95th Academy Award Predictions: The Features

With the fall festival season starting later this week, perhaps it’s time to turn to the stupidest categories to predict this early in the season: the Features. While Animated, Documentary, and International Feature are supposed to be equals to Best Picture, they are rarely ever treated as such. And due to their more volatile nature (most contenders are acquired and released last minute), predicting them is often a glorified crapshoot. Yet stupidity has never stopped me before, and with a series of major contenders already emerging in each category, now is the perfect time to take a look at Best Animated Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Documentary Feature

Best Animated Feature

At this point, it would make more sense to rename this Oscar “Best Disney Movie.” In the twenty years since its creation, Best Animated Feature has gone to the Mouse House fifteen times. It certainly makes predicting this category relatively easy – I went 5/5 from February of last year, although I predicted the wrong #1. It’s probably the best I’ll ever do, honestly.

So who’s in the running this year? Well, let’s start by addressing that elephant in the room – as well as its complication. It’s always a safe bet to bet on Disney/Pixar. They’ve only missed a nomination once in the last twenty years. It’d be safe to assume they’d earn a nomination again this year. But here’s the thing: everything they’ve been pushing has either flopped or been self-sabotaged.

Strange World doesn’t even have a trailer before its release three months from now – usually they’ve got trailers out a year in advance. Lightyear, the spin-off no one wanted, died upon release. And Turning Red, Pixar’s excellent contender, was released on Disney+ and may not be eligible. Can one of these films pull off the nomination? Sure, it’s possible. Sight unseen, I think it’ll likely be Turning Red. But one thing’s for certain: Disney is in real danger of losing yet another Animated Oscar to a rival company.

Which rival company might that be? Well, let’s talk Netflix for a moment. Because Netflix has no fathoming of money, the streamer always spends obscene amounts to get its films nominated. And oftentimes, it works! They managed to get Mitchells vs. The Machines, Over The Moon, Farmageddon, Klaus, and I Lost My Body into the race over the last few years. This year, I don’t foresee them fooling around, especially with several major contenders in the race. In fact, I’m currently foolishly predicting three. Two of them seem likely, one of them may be wishful thinking.

The likeliest contender has to be Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, a stop-motion fable that blends del Toro’s twisted mind with a classic fairy tale. The first trailer looks absolutely gorgeous, and considering the love for del Toro over the years (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley), I’d say Pinocchio has a real shot at the top prize.

Also likely is Wendall & Wild, a Halloween Spooktacular from auteur animator Henry Selick, featuring a reunited Key and Peele as two mischievous demons. With that stacked cast and pedigree, I’d say this one feels like a lock as well (it’s bowing at TIFF next month). As for my personal passion, I’d love to see Apollo 10 ½ make the cut. I’m a huge Richard Linklater fan – as is the Academy – and his sweet story about growing up in 1969 and watching the world change could be a slam dunk for the studio, especially if Disney is weak. It just depends on if Netflix f*cks it with a botched campaign and early release date.

Finally, we have to look for a wild card to round things out. The last few years have ranged from anime hits to French satires to mid-level studios on the rise. This year’s fifth slot could go to anything. Something minor, perhaps, like Spellbound, or John Lassiter’s Apple TV comeback Luck. Or it could be the work of a major studio, like Minions: The Rise of Gru, or The Bad Guys. Personally, I see this as a two-way battle between films with a goofy-sweet sense of humor: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, which must prove to the academy that its usage of stop-motion is enough to qualify, or Bob’s Burgers: The Movie. Due to the eligibility question, I’m playing things safe with Bob. But be sure that I’m watching the Academy’s rulings over Marcel.

You can see the full list of Animated contenders by clicking right here, as well as the current Top Five listed below.

