94th Oscars features a return to normalcy with a trio of female hosts

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes / Layout courtesy Oscars.org

As our nation eeks its way out of the Covid-19 pandemic, an air of normalcy is also being restored to the 94th Academy Awards Ceremony, which will be held Sunday at its normal home, the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.

The movies’ grandest night will be televised on ABC beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday. ABC will also air two Oscar preview specials on Sunday for the Oscar obsessed: “On the Red Carpet Live! Countdown to the Oscars” at noon and “The Oscars Red Carpet Show” at 5:30 p.m.

Last year the award show aired on TV, just without all the pomp and circumstance of the Red Carpet arrivals of year’s best and brightest Hollywood stars.

The show itself will be hosted by a triumvirate of comediennes with Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes serving as masters of ceremony. It’s the first time three women have served as the show’s hostesses.

The three-host format was used when Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan did the deed for the 1987 broadcast, and Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda joined Richard Pryor and Warren Beatty as hosts in 1977.

The Oscars seemed to work best to me with a reoccurring host. Classic comedian Bob Hope did the honors for years when the award show first became popular on TV. Johnny Carson also did the honors regularly. Billy Crystal is remembered fondly for his turns as host in the 1980s and 1990s, but no others have reached their level of popularity since.

Emilia Jones and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in CODA / Vendome Pictures

The biggest drama of the week, however, was settled Wednesday. Rachel Zegler, who stars as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s multiple Oscar-nominated remake of “West Side Story,” was originally omitted from the 4,000-member Oscar guest list.

However the producers of the show Will Packer and Shayla Cowan played Prince Charming by offering Zegler, who is currently filming Disney’s live-action remake of “Snow White,” a chance to attend the Oscars as a presenter. Disney, of course, owns ABC, which has aired the Oscars for decades.

The whole ordeal almost seemed like a publicity stunt or a plot from an old movie?

Director Jane Campion’s Western “The Power of the Dog” garnered 12 nominations to lead all films followed by director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” with 10, and Spielberg’s “West Side Story” with seven.

Here’s a list of nominees in the major categories as well as my best guess for which films will win along with my opinion on which ones should win. For good measure, I’ve thrown in a dark-horse candidate, too.

Best Picture

Nominees: Belfast, Coda, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story
Will win: CODA
Should win: CODA
Dark Horse: The Power of the Dog

For the longest it seemed Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” was the Best Picture frontrunner, but “CODA: has become the flavor of the week leading up to Sunday’s ceremony. Oddly enough CODA’s writer-director Sian Heder was not nominated for Best Director, which is a shame. I’m personally rooting for CODA, a coming-of-age dramedy about teenager Ruby (Emilia Jones), who would like to pursue a singing career, but she is depended upon by her deaf father, mother, and brother to help run their fishing business. It’s my favorite theatrical film of the year.


Nominees: Belfast — Kenneth Branagh; Drive My Car — Ryusuke Hamaguchi; Licorice Pizza — Paul Thomas Anderson; The Power of the Dog — Jane Campion; West Side Story — Steven Spielberg
Will win: Campion for “The Power of the Dog”
Should win: Sian Heder, for CODA
Dark Horse: Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast”

Campion looks like the winner here, but it’s an oversight that Sian Heder wasn’t nominated for CODA. “Belfast” is also an excellent picture by Branagh, but it seems that the momentum remains with Campion and her rueful but excellently crafted movie about payback.

Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Javier Bardem in Being the Ricardos; Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog; Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick…Boom!; Will Smith in King Richard; Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth
Will win: Wills Smith for “King Richard”
Should win: Andrew Garfield for “Tick, Tick…Boom”
Dark Horse: Javier Bardem “Being the Ricardos”

Andrew Garfield in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is my favorite male performance of the year. The entire movie hinges on his work, and Garfield’s great in the role that allows him to show off a broad array of talent. However, this is Will Smith’s year for “King Richard.” He’s great in the role as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Javier Bardem is my dark horse because his performance as Desi Arnez stands is so spot on.

Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees: Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter; Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers; Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos; Kristen Stewart in Spencer
Will win: Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Should win: Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos.”
Dark Horse: Kristen Stewart in “Spencer”

I personally love Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos.” My affection for that old TV show might be showing? However, Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” seems to be garnering a lot of late support in this crowded category. That said, don’t count out Kristen Stewart as Lady Diana in “Spencer.”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Jessie Buckley in The Lost Daughter; Ariana DeBose in West Side Story; Judi Dench in Belfast; Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog; Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard
Will win: Ariana DeBose in “West Side Story”
Should win: Ariana DeBose in “West Side Story”
Dark Horse: Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog”

This is a shoo-in. Ariana DeBose gave the slam-dunk performance of the year as Anita in “West Side Story,” a movie that I thought was a bit stale, save for her fantastic work.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Ciarán Hinds in Belfast; Troy Kotsur in CODA; Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog; J.K. Simmons in Being the Ricardos; Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog
Will win: Troy Kotsur in “CODA”
Should win: J.K. Simmons in “Being the Ricardos”
Dark Horse: Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Power of the Dog”

J.K. Simmons is always excellent, and he stands out again in “Being the Ricardos” as cranky William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy.” However, it would be hard to argue if Troy Kotsur captures the Oscar for his heart-felt role in “CODA.” Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a subtle performance in “The Power of the Dog” that will likely be overpowered by showier performances.

Animated Feature Film

Nominees: Encato, Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon
Will win: “Encato”
Should win: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”
Dark Horse: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”

“Encanto” is a gorgeous, fun, and touching film by Disney and is the odds on favorite in this category, but “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” was my favorite animated movie of the year. It had all the humor and antics of old Looney Tunes shorts with a great deal of heart thrown in for good measure. It’s the dark horse I’m most rooting for.


Nominees: Dune — Greig Fraser; Nightmare Alley — Dan Laustsen; The Power of the Dog — Ari Wegner; The Tragedy of Macbeth — Bruno Delbonnel; West Side Story — Janusz Kaminski
Will win: “Dune” — Greig Fraser
Should win: “The Tragedy of Macbeth” — Bruno Delbonnel
Dark Horse: “The Power of the Dog” — Ari Wegner

This is a terrifically tough category. All of these films looked absolutely great. I wouldn’t argue if any of them won, but this seems to be where “Dune” picks up an award for the sci-fi crowd thanks to Greig Fraser, who also shot “The Batman,” which is currently dominating the box office. Personally, I would go with Brunno Delbonnel for “The Tragedy of MacBeth.” The way he shot that movie wasn’t just interesting but also so integral to film’s storytelling. Ari Wegner’s eye for scenery in “The Power of the Dog” is perhaps the best aspect of the gorgeous movie.