2021 Oscar Predictions


This has been something of a whirlwind awards season given the extended timeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has more or less turned everything about everyone's lives upside down in one form or another. Not only has the Academy had to adapt to the new landscape in which the masses are seeing or saw the majority of their movies last year, but they are also in the midst of continuing to catch-up with the ever-evolving social landscape around the movies being made that are in contention for nominations. From the onset of about October when it was clear there was still going to be some semblance of an awards season even if no one had any real idea what it would look like, it appeared there were two or three front-runners that had the potential to dominate. One of those has proved especially true in Chloé Zhao's Nomadland which premiered simultaneously at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals last fall. Not only did it premiere at those festivals though, but it took home major awards from each including the top Golden Lion prize at Venice and the People's Choice Award at Toronto. Needless to say, it's been the front runner ever since. The other major contender out of that early festival circuit was Regina King's directorial debut, One Night in Miami... which only ended up garnering a couple of nominations though this feels as if it might be due, in some part, to the delayed ceremony and extended qualifying deadlines. That said, a movie that premiered ahead of both Nomadland and One Night in Miami... has become something of a dark horse in the awards conversation meaning only that while it has been almost universally praised since its premiere at last year's Sundance film festival it never seemed poised for Oscar dominance. I'm of course talking about Lee Isaac Chung's Minari which ended up earning six nominations, only one of which it is likely to win, but this was a big win nonetheless for the micro-budgeted drama about a Korean family that starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas. The most nominated film of the year belongs to the most nominated studio of the year with Netflix's Mank receiving ten nominations whereas The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 each earned six nominations alongside Minari while Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman scored five. I've included both who I think will win in my predictions below as well as who I think should win. Hit the jump for my full list of predictions.

Best Picture

Though this feels like the most varied and frankly, the most interesting Best Picture crop in some time it is also the least controversial in terms of what will likely win and the fact there is little to no (warranted) drama surrounding that projected winner. As stated previously, Nomadland has all the momentum and everything to lose. With nominations in every major category including Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Editing with odds being the film possibly taking home as many as four wins it's hard to imagine another film swooping in and stealing that momentum this late in the game. Of course, five of the eight nominated films in this category are films I would easily place in a top ten of the year list, Nomadland included, and therefore have no problems with the movie sweeping this year's awards, but if I were to pick who I want to win based solely on personal preference the pick would go to Minari. While Minari matched Nomadland in number of nominations and largely in all of the same major categories it has not won virtually every major award this season, including top honors from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Golden Globes where Nomadland has. It feels impossible this streak will be cut short on Hollywood's biggest night and if it were it probably wouldn't be by something like Minari. It is more plausible that a film like Promising Young Woman - a film that has sustained buzz and been the reason for countless thinkpieces throughout this extended awards - might stand the best chance of stealing the crown away from Nomadland, but I'll be sticking with my (safe) bet that Chloé Zhao's film will end up taking home the biggest award of the night.     

Best Director 

Speaking of Chloé Zhao, it would seem no matter what happens in the Best Picture category the Best Director award is hers to lose as, once again, Zhao has collected every major directing prize this season, including the Directors Guild Award. Two women were nominated for Best Director for the first time ever with Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell being the other female alongside Zhao. If either were to win they would be only the second woman to win the Best Director Oscar, after Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010, and if Zhao were to win (as is heavily predicted) she would also be the first woman of color to ever take this trophy. Though I don't want to take anything away from either Zhao or Fennell and will be more than ecstatic for Zhao when she does ultimately win if I were a voting member of the Academy and I was assessing the nominees solely on the level of skill they brought to executing their film successfully, my vote would again go to the filmmaker who made my favorite film of 2020, Lee Isaac Chung. Not that what anyone else did wasn't, but the way in which Chung brought forth the complexities and intricacies of our burdened existence through the simplest guise, is masterful. Thomas Vinterberg's surprise inclusion here essentially confirms Another Round will take home the International Feature award while the question of when and if David Fincher will ever be given the Oscar he so rightfully deserved in 2011 will continue to linger as Mank seemingly only stands a chance at being called an "Acadamy Award winning film" due to its nominations in the technical categories and even those aren't tied up completely. While there isn't really a "bad" pick here it also seems to be the category with the least chance of an upset, so we'll go ahead and say "congrats!" to Chloé Zhao.   

Best Actor

You know how I said Best Director might be the category with the smallest chance of an upset in terms of the predicted winner not actually winning? Yeah, well, I lied. In what is probably the most open and shut case of this year's Oscars, Chadwick Boseman will take home only the third posthumous acting award after Peter Finch for Network in 1976 and of course Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight in 2009. There has been recent talk of Anthony Hopkins possibly creeping in and taking the win away for what is admittedly one of the best performances in his career in The Father, but Hopkins is already an Oscar winner and with this being the last chance the Academy will have to recognize and reward Boseman for the work he did while he was alive it would seem there is no way the Academy doesn't take advantage of this opportunity. It also doesn't hurt that Boseman is really good in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and would have been a contender regardless with his performance as Levee affording the unbelievably charismatic and quietly versatile actor plenty of opportunity to wax poetic about race, religion, and all things in between. What’s most precious about the fact this will be recorded in the history books the way it will is that Levee, while quite temperamental, represents a lot of what Boseman stood and fought for in his personal life. As with the Directing category, everyone nominee here is worthy of the win and it was especially nice to see both Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun nominated for their work in Sound of Metal and Minari, but while those guys will hopefully have more chances to win in their future it would feel wrong not to seize this moment for Boseman.  

