Updated Oscar Predictions: Are ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Nightmare Alley’ About to Shake Things Up?

Only a few unseen movies remain in the 94th Oscar year, and two of them were unveiled for press and guild members this week: West Side Story and Nightmare Alley. Early buzz is strong for both, and either film could get a bunch of nominations or zero. It’s tough to gauge right now. But as tempting as it is to rely on Twitter reactions, do not fall into the trap of thinking they are the barometer of how Oscar voters will embrace or reject a film.

One thing that makes these new entries difficult to pinpoint is the “late” date. December releases have traditionally not been favorable when it comes to awards, but the shortened eligibility window coupled with a late January nomination period could put these mid-December films in just the right place for voters. If they like them enough to give them attention.

Some others that were long thought to be strong contenders don’t seem to be catching on or building any sort of momentum. Covering the race and thinking about what lies ahead, it can be tough to let go of certain things we’ve been so certain about, but that’s the name of the game. And with that, we’ve made some moves in big categories, adding and taking away some names that would have seemed unthinkable a month ago.

Here is a look at our predictions for December 1, 2021.

Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Best Picture

Rather than focusing on how Belfast is still the one to beat — which it is — let’s talk about what could jump into the lineup. As we were just talking about West Side Story and Nightmare Alley, both could get anywhere from 0 to 13 nominations, including Best Picture. Guillermo del Toro is beloved by the Academy and his film is full of Hollywood favorites and technical majesty. West Side Story is also very pretty and features good to great performances, plus the added magic of nostalgia mostly done very well. I think West Side is closer to missing, but with a newly expanded category, it probably makes it.

Netflix may be swapping one nominee for another. It’s either going to be tick, tick…Boom! or Don’t Look Up, but probably not both. At the moment, I’ve moved Adam McKay’s satire in, but we’ll see how viewers and voters take to it in the coming week. Oscars do love films about show business, and the musical biopic has been a popular watch on the streamer. But for now, if only one of them is going to make it, I think it’s the one with the glitzier (and bigger) cast ensemble. Sadly, we are saying good bye to C’mon C’mon, the very sweet film from Mike Mills, and The Tragedy of Macbeth, a beautiful adaptation that has been met with mostly tepid response.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  2. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  3. “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  4. “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
  5. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  6. “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists Releasing/MGM)
  7. “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)
  8. “Flee” (Neon)
  9. “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix)
  10. “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)

Next Up:

11. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple Original Films)
12. “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
13. “C’mon C’mon” (A24)
14. “House of Gucci” (United Artists Releasing/MGM)
15. “CODA” (Apple Original Films)
16. “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
17. “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics)
18. “Passing” (Netflix)
19. “A Hero” (Amazon Studios)
20. “Spencer” (Neon and Topic Studios)

KIRSTY GRIFFIN/COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Best Director

With ten Best Picture nominees, the chances of a split with director are high. And since we seem to be more in an era of “share the wealth,” Branagh might not be taking home that coveted prize. Over the past ten years, the two categories have split half the time, although those were always in times of the sliding scale. If the two divide and Belfast is still winning at the top, who takes home the directing prize? This is going to be tough, especially since this week we’re shaking up the list and adding both Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg. They join a predicted five that still includes Jane Campion and Denis Villeneuve.

With so many tech players in the game and dividing votes, is it possible for Jane Campion to not only become the first woman nominated twice, but to also turn this into the first time women win it back-to-back? The love for The Power of the Dog is there, it’s a sprawling western with great performances and technical prowess and Campion is the one bringing it all together. She could be our winner.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  2. Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  3. Denis Villeneuve, “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  4. Guillermo del Toro, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  5. Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)

Next Up:

6. Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists Releasing/MGM)
7. Reinaldo Marcus Green, “King Richard” (Warner Bros.)
8. Lin-Manuel Miranda, “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
9. Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics)
10. Aaron Sorkin, “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)

KING RICHARD — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Best Actor

While I’m still saying Will Smith is in the lead position, this week he feels more vulnerable than ever. Bradley Cooper will be the talk of the town and with four previous acting nominations (plus four other nominations), he could be the spoiler no one saw coming. Cooper is the only new addition to our predicted five, as we relegate Denzel Washington and his truly great performance as Macbeth. Yes, we’re still stubbornly holding on to Nicolas Cage for reasons that may become more clear in the next week or two.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Will Smith, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
  2. Bradley Cooper, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  4. Andrew Garfield, “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
  5. Nicolas Cage, “Pig” (Neon)

