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10 Reactions: The good, bad, and ugly of the 94th Academy Award nominations

The Oscar nominations are officially out, and here are some instant reactions from our film critic, Dan Buffa.
Credit: Apple TV Plus

ST. LOUIS — "The Power of the Dog" and "Dune" scoring the most nominations-12 and 10, respectively-for the 2022 Academy Award nominations was about as predictable and sleep-inducing as me telling you it was going to be light out this morning. If the Oscars have become one thing in the past few years, predictable is an apt title.

The perennial Netflix and Warner Brothers Pictures frontrunners have been pushed harder than a Pumpkin Spiced Latte in the fall on the awards circuit for the past five months. Jane Campion's dark and depressing fable about rancher masculinity in 1920's Montana was more off-putting and complex than likable or rewarding, while Denis Villenueve's sand epic blockbuster felt like the first mile of a ten mile jog.

But what about the rest of the list of nominations for the 94th Academy Awards? Let's dig into the main categories:

10) BEST PICTURE belongs to the 'Dog'

Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast" was wonderfully earnest and leaner than any other nominee, but it won't win. "Drive My Car" was one of the most boring three-hour movies that I have ever seen, showcasing themes that Michael Sarnoski's "Pig" showed well in half the running time. Getting nominated is its gift. "Don't Look Up" was awful, but it's nice to see the Academy nominate a comedy, even an overcooked satirical one.

"King Richard" has all the crowd-pleasing elements and a powerhouse Will Smith performance. "West Side Story" was nice and all, but faded from the memory fairly quickly. "CODA" sits with "Nightmare Alley" and "Belfast" as some of the real classes of this list, but they aren't winning either.

Who Will Win: "The Power of the Dog"

Who Should Win: "CODA"

9) Best Director likes the piano

With all due respect to Branagh, "Drive My Car" helmer Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson--the winner here will most likely be Campion. The minute I left "The Power of the Dog" screening in Hollywood last November and saw all the critics groups and other cliques fawning over it while I tried to break down what I just saw, I knew it was a heavy hitter. The next day at the junket, a room full of critics were eating out of the palm of Campion's hand like she just made the best batch of chocolate or something. She's winning.

Who Will Win: Campion

Who Should Win: Branagh

8) Best Actor means Best Benedict?

If there was one solid thing that made Campion's "Dog" cement itself for me, it was Cumberbatch's work as the charismatic snake of a human, Phil Burbank. That makes him the frontrunner in a group that includes career-best work from Will Smith ("King Richard") and Andrew Garfield (Netflix's "Tick, Tick … Boom!"). Denzel Washington's "Macbeth" portrayal was gutsy but nowhere near some of his greater work. Javier Bardem for "Being the Ricardos" is also a stretch, but he's leaving with a nomination only.

Who Will Win: Benedict

Who Should Win: Garfield

7) Spencer deserves the crown of Actress

Here's the thing. Kristen Stewart's brilliant portrayal of a crumbling volcano of a Princess in "Spencer" needed to make this list, and it should win. Kidman's Lucy attempt was noble, but far from Oscar worthy. Olivia Colman's best 2021 performance was an animated cell phone corporation goddess, not a depressed mother stealing dolls from little girls in European vacation spots. Cruz and Chastain are happy to be nominated guests. Stewart should win, and the rest of the nominees get a cold bowl of fancy soup.

Who Will Win: Colman

Who Should Win: Stewart

6) Best Supporting Actor is one of the toughest categories

Ciaran Hinds or Troy Kotsur? That's the question for me. While the other nominees are great in their roles, these two were indelible to the success of "Belfast" and "CODA." Without a doubt. Give it to either of them and I am fine.

Who Will Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee

Who Should Win: Kotsur

5) Best Supporting Actress goes to a singer, dancer, or sad ranch life wife?

Just give it to Ariana DeBose or Aunjanue Ellis. This isn't an award I'm handing away for more inclusive nominees in the future; I don't judge performers on their skin color. Just give a great performance. And in this list of five, DeBose and Ellis gave the best performances, especially the former. Out of all the big roles in Spielberg's remake, her work cut through our hearts the most in the end.

Who Will Win: Kirsten Dunst

Who Should Win: DeBose

4) Best Adapted Screenplay will be a surprise

This is where the Academy will thank Japan's golden 2021 prize. "Drive My Car" will sneak in and steal this award for its odyssey of regret and rebirth, pushing away expected winners like Campion and Maggie Gyllenhaal. My choice would be Sian Heder's "CODA," but I'd say she's just happy to be there.

Who Will Win: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe

Who Should Win: Heder

3) Will Best Original Screenplay go to an original winner?

"King Richard" is uplifting through hardship bliss. "Licorice Pizza" is a rugged coming-of-age tale. "Don't Look Up" shouldn't win anything, while "The Worst Person in the World" and "Belfast" could sneak up and steal this one with late campaign pushes. It's a true toss-up category.

Who Will Win: "King Richard"

Who Should Win: "Licorice Pizza"

2) Where the rest of the awards should go

If "Nightmare Alley" wins anything, it should be Best Cinematography. "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" should have been nominated for Best Picture, but it'll win Best Animated Feature easily. Go ahead and mail the Costume Design trophy to Jenny Beavan for "Cruella." If there's one award I'd give to "The Power of the Dog," it would be for Jonny Greenwood's score. "No Time to Die" was an imperfect Daniel Craig Bond finale, but the sound work (mixing, effects) was top notch.

Van Morrison's music work for "Belfast" should be remembered well. "Flee" is the best international feature and documentary by a country mile. "Tick, Tick … Boom!" was edited superbly. "Cruella's" makeup is my #1. The production design of "Dune" was rightfully epic, but "Free Guy" edges it out for visual effects.

1) What the Oscars forgot about this year

Michael Sarnoski's outstanding Nic Cage movie, "Pig." The great action film, "Nobody." Ben Affleck's performance in "The Tender Bar." There was no love for "Nine Days" or the terrific "C'mon C'mon." Hollywood always forgets about the heartwarmers because they just aren't sad enough to win the fancy awards.

I'm just glad the nominations are out, so people can stop whining about what could or won't get nominated. When we start understanding that it's a popularity contest and these campaigns are run like political ones, the unrest and sadness will decrease. Now, we wait for the big show and then 2022's film slate can officially begin. The goal for next year has to be to make this show happen earlier in the year.

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