Early Oscars 2022 contenders: Shakespeare, remakes and biopics among likely favourites

Among the usual names expected on the nomination sheet – think Streep and Spielberg – is plenty of fresh talent such as Corey Hawkins, and fan favourites

From left: 'Cyrano', 'Belfast' and 'The Harder They Fall' have all been touted as possible contenders at next year's 94th Academy Awards. Photo: MGM, Focus Features, Amazon Studios
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The 2022 Oscars may be seven months away, but as film festival season ramps up, critical acclaim and word-of-mouth praise have already powered some movies to the forefront of awards contention.

Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage is one name being touted as on his way to a Best Actor nod, while Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Princess Diana in the divisive Spencer could see her on the list when the nominations are announced early next year.

While Hollywood has always been quick to start sniffing out Oscar opportunities almost as soon as the curtains have fallen on the previous Academy Awards, this year’s shorter window for eligibility has also had an effect.

Usually given a full year to qualify for the Oscars, this year, owing to the pandemic pushing back the 2021 Oscars to April 26, the contenders’ window has been reduced to 10 months and films have to be released between March 1 and Friday, December 31 to be considered. The knock-on effect has caused some early frontrunners to emerge now.

With the 94th Academy Awards approaching on March 27, here are some of the stars and films who’ll likely be battling it out to take home a gold statue.

Best Picture

The streaming platforms are coming in hard this year, with offerings from Netflix, Amazon Studios and Apple TV+ all likely contenders alongside established studios such as Warner Bros and Sony.

Netflix’s The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, is a frontrunner. The drama, centred around two brothers who manage a ranch, is directed by Jane Campion, the second woman ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and the first female filmmaker to receive the Palme d'Or at Cannes for 1993’s The Piano.

King Richard, in which Will Smith portrays tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams’ tennis coach father, is another favourite in this category, alongside Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick ... BOOM!. Two remakes, Denis Villeneuve's Dune and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, are also considered strong contenders.

Best Director

British actor and director Kenneth Branagh, who has been nominated for an Oscar five times across different categories, is considered a shoo-in for Best Director for Belfast, an autobiographical film about his childhood in Northern Ireland amid the Troubles.

Familiar names crop up in this category – none of them female, although Campion may get a nod for The Power of the Dog – including Pedro Almodovar and Villeneuve. Almodovar’s Spanish-language film Parallel Mothers, starring Penelope Cruz, received a nine-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, while Villeneuve’s remake of cult classic Dune is one of this year’s most highly anticipated films.

Adam McKay, who has previously been nominated in this category for The Big Short and Vice, returns with Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, which stars a veritable who’s who of Hollywood including Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett.

Best Actor

Dinklage is already being touted in this category as he takes on the role of the legendary Cyrano de Bergerac in Joe Wright’s Cyrano, a film that was also written by Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt.

Cumberbatch is likely to hear his name called out in the nominations for The Power of the Dog, alongside Clifton Collins Jr for Jockey, in which an ageing rider embarks on his final season on the racing circuit.

Andrew Garfield has been garnering attention for his turn as a theatre composer in the midst of a midlife crisis as he approaches 30 and feels he hasn’t realised his dreams in Miranda’s tick, tick ... BOOM!. Smith’s name will almost certainly be on the ballot for King Richard, while Denzel Washington could add a third statuette to his collection for his role in The Tragedy of Macbeth, in which he takes on the title role of Shakespeare’s treacherous Scottish general-turned-king.

Best Actress

Recognisable names and former Oscar winners already crowd the field in this category, including this year’s Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand. McDormand, who won in 2021 for Nomadland, returns as Lady Macbeth in Apple TV+'s The Tragedy of Macbeth, which could potentially be her fourth Oscar win.

Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up, Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos also enter awards season in coveted positions. Jennifer Hudson could be nominated for her portrayal of Aretha Franklin in Respect, and Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe could secure her first nomination for Belfast.

Leading the pack right now is Stewart for playing Princess Diana in Spencer, with Tessa Thompson for Passing and Jodie Comer for The Last Duel also considered contenders.

Best Supporting Actor

Corey Hawkins is one to watch for his portrayal of Macduff in The Tragedy of Macbeth, as well as Jeffrey Wright – who’ll also be lighting up the big screen as James Bond’s CIA contact Felix Leiter in No Time To Die – for his performance as Roebuck Wright in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

If Garfield doesn’t get nominated in the Best Actor category, he stands a chance of making an appearance here for his performance opposite Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye – or he could potentially be named in both. Ben Affleck has been gaining traction for Amazon Studio’s The Tender Bar, and another Oscar winner, JK Simmons, looks likely to be nominated for Being the Ricardos.

Rounding out the group could be Jared Leto, unrecognisable and going full-on method in House of Gucci, and Jamie Dornan for Belfast, in which he portrays the father.

Best Supporting Actress

Already a clear frontrunner is Dunst for The Power of the Dog, which will be coming to Netflix in November. Marlee Matlin, the only deaf performer to have won an Oscar for 1986’s Children of a Lesser God, could also find herself in the running for Apple TV+’s Coda, while actress and director Regina King could add a second Best Supporting Actress Oscar to her mantlepiece for her role in cowboy movie The Harder They Fall, in which she stars alongside Idris Elba.

Grandes dames Judi Dench and Meryl Streep could muscle their way into contention with Belfast and Don’t Look Up, respectively, and Ruth Negga is a strong contender for Passing. Long shots include Alicia Vikander for Blue Bayou and Amy Adams for Dear Evan Hansen.

Updated: September 08, 2021, 4:11 AM