2021 Oscar Predictions, Picks, and Final Thoughts

Happy 93rd Academy Awards, everyone! In just over 12 hours (hopefully), we will know all of the winners for the 2021 Oscars. And, what a long, seemingly never-ending, fascinating awards season it has been. The 2020 ceremony aired before the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread, lockdowns began, and Hollywood momentarily shut down. The most surprising thing about the 92nd Academy Awards was that there was a deserving winner for Best Picture (Parasite), the first International film to do so. This year, many more of the categories are wide open, with only a few categories totally locked-in. This actually makes the ceremony for exciting and mysterious to watch; all 4 of last year’s acting winners were essentially steam-rollers, so it has been a breath of fresh air to see at least 3/4 categories been actual races. Regardless of what happens, here are my picks, predictions, and final thoughts on the nominees and potential future winners. Some of my predictions are bold because, why the heck not? 

Best Picture

Should Win: Promising Young Woman
Will Win: Nomadland
Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Snubbed: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Never Rarely Sometimes Always; One Night in Miami

Nomadland has been a favorite, well-liked among critics and filmgoers alike, since its debut at the Venice Film Festival last year. Some people thought that it was too small, quiet, and introspective to win Best Picture, but considering how well it has done at precursors as varied as the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and the Indie Spirit Awards, it’s the assured frontrunner. Writer/director Chloe Zhao’s film  is ranked 4/8 on my Best Picture list, but I can find no real faults with the film. My favorite movie of the 2020-21 season, Promising Young Woman, is probably too divisive to take the top prize, but will probably take him at least 1 (maybe 2) wins tonight. The only possible runner-up to Nomadland is recent SAG winner The Trial of the Chicago 7, although the Frances McDormand-led film was not nominated for SAG, due to its lack of a true “ensemble” cast of real actors.

Best Director

Should/Will Win: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Could Win: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Snubbed: Pete Docter — Soul; Eliza Hittman — Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Regina King — One Night in Miami; Aaron Sorkin — The Trial of the Chicago 7; Florian Zeller — The Father

Has there ever been more of a director lock than there is this year for Zhao, who has won every award that she possible could in this category? Zhao will be only the second woman — after Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker — to win Best Director, and the first woman of color to do so. Even though Nomadland isn’t my favorite film, it’s so brilliantly directed that this will also be one of the most deserving winners in recent memory. Honestly, the remaining 4 nominees should just be happy to be nominated alongside her, and the only one who might be considered a runner-up is the other female nominee, Promising Young Woman‘s Fennell, but Zhao’s win is a done deal. Plus, I can’t wait to see a trailer for Marvel’s The Eternals with the tag “from Oscar winner Chloe Zhao.”

Best Actress

Should/Will Win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Could Win: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Snubbed: Jessie Buckley — I’m thinking of ending things; Sidney Flanigan — Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Elisabeth Moss — The Invisible Man; Kate Winslet — Ammonite; Zendaya — Malcolm & Marie

This category is really difficult to predict; not just difficult — impossible. Even the recent secret Oscar voter ballots have not provided any insight into tonight’s winner, and it’s very likely that whoever wins will do so by a very slim margin. Let me start by saying every woman nominated here is deserving, even if not all of the movies are up to par with the performances (I’m looking at you, The United States vs. Billie Holiday). A case could be made for just about every nominee, except for Pieces of a Woman‘s Vanessa Kirby, who is the only one not to win a major award. To recap: Holiday‘s Andra Day won the Golden Globe, Mulligan won the Critics Choice, Davis won the SAG, and Nomadland‘s Frances McDormand won the BAFTA (where only she and Kirby were nominated). Any 4 of them could win, but I will take Day out of the equation, mainly because her film wasn’t well-received and she (like Kirby) is its sole nomination. Both McDormand and Davis won recently, McDormand for Actress and Davis for Supporting Actress. The Academy may want to make Davis its second black Best Actress winner in its history, but they may want to go with Mulligan, who has yet to win (she was nominated for 2009’s An Education). It’s a complex, wide-ranging performance that deserves to win, but may be too unusual for the Oscars. Regardless, I’m going with my gut (and my heart) here.

