After COVID restrictions led to a somewhat muted ceremony (and terrible ratings) last year, the Oscars is back where it belongs at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles – and the Academy has made a swathe of changes aimed at attracting viewers back to the event.
Following a few years of hostless ceremonies, there will now be not one but three presenters to oversee proceedings – Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes.
The trio will be running the Oscars show, with other stars including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Mila Kunis, Lady Gaga, Wesley Snipes, Kevin Costner, Rami Malek, Uma Thurman and John Travolta presenting awards.
There will also be live performances from the likes of Billie Eilish and Beyonce, as well as of the Encanto mega-hit We Don’t Talk About Bruno.
In one change, not all the awards will be handed out during the telecast this year, with some of the craft prizes to be given out before the main show. It’s a move that has understandably seen a backlash from the industry, and will likely be referenced on the night.
Let’s face it, the Oscars is about the winners – those surprises, snubs, and speeches are what make for memorable moments.
So here’s our Backstage entertainment team’s guide to who we think will be heading up on stage to accept one of those coveted golden statuettes.
Animated feature film
• Encanto – Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino, Clark Spencer
• Flee – Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström
• Luca – Enrico Casarosa, Andrea Warren
• The Mitchells vs The Machines – Mike Rianda, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
• Raya And The Last Dragon – Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Osnat Shurer, Peter Del Vecho
While personally I would vote for Flee – the true story of a man explaining how he fled his home country as a child told in a simple animated style – I suspect a more traditional family film will pick up this prize. The Mitchells vs The Machines is a very well-liked movie and seems a safe bet, but I think Encanto‘s irresistible ear-worms may just nudge it in to that top spot.
Actress in a supporting role
• Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter
• Dame Judi Dench – Belfast
• Kirsten Dunst – The Power Of The Dog
• Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
• Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
While it’s never a good idea to count out a veteran such as Dame Judi Dench, Ariana DeBose has to be the front-runner for this category. Her incredible performance as Anita in West Side Story – a role her co-star Rita Morena won the Oscar for back in 1962 – has seen her picking up prizes throughout awards season, and I think it’s safe to assume she’ll continue that streak at the Oscars.
Actor in a supporting role
• Ciaran Hinds – Belfast
• Troy Kotsur – CODA
• JK Simmons – Being The Ricardos
• Jesse Plemons – The Power Of The Dog
• Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power Of The Dog
Another clear favourite who’s been picking up awards throughout the season in this category is Troy Kotsur. The actor not only gives a hilarious and heartstring-pulling performance in CODA, but has also been a joy to watch as he’s received nominations and prizes over the last few months.
As the first deaf male performer to be nominated for an acting prize at the Academy Awards, it would be a historic and a fitting win; his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin was the first deaf actor to ever be nominated, and went on to win for her role in Children Of A Lesser God in 1987.
Actress in a leading role
• Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
• Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
• Penelope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
• Nicole Kidman – Being The Ricardos
• Kristen Stewart – Spencer
This year there was no overlap between the BAFTAs and the Oscars in their nominees in the leading actress category, so we can’t look to the British Academy to give us a front-runner. There’s also no overlap between the best actress and best picture category, so no clues there either.
I’d argue that this is the hardest of the acting categories to call… with Olivia Colman and Nicole Kidman both beloved by their peers, you could see either of them snatching a win, but it’s Jessica Chastain‘s depiction of TV preacher Tammy Faye Bakker that I think will take it on the night. The Academy has a history of rewarding actors who disappear into roles in order to play real people – plus, the actress is arguably due a win, as this is her third time being nominated.
Actor in a leading role
• Javier Bardem – Being The Ricardos
• Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM!
• Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power Of The Dog
• Will Smith – King Richard
• Denzel Washington – The Tragedy Of Macbeth
It’s hard to believe Will Smith has never received an Oscar, but that looks set to change this year following his performance as Richard Williams – father of tennis stars Venus and Serena. Known for being very, erm, candid in interviews, it’s worth keeping an eye out for his winner’s speech as it could well become one of the night’s most meme-able moments. And we should give an honourable mention here to Denzel Washington – as this is his 10th nod – extending the record he already holds as the most nominated black actor ever.
• 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
Jane Campion has already gone down in Oscars history for being the first female filmmaker to be nominated twice in this category (fun fact – everyone in this category apart from Hamaguchi has been shortlisted before). She didn’t win for The Piano in 1994 (though she did get the best original screenplay prize), but I think despite some backlash to recent comments she made at the Critics’ Choice Awards – she will walk away the winner on Sunday. Her searing Western has been the front-runner for most of the awards season. Which brings us neatly on to…
• The Power Of The Dog – Jane Campion, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman
• Belfast – Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas
• Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay, Kevin Messick
• Dune – Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Denis Villeneuve
• Licorice Pizza – Sara Murphy, Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Somner
• CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger
• Drive My Car – Teruhisa Yamamoto
• King Richard – Tim White, Trevor White and Will Smith
• Nightmare Alley – Guillermo del Toro, J Miles Dale and Bradley Cooper
• West Side Story – Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger
While even as recently as a month ago I would have plumped for Campion’s The Power of the Dog in this category, I now think Netflix may have to wait a little longer for a best picture win. CODA has been quietly but consistently picking up awards and momentum – and for a film told largely in sign language to get the most prestigous prize it would certainly prove the Academy has diversified in the films it likes to honour.
While it doesn’t have the A-list star power of some of the others, it does have an irresistible cast and the backing of Apple, as it sits on their streaming service Apple TV+. It might not have always been a front-runner, but recent best picture winners such as Moonlight and Parasite have taught us not to trust the bookies when it comes to this category. Plus, it’s great! A really, really great film – and it would certainly get my vote.
For more on what to expect from this year’s Oscars, check out the latest episode of Backstage – the film and TV podcast from Sky News. You can watch the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday 27 March exclusively on Sky Cinema from 11pm – and follow our live blog on the Sky News website and app. For those not wanting to stay up late, you can watch again on Monday 28 at 7pm on Sky Cinema or from 10pm on Sky Showcase.