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And the Oscar goes to … : Predicting the 2021 Academy Awards

April 15, 2021
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Better late than never.

It feels weird to be writing an Academy Awards preview in April instead of February, but thanks to the pandemic, that’s where we are. 2020 was also a weird year for movies in general, what with the extended closure of movie theaters and the general lack of enthusiasm by Hollywood for releasing their big-ticket offerings.

Still, the Academy pushed back the Oscars by a couple of months and expanded the eligibility window for films, both in terms of timeline and of distribution. It only makes sense that after a year unlike any other, we would wind up with an Oscars unlike any other.

And as always, I’m here to offer up my thoughts.

This is the 93rd edition of Hollywood’s favorite awards show. It’s also the 14th time I’ve offered up my Oscars predictions, if you can believe that. You might think that after 14 years, I know what I’m doing. And maybe I do … to an extent. I’ve gotten pretty good at sussing out who is going to win. But the real joy of these awards is that there are always going to be some surprises. You just never know, and in a strange year like this one, who can say what will happen?

Here are my picks. I’ve gone in-depth on the big-ticket categories and included winners for all the others. And as always, the disclaimer: these are my predictions as to who WILL win, as opposed to my feelings about who SHOULD win. There will always be a degree of disconnect, though perhaps a touch less than in previous years.

Let’s hit the red carpet.



Sacha Baron Cohen - The Trial of the Chicago 7

Daniel Kaluuya - Judas and the Black Messiah

Leslie Odom Jr. - One Night in Miami...

Paul Raci - Sound of Metal

Lakeith Steinfeld - Judas and the Black Messiah

It’s an interesting collection of performance in this category. Paul Raci’s nomination might have been a surprise to some, but no one who saw his quietly powerful turn in “Sound of Metal” would begrudge him this spot, though he’s likely a distant fifth. I quite liked Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke, but this feels like a shared nomination for the work done by the entire quartet of performers in “One Night in Miami…” Again, a worthy nominee, but one with little chance of a win. Sacha Baron Cohen is good in “Chicago 7,” though I’d argue that it isn’t even his best 2020 performance – the return of Borat earns that distinction. Still, he’s likely another also-ran. And then we come to the relative rarity of two actors from the same film being named in the same category. Lakeith Steinfeld does yeoman’s work in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” though it feels a little bit like category fraud – he should almost certainly have been up for Leading Role, rather than this one. Not that it matters, because it would be legitimately shocking for anyone other than Daniel Kaluuya to win this trophy. His turn as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton Jr. is an absolutely electrifying performance, one absolutely charged with chaos energy and fury. He evokes the fiery righteousness of the civil rights orator while also lending the character a degree of depth and nuance. He’s going to win in a walk – and he deserves that victory.

Winner: Daniel Kaluuya


Maria Bakalova - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Glenn Close - Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman - The Father

Amanda Seyfried - Mank

Yuj-Jung Youn – Minari

This is an odd category, one that has seen a number of performances seemingly top the list before falling out of favor. Of course, the one that seemingly never had any favor – and is here because of the person, rather than the performance – is Glenn Close. While I didn’t hate “Hillbilly Elegy” like many of my peers did, it’s tough to view Close’s turn as much more than poverty drag. She deserves an Oscar, but getting it for this movie would be a travesty. Colman just got her trophy, so she’s an unlikely winner here, though her performance in “The Father” has been tremendously well received. Amanda Seyfried looked like an early favorite for her work as Marion Davies in “Mank,” but despite its many nominations, that film seems to have more or less disappeared from the consciousness. She’s legitimately great, but it’s not looking good for her here. In a just world, we’d have a full-on campaign for Bakalova for her work in the “Borat” sequel – she demonstrates an ironclad commitment to the bit that I would love to see rewarded, while also lending a degree of empathy to a film that thrives on ironic detachment. But the late action is leaning toward Yui-Jung Youn. Her captivatingly coarse performance in “Minari” created one of the most memorable screen characters of the year. There’s a remarkable energy to the performance unlike anything else we saw at the movies in 2020. She’s your winner.

Winner: Yui-Jung Youn


Riz Ahmed - Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins - The Father

Gary Oldman - Mank

Steven Yeun – Minari

Often at the Oscars, it is abundantly clear well in advance who is going to take home the hardware. This year’s Leading Actor race is one of those times. Oldman does some good work as the titular screenwriter in “Mank,” but the biggest problem can be found in his name – he’s an old man, far too old to have played the part. Good work, but not Oscar-worthy. I loved Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal,” and he gives a remarkable performance, but he’s not quite up to the level of the competition. This is not a knock – he’s great and in other years would have had a legitimate shot. Not this year. Ditto Steven Yeun, who is incredible in “Minari,” capturing the hardscrabble desperation aspect of the American immigrant experience that often gets glossed over. He’s great and has a strong case – it just isn’t quite strong enough. It’s nice to see Anthony Hopkins pop up here – this is his second year in a row with a nomination and he has gotten some recognition for the powerful work he’s done with “The Father.” But while he did win a couple of the harbinger awards – trophies that often indicate Oscar success – he’s not going to do it this year. I honestly can’t conceive of the circumstances that would result in anyone other than the late Chadwick Boseman being named the winner of this award. Boseman’s performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is incendiary, a white-hot demonstration of just what kind of work we, in another world, would have gotten over the next two decades. It’s a shame that this is the only one of these trophies we get to give him, because he almost certainly would have won more in the years to come.

