The 94th Oscars are ready to reveal their results, and we’re ready to hear them—but first, we’d like to offer up some educated guesses as the various outcomes. The editors of The A.V. Club looked closely at the biggest categories from this year’s Academy Awards nominations list, and then we broke down each of those races into “will win,” “could win,” and, in a show of blatant bias, “should win.” While some of these picks may feel like no-brainers (hello Troy Kotsur), many of the categories are still very much up for grabs leading into Sunday’s ceremony. So grab your ballot and gaze into the crystal ball with us, and be sure to follow along with our liveblog on Sunday.
Will win: CODA
Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama about a child of deaf adults, or CODA, took home top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and the Producers Guild of America Awards—the latter a critical precursor for success with Academy voters. The first Oscar-nominated film featuring deaf actors in key roles is more than just a representation win for the disabled community; its uplifting sweetness seems to be exactly what resonates with voters and audiences alike these days.
Could win: The Power Of The Dog
Jane Campion’s Western contains slow-burning tension, sprawling fantasy, psychological drama, and some of the season’s most cohesive performances. Which begs the question: Is Campion a filmmaker or an alchemist? Sunday night will reveal whether her unique combination of genres—and this film’s Netflix distribution—will take it all the way.
Should win: Drive My Car
The first Japanese film nominated for Best Picture, Drive My Car is helmed by the masterful Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose inclusion in the Best Director race signals strong Academy support. Voters may not reward another non-English language film (and a three-hour affair about grief to boot) so soon after Parasite’s dominance, but they should.
Nominees: 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
Will win: Jane Campion, The Power Of The Dog
Will Campion become the third woman to win this category, just one year after the second? All signs, including the crucial Directors Guild Of America Award, point to yes. Long after her directing nomination for The Piano, it’s The Power Of The Dog that seems to finally square with Oscar voters’ tastes.
Could win: Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
The actor-writer-director-producer’s decades of hard work have paid off this year: He now holds the record for the most nominations in different Oscar categories, with seven total for his career.
Should win: Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Spielberg has received his due over the years, including two previous wins in this category. But at age 75, he took on his first movie musical and gave it a mesmerizing cinematic scale, political and emotional sophistication, and some of the year’s best acting, singing, and dancing.
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
Will win: Will Smith, King Richard
As Richard Williams, the father of burgeoning tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Smith turns in the most Oscar-friendly performance of his illustrious career. And that’s no backhanded compliment. The Academy loves biopics, family dramas, and triumphant sports films, and King Richard is all three. Smith has captured several top honors already this season, including the Screen Actors Guild Award.
Could win: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power Of The Dog
The Power Of The Dog received the most nominations of any film this year, but is it too strange for Oscar voters? Where do Sam Elliott’s out-of-nowhere criticisms factor into this race? Uncertainty aside, if anyone can overtake Smith, it’s the hardworking and genuinely riveting Cumberbatch.
Should win: Andrew Garfield, tick, tick… BOOM!
It’s not like Garfield is new to the Hollywood scene, or even the Oscar race. But between tick, tick… BOOM!, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, and of course Spider-Man: No Way Home, this has been his season, the perfect time to showcase his charms both on camera and off.
Nominees: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye; Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Nicole Kidman, Being The Ricardos; Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Will win: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
This year’s best actress race seemed like an uncertain one—the Twitter-released Golden Globe results likely won’t make an impact, while the British Academy Film Awards nominated six completely different women. Then Chastain emerged victorious at both the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards, and those clues are all that’s needed to label her the Oscar frontrunner.
Could win: Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Cruz’s inclusion on the nominations list—without recognition from any precursor awards shows—signals strong support among the Academy’s membership. She’s already an Oscar winner, just not for a Pedro Almodóvar film. Considering that Parallel Mothers is their seventh collaboration, now could be the time to honor their extraordinary cinematic chemistry.
