Oscar Experts Typing: Is ‘The Power of the Dog’ still the Best Picture top dog? Or is ‘West Side Story’ is coming?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we check in on Best Picture as three films — “Being the Ricardos,” “Don’t Look Up” and “West Side Story” — hits theaters.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We’ve reached what has long been circled as a key date on the calendar (just me?): December 10. “West Side Story,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “Being the Ricardos” are all in theaters right this second, pushing awards season into overdrive. We’ve already touched on the poor critical responses to both “Don’t Look Up” and “Ricardos” — Adam Sandler “I disagree” gif here for me on that front! — so let’s instead dive into what has quickly become one of the most competitive Best Picture races we’ve seen in a while. At this point in the race, it would be foolish to count any film out — although something like my beloved “Cyrano” would certainly qualify as a long shot — but I think most pundits have circled three major contenders for the ultimate glory: “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast” and “West Side Story.” At the moment, Jane Campion‘s film leads the field in our odds — a perch it has pretty much comfortably held for months. “The Power of the Dog” is the critical favorite of that group, and is muscular across the board. Campion is the favorite to win Best Director, and it could easily get three acting nominations as well. “The Power of the Dog” also figures to compete in adapted screenplay, cinematography, production design, costumes, editing, and once the shortlists are announced, we assume score as well. That puts it on track to grab at least 10 nominations with room for more — giving it broad support across multiple academy branches. We both have “The Power of the Dog” winning at the moment, and typing for myself, it just feels *right.* This is a critical favorite and consensus movie if there ever was one — truly not one person I’ve spoken to thinks Campion’s most widely seen feature thus far (thanks, Netflix!) is anything other than good. I don’t imagine many detractors emerging here — and it’s very easy to envision an Oscars night where “The Power of the Dog” wins Best Picture, Best Director, an acting award (Kirsten Dunst or Kodi Smit-McPhee seem most likely, though maybe we’re sleeping a bit on Benedict Cumberbatch), and at least one or two other categories. So, that’s it! I guess we’re all done… save for this nagging feeling I have that “West Side Story” could triumph. What do you think, Joyce? Does this “Dog” hunt? (Is that a cliche? I think so?)

joyceeng: I obviously can’t say for certain if “The Power of the Dog” will be the ultimutt (#sorrynotsorry) winner, but I feel like I’ve heard about why it can’t win more than anything — everything from it being too high-brow to not being a crowd-pleaser (I sound like a broken record, but why does a crowd-pleaser have to win?). As you’ve laid out, there’s a solid case for the “Dog” to have its day. I also doubt anyone foresaw this film of all the films becoming the meme machine that it is (who will you tell your grandkids was Bronco Henry, huh?). And anecdotally, my friend told me the other day that her parents had watched it over the weekend and were gushing about it and how it’s “not what you expect.” I can see that being the sentiment among a lot of viewers. That being said, “West Side Story” does feel like it’s poised to be the late-breaking contender. As someone who was completely indifferent to this IP, I enjoyed the movie when I saw it last week and my affection has actually increased as time passes, which is not the case for a lot of films I’ve watched (in general, not just this year). It’s an imaginative remake (insert your own “teach a dog new tricks” joke here), and while it has a famous bittersweet ending, it can also service the crowd-pleasing crowd with its vibrant musical numbers. And it could very well be the nominations leader with its impeccable craftsmanship. For a while, “Dog” was the only film for which I was predicting three acting nominations, but I now have “West Side Story” bagging three as well. As you witnessed on Wednesday, I moved Ariana DeBose to first in supporting actress. She’s sensational as Anita, the heart of the story (which sounds weird to say when there’s a romance at the center) that’s already an Oscar-winning role, thanks to Rita Moreno, whom I also have in. Her new character, Valentina, a twist on Doc, is not a mere cameo and Moreno — who turns 90 years young on Saturday — is very moving. And in the wide-open supporting actor race, I slotted in our fave, Mike Faist, who absolutely explodes off the screen with his take on Riff, a live-wire lost boy whose fiery bravado masks a broken soul. I know you have them too, in addition to Rachel “A Star Is Born” Zegler in Best Actress. I have contemplated including her, but four acting nominations feels like too much. Or maybe it’s just right if it is our eventual winner? As I’ve said, I think there is hesitancy to declare “West Side Story” a Best Picture frontrunner because the same title has already won before. But speaking of four acting nominations, it feels like it was both yesterday and 47 years ago that we were talking about “Belfast” pulling off the supporting double-double. The chatter around “Belfast” has dimmed a bit as these late contenders unfurled, but it’s still very much in play for the top prize. Can “Everlasting Love” hold off “Something’s Coming”?