  1. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  2. Wendall and Wild
  3. Apollo 10 ½
  4. Turning Red
  5. The Bob’s Burgers Movie

Best International Feature

Perhaps the hardest category to predict months in advance (other than the shorts) is Best International Feature. Not only do you have to predict a film from another country – meaning you have to be up-to-date on every culture’s film industry – but you also have to predict the country. The Academy limits every nation to one film, meaning if a country has several contenders, they have to limit the field. And sometimes (many times), they pick wrong. I am rarely successful predicting this category this far in advance – last year, I predicted 2/5 in March of 2021. Normally, I average one or less.

So how does one go about predicting Best International Feature? Well, it helps to look for major filmmakers in major regions. Some of the best filmmakers on the planet live in Japan, South Korea, France, Mexico and Germany, all of which possess legendary film cultures. It’s also helpful, when the predictions come as late as August, to look at both festival lineups and major studio acquisitions. Most films in contention either competed at Cannes, Venice, or Toronto, or they have backing from a major studio/streamer. Right now, a handful of films meet all three requirements.

Perhaps the most intriguing story to date is the conversation surrounding the South Korea entry, recently announced to be Decision to Leave. It makes sense: Chan Park-woo is a beloved auteur who’s never been nominated, despite massive U.S. appeal. His neo-noir has real potential to score big with the Academy – maybe even the directors’ branch.

But here’s the thing: in order for Decision to Leave to earn this slot, it had to beat out beloved director Hirokazu Kore-eda and his sweet film Broker. While Broker received funding from Japan, and could technically still enter as their International Feature, it is more than likely that it will miss out on the International Feature category. But not to worry: if it plays well with the Academy, it could pull a Parallel Mothers and sneak into a few other categories – including Best Actor.

Equally likely to earn a nomination is Alejandro González Ińãrritu’s grand epic Bardo (Or, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths). When Iñárritu makes a film, you can’t ignore it. His Spanish language films almost always earn International Feature nominations, and he’s one of the only directors to win the Directing Oscar back-to-back. He’ll likely pick up hardware as a Best International Feature nominee, and then some – with Netflix’s backing, it shouldn’t be too unlikely to see acting, writing, directing, and even Best Picture nominations.

Causing an international kerfuffle will likely be the Cannes-winning film Holy Spider by Ali Abassi. Abassi is an Iranian filmmaker, telling a true story set in Iran about an infamous serial killer who won over the public for killing “sinners” (women). However, despite being an Iranian film, through and through, the film is actually produced by Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and France. In fact, Iran won’t touch the film due to its criticism of their religious culture. So who’s going to claim it? My guess would be the Danish – Abassi has claimed Danish citizenship, and Germany and France have their own contenders (more on that in a minute). Count this one as a major contender just as soon as they figure out who’s submitting it.

So who gets that final slots? Well, there are plenty of major contenders. France will likely submit Close by edgelord Lukas Dhont, a searing portrayal of a young queer friendship that may win support as states across the country begin to target gay children. Ireland, meanwhile, has submitted The Quiet Girl, a very Irish story about a sad girl on a farm. Contenders from previous festivals include the Polish donkey satire EO (potentially the greatest sentence I will ever write on this site), the depressing Eastern European film Klondike, and the bittersweet African film Utama. Oh, and Germany’s got a small film through Netflix called All Quiet on the Western Front. Title sounds awfully familiar…

But at the end of the day, I feel there are only two films that have a real chance here: one a strong contender and one a deserving wild card. The strong contender is Argentina, 1985, an American-backed courtroom thriller about previous wrongdoing at the hands of the Argentinian government. The Academy loves foreign films with easily translatable genres – thrillers, war films, etc. – so this one feels like a pretty safe bet.

However, if the Academy really wants to make a splash, they should get over their Indian bias and choose the record-breaking RRR. Tollywood films (the Telugu film industry in India) have never received an Oscar nomination; the rest of India has only managed a handful. But there hasn’t been a blockbuster hit like this since Parasite, and before that Crouching Tiger. And now that it’s breaking records on Netflix, it seems like the best time to nominate RRR for Best International Feature.

You can see my current list of International predictions by clicking here, as well as the current Top Five listed below.