Best Actress

While the previous two categories are more or less locked up on who will be accepting awards tonight, Best Actress is maybe the least definitive category. Most interesting is that four of the five nominees here have already picked up awards this season. Vanessa Kirby is simply happy to be included for her (absolutely noteworthy) performance in Pieces of a Woman and like Ahmed and Yuen will likely be a presence at the Oscars for years to come, but this is more an introduction than a validation year for her. As for the other nominees, Viola Davis won the SAG award, Frances McDormand won the BAFTA, Andra Day picked up the Golden Globe, and Carey Mulligan won the Spirit Award for her turn as Cassandra in Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman. Fennell's rape-revenge dramedy (which feels weird to write) is maybe the most hotly debated film out of this year's crop of nominees and while I think Fennell will likely be recognized for her efforts in the Original Screenplay category I only think it right that the woman who brought Fennell's tough, complicated, yet distinct vision to life is worthy of the Best Actress win. That said, while Mulligan may get my heart's vote my gut is telling me that either Davis or McDormand will ultimately take home the statue. I have Davis edging out McDormand though, for as much as the juggernaut that is Nomadland wouldn't exist without McDormand she has won twice before with her most recent being in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (her other win was for Fargo in '97) and it just doesn't seem the Academy would reward her again so soon. On the other hand, Davis won in Best Supporting Actress for Fences four years ago and as one of the most respected and one of the most famous actors working today it seems as good a time as any to finally award her the main prize. 

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor is where the late-to-the-game Judas and the Black Messiah will find its recognition at the Oscars this year and it couldn't be in a more deserving fashion. While the film itself is very good and one of the strongest Best Picture contenders it is made so due in large part to Daniel Kaluuya's performance as Fred Hampton. While LaKeith Stanfield is also nominated in this category for the same film, his turn as William O'Neal is without a doubt the lead performance in that film and deserves to have been recognized in the proper category. While the categorization may have been manipulated a bit I'm not upset about Stanfield's work being recognized in some fashion, but had he been in the proper category deserving nominees like Kingsley Ben-Adir for One Night in Miami... or Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman might have had a shot here. Of course, I don't know whose spot Stanfield would have taken in the best Actor category and I guess it doesn't much matter as Kaluuya is very carefully building towards a once in a generation talent that absolutely deserves awards recognition and he absolutely dominates the film every time he's on screen as Hampton. After winning the Golden Globe, SAG and, BAFTA this is another that feels like an absolute lock. 

Best Supporting Actress

The seventy-three year-old Yuh-Jung Youn has been a household name in her native South Korea for some time now and as of Sunday night will hopefully be one in the rest of the world as well. This, my friends, is where Minari will most certainly get its due with Youn's performance as the eccentric grandmother taking Chung's already exceptional work to a completely different level. It doesn't hurt that Youn has also won the BAFTA and the SAG award in this category which are strong indicators of what the Academy voting body is thinking as well. Of course, this isn't a complete certainty - though if Minari doesn't win here it better pull a surprise out somewhere else! No less than a month or two ago I would have guessed this might be Mank's best chance at an above-the-line win for Amanda Seyfired's turn as Marion Davies, but now it would seem she's the least likely to be making an acceptance speech tonight. There also seemed to be some real momentum for Maria Bakalova for her role in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, but that seems to have slowed considerably. In fact, the momentum and narrative for Bakalova seems to have completely shifted its focus to the repeat showdown of Olivia Colman, who is nominated for her work in The Father, versus Glenn Close. Close has been nominated eight times since 1983, most recently for Netflix's Hillbilly Elegy in the supporting actress category. If she loses this year, she'll tie the late Peter O'Toole for the most Oscar nominations with no wins. Many people expected Close to win two years ago for her work in The Wife in the Best Actress category, but was upset by Colman; if Colman were to be the cause of Close's eighth loss it would be almost as cruel as rewarding Close for her work in Hillbilly Elegy. Thank God for Yuh-Jung Youn.   