Best Actor

Should/Will Win: Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Could Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Snubbed: Ben Affleck — The Way Back; Kingsley Ben-Adir — One Night in Miami; Adarsh Gourav — The White Tiger; Delroy Lindo — Da 5 Bloods; Mads Mikkelsen — Another Round; Jesse Plemons — I’m thinking of ending things

Up until the last couple of weeks, I would’ve said that the late, great Boseman had this in the bag, and would become only the third posthumous acting winner (the most recent being Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight). But, after Hopkins’ recent BAFTA win and the prevalence of him showing up on anonymous Oscar voter ballots, I’m inclined to lean towards Hopkins; this might stem from my love for Hopkins’ performance, which is not only the best of the year, or the best of his career, but also one of the best I’ve ever seen from anyone. Even though the odds are in Boseman’s favor, I think an upset is still very possible. The Academy clearly loved The Father, and if it doesn’t win for Adapted Screenplay (and even it does), they’ll want to reward it somewhere else. Voters seem to be of the opinion that everyone else will vote for Boseman, so they’re [hopefully] going with the best performance of the mix. If this happens, I will be sooooo happy.

Best Supporting Actress

Should/Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Could Win: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Snubbed: Candice Bergen — Let Them All Talk; Ellen Burstyn — Pieces of a Woman; Toni Collette — I’m thinking of ending things; Dominique Fishback — Judas & the Black Messiah; Saoirse Ronan — Ammonite; Talia Ryder — Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Earlier in this long awards season, this category was almost completely up in the year, especially after the surprise Golden Globes win of The Mauritanian‘s Jodie Foster. But, then, Foster was not nominated, and after Bakalova’s Critics Choice win, she was slightly ahead. Then, Youn won (at least) 3 major awards: SAG, BAFTA, and Indie Spirit. Considering that the actors branch makes up a large portion of the Academy, you’d be smart to bet on Youn. This will probably (and unfortunately) be the only win for Minari (my #2 film), and this will be its reward — and a deserving one it is, as Youn (the Meryl Streep of Korea) is hilarious and heartbreaking. It also helps that she has been utterly charming in her acceptance speeches.

Best Supporting Actor

Should/Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas & the Black Messiah
Could Win: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Snubbed: Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Bo Burnham, Promising Young Woman; Bill Burr, The King of Staten Island; Mark Rylance — The Trial of the Chicago 7; David Strathairn — Nomadland

Like with Supporting Actress, this category was fairly up in the air, and until Judas‘ release, the other 4 nominees kept rotating at #1 in people’s predictions. But, then, people saw Kaluuya’s powerful, inescapably good performance of the late Fred Hampton, and he suddenly became the front-runner. He has yet to lose a major award, which makes his win here inevitable. Academy voters will likely also remember Kaluuya’s Best Actor-nominated performances just a few years ago for Get Out, and see fit to reward this Uber-talented British actor accordingly. Metal‘s Raci is the only one who I think has even an iota of a chance here, although the nomination is the win for this  character actor who doesn’t even have a verified Twitter account.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should/Will Win: The Father
Could Win: Nomadland
Snubbed: The Invisible Man; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Until recently, I would’ve gone with Nomadland here, although considering how well The Father performed at BAFTA and the fact that voters and critics alike seem inclined to prefer The Father‘s more traditional screenplay, Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play may triumph here. Nomadland seems more improvisational, although I’m sure much of it was scripted, but it’s really remarkable what Zeller and co-screenwriter Christopher Hampton were able to do in adapting a play to the screen. And, if the Academy elects not to give Best Actor to Hopkins, they’ll want to reward the movie in some way.

Best Original Screenplay

Should/Will Win: Promising Young Woman
Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Snubbed: Another Round; Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Palm Springs; Soul

After writer/director Emerald Fennell’s WGA win for Promising, she essentially had this award in the bag. West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin may have won the Globe, but Trial’s script petered after that win. (The HFPA tends to do it own thing anyway). Also, it’s not Sorkin’s best script, despite the plethora of snappy, well-written dialogue. He already won for The Social Network, and considering Fennell’s slew of screenplay wins and the Academy’s general love for her film, it should win here.

Best Cinematography

Should/Will Win: Nomadland
Could Win: Mank
Snubbed: Da 5 Bloods; My Octopus Teacher; Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Promising Young Woman; Sound of Metal

This will probably be Nomadland‘s third and final win of the night, and another deserving one. The cinematography may seem simple, but I’m sure there was much more involved in obtaining the beautiful shots and lingering moments than it appeared. Black-and-white films often triumph here, and, despite Mank‘s recent ASC win, there’s nothing all that exciting about the cinematography in that film to warrant a win.

Best Costume Design

Should/Could Win: Emma
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Snubbed: Ammonite; Birds of Prey; The Personal History of David Copperfield; Promising Young Woman; The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Even though I didn’t love the Emma remake, and found it rather uninspiring (despite Anya Taylor-Joy’s committed performance), there’s no denying the power of costume design in the film, and how it reflects the characters’ personalities and social statuses. It also has what I would presume to be the most number of costumes, and the Academy frequently goes for that. But, I’m betting on another film with period costumes to win, Ma Rainey, which has fairly consistently won here.