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Christopher Rosen: I think we were both of similar minds with regard to “Belfast,” but I will say the lack of broad attention on Sid Ganisbeloved movie is maybe the best thing that could have possibly happened for its Best Picture bona fides. “Belfast” shot out of the gate like an almost unbeatable frontrunner and as we’ve seen in recent years, that perch is an easy one to fall from as the season marches forward. With attention focused now on “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story,” as well as the other year-end releases, “Belfast” has time to just sit back and wait for things to shift into another gear in 2022. We know it’s going to be there in Best Picture, and it’ll probably score across multiple categories, including Best Director (though I currently have Kenneth Branagh on the outside of that category), Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Editing. That positions it really well for a Phase Two bump — and “Belfast” could present as an enticing alternate to both “Dog” and “West Side Story.” It splits the middle between arthouse and big-screen entertainment. So we’ve got those three pretty closely aligned — but do you think anything else can join those movies in the frontrunner tier of the race?

joyceeng: I agree that “Belfast” can afford to share the spotlight with other films — it’s not the type of movie that can sustain favorite status the entire way nor does it have the massive critical raves to back it up like “Nomadland” did. And according to my expansive poll of two (2) people who have seen it in the past few weeks, they were both rather underwhelmed, but again that’s irrelevant if voters share Mr. Ganis’ sentiments. I will float your beloved “Licorice Pizza,” which shares “Belfast’s” loose, meandering style. I can’t quite see it winning Best Picture (yet), but it’s in my top five and it’s feel-good and endearing, and it features the superior Bradley Cooper performance of the year. Don’t @ me. But what about the rest of the lineup? What do you see filling out the lower spots? Is there an underdog (pun fully intended) ready to bite?

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Christopher Rosen: I think the AFI list is pretty solid in terms of sourcing other contenders. The four films we’ve already discussed, plus “King Richard,” “Don’t Look Up” (sorry 2 the haters), and “Dune” all feel pretty solid. That gets us to seven nominees. I think “Being the Ricardos,” despite the reviews this week, is assured of some attention too — the actors are too good and the production values too crisp to ignore, plus it’s about Hollywood. That would be eight. AFI went with “Nightmare Alley,” which feels like it could muscle its way in on tech support alone, so then we’re at nine. That leaves me with one slot for “Tick, Tick… Boom!”, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and “CODA.” Of those three, I think “Tick, Tick… Boom!” has the advantage because it’s assured of a huge nomination in Best Actor for Andrew Garfield (typing for a later date, can Garfield beat Will Smith?). But if “Being the Ricardos” or “Nightmare Alley” end up falling short, I think we have to leave room for “CODA.” Give me enough time and I could make a case that “CODA” will win Best Picture. It’s that good and I truly think it’s an unbeatable audience movie. But for now, I have to hope it’s an underdog that powers through. Does that work?

joyceeng: It took me way too long yesterday to realize that my current top 10 matched AFI’s, save for its lack of “Belfast,” which was ineligible for the main list but got a special citation. The only AFI pick I didn’t have was “Nightmare Alley,” but “Belfast” will be in the Oscar top 10, so at least one of AFI’s 10 won’t translate over. I’ve been cautious on “CODA,” which was literally the first 2021 film I saw way back in January, but now that everything has been seen, I feel like it can make the final 10. Even if it’s not your favorite film of the year, I don’t think anyone actively hates it and it’s not divisive like “Don’t Look Up.” You were onboard the “Tick, Tick… Boom!” train very quickly and it feels like it’s shaping up to be the People’s Choice, and Garfield is in a way carrying it to a potential Best Picture nomination. Could we really have two musicals in here? What if musicals sweep the top categories? This really is the life.

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