Best Animated Feature Film

The only film I haven't seen in this category is A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon which I apparently need to correct as I've heard nothing but wonderful things about it which shouldn't be surprising given it comes from Aardman Animations or the stop-motion studio behind the likes of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run. This is all said with the understanding Farmageddon is the least likely winner in this category as this year two original Pixar films are in the running and those hardly falter when nominated, but there is a clear-cut favorite between the two. Soul, you're likely Best Animated Feature winner, is the only animated feature to also be nominated in other categories with the film projected to also take home the statue for Best Original Score. I'm in the minority, but I favored Disney and Pixar's other feature last year, Onward, more than I did Soul, but neither would be my pick for the winner here as that would go to Apple TV+'s Wolfwalkers which has received a surprisingly heavy push from the new-ish streaming service.  The culmination of what has been dubbed director Tomm Moore’s "Irish folklore trilogy" that began with Song of the Sea and continued with The Secret of Kells - both of which also earned Oscar nominations - has a loyal following in the animation community and would seem a perfect time to reward Moore and his team's effort, but unfortunately the Soul train is just too powerful to be overcome this year.  

Best Documentary Feature

The category with the biggest snub of the year is Documentary Feature as Kirsten Johnson's heart-wrenching Dick Johnson is Dead was left out of the nominations. This seemed a strong year for documentaries though and whether that was due to visibility being up with more people checking their streaming services for content more frequently than ever it was nice to see the genre gain more attention regardless. I feel as if I could have composed an entirely different set of nominees that would have been just as worthy of the Oscar as what was nominated, but this is largely due to the fact I haven't see three of the five nominees - including the predicted winner - My Octopus Teacher. My Octopus Teacher, about a filmmaker who forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, is the feel-good pick of the year and has likely been seen by the most people given its availability on Netflix. Netflix also has another nominee in Crip Camp on its service while The Mole Agent - about a P.I. who is hired to work as a mole at a retirement home where a client suspects the caretakers of elder abuse - is now available on Hulu. Also available on Hulu is Collective (one of the two nominees I have seen) which also earned a nomination in International Feature but will come away empty-handed, unfortunately. Collective is about the disturbing investigation following a 2015 Bucharest nightclub fire, that uncovers corruption and the crumbling of a healthcare system is legitimately terrifying. The other nominated doc I've seen and the one that would be my pick to win is Garrett Bradley’s Time (available on Amazon Prime), which focuses on Fox Rich’s battle against systemic inequality and her fight for the release of her husband, Rob, who is serving a sixty-year prison sentence.  
 
Best International Film

I haven't seen any other nominees in this category besides Another Round, so that is where my prediction goes given its strong momentum this awards season. The well-liked Danish drama with a recognizable star in Mads Mikkelsen and a directing nomination for Thomas Vinterberg, seems the guaranteed choice in this category. As and aside, I've heard nothing but praise for Bosnia and Herzegovina's entry, the war film Quo Vadis, Aida?, and intend on checking it out as soon as possible.











Best Adapted Screenplay

The Best Picture winner almost always wins a screenplay award first, so expect Nomadland and Chloé Zhao to pick this one up prior to the biggest award of the night along with Zhao's Directing win and what will likely be a win in Best Cinematography as well. Personally, this and Editing are where the Academy needs to recognize Florian Zeller's The Father though, as it is with these categories that they could acknowledge just how well the writer/director adapted his stage play for the screen and made it truly cinematic. While history says Nomadland should win here there is a real chance The Father might take it as there has been something of a late surge of support for the film. It also goes without saying that the script for The Father is a genuine, hard-earned feat of writing that only comes along once in a great while - its a true achievement in a way that the largely improvised Nomadland, while still terrific, simply isn't. As blunt as this may sound, Nomadland therefore isn't as deserving of in this particular award, but that doesn't mean the Academy will get it right. I'm still going with Nomadland for the win, but I would be more than happy to be wrong on this one especially.   

Best Original Screenplay

With Promising Young Woman being one of the most talked-about films of the awards season and the likelihood it will be shut out of every other category in which it is nominated it would seem this is the most likely place the film will actually get the win. It is hard for me to say that Fennell should win, especially when competing with Chung's work on Minari, but I do believe Fennell deserves some type of recognition and her screenplay is absolutely the most topical, nervy, and bold piece of work in either of the writing categories this year (sorry, Borat). Fennell is in good company with these nominations as she is surrounded by fellow first-time nominees like Chung, Darius Marder for Sound of Metal, and Will Berson and Shaka King for Judas as well as THE heavy hitter, Aaron Sorkin. Some are predicting Sorkin could take home his second screenplay award and one of the only wins for his heavily-nominated directorial effort, The Trail of the Chicago 7, but Fennell beat out Sorkin for the top prize at the Writers Guild Awards and with it having been thirteen years since the last time a woman won a screenplay category (Diablo Cody for Juno) and the possibility of two women winning this year it seems only just that one is an absolute certainty. That and I also really want to see Fennell's tweet storm after she wins an Oscar.


Best Cinematography: Nomadland

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Film Editing: Sound of Metal

Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Original Score: Soul

Original Song: “Speak Now” (One Night in Miami...)

Production Design: Mank

Sound: Sound of Metal

Visual Effects: TENET

The 93rd Academy Awards air Sunday night, April 25th at 7 p.m. Central on ABC.

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