Why 'In the Heights' Should Be a Major Awards Season Contender

It may be too early to talk about the 2022 Oscars, but ‘In the Heights’ is the film that should kick off the conversation. 

With movies only just returning to theaters, it may feel too early to be talking about the 2022 Oscars. But with the long awaited arrival of In the Heights, it’s hard not to think about the impact the movie musical based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Broadway production will have during this year’s awards season.  

Debuting in theaters (and on HBO Max the same day), the film directed by Jon M. Chu and starring a largely Latinx cast led by Anthony Ramos opened to rave reviews from critics, with a 96 freshness score on RottenTomatoes. Peter Travers of ABC News wasted no time to proclaim the musical “a surefire Oscar contender that lights up the screen with the immigrant experience of the American Dream.”

While it’s easy to dream big -- and Warner Bros. should with this one -- and think about all the Oscars it could be nominated for, there are a few that feel like sure bets: Best Picture (which could potentially earn Miranda his EGOT), Best Director and Best Actor. 

Warner Bros.

Chu, who previously helmed installments of the Step Up franchise and Crazy Rich Asians, feels in full control of this energetic adaptation, which is packed full of big dance numbers that are scaled up to embrace the Washington Heights neighborhood. And it would be a mistake to leave him out of the Best Director conversation. 

“If Jon gets the recognition he deserves -- he’s an incredible director and he made magic every day on set, and you could see it in the final product -- that’s all I can ask for,” Melissa Barrera said when asked about the film’s potential Oscar buzz. 

Meanwhile, Ramos, who, after getting his big break in Hamilton, is now poised for superstardom, with his next big project being a new installment of the Transformers franchise. While Miranda originated the role onstage, it’s Ramos who perfectly channels Usnavi’s emotional journey onscreen -- and it doesn’t hurt that he’s both handsome and enormously talented. If his singing and dancing alone doesn’t earn him a slot among the five potential nominees for Lead Actor, then I don’t know what will. 

Elsewhere, there’s plenty of argument for recognition in categories like cinematography, production and costume design, sound as well as makeup and hairstyling, for which In the Heights should be a contender just for the “No Me Diga” number alone.

Warner Bros.

But if there’s any argument to be made for an Oscar win, it’s for Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia for Best Supporting Actress. She’s the only major actor from the Broadway production to reprise her role onscreen, and for good reason. When the 65-year-old Tony-nominated actor performs “Paciencia y Fe,” it’s an emotional showstopper that heightens all the stakes of the film. It also got one of the loudest applauses at my screening of the film. (Yes, an audience of New York City theater and film critics reacted to the film like it was a stage performance.) 

Not only that, but it’s the kind of breakthrough performance that awards season loves. Just look at Minari’s Yuh-Jung Youn, who won the same category earlier this year. 

When Ramos was asked about his co-star, the same person he saw onstage when he was still struggling to land auditions and inspired him to continue chasing his dreams, he said, “I think Olga is about to get nominated for this Oscar. So I’m just trying to get on her bandwagon.” 

As for what Merediz thinks? “I feel very flattered,” she said of the potential recognition. “All you can do is your job and do your part.”

And while Chu thinks it’s too early to be having this conversation, he did say that the biggest reward of In the Heights is not only reminding people “that community and family is right there waiting for them” but also “showing them Washington Heights.”


--Additional reporting by Darla Murray and Deidre Behar