  1. Decision to Leave
  2. Bardo (Or, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)
  3. Holy Spider
  4. Argentina, 1985
  5. RRR

Best Documentary Feature

Which brings us to Best Documentary Feature. Predicting Best Documentary in August is incredibly stupid. Most of the major contenders will be films you won’t even hear about until December at the earliest. But who cares? Let’s give this insanity a shot.

The most obvious locks at the moment will likely be the musical documentaries Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song and the David Bowie IMAX experience Moonage Daydream. Therefore, you should bump these two from your Top Five immediately. The Academy rarely goes for musical documentaries, and they almost always boot their frontrunners from the race first. So who does that leave? Fire of Love, the New Wave-inspired volcano drama that features some of the most gorgeous, smart filmmaking you’ll see all year. While the Academy equally dislikes found footage docs (which this essentially is), the artistry of the filmmaking is too difficult to overlook. Count this as your current frontrunner.

Up next, one must look to major filmmakers near the end of their careers. The Academy loves to reward overdue filmmakers in this category, in order to cover up how out of touch they often are. Therefore, we must look at The Exiles by Christine Choy. Both a documentary about renegade filmmaker and film scholar Choy as well as an attempt to finish her unpublished magnum opus about the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests in China, the film serves as an opportunity to look to the future (how to handle China going forward) as well as the past (an oft-ignored filmmaker finishing their lost work). If The Exiles comes out this year, in theaters, look to it as a major contender.

Of course, Best Documentary is rarely anything more than a quest to find the “Best Issue.” While there are often attempts to veer off course and reward movies about octopi, more often than not Best Documentary is a chance to nominate a film about a major issue, usually released on Hulu or Netflix. Don’t believe me? Just ask Flee and Crip Camp and American Factory and Icarus and 13th and so on. So what films are the streaming titans offering up this year? Well, as fate would have it, their big contenders both happen to be excellent Sundance documentaries.

Netflix has the Obama-backed Descendant, which tackles the timely subject of racism and efforts to rewrite history by demonizing Black stories, focusing on a secret slave ship that Black people knew existed and was secretly covered up until as recently as 2015. As for Hulu, they have Aftershock, a terrific, yet haunting documentary about how the U.S. healthcare system has caused the deaths of thousands of Black women during childbirth. Not only does it tackle timely subjects like race and health care, there’s even a tie-in to women’s bodies and childbirth, which will likely win over voters with Dobbs on the mind (even if the film isn’t necessarily about that).

And finally, in our final slot, there will be at least one documentary that is not only politically timely, but also feels dangerous. The Academy has not forgotten the feeling of Citizenfour winning the Oscar and essentially having to flee because the filmmakers were being tailed by the CIA. They’ll want something that feels daring and exciting to be in the race, and for that reason, there will likely be two major contenders for that slot.

I would love for Navalny to make the race, and it certainly has support over its condemnation of the Russian government, thanks to interviews with political prisoner Alexei Navalny and his filmed attempts to get Putin’s men to admit to political assassinations. But this is a Warner Bros. film, and they’ll most likely drop the ball promoting it under Zaslav’s incompetent administration. More likely, the final slot will go to Citizenfour director Laura Poitras’ opioid documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. It will be the only film at every major festival this fall, so it is clearly well-beloved, and it’s hard to deny a film about something as serious as the opioid epidemic. Mark this one down as a lock.

There are certainly plenty of other contenders to look for in the Best Documentary race. Sidney explores the legacy of Sidney Poitier, The Territory follows Brazilian revolutionaries engaged in bloody combat with the corrupt Bolsonarian police. And while The Janes isn’t the most riveting film in this lineup, and might end up competing at next year’s Emmys, it might be hard for the Academy to overlook a film about an underground abortion ring during the 1960s. But who knows? We’re still months away. Until then, you can see the full list of Documentary contenders by clicking here, the full list of current predictions by clicking here, and see the current Top Five Documentary contenders by scrolling down. I’ll see you all tomorrow for a look at the Music categories.

  1. Fire of Love
  2. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed
  3. Descendant
  4. Aftershock
  5. The Exiles

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