Best Film Editing

Should Win: Promising Young Woman
Will Win: Sound of Metal
Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Snubbed: I’m thinking of ending things; The Invisible Man; Minari; One Night in Miami

Metal and Trial are fairly neck and neck in this race, and despite Trial‘s recent ACE win, I’m going with Metal, despite the fact that its editing is way less flashy than the former’s; it also seems unlikely that Metal will only win one award (see below). All 5 of these nominees are worthy, although I’d love for Promising to win here, as the editing is flashy when it needs to be, and more subtle at other times.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Should/Could Win: Pinocchio
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Snubbed: Birds of Prey; I’m thinking of ending things; Promising Young Woman; The United States vs. Billie Holiday

I’m guessing that this will be Ma Rainey‘s other win, as it is current frontrunner in this category. Although, many people might assume that prosthetics play a large role in Davis’ character’s appearance, which is also partially due to her weight gain and committed physicality. If the Academy gave this award to the most and most impressive makeup, that’d clearly be Pinocchio, which is the only one that could upset here. The attention to detail in depicting the various fantastical characters is simply astounding, and even if you don’t go along with where the story takes you, it’s impossible not to be wowed by the makeup work.

Best Production Design

Should Win: The Father
Will Win: Mank
Could Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Snubbed: Emma; I’m thinking of ending things; Mulan; The Personal History of David Copperfield; Promising Young Woman

Oh, how I’d love for The Father to win here, as the production and set design are integral to the story, but it’s probably in last place. That said, I’m glad Academy voters recognized its effectiveness and included it alongside flashier nominees like Ma Rainey and Mank, the latter of which will most likely win. Also, I’m predicting this to be Mank‘s only win, which would be a near shut-out (out of 10 nominations).

Best Original Score

Should/Will Win: Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross — Soul
Could Win: Emile Mosseri — Minari
Snubbed: Benjamin Wallfisch — The Invisible Man; Alexandre Desplat — The Midnight Sky; Ludwig Goransson — Tenet

This is one of the easiest categories to predict, as Batiste and the Nine Inch Nails guys (who are also nominated for Mank) have steam-rolled throughout the season. Reznor and Ross already won (for The Social Network), but Stephen Colbert’s right-hand man Batiste has yet to win, and I’d love to see him give a thoughtful speech tonight. The only score that could be considered a runner-up is Mosseri’s spare, deliberate music for Minari.

Best Original Song

Should Win: Husavik — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Will Win: Speak Now — One Night in Miami
Could Win: Io Si (Seen) — The Life Ahead
Snubbed: Turntables — All In; Wuhan Flu — Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Rain Song — Minari; Rocket to the Moon — Over the Moon

This category is not as easy to predict as would normally be the case, and unfortunately most of these nominated songs aren’t all that great (Hear My Voice is especially boring), aside from Husavik, which actually plays an important role in the movie (and is heard during the main story, not during the credits). 12-time nominee Diane Warren could finally win for her song — performed in Italian by Laura Pausini — and she has certainly been campaigning like crazy this season. But, my prediction is for the Academy to award Miami and Leslie Odom, Jr.; they obviously liked him enough to nominate him twice (also for Supporting Actor) and, like with Lady Gaga a couple years ago for A Star is Born, at least Odom will win for one of those nominations.

Best Sound

Should/Will Win: Sound of Metal
Could Win: Soul
Snubbed: Da 5 Bloods; Eurovision Song Contest; The Invisible Man; Judas & the Black Messiah; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Nomadland

This is the first year in which the two sound categories (editing and mixing) have been combined, which is unfortunate because more movies could have made the cut, but I mostly prefer it this way. And, we will have an extremely deserving winner in Metal, whose fascinating and inventive use of sound is an essential part of the movie. Despite a recent wins for Greyhound and Soul, this is Metal‘s to lose.

Best Visual Effects

Should Win: Love and Monsters
Will Win: Tenet
Could Win: The Midnight Sky
Snubbed: Birds of Prey; The Invisible Man; Mank; Project Power

Love and Monsters was the last Oscar-nominated film I saw, and one that I believe to be the most deserving of this award, as its use of VFX/CGI is impressive, deliberate, and not over-used. Unfortunately, though, it’s the least likely to win here, but Tenet would not be undeserving, despite much of it consisting of practical effects. Voters may not understand what was going on throughout the movie, but they will still appreciate writer/director Christopher Nolan’s inventiveness. Midnight Sky recently won the the guild award, but I don’t expect it to triumph here.