Next Up:

6. Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple)
7. Clifton Collins, Jr., “Jockey” (Sony Pictures Classics)
8. Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)
9. Joaquin Phoenix, “C’mon C’mon” (A24)
10. Peter Dinklage, “Cyrano” (United Artists Releasing/MGM)

Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc

Best Actress

As much as some folks like to believe this is Kristen Stewart’s to lose, Spencer just isn’t dominating conversations the way it needs to. Maybe she can Renee Zellweger/Judy her way into a win, but this year’s leading actresses are going to make it a fierce competition. Adding Rachel Zegler to the mix may seem crazy, but with certain other films slipping from view, West Side Story comes at just the right time for her to jump into the fray.

  1. Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci” (United Artists Releasing/MGM)
  2. Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
  3. Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)
  4. Kristen Stewart, “Spencer” (Neon)
  5. Rachel Zegler, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)

Next Up:

6. Frances McDormand, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple)
7. Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures)
8. Tessa Thompson, “Passing” (Netflix)
9. Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics)
10. Emilia Jones, “CODA” (Apple)

Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Best Supporting Actor

Shrug. I don’t know. If Belfast is winning picture and losing director, it stands to reason it would win somewhere else above the line and this seems like the likeliest place. (We’ll get to Caitríona Balfe in a minute.)  But then if The Power of the Dog is winning director and losing picture, the same argument could work in favor of Smit-McPhee.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Jamie Dornan, “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  2. Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  3. Jared Leto, “House of Gucci” (UA/MGM)
  4. Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  5. J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)

Next Up:

6. Ben Affleck, “The Tender Bar” (Amazon Studios)
7. Robin de Jesús, “Tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
8. Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
9. Corey Hawkins, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple)
10. Jason Isaacs, “Mass” (Bleecker Street)

Searchlight Pictures

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett is ready to shake up this race with a truly perfect performance in Nightmare Alley. Her also-great work in Don’t Look Up will make her hard to ignore too. In this scenario, the one to miss out is Ann Dowd who is terrific in Mass, though it’s the little movie that could. I would love to add Ariana DeBose into the five, not only because it would be fun to see but also because she’s great. But I just can’t quite do it because of a very specific directorial choice that, I think, keeps her out. I can’t elaborate until the film comes out.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Cate Blanchett, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  2. Caitríona Balfe, “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  3. Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  4. Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
  5. Judi Dench, “Belfast” (Focus Features)

Next Up:

6. Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
7. Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)
8. Ann Dowd, “Mass” (Bleecker Street)
9. Marlee Matlin, “CODA” (Apple)
10. Ruth Negga, “Passing” (Netflix)

Best Original Screenplay

There’s plenty of love for Licorice Pizza and Paul Thomas Anderson, and the place most likely to see that is in Original Screenplay. Beyond that, will Sorkin find his way into the fold? Is there still room for Mike Mills and C’mon C’mon? Perhaps. We are running out of time for anything else to come along, so this looks like a reasonable. Don’t be surprised if Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up makes a move, though.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Licorice Pizza” (UA Releasing/MGM); Paul Thomas Anderson
  2. “Belfast” (Focus Features); Kenneth Branagh
  3. “King Richard” (Warner Bros); Zach Baylin
  4. “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon); Aaron Sorkin
  5. “C’mon C’mon” (A24); Mike Mills

Next Up:

6. “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix); Adam McKay, David Sirota
7. “The Harder They Fall” (Netflix); Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
8. “Pig” (Neon); Michael Sarnoski
9. “Mass” (Bleecker Street); Fran Kranz
10. “A Hero” (Amazon Studios); Asghar Farhadi

THE POWER OF THE DOG | Netflix

Best Adapted Screenplay

If Campion doesn’t win, who does? Maggie Gyllenhaal has a rich and emotional script on her hands, but then, so do the rest. Anchored by a brilliant performance from a likely Best Actress nominee, The Lost Daughter might just take the win.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix); Jane Campion
  2. “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix); Maggie Gyllenhaal
  3. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures); Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan
  4. “Passing” (Netflix); Rebecca Hall
  5. “CODA” (Apple); Siân Heder

