Too soon? Our ridiculously early predictions for 2022's Oscar contenders

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

After the pandemic-delayed, anticlimactic, rather disastrous 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday night, is it a bit premature to start looking forward to next year? Of course, not!

COVID-19 still might play a role in the 94th edition of the Oscars (currently scheduled for Feb. 27, 2022), especially if major film festivals – which introduce many awards season regulars – go virtual again. However, theaters reopening up for the summer is a good sign that Oscar bait will be back on the big screen before you know it.

And the race toward the 2022 Academy Awards could be a packed one, with projects punted out of last year because of coronavirus and a fresh batch of newer films finished under COVID-19 protocols.

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Ready or not, here’s a way-too-early look at what and who might compete in the major categories (with release dates for films that have them): 

Best picture

How do you start your 2022 Oscar campaign? If you're Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" (in theaters Dec. 10), you boldly drop your first trailer at the '21 ceremony. The COVID-19-delayed redo of the beloved movie musical will definitely be a player. Along the same lines, an adaptation of the Tony-winning, teen-oriented "Dear Evan Hansen" (Sept. 24), could appeal to audiences and criticsthe same way it did to Broadway crowds. And the guy who created "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda, makes his directing debut with Netflix's adaptation of Jonathan Larson's "tick, tick...BOOM!"

Spielberg's not the only A-list filmmaker who's back. Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a horse trainer embroiled in a kidnapping plot in "Cry Macho" (in theaters and on HBO Max Oct. 22), and Paul Thomas Anderson's untitled coming-of-age film (Dec. 25) set in the 1970s. Martin Scorsese's currently filming “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an Apple TV+ crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro about serial murders in the oil-wealthy Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma. Wes Anderson's latest ensemble film "The French Dispatch," which premieres at Cannes after a COVID-19 delay, tells a tale of American reporters working in France, and Guillermo del Toro dives into the seedy world of carnival-set film noir with a remake of "Nightmare Alley" (Dec. 3).

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DiCaprio also stars opposite another Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence, in Adam McKay's Netflix dark comedy "Don't Look Up," plus the streamer boasts the stacked, Black-centered Western "The Harder They Fall" with Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, Regina King and Idris Elba.

The Oscars are also committing to a full 10-movie best picture slate starting next year, which bodes well for high-profile potential blockbusters like Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi adaptation "Dune" (in theaters and in HBO Max Oct. 1) and Marvel's "Eternals" (Nov. 5), helmed by newly minted best director winner Chloé Zhao.

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Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga is Patrizia Reggiani in "House of Gucci," director Ridley Scott's film 
about the tumultuous Gucci family fashion dynasty.

Best actor

DiCaprio has a couple of shots with "Flower Moon" and "Don't Look Up," in which he plays an astronomer trying to sound the alarm to mankind of an incoming comet. But Adam Driver has three: He joins Marion Cotillard in the musical "Annette" (in theaters late summer and on Amazon Prime); plays doomed Italian businessman Maurizio Gucci in Ridley Scott's starry crime drama "House of Gucci" (Nov. 24); and also co-stars opposite Matt Damon as 14th-century best friends fighting to the death in Scott's delayed "The Last Duel" (Oct. 15). Damon's a prime contender for that and as an oil-rig roughneck/protective dad in the thriller "Stillwater" (July 21).

Bradley Cooper could be back in the mix as the carny con man of del Toro's "Nightmare Alley," while Majors might ride high into his first Oscar season as the "Harder They Fall" outlaw gunning for his rival. Oscar Isaac is a gambler going down a dark path in "The Card Counter," Ben Platt reprises his Tony-winning "Evan Hansen" role in the movie adaptation, Anthony Ramos has breakthrough potential as lead of the musical "In the Heights" (in theaters and on HBO Max June 11), Benedict Cumberbatch is a Montana rancher aiming to destroy his brother's new wife in Jane Campion's Netflix Western "The Power of the Dog," and don't sleep on Denzel Washington as the infamous mad king of Joel Coen's "The Tragedy of Macbeth."

Jennifer Hudson plays the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, in the musical biopic "Respect."

Best actress

Fresh off a best actress win for "Nomadland," Frances McDormand's going for Oscar No. 4 with "Tragedy of Macbeth," and her Lady Macbeth might be hard to beat. Although the same could be said ofJennifer Hudson, who won Oscar in 2007 for "Dreamgirls" and is definitely a threat at the 2022 Academy Awards playing the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, in the musical biopic "Respect" (Aug. 13). Another well-known singer is worth a watch, too: Lady Gaga, who impressed in "A Star Is Born," stars in "House of Gucci" as Patrizia Reggiani, accused of murdering her ex-husband (Driver).

Also back in the game is Halle Berry, starring as an MMA fighter in "Bruised" (which she also directs), plus Cate Blanchett as a scamming psychiatrist in "Nightmare Alley" and J-Law as DiCaprio's fellow scientist in "Don't Look Up." Kirsten Dunst is the target of Cumberbatch's ire in "Power of the Dog," Jessica Chastain plays a televangelist in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (Sept. 24) and Tessa Thompson impresses in Netflix's black-and-white period film "Passing," which premiered at Sundance. Look out for some newcomers in this category, though: Ana de Armas takes on the role of Marilyn Monroe in Netflix's character study "Blonde" and Rachel Zegler is the new Maria in Spielberg's "West Side Story."

Bill Murray plays a newspaper editor in Wes Anderson's ensemble film "The French Dispatch."

Best supporting actor

"House of Gucci" is rich in terms of a deep cast, with Oscar winners like Al Pacino and Jared Leto, as is "The Harder They Fall," which boasts Elba and Lindo – both of whom are overdue for their first nominations. The same goes for "French Dispatch" with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro and Timothee Chalamet.

As James Bond's newest villain, Rami Malek is a possibility for "No Time to Die" (Oct. 8) if the Oscars embrace blockbusters. Most dangerous this time around might be Jesse Plemons, who's known for sinking his teeth into character roles ("Judas and the Black Messiah," "The Irishman") and plays good brother to Cumberbatch's cruel rancher in "Power of the Dog." 

As Anita, Ariana DeBose (center) dances to "America" in Steven Spielberg's upcoming "West Side Story."

Best supporting actress

Rita Moreno won this category for the original "West Side Story," and she'd be an emotional favorite here for her small role as Valentina, though Ariana DeBose, playing Moreno's old role of Anita, is also a contender. So is "Queen's Gambit" standout Anya Taylor-Joy, who has big-screen roles in Edgar Wright's thriller "Last Night in Soho" (Oct. 22) and Viking revenge film "The Northman" opposite Nicole Kidman.

Rooney Mara and Toni Collette are possibilities for "Nightmare Alley," Julianne Moore has a heartfelt role as the troubled title teen's mom in "Evan Hansen," King won the category two years ago for "If Beale Street Could Talk" and is back in consideration with "Harder They Fall," Ruth Negga stands out as a Black woman posing as white in "Passing," and Cotillard plays opera singer to Driver's standup comedian in "Annette."

So which of these movies are going to hit a high note and what might fall flat? Who knows, since few of these films have screened for critics, but it's going to be another wild year.