Should win: Kristen Stewart, Spencer
That Pablo Larraín’s impressionistic take on Princess Diana was shut out of all other Oscar categories doesn’t bode well for Stewart, whose acting, by her own admission, is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. But it should be. Spencer is Stewart’s most award-worthy performance in a career full of them, and it gave her a chance to inhabit the late princess’ authenticity, and, somehow, show off her own.
Nominees: Ciarán Hinds, Belfast; Jesse Plemons, The Power Of The Dog; Troy Kotsur, CODA; J.K. Simmons, Being The Ricardos; Kodi Smit- McPhee, The Power Of The Dog
Will win: Troy Kotsur, CODA
SAG plus Critics’ Choice plus BAFTA equals Oscar. The breakout star of CODA has charmed voters and Apple TV+ subscribers alike, earning well-deserved frontrunner status. Plus, a victory for Kotsur means the Academy doubles its total number of deaf winners (25 years after his co-star Marlee Matlin became the first).
Could win: Jesse Plemons, The Power Of The Dog
The glue that holds Campion’s extraordinary ensemble together, Plemons gives one of the season’s most underrated performances in The Power Of The Dog. Joining his real-life partner Kirsten Dunst onscreen, and on the Oscar nominations list for the first time, he could have enough goodwill among Academy members to make him a dark horse contender.
Should win: Troy Kotsur, CODA
Kotsur brings a scruffy, sensitive charm to his role as a father and a fisherman in a film that picked up steam at just the right time this season. There’s one scene in particular, in which his Frank asks his daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones) to sing for him, that alone should clinch the deal.
Nominees: Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter; Ariana DeBose, West Side Story; Judi Dench, Belfast; Kirsten Dunst, The Power Of The Dog; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Will win: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Even if DeBose didn’t have the major precursor accolades already on her mantle, including SAG, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and BAFTA, her twirling, belting, emoting Anita would still be a shoo-in. After all, she’s following in the footsteps of her West Side Story co-star Rita Moreno, who became the first Latina Oscar winner for the same role in the original film.
Could win: Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Ellis, who plays mother hen Oracene “Brandy” Price in this sports biopic, gives a performance that’s just as Oscar-worthy as that of her co-star, Will Smith. Ellis combines maternal grace with fierce competitiveness in a vivid portrait that could prove unforgettable for voters.
Should win: Kirsten Dunst, The Power Of The Dog
Dunst deserves a win, not just for her haunting performance as a woman teetering on the edge, but in recognition of a career full of nuanced portrayals.
Nominees: Belfast; Don’t Look Up; King Richard; Licorice Pizza; The Worst Person In The World
Will win: Belfast
Despite nominations in seven different Oscar categories during his career, Kenneth Branagh has yet to win. If anything can reverse that trend, it’s his semi-autobiographical tale of 1969 Belfast, which has already picked up Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe honors.
Could win: Don’t Look Up
Love him or hate him, the Academy’s track record with Adam McKay makes it clear how they feel. His Writers Guild Award-winning script about the all-too-plausible scenario of an apocalypse that almost no one takes seriously brings humor to the big screen and insights to the ongoing conversations about climate change (and its denial).
Should win: The Worst Person In The World
Writer-director Joachim Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt’s rendering of this sometimes romantic, sometimes comedic, always philosophical rom-com deserves awards recognition for subverting audience expectations at each of the film’s 12 chapters. Plus, what a showcase they gave to breakout star Renate Reinsve.
Nominees: CODA; Dune; Drive My Car; The Lost Daughter; The Power Of The Dog
Will win: CODA
If Best Picture is a showdown between Apple’s CODA and Netflix’s The Power Of The Dog, and Campion is a Best Director lock for the latter, this category will likely be how Oscar voters honor BAFTA Award winner Sian Heder, who was left out of the directing race.
Could win: Drive My Car
It’s always notable when a non-English language film breaks through in a screenplay category, but the fact that Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe’s Drive My Car also notched nominations for Picture, Director, and International Feature boosts its chances here.