Winner: Chadwick Boseman


Viola Davis - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Andra Day - The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Vanessa Kirby - Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand - Nomadland

Carey Mulligan - Promising Young Woman

This is probably the most thoroughly contested of the four acting categories this year. In truth, there are three performances here whose wins wouldn’t surprise me at all. And even the other two – Andra Day and Vanessa Kirby – are excellent. Day’s turn as Billie Holliday is remarkable to watch, though it takes place within the confines of a so-so movie. She did win the Golden Globe, but, well … it’s the Golden Globes. Kirby’s performance is amazing – particularly in the first 30 minutes of that film – but I think she suffers from the one-two hit of an underseen film and a problematic co-star. I’ll confess that when I saw Viola Davis as the titular Ma Rainey, I assumed that she was a shoo-in for this win. It’s just a bravura performance, full of the self-aware energy and powerhouse charisma that marks the best work from Davis. I think she’s in third here, but if she wins, I’ll be both happy and unsurprised. As for the last two, I keep going back and forth as to who I think will win. I spent a fair amount of time thinking that Frances McDormand would pull her third Oscar, joining Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman as the only women to do so. She’s certainly good enough in “Nomadland” to pull it off. And she still may. But the more I hear, the more it seems that Carey Mulligan made enough of a late push to surge into the lead in this hotly contested race. It might prove to be a polarizing pick from a polarizing film, but there’s little disputing the elite level of performance she brought to the table. I’d perhaps prefer McDormand or Davis, but Mulligan will be a worthy winner.

Winner: Carey Mulligan


Thomas Vinterberg - Another Round

David Fincher - Mank

Lee Isaac Chung - Minari

Chloé Zhao - Nomadland

Emerald Fennell - Promising Young Woman

This category has a bit of notoriety with regard to the nominations it has made in the past. And while recent years have seen a push toward diversity, the Academy’s efforts remain imperfect. That being said, there’s a lot to like about this slate of picks, with two women and two people of color in the mix. Look, Thomas Vinterberg is 100% not going to win this award – he’s practically the Socratic ideal of “happy to be here.” His work will get recognized in Best International Feature, but that’s it. Fennell’s movie picked up a bunch of nods – including a couple for her – but I’m guessing she’ll have to content herself with a screenplay win and one or two other trophies for the film. I ride hard for Fincher, and I thought early on that “Mank” might be the film that finally got him the Oscar that he’s deserved for the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the film’s lukewarm reception and too-quick fade from the conversation leaves him on the outside looking in once again. He’ll get one of these eventually, but it isn’t going to be this year. Lee Isaac Chung’s work on “Minari” is more than deserving of this recognition; it’s a beautifully constructed and thoughtful film and the majority of the credit goes to Chung and his efforts. That said, I think this one is Zhao’s to lose. She’s been on a collision course with this award for months now; considering just how hands-on she was with “Nomadland,” it’s tough to separate her from any part of the film. And when the film is this great, well – you give the director the Oscar. This will be one part of what I anticipate to be a substantial haul for the film.

Winner: Chloé Zhao


The Father

Judas and the Black Messiah




Promising Young Woman

Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

And here we have it – the big one. It will be interesting to see what movie winds up landing on top. It seems like this year’s nominees fall into two tiers, with just a few that look to have any kind of real chance at pulling out a win. That being said, the Academy uses ranked choice voting to determine their winner in this category, which leaves room for minor upsets should we get division at the top and consensus on everyone’s, say, third or fourth favorite offering.

Let’s start with the movies that simply aren’t going to win.

“Sound of Metal” was one of my favorite films of last year, featuring a phenomenal lead turn from Riz Ahmed and one of the most compelling and memorable sound designs we’ve heard in years. It’s a great-looking and engaging film, but it doesn’t quite achieve the heights of some of the others in this category.

“The Father” has gotten some late-breaking attention in recent weeks, but the reality is that far too few people actually saw this film. And without those audiences, there simply isn’t enough conversation about the movie to drive any sort of voting push. It’s the classic case of a movie that is good enough to garner multiple nods without necessarily pulling a win.

Of course, “Mank” is basically “The Father” writ large. While accessibility was never an issue – “Mank” dropped on Netflix for all the world to see – it was perhaps a bit TOO award-baity, despite the transgressive bona fides of director David Fincher. This film leads all nominees with 10 total, but it almost certainly won’t win any of the big ones and could potentially get shut out altogether.