Best Animated Feature Film

Should/Will Win: Soul
Could Win: Wolfwalkers

One of two Pixar films will win here, and it’s not Onward (which I liked, but didn’t love). I know that Wolfwalkers has a passionate fan base and multiple critics groups’ wins, but it’s not enough to upset Soul. I personally believe it to be brilliant and, while it’s not as perfect as, say, Inside Out or WALL-E, it’s still a powerful, funny, and heartbreaking film that deserves to be recognized. 

Should/Could Win: Crip Camp
Will Win: My Octopus Teacher
Snubbed In: All In; Totally Under Control

Current front-runner My Octopus Teacher has has a really interesting awards season trajectory, starting out as just word-of-mouth and a long-shot nominee, to perennial audience favorite, to now Oscar shoe-in. It’s certainly an entertaining film that’s lovingly and beautiful shot, even though it becomes a little creepy and hokey at times. My favorite was Crip Camp, about a camp for disabled individuals in the 1970s, and the corresponding disability rights movement. Because it was produced by the Obamas’ production company, it does have a chance here. Although, as long as Time (which I hated) doesn’t win, I’m happy.

Best International Feature Film

Should/Could Win: Quo Vadis, Aida?
Will Win: Another Round

Because of the presence of an actor many Oscar voters will recognize — Mads Mikkelsen, who was snubbed for Best Actor — Round will win here, and especially considering the inclusion of Thomas Vinterberg in Best Director. I’d love for an Aida upset; it’s a powerful film that I can’t stop thinking about (in a good way), but it’s hard to fault Round, which is also a very strong film.

Best Animated Short Film

Should/Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Could Win: Burrow
Snubbed: Out

If Anything Happens is the only nominated film here with an issue at his center: parents grieving over the sudden death of their teenage daughter from a school shooting. It’s heartbreaking and beautifully animated, and is readily available on Netflix. The only other possibility I see here is Pixar’s Burrow, which is adorable but perhaps too slight.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Should Win: Colette
Will Win: A Concerto is a Conversation
Could Win: A Love Song for Latasha

The short categories are notoriously difficult to predict; this is often where even the experts (like yours truly) get it wrong. But, I’m going with my gut on this one; Concerto features notable composer Kris Bowers, who composed (and performed) the music featured in the Oscar-winning Green Book. While its scope is vast, going from the Jim Crow south to present-day, it felt like there was much more — this is often the problem with documentary shorts. My personal preference is Colette, which is centered on a French woman who visits the concentration camp (Auschwitz) where her older brother died during the Holocaust; it’s so powerful and intimate, and the one that I’d highly recommend everyone watch. Latasha is also a possibly, and is highly relevant to today, but is poorly made. 

Best Live Action Short Film

Should Win: Feeling Through
Will Win: Two Distant Strangers
Could Win: The Letter Room

This is another category that is a shot in the dark, but considering the fact that Strangers was released on Netflix during the Derek Chauvin trial and that more innocent black people are getting killed by cops, this timely short — which is hard to watch and probably more heavy-handed than it needs to be — will most likely triumph. I would love to see Feeling Through win; this is a lovely little film about a young black, homeless man who befriends a deaf-blind man. With Oscar winner Marlee Matlin as a producer, this could also win. But, then there’s Letter Room, starring the only famous face people will recognize: Oscar Isaac (as you’ve never seen him before). This was actually my least favorite among the nominees, although it’s still worth watching. 

Total Prediction Tallies

Nomadland: 3/6
The Father: 2/6
Sound of Metal: 2/6
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: 2/5
Promising Young Woman: 2/5
Soul: 2/3
Mank: 1/10
Judas & the Black Messiah: 1/6
Minari: 1/6
One Night in Miami: 1/3
Another Round: 1/2
Tenet: 1/2
The Trial of the Chicago 7: 0/6
News of the World: 0/4
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: 0/2
Collective: 0/2
Emma: 0/2
Hillbilly Elegy: 0/2
Mulan: 0/2
Pinocchio: 0/2

Better Days
Da 5 Bloods
Crip Camp
Do Not Split
Eurovision Song Contest
Feeling Through
Genius Loci
Hunger Ward
The Letter Room
The Life Ahead
Love and Monsters
A Love Song for Latasha
The Man Who Sold His Skin
The Midnight Sky
The Mole Agent
The One and Only Ivan
Over the Moon
Pieces of a Woman
The Present
Quo Vadis, Aida?
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
White Eye
The White Tiger