Column: Predicting who will win the Oscars

Every year, after the Academy Awards, I ask myself, “how could I have missed that winner” if my favorite doesn't walk away with the Oscar.

Choosing the Oscar winners for 2021 is especially tricky, given the many tight races. Here are my choices for who should be honored this Sunday, March 27, as the Academy honors the films that shine in such a strong year in film.

Best Picture: The Power of the Dog

In a race that could go any of 10 ways, Jane Campion celebrates how film can explore characters against a vast background. This intimate epic recalls great movies of our past while daring to reveal contemporary flaws. Campion never lets the wide screen overwhelm her characters; she keeps the power of the piece center stage while exploring what makes people deny their truths.

Best Actor: Will Smith in King Richard

After a career filled with high points, Smith finds the right role at the right time, delivering a performance that reminds us how much we like him on screen. While others in this category may tackle tougher challenges – especially Denzel Washington and Benedict Cumberbatch – Smith simply makes us happy to watch him bring this father of any year to life in a most engaging portrayal.

Best Actress: Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter

Without relying on makeup, hair styles, computer generation or our memories of actual people, Colman ignites the screen as much for what she resists as what she chooses. Her performance smolders as the actress digs beneath the character’s surface to confront the regrets that define this woman’s life. Others in this competitive category may offer flashier performances; Colman simply is.

Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur in CODA

Every time we see this actor on screen in this lovely film – playing a father who simply wants his daughter to live a complete life – we’re reminded what an actor can communicate with the eyes. As a deaf actor, with a rich collection of stage performances, Kotsur brings a sensibility that reaches beyond what may be in the script. He makes us believe in how this father embraces his daughter’s future.

Best Supporting Actress: Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog

While Ariana Debose is the likely winner for “West Side Story,” Dunst reaches beyond what may sizzle on screen to what continuously smolders. Her subtle work – as a woman who longs for connection and a mother who fears for her son – creates a complete narrative in a limited number of scenes. And she reminds us that she has deserved to be recognized for a long time.

Best Director: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

In an extraordinary accomplishment on screen, Campion reminds us how film is the director’s medium. She makes her camera a participant in the action while capturing the challenges people face when they try to reach beyond what their realities can absorb. The director deserves to become the third woman to win this Oscar.

Best Animated Feature: Flee

While the artists at Disney Animation creatively capture the essence of hope in “Encanto,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen stretches the boundaries of what animation can be in this fact-based tale of one man’s journey to personal freedom. Also nominated for Best International Feature and Best Documentary Feature, this daring film deserves to take home at least one Oscar.

Best Cinematography: The Power of the Dog

Rarely has the American landscape looked so welcoming, yet isolating; rarely has a film so perfectly captured the loneliness of people. Ari Wegner creates a landscape that fills a wide screen while letting us inside the characters the film follows. The film is beautiful to experience as well as to observe. And she makes us want to see more.

Best Costume Design: Dune

While Jenny Beavan’s work for “Cruella” is great fun, the nuance in what Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan create for this future world make us believe in what people might actually wear. They bring a subtle view of fashion forward to the practical garments the characters use to express their hopes and fears that challenge can bring.

Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul

2021 turned out to be a banner year for documentary films, with significant works that make us think and feel. Of the nominees, this heartfelt return to a complex moment of the 1960s reminds us that people create music when they feel hears. Like “Woodstock” more than 50 years ago, “Summer of Soul” entertains as it enlightens.

Best Film Editing: Dune

When a film offers as rich a visual experience as this, it’s up to the editor to save the movie from its own ambitions. Editor Joe Walker, clearly working from a sense that more may need to be less, keeps the pace of this epic moving fast enough to keep us engaged without letting the visuals overwhelm the characters. And more becomes more.

Best International Feature: Drive My Car

Like the best of entries in the foreign language film category over the years, this meaningful look at the impact of death dares to tell a story that conventional products carefully avoid. Ryusuke Hamaguchi is a deserving nominee for Best Director for using the camera to explore what we fear as well as what we think when we grieve.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

If clothes make the character, the makeup and hair complete the picture. It’s impossible to think of this film without seeing Jessica Chastain’s face so beautifully exaggerated by Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh, with the prominence of bright color providing just enough extension to reality.

Best Music (Original Score): The Power of the Dog

For a film beautifully shot, written and acted, Hans Zimmer creates a score unlike what he has done before, a fitting departure for a movie that dares to revisit the classic West with its own sensibility. Never do we notice too much music. Instead we experience the world on screen that music beautifully enhances.

Best Music (Original Song) : Dos Oruguitas from Encanto

As a filmmaker, Lin Manuel-Miranda has had a good year. He wrote the adaptation of his musical “In the Heights” and directed “tick, tick ... BOOM!” to acclaim (with an Oscar nod for Andrew Garfield). As a songwriter, he captures the essence of hopes and anxieties in this magical ballad for which he may become the next EGOT!

Best Production Design: Dune

The world of the future comes to life through the artistry of Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos. Rather than imagine an artificial world we can’t believe, they take us to a stylized future that perfectly frames the nuance of the story the film tells. We feel we are there in the middle of a dream that becomes a nightmare.

Best Sound: Dune

With the two sound categories again combined, this look at the world of the future relies on the perfect precision of its recording and editing to capture this complex world. The authenticity of the sound work gives the film a solid foundation for its characters to move us. And, if there were still two Oscars for sound, it would win both.

Best Visual Effects: Dune

During any recent Oscar year, this category becomes the battle of the budgets as creators try to out-computer-generate each other. Because of the pandemic, we saw fewer films that rely on artificial visuals to create a sense reality. Of the smaller pool, the effects in this journey to the future enhance rather than overwhelm the story.

Best Writing Adapted Screenplay: The Lost Daughter

While Campion could win in this category, the screenplay of the year comes from Maggie Gyllenhaal for what she avoids as what she includes. Her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel is free of big moments, instead focusing on simple seconds that create sensations. The result is a character study that continuously thrills.

Best Writing Original Screenplay: Licorice Pizza

At a time when looking back in time can give us a sense of continuity, Paul Thomas Anderson paints a complete picture of life in 1970s California. He fills his characters and situations with a compelling sense of the absurd that makes us want to experience his magic time machine over and over. And he makes us feel it all could happen.