My Annual (and confidently accurate) Predictions for Oscars in every category

| April 24, 2021

Full List of Nominees For The 93rd Academy Awards — GeekTyrant

Oh what a year!  Well . . . in terms of Oscar – 14 months!  This has been the longest Oscar year in it’s 93 year history and with the shifting tides of streaming and the withering of the theater experience – plus a pandemic that shelved many of Hollywood’s key films, this year’s Oscars are as confusing as they are fascinating.

Still, I’m here.  I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and in the strangest Oscar year in history, the nominees yield surprises and traditional mandates.  This year, my prediction roster is a little different in that I’ve asked my friend and fellow Podcast co-host Doug Heller to toss in a few of his predictions as well.  So, on we go . . . 

Best Picture

The Father | Judas and the Black Messiah | Mank | Minari | Nomadland | Promising Young Woman | Sound of Metal | The Trial of the Chicago 7

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with this year’s list of Best Picture nominees.  The love is that I have no clear idea of what will win here, only a guess.  The hate comes in two parts: 1.) I feel that only half of these nominees should be here* and 2.) I really think there was room for ten rather than just eight.

But if I can stand in the shoes of the voters, picking the one that stands out, it is probably Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland.  This seems to be the film that speaks the most to the moment, a story of an American drifter experiencing set out in the wilderness looking for her own version of the American dream.  It has earned the love of The Hollywood Foreign Press, BAFTA, the AFI, The Producer’s Guild as well as critical awards from Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Las Vegas, London, San Francisco, Toronto, The National Society of Film Critics and my own Online Film Critics Society.

And yet . . .

If I am forced to predict a darkhorse, I can’t see a contender other than Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari.  Answering the call of diversity that shown so brightly last year with Parasite, this lovely little film might be not just a pleasant surprise but a worth follow-up.

Doug thinks differently.  He chooses The Trial of the Chicago 7, feeling that the voters will play it safe.

* – The worthy are The Father, Minari, Nomadland and Sound of Metal.

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank | Lee Isaac Chung for Minari | Emerald Fennell for Promsing Young Woman| Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round | Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Historic is not the word.  Two women nominated for the first time in a single year and one of them is of Asian descent (diversity at work).  Best of all, Chloe Zhao made a Hell of a good picture.  She’s won a boat-load of pre-Oscar awards, most importantly one from the Director’s Guild – the same body that selects the Oscar.

And yet . . .

Doug’s opinion is also my greatest fear: that the voters in the Director’s Guild still might cut the head off of Zhao’s rise to the top of the award season, and if that happens, I predict that a possible sweep of Mank could give David Fincher his first Oscar.

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal | Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Anthony Hopkins in The Father | Gary Oldman in Mank | Steven Yeun in Minari

I hold a modestly first opinion that this award could go to Anthony Hopkins, giving a brilliant and often unsympathetic performance as a man slowly discovering that he is in the advanced stages of dementia in The Father.  Plus, it’s Oscar’s kind of performance – he plays someone with an affliction, he has a massively emotional scene and he’s a long-time acting veteran.

And yet . . .

Chadwick Boseman’s farewell performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is not just a bit of sympathy (Doug agrees).  As Levee, a 20s-era trumpet player determined to take his music own way, he is the voice of every frustrated genius who wants nothing more than to find his own voice.  Boseman has already received love from the Screen Actor’s Guild – the same folks who vote for this award – so this posthumous honor seems to be in the bag.

Best Actress

Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holliday | Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman | Frances McDormand in Nomadland | Carey Mulligan

I’ll be honest, three of these actresses, Andra Day, Vanessa Kirby and Carey Mulligan gave good performances in movies that were problematic, and therefore for me are eliminated as a possibility.  The other two make this a true contest.  I would not complain if either Viola Davis or Frances McDormand won the Oscar, and I wouldn’t discount McDormand as a contender, The Screen Actors Guild Awards seem to call this one for Viola Davis. Doug, however, calls it for Frannie McD.