Should win: The Lost Daughter
After years of fascinating performances, Maggie Gyllenhaal proved just as adept behind the camera, and with the script, of her Elena Ferrante adaptation. Every line of dialogue in The Lost Daughter screenplay is dripping—or, like the misplaced doll crucial to its plot, infested?—with provocative subtext.
Nominees: Drive My Car; Flee; The Hand Of God; Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom; The Worst Person In The World
Will win: Drive My Car
Whenever a film is nominated for both Best Picture and the International Feature prize, it’s pretty unlikely that it will lose the latter, regardless of its chances for the former.
Could win: Flee
Drive My Car isn’t the only film with recognition in other major Oscar categories this year; Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Danish film Flee finds itself in the running here and in both animated and documentary feature races. There’s no contender like this gorgeously rendered refugee tale, which could mean voters are ready to honor it.
Should win: Drive My Car
Hamaguchi’s intimate epic about a theater maker, his car, and the woman hired to drive him should sweep its four categories. It’s as nuanced and sublime a portrayal of both human connection and isolation as you’ll ever see.
Nominees: Encanto; Flee; Luca; The Mitchells Vs. The Machines; Raya And The Last Dragon
Will win: Encanto
In what could be one of this year’s tightest races, the Disney juggernaut is the safest bet. Encanto is the rare film to earn Oscar nominations for both score and original song, the latter of which might edge this past other worthy nominees.
Could win: The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
The Annie Awards—Hollywood’s foremost animation accolades, and a useful clue for Oscar prognosticators—opted for Mike Rianda’s frenetic Netflix comedy this year. Campaign materials for The Mitchells Vs. The Machines have underlined its emphasis on the joy of creativity and filmmaking, which isn’t a bad strategy for an awards voting body that especially loves movies about movies.
Should win: Flee
The most resonant and relevant entry in this race is also its most unique; the animated documentary format of Flee enables its protagonist, called Amin, anonymity as he recounts his fraught journey from Afghanistan to Russia to Denmark. It’s a hyper-specific refugee story as well as a universal tale of perseverance and love conquering all.
Nominees: Ascension; Attica; Flee; Summer Of Soul; Writing With Fire
Will win: Summer Of Soul
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has added BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Spirit, and PGA awards to his mantle for Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised). Considering how much Academy voters adore music documentaries, the love is not likely to stop there.
Could win: Flee
Animated documentaries are so unusual in awards history that it’s tricky to gauge how voters might feel about this one.
Should win: Summer Of Soul
Questlove’s ode to, and gorgeous depiction of, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival joins the elite group of filmmakers with stunning feature debuts. You almost feel like he should have made the jump behind the camera sooner. His film brilliantly interweaves past and present with jaw-dropping footage and insightful interviews that linger in the mind long after credits roll.
Nominees: “Down to Joy,” Belfast; “Dos Oruguitas,” Encanto; “Somehow You Do,” Four Good Days; “Be Alive,” King Richard; “No Time To Die,” No Time To Die
Will win: “No Time To Die”
A chance to crown a rising music star and a strong Oscar track record for Bond anthems makes Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell obvious frontrunners for this most unpredictable of Academy Award categories. Of the nominated songs, this one not only had the biggest commercial footprint, hovering on the charts and commercial radio, but it kept No Time To Die in moviegoers’ minds for almost 18 months ahead of its theatrical release.
Could win: “Dos Oruguitas”
Lin-Manuel Miranda would clinch EGOT status with this Encanto song—the one Disney submitted for this category over chart-topping hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (which, despite its absence from the nominations, will be featured in the upcoming ceremony). Not that James Bond isn’t popular, but this Disney juggernaut of a movie is certainly fresher in voters’ minds.
Should win: “Be Alive”
How is Beyoncé not an Oscar winner? What are we even doing here, people? Even if “Be Alive,” her song for Venus and Serena Williams co-written with Dixson, weren’t terrific—which, of course, it is—the Academy should be clamoring to make sure they’re not ignoring the career of one of today’s most impactful artists.