’t get caught in the recent Sundance backlash against Western filmmakers making movies about Muslims.  

Predicted nominees:
“Ascension”
“Attica”
“Flee”
“Simple as Water”
“Summer of Soul”

Watch out for: “In the Same Breath,” “President,” “The Rescue”

“A Broken House” (The New Yorker)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Shortlists in the three short-film categories all expanded from 10 to 15 films this year, which puts more strain on the voters (watching all the short documentaries takes more than seven hours) and makes predicting the nominees significantly more difficult. Still, a few of the doc shorts stand out: “A Broken House” for the way it finds a beautiful new lens on the crisis in Syria, “Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker” for casting light on a forgotten pioneer in LGBTQ imagery, “The Queen of Basketball” for the indelible character at its center (and for the presence of Shaquille O’Neal as the film’s executive producer and cheerleader-in-chief).

“Lynching Postcards” is one of the shortest films, but it packs a real punch, while “Three Songs for Benazir” is a wrenching look at an Afghan camp for people displaced by war. “Day of Rage,” a 40-minute, moment-by-moment breakdown of the Jan. 6 insurrection, could be the timeliest, if voters appreciate the exhaustive video research over the PowerPoint-style presentation. Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) is on the shortlist with “Terror Contagion,” a terrifying but dry exploration of surveillance technology, while directors Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk could hit home for California voters with “Lead Me Home,” a large-scale look at homelessness on the West Coast.  

Predicted nominees:
“A Broken House”
“Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker”
“Lynching Postcards: ‘Token of a Great Day’”
“The Queen of Basketball”
“Three Songs for Benazir”

Watch out for: “Audible,” “Day of Rage,” “Lead Me Home”

“Namoo” (Baobab Studios)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Disney is back, of course, with the charming “Us Again” on the shortlist. Three-time winner Aardman has “Robin Robin,” one of the longest, funniest and most widely distributed (via Netflix) of the shortlisted films. Korean-American animator Erick Oh, nominated last year for the bold “Opera,” is in the running with a more personal and equally adventurous gem, “Namoo.” And the National Film Board of Canada, always a major player in the category, has three films on the list: “Affairs of the Art” (eccentric and playful), “Bad Seeds” (a hand-drawn delight that should stand out because of its look) and “Flowing Home” (the story of two Vietnamese sisters separated after the war).

There are plenty of other strong contenders on the sprawling 15-film shortlist, including touching stories like “Mum Is Pouring Rain” and “The Musician,” the meditative and haunting “The Windshield Wiper” and the unsettling “Bestia.” The vote could go in many different directions, but we’re counting on a mixture of styles and tones.

Predicted nominees:
“Bad Seeds”
“Namoo”
“Robin Robin”
“Us Again”
“The Windshield Wiper”

Watch out for: “Bestia,” “The Musician,” “Step Into the River”

“On My Mind” (M&M Productions)

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
In recent years, Oscar voters have filled this category with dark films, including a disturbingly large number whose central feature is children in peril. Given the number of brutal films on this year’s shortlist, they could go that same route again – and at the least they seem likely to pick “The Long Goodbye,” a chaotic nightmare of anti-immigrant violence that stars Riz Ahmed. But there’s also a refreshing amount of sometimes-pointed humor on the shortlist, from the ghost-story/romance of “You’re Dead Helen” to “Please Hold,” a tale from the future that makes points about the prison system but will strike a chord with anybody who’s ever been caught in an automated phone-system hell.

But Riz Ahmed is far from the only big name in the category. Danish producer Kim Magnusson has six nominations and two Oscars to his name, and he has two chances to add to that total with a pair of shortlisted films, “On My Mind” and “Stenofonen.” Both have a strong chance to advance – but “On My Mind” in particular is one of the most heartfelt and moving films on the list (along with the Spanish short “Distances”), and it should make Magnusson a seven-time nominee.

Predicted nominees:
“Distances”
“The Long Goodbye”
“On My Mind”
“Please Hold”
“You’re Dead Helen”

Watch out for: “Les Grandes Claques,” “Stenofonen,” “Tala’vision”

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