Best Supporting Actor

Sasha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7 | Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah | Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night in Miami . . . | Paul Raci in Sound of Metal | LaKeith Standfield in Judas and the Black Messiah

I would argue that Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t really belong here and neither, for that matter does his co-star LaKeith Stanfield.  Who exactly are they supporting?  The advantage (and Doug agrees) is that it places Kaluuya out in front and out from under heavier competition.  His performance as the murdered Black Panther leader Fred Hampton is a full-bodied performance in a very troubled movie.  He gives his best work, and I think the voters will reward him.

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan | Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy | Olivia Colman in The Father | Amanda Seyfried in Mank | Yu-Jung Youn in Minari

I haven’t had good things to say about David Fincher’s historically messy and dramatically inert Battle-Over-Citizen-Kane epic Mank.  But I have consistently given kudos to Amanda Seyfried (Doug’s choice) for her performance as Hearst paramour Marion Davies.  All along I’ve been predicting that she would win the Oscar, but then came the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and a win for Yuh-Jung Youn, a delightful surprise nominee in this category and I predict the winner here.

Best Original Screenplay

Judas and the Black Messiah | Minari | Promising Young Woman | Sound of Metal | The Trial of the Chicago 7

I question the nomination of Judas, Chicago and Promising Young Woman in a year that gave us Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The 40-Year Old Version, Da 5 Bloods, Soul and Another Round.  And as much as I would like to see some love for Lee Isaac Chung for his beautiful screenplay for Minari (Doug’s choice), I’m afraid the WGA has already made way for a victory for Emerald Fennel’s revenge fantasy Promising Young Woman.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan | The Father | Nomadland | One Night in Miami… | The White Tiger

In my heart, I want this to be a victory for Kemp Powers who adapted his own play One Night in Miami… but my sense of reality tips in two other directions.  I give the edge (and another little piece of my heart) to Chloe Zhao for Nomadland (Doug agrees) but only if it can upend the eight writers* nominated for Borat sequel, which just won the WGA award.

Best Animated Feature

Onward | Over the Moon | Shaun the Sheep | Soul | Wolfwakers


Best International Feature

Another Round | Better Days | Collective | The Man Who Sold his Skin | Quo Vadis, Aida?

The pandemic did not slow down the influx of features from around the world.  In the end there were a record 93 contenders that eventually shortlisted into 15.  For the first time in 20 years, all five are worthy of being here but the frontrunner (and my choice and Doug’s) is Denmark’s Another Round

Best Original Song

“Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah
“Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Io Si (Seen) from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami…

I have listened to all five nominees in this category this year and, to be perfectly honest, all of these balladeer fight songs run together, with one exception.  I absolutely love Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami…  It’s powerful, it’s moving and it is the most likely to be the film’s only Oscar of the night.

Best Original Score

Da 5 Bloods | Mank | Minari | News of the World | Soul

Truth be told, I can’t really remember these scores very well save for Pixar’s Soul, which is appropriate since music is at the heart of that film.  My single favorite film of 2021 didn’t snag a boatload of nominations but I think it will win this as well as Best Animated feature. 

Best Cinematography

Judas | Mank | News of the World | Nomadland | The Trial of the Chicago 7

Okay, let’s go ahead and shortlist this.  Toss out Judas, News and Trial and what we are left with is a contest of two films that are a masterclass of cinematography.  First time nominee Joshua James Richards proves himself to be the master of the Magic Hour in Nomadland, capturing the beauty and the loneliness of Frances McDormand’s journey through the vast American landscape.  Meanwhile, fellow first-time nominee Erik Messerschmidt was able to capture Gregg Toland’s style of pan-focus for Mank.  Yes, it is a movie that I have vast problems with, but I think Messerschmidt deserves the award here.

Best Production Design

The Father | Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Mank | News of the World | Tenet

I pair this down to two.  First is Mark Ricker (production design), Karen O’Hara and Diane Stoughton (set decoration) for recreating the dark, sweltering environs of a claustrophobic Chicago recording studio circa 1927.  The other is the frontrunner, David Graham Burt (production designer) and Jan Pascale (set decoration) who, for Mank, had to create the world of Hollywood’s Golden Age not simply in period detail but also in terms of what would work in black and white.  Bereft of permission to shoot a Hearst’s real San Simeon palace, Pascale had to have the sets built from scratch.