Next Up:

6. “Shiva Baby” (Utopia); Emma Seligman
7. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple); Joel Coen
8. “The Tender Bar” (Amazon Studios); William Monahan
9. “The Green Knight” (A24); David Lowery
10. “Dune” (Warner Bros); Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

Walt Disney Animation

Best Animated Feature Film

Disney looks to do it again with Encanto. There’s not much more to say at the moment.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Encanto” (Walt Disney Pictures)
  2. “Flee” (Neon)
  3. “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” (Netflix)
  4. “Belle” (GKIDS)
  5. “Luca” (Disney/Pixar)

Next Up:

6.”Ron’s Gone Wrong” (20th Century Studios)
7. “Raya and the Last Dragon” (Walt Disney Pictures)
8. “The Summit of the Gods” (Netflix)
9. “Vivo” (Netflix)
10. “Cryptozoo” (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Documentary Feature Film

The Rescue is about to hit Disney+, meaning folks are going to have the chance to watch at home together going into the holidays. Flee is in theaters this weekend, and that boost is also going to help solidify its chances in multiple categories.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “The Rescue” (National Geographic); dir. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
  2. “Flee” (Neon); dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen
  3. “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” (Sony Pictures Classics); dir. Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler
  4. “Procession” (Netflix); dir. Robert Greene
  5. “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” (Searchlight Pictures); dir. Quest Love

Next Up:

6. “Introducing, Selma Blair” (Discovery+); dir. Rachel Fleit
7. “Becoming Cousteau” (National Geographic); dir. Liz Garbus
8. “The Velvet Underground” (Apple Original Films); dir. Todd Haynes
9. “Julia” (Sony Pictures Classics); dir. Julie Cohen, Betsy West
10. “Francesco” (Discovery+); dir. Evgeny Afineevsky

Best International Feature Film

Be sure to check out the official submissions from each country and territory here.

If Flee is getting three or four nominations, it’s unlikely to go home completely empty-handed and International Feature feels more and more like the place for it to win.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Flee” (Neon/Participant) — Denmark, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen
  2. “The Worst Person in the World” (Neon) — Norway, dir. Joaquim Trier
  3. “A Hero” (Amazon Studios) — Iran, dir. Asghar Farhadi
  4. “Titane” (Neon) — France, dir. Julia Ducournau
  5. “Drive My Car” (Janus Films) — Japan, dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Next Up:

6. “Compartment No. 6” (Sony Pictures Classics) — Finland, dir. Juho Kuosmanen
7. “Hive” (Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber) — Kosovo, dir. Blerta Basholli
8. “Lamb” (A24) — Iceland, dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson
9. “I’m Your Man” (Bleecker Street) — Germany, dir. Maria Schrader
10.  “Escape from Mogadishu” (Well Go USA) — South Korea, dir. Seung-wan Ryoo

THE POWER OF THE DOG | Netflix

Cinematography

There was a time when it seemed like Dune would just walk away with all the tech awards, but that time has passed. It’s very much still in the conversation, but in such a strong year for cinematography, Greig Fraser is far from a sure thing. I’m going with Ari Wegner for now but every frame of Dan Laustsen’s gorgeous images in Nightmare Alley could be their own photograph in a gallery. And that holds true for the black-and-white beauty of Belfast and The Tragedy of Macbeth too.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix); Ari Wegner
  2. “Dune” (Warner Bros); Greig Fraser
  3. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures); Dan Laustsen
  4. “Belfast” (Focus Features); Haris Zambarloukos
  5. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple); Bruno Delbonnel

Next Up:

6. “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios); Janusz Kaminski
7. “C’mon C’mon” (A24); Robbie Ryan
8. “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists/MGM); Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
9. “Cyrano” (United Artists/MGM); Seamus McGarvey
10. “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix); Alice Brooks

Searchlight Pictures

Costume Design

It’s a tough call, but this is another place where the once assured Dune lies vulnerable to Guillermo del Toro’s nightmarish, neo noir, 1940s glamour. Luis Seguira won for The Shape of Water. Can he and GDT do it again? Yes they can.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures); Luis Sequeira
  2. “Dune” (Warner Bros); Jacqueline West, Bob Morgan
  3. “House of Gucci” (United Artists/MGM); Janty Yates
  4. “Cyrano” (United Artists/MGM); Massimo Cantini Parrini
  5. “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists/MGM); Mark Bridges

Next Up:

6. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24); Mary Zophres
7. “Belfast” (Focus Features); Charlotte Walter
8. “Spencer” (Neon); Jacqueline Durran
9. “Last Night in Soho” (Focus Features); Odile Dicks-Mireaux
10. “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios); Paul Tazewell

DUNE | Warner Bros.

