Oscars 2022 Best Picture hopefuls: 10 films from Shakespeare to sci-fi

In 'Spencer', 'Coda', 'King Richard' and more, previous Oscar winners and standout newcomers star in front-running movies most likely to be announced as nominees on February 8

There’s no denying the 2022 Oscars have already become a packed playing field four months before they’re held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on March 27.

In the big six categories – Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Picture – established names and hotly tipped newcomers have been hitting the campaign trail hard for months now, appearing on talk shows and at events to convince the Academy they’re worthy of a nomination, when they’re announced on February 8.

Once offering only five nomination slots, the coveted Best Picture category was expanded to 10 in 2009 amid concerns the Academy had become too entrenched in niche, esoteric films that Hollywood loved, but wider audiences hadn’t connected with.

Fan favourite Batman reboot The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, failing to get a Best Picture nomination in 2008 proved one of the biggest catalysts for the Academy to broaden its horizons.

This year, with streaming platforms now fully embraced in the Oscar nomination and campaigning process, the race for the Best Picture statuette is one of the most hotly contested in recent years.

From Kenneth Branagh’s paean to his childhood in Belfast to the tale of Venus and Serena Williams’s queen-making father portrayed by Will Smith in King Richard, here are 10 of the most likely Best Picture contenders:

‘The Power of the Dog’

On Netflix from Wednesday, November 17, and directed by Oscar-winner Jane Campion (The Piano), the Benedict Cumberbatch film is widely considered a front runner. It's set in 1920s Montana, and Cumberbatch plays a relentlessly macho rancher who finds his world view not only challenged but slowly dismantled when his brother and his brother’s new wife (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) return to the ranch.

‘Spencer’

Focusing on three days over the Christmas period on the royal estate of Sandringham, Spencer stars Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in the throes of the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles.

Stewart’s portrayal of Diana has already made her a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination. The film is directed by Pablo Larrain, whose 2016 film Jackie – about the former US first lady Jackie Kennedy – was nominated in a number of categories.

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

If it’s one thing the Academy loves, it’s Shakespeare, and the Bard’s works have long proven to be a sure-fire route to a gold statuette over the years. This year, the Scottish play looks set to be nominated.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, who play Lord and Lady Macbeth, are also likely to hear their names called in the Best Actor and Actress categories for this stark, spare take on the material, made for Apple TV+ and helmed by McDormand’s director husband Joel Coen.

‘Belfast’

Oscar-winner Kenneth Branagh wrote and directed the film, which is inspired by his childhood growing up in Northern Ireland in the early days of The Troubles. Set in 1969, Jamie Dornan and Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe portray Branagh’s parents, with a matriarchal turn by Oscar-winner Judi Dench.

‘Coda’

Audiences were captivated by this film from Apple when it was released this summer. Coda is the acronym for "child of deaf adults", and the story follows Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her deaf family.

Ruby is the “ears” of her brother Leo, and parents Frank and Jackie, played respectively by deaf actors Daniel Durant, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who won the 1997 Best Actress Oscars for Children of a Lesser God. When Ruby’s singing talent earns her recognition and a future outside her small town, she must choose between remaining with her family or pursuing her dreams.

‘Dune’

The remake of the sci-fi classic might have divided audiences over its handling of the source material, but the sheer scale and scope of the epic remains uncontested.

Director Denis Villeneuve is likely to hear his name called out in the Best Director nominations, too, for this film which stars Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, alongside heavyweights Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem and Zendaya.

‘The French Dispatch’

With so much weightiness in the category, Wes Anderson’s signature quirkiness is likely to get a nostalgic look in as a light-hearted palate cleanser come February 8.

Stacked with a who’s who of idiosyncratic Hollywood – Tilda Swinton, Timothee Chalamet – plus a scattering of Anderson favourites – Bill Murray, Owen Wilson – this ode to the “golden age” of journalism is woven together like the issue of a magazine, telling three stories based around politics, art and food.

‘Respect’

Portraying one of the most influential people in music fell to Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, who takes up Aretha Franklin’s story with the relish and talent that made her an Oscar winner (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for 2006's Dreamgirls).

The story follows Franklin’s early career, as she starts to pull away from the men in her life, including husband CL Franklin (Forest Whitaker) who dominate her choices and musical style, to become the undisputed Queen of Soul.

‘King Richard’

Already making headlines thanks to his tell-all memoir, Will Smith looks set to be inescapable come Oscar season too. Practically guaranteed a spot on the Best Actor nominations list, Smith takes on the role of Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena.

The film follows Williams’ single-minded and unstoppable drive to propel his daughters to the top of a sport dominated by wealthy, white players.

‘The Last Duel’

The film that unites Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on screen once more unfurls dramatically, with the layers of three intertwining stories peeled back to capture each protagonist's viewpoint.

The portrayal of a trio of standpoints, the fact it’s a true story, and with the added bonus of Academy favourites Damon, Affleck and Adam Driver, is likely to prove irresistible to voters when it comes to nominating this tale set in 14th-century France.

Updated: November 14th 2021, 11:39 AM