Best Costume Design

Emma | Mank | Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Mulan | Pinocchio

The nominees for Costume Design this year span all the way from 1930s Hollywood to 3rd century China and each has something remarkable to offer.  But it is 89-year-old veteran Ann Roth’s work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom that is the standout.  She fashioned a rubber suit for star Viola Davis that gave literal weight to Ma Rainey as well as her trademark flashy clothes, added to the also-nominated makeup, horsehair wigs and gold teeth.

Best Visual Effects

Love and Monsters | The Midnight Sky | Mulan | The One and Only Ivan | Tenet

Here is where the effects of the pandemic (no pun intended) are felt the most.  BVE is normally where the blockbusters reside, but with the absence of blockbusters (save for Wonder Woman 1984 which wasn’t nominated) the field is open in the absence of the MCU, the DCU or Star Wars.  It is also where I think that I am going to be completely wrong because up to this point my fellow pundits give the edge to The Midnight Sky, with its facial replacements, space walks and floating airlock of blood.  Yet, I still think (and Doug agrees) that a surprise may be in store for Tenet.  I didn’t have good things to say about Christopher Nolan’s very confusing time travel epic but I can’t ignore the craft of running time backward and forward to great effect (that car heist was a gas) and I have a strange feeling that the VE voters might agree.

Best Documentary Feature

Collective | Crip Camp | The Mole Agent | My Octopus Teacher | Time 

If you wanted a timely documentary in 2020, you couldn’t do better than Garrett Bradley’s Time (no pun intended), the story of Rob Rich, a black man serving a ridiculous 60-year sentence for robbing a bank and his wife Fox, a fighter, a businesswoman and a mother of six who spends two decades fighting for her husband’s release . . . and yet.  I really think the scales tip towards James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham’s Crip Camp, a rousing call for social change for individuals living with disabilities as well as the unknown history of a free-wheeling Bohemian summer camp that sprung up just down the road from Woodstock for those whose lives were headed toward institutionalization and discrimination where sports, smoking and free love allowed the campers to feel like human beings for the very first time.  This is a documentary with a range of emotions and a historical arc that is absolutely captivating.

Best Documentary Short

Collette | A Concerto is a Conversation | Do Not Split | Hunger Ward | A Love Song for Latasha

For the first time in my 30 years as an Oscar pundit, I have seen all five of the year’s nominees for Best Documentary Shorts (thank you streaming).  For my money, the best is the 15-minute A Concerto is a Conversation, a journey in which a young film composer tracks his lineage through the words of his grandfather who tells of his lifelong journey from the Jim Crow south to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Yet, the winner will be A Love Song for Latasha, a story that I followed when it happened – the outrage that followed the murder of 15-year old Latasha Harlins killed in a convenience store by 51-year-old Korean proprietor Soon Ja Du who only received a 5-year suspended sentence, community service and a fine.  The murder, which took place just 12 days after the Rodney King beating and would fueled outrage in the black community over police brutality and would not only spark the L.A. riots.  It is a unique perspective (the infamous video of her murder is never shown) but her family and friends take care to share memories of Latasha as a person rather than just retread the crime.

Best Animated Short Film

Burrow | Genius Loci | If Anything Happens, I Love You | Opera | Yes-People

There are normally two or three films in the BASF category every year that I greet with ‘eh’, but this year is different.  This year’s nominees covered the spectrum of global issues (not in a bad way) and they were all enlightening in their own way.  The most striking is the frontrunner, If Anything Happens, I Love You, admittedly not the happiest entry in this category, the story of two parents mourning the loss of their child in a school shooting.  It’s an important emotional journey and the animation is incredible.

Best Live Action Short Film

Feelin’ Through | The Letter Room | The Present | Two Distant Strangers | White Eye

In a world besieged by social issues of every shape and size, once again, the nominees cover the spectrum and yet even with subjects as varied as disabilities and police brutality, this year’s crop of nominees are lighter in tone than previous years.  The frontrunner here is Two Distant Strangers, a unique perspective on the police brutality issue by doing two important things 1.) it has a light touch of comedy and 2.) it employs a clever Groundhog Day-style plot about a cartoonist tries to get home to his dog and has to repeat the same terrible police encounter over and over.  Jordon Peele did this scenario previously on “The Twilight Zone” but I think it works better here, giving it a refreshing twist.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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