Film Editing

When in doubt on Editing, go with your Sound winner. It’s not 100% true, but you will be right way more often than wrong, even when there are better edited films to choose from.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Dune” (Warner Bros); Joe Walker
  2. “Belfast” (Focus Features); Úna Ní Dhonghaíle
  3. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix); Peter Sciberras
  4. “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix); Hank Corwin
  5. “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix); Myron Kerstein, Andrew Weisblum

Next Up:

6. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures); Cam McLauchlin
7. “King Richard” (Warner Bros); Pamela Martin
8. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple); Lucian Johnston
9. “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics); Teresa Font
10. “C’mon C’mon” (A24); Jennifer Vecchiarello

Makeup and Hairstyling

The work in Dune is pretty spectacular, even if the image above isn’t one of the better examples of it.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  2. “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
  3. “House of Gucci” (United Artists/MGM)
  4. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  5. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures)

Next Up:

6. “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios)
7. “Spencer” (Neon)
8. “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists/MGM)
9. “Last Night in Soho” (Focus Features)
10. “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures)

Music – Original Score

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Jonny Greenwood, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  2. Alexandre Desplat, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  3. Hans Zimmer, “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  4. Carter Burwell, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple)
  5. Nicholas Britell, “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix)

Next Up:

6.  Kris Bowers, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
7. Jonny Greenwood, “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists/MGM)
8. Jonny Greenwood, “Spencer” (Neon)
9. Alberto Iglesias, “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics)
10. Alexandre Desplat, “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures)

Music – Original Song

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Just Look Up” from “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix)
  2. “Down to Joy” from “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  3. “No Time to Die” from “No Time to Die” (MGM)
  4. “Be Alive” from “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
  5. “Columbia, Mi Encanto” from “Encanto” (Walt Disney Animation)

Next Up:

6. “Guns Go Bang” from “The Harder They Fall” (Netflix)
7. “Beyond the Shore” from “CODA” (Apple)
8. “Every Letter” from “Cyrano” (United Artists/MGM)
9. “So May We Start” from “Annette” (Amazon Studios)
10. “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” from “Respect” (MGM)

Searchlight Pictures

Production Design

Tamara Deverell and Shane Vieau’s work in Nightmare Alley will take your breath away.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
  2. “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  3. “Belfast” (Focus Features)
  4. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  5. “Cyrano” (United Artists/MGM)

Next Up:

6. “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures)
7. “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists/MGM)
8. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24/Apple)
9. “House of Gucci” (United Artists/MGM)
10. “Last Night in Soho” (Searchlight Pictures)

Sound

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  2. “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
  3. “The Matrix: Resurrections” (Warner Bros)
  4. “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)
  5. “Belfast” (Focus Features)

Next Up:

6. “Eternals” (Marvel)
7. “tick, tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
8. “Cyrano” (United Artists/MGM)
9. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
10. “The Last Duel” (20th Century Studios)

Visual Effects

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Dune” (Warner Bros)
  2. “The Matrix: Resurrections” (Warner Bros)
  3. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Marvel)
  4. “Eternals” (Marvel)
  5. “Free Guy” (20th Century Studios)

Next Up:

6. “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
7. “Godzilla vs. Kong” (Warner Bros)
8. “A Quiet Place II” (Paramount Pictures
9. “The Tomorrow War” (Amazon Studios)
10. “The Suicide Squad” (Warner Bros)

Best Animated Short Film

Coming soon!

Documentary Short Subject

Coming soon!

Short Film – Live Action

Coming soon!

The 94th Academy Awards will be held Sunday, March 26, 2022.

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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