I’m going to put the next two together, simply because they’re bound together by the tumultuous time period in American history that they share as a setting. “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a wonderful showcase for the talents of Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Steinfeld, but for as good as those central performances are, the film around them never quite measures up. A very good movie that will not win. As for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” well – it boils down to whether you like Aaron Sorkin or not. If you have an affinity for his verbosity and liberal (in multiple senses of the word) liberties taken with historical fact, then you dig this one. If you don’t, you don’t. I think enough don’t where this one isn’t going to make any hay, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it pulled off an upset.

“Promising Young Woman” is making some late noise across the board, but I think it’s probably too late for this one – particularly since it has proven to be somewhat polarizing. It just doesn’t seem like the film could pull enough of a consensus; it’s the kind of movie that might well find itself at the bottom of as many ballots as it does at the top.

“Minari” was one of my most anticipated films of the year – I’d been hearing about it since Sundance 2020 – so by the time I got it, I should have been disappointed. I was not. It is a wonderful look at the American Dream through eyes wide open, the sort of story that the Academy should be celebrating. But while I think it will be close, I think it will fall just short.

That leaves us with “Nomadland,” the film that I predict will be named Best Picture. Is it the best movie of the year? Tough to say, though it’s certainly in the conversation as far as I’m concerned. The tremendous work by Chloe Zhao – who directed, wrote and edited the damned thing – will likely be recognized in other spots, but I believe it will also win the big one. It’s not just about Zhao – Frances McDormand had a hand in it as well – but it’s tough for me to see a path to victory for any film other than this one. “Nomadland” will be your deserving Best Picture winner.

Winner: Nomadland


As an added bonus, here are my predictions for the rest of the categories. Expect to see a lot of “Nomadland” and a couple of wins for Pixar’s “Soul,” among other things.


Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad

The Father – Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller

Nomadland – Written for the screen by Chloé Zhao

One Night in Miami… - Screenplay by Kemp Powers

The White Tiger – Written for the screen by Ramin Bahrani

Winner: Nomadland – Chloe Zhao


Judas and the Black Messiah - Screenplay by Will Berson & Shaka King; Story by Will Berson & Shaka King and Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas

Minari - Written by Lee Isaac Chung

Promising Young Woman - Written by Emerald Fennell

Sound of Metal - Screenplay by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Written by Aaron Sorkin

Winner: Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell


Judas and the Black Messiah - Sean Bobbitt

Mank - Erik Messerschmidt

News of the World - Dariusz Wolski

Nomadland - Joshua James Richards

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Phedon Papamichael

Winner: Nomadland - Joshua James Richards


Onward - Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae

Over the Moon - Glen Keane, Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon - Richard Phelan, Will Becher and Paul Kewley

Soul - Pete Docter and Dana Murray

Wolfwalkers - Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, Paul Young and Stéphan Roelants

Winner: Soul


Burrow - Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capbarat

Genius Loci - Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise

If Anything Happens I Love You - Will McCormack and Michael Govier

Opera - Erick Oh

Yes-People - Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson

Winner: If Anything Happens I Love You


Collective - Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana

Crip Camp - Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder

The Mole Agent - Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez

My Octopus Teacher - Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster

Time - Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn

Winner: My Octopus Teacher


Colette - Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard

A Concerto is a Conversation - Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

Do Not Split - Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook

Hunger Ward - Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman

A Love Song for Latash - Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan

Winner: A Concerto is a Conversation


Feeling Through - Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski

The Letter Room - Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan

The Present - Farah Nabulsi and Ossama Bawardi

Two Distant Strangers - Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe

White Eye - Tomer Shushan and Shira Hochman

Winner: The Letter Room


Another Round - Denmark

Better Days - Hong Kong

Collective - Romania

The Man Who Sold His Skin - Tunisia

Quo Vadis, Aida? - Bosnia and Herzegovina

Winner: Another Round


Da 5 Bloods - Terence Blanchard

Mank - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Minari - Emile Mosseri

News of the World - James Newton Howard

Soul - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste

Winner: Soul


Fight for You - Judas and the Black Messiah; Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas

Hear My Voice - The Trial of the Chicago 7; Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

Husavik - Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

Io Si (Seen) - The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se); Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

Speak Now - One Night in Miami...; Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

Winner: Speak Now – One Night in Miami…


Emma - Alexandra Byrne

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - Ann Roth

Mank - Trish Summerville

Mulan - Bina Daigeler

Pinocchio - Massimo Cantini Parrini

Winner: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


The Father - Yorgos Lamprinos

Nomadland - Chloé Zhao

Promising Young Woman - Frédéric Thoraval

Sound of Metal - Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Alan Baumgarten

Winner: Sound of Metal


Emma - Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze

Hillbilly Elegy - Eryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew Mungle and Patricia Dehaney

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson

Mank - Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff

Pinocchio - Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti

Winner: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


The Father - Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara and Diana Stoughton

Mank - Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale

News of the World - Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan

Tenet - Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Winner: Mank


Greyhound - Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman

Mank - Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin

News of the World - Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett

Soul - Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker

Sound of Metal - Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

Winner: Sound of Metal


Love and Monsters - Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox

The Midnight Sky - Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins

Mulan - Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

The One and Only Ivan - Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez

Tenet - Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

Winner: Tenet

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 April 2021 12:39

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