• James Kunovski

2021 Oscars: Winner Predictions, Picks & Thoughts

Suffice to say, this has been a *long* awards season. However, this isn’t a write-up on Oscar burnout remedies, so don’t take your foot off the pedal yet. It’s time to start exploring the nominations, and a healthy time to place predictions. I’ll cover who will win (my predictions), who should (my personal favourite), and who was left out (a sixth slot, if you will). Amongst a global crisis, if the Academy was going for reinvention, they caught lightning in a bottle. Most of this chatter comes down to guilds and award streaks, so I’ll try to keep it as fresh as possible. From an embrace of independent cinema to overdue recognition for actors of colour, here are my picks and thoughts for one of the Oscars most fruitful lineups in years.



Best Picture


“The Father”

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Mank”

“Minari”

“Nomadland”

“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: Nomadland

Should Win: “Minari” or “Nomadland”

Snubbed: “Another Round”

As it stands, the primo category is “Nomadland’s” to lose. Not only has it built up a commendable streak at other award bodies, especially those that seemed like they’d let it down (Globes & BAFTAs) but it has continued as the frontrunner when “Promising Young Woman” has proven too ‘divisive,’ “Minari” too ‘small’ and ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’ unmemorable. Last year, “Parasite” lost everything but the Oscar, so there’s an off-chance something could come out of the blue but we’re yet to see a close trailer that could overtake “Nomadland’s” passion — in a perfect year, that might have been the gorgeously sensitive “Minari.”



 

Best Director


Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

David Fincher, “Mank”

Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Will Win: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Should Win: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Snubbed: Jasmila Žbanić, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”



Zhao has won at least fifty critic and festival circuit awards for her sublimely minimalist directing for "Nomadland"; one of four talents recognised under her multi-hyphenate umbrella. Having won the crucial DGA, BAFTA and Golden Globe, her award string won’t run short by the Oscars, and rightfully so. Weaving a veteran actress with non-actors into a well-rounded work of fiction that explores community and spirit is a revelatory tour-de-force; a unique achievement, and a worthy palette cleanser for those still bitter over the Academy’s previous dismissal of “The Rider.”



 

Best Actor


Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”

Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”

Gary Oldman, “Mank”

Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Will Win: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

Should Win: Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Snubbed: Mads Mikkelsen, “Another Round”

Chadwick Boseman’s foray as Levee, the vivacious trumpeter whose stature is crumbling at the seams is nothing short of an Oscar-worthy turn. Dealt a compelling character arc and several standout scenes of varying potency, Boseman spins a triumphant spectacle. Though the sadness around a posthumous win still echoes, voters' ballots would resonate as a deserved tribute to a career that was well on its way to skyrocketing and this vivid and immortalised performance. My personal pick would be Yeun. He has the understated yet anchored performance amongst boisterous company. He grounds “Minari,” while also translating Chung’s vision in an effortless sway that has been sidelined this season.



 

Best Actress


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”

Will Win: Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Should Win: Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Snubbed: Jasna Đuričić, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”

Who knew this would end up being so chaotic? In this situation, I’ll make the case for each nominee.


Davis has shown she has support from her fellow peers (SAG win). It would be her second win, first for leading, (after Halle Berry, the second Black actress to do so), and a worthy accolade for one of the greatest actresses of her generation, who once again pulled off a fiery and memorable performance. That strong argument could be dampened by her limited screen time.


Day has the statistical strength of the Golden Globes win behind her but she’s also starring in a fairly mediocre film, something that could also affect Kirby, who didn’t win a major precursor.


McDormand is banking off that recent BAFTA win for her beautifully subtle turn as Fern in “Nomadland.” Consider that some anonymous ballots have shown hesitancy in awarding McDormand her third Oscar, even if she’s the lead in the night’s frontrunner.


I’m leaning Mulligan. Not only is this an opportunity to award her mesmerising out of the box leap into singularity, but a chance to support the thankless balancing act that makes “Promising Young Woman” so successful. Though she’s not an Oscar newcomer, (she was previously nominated for “An Education,”) voters might be compelled to recognise a new genre-defying performance that is rarely seen in this field. Also, like Olivia Colman’s win for “The Favourite,” if enough voters go with their favourite on the expectation that either Davis or McDormand will win, Mulligan could come out on top.



 

Best Supporting Actor

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 Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Should Win: Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”

Snubbed: Alan Kim, “Minari”



Kaluuya’s powerhouse turn as Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton has built up a genuine amount of attention this season, and there’s no discernible reason why the Academy would go against the grain. They only need to see the rousing “I am a revolutionary” scene and the competition is effectively wiped out. Since Kaluuya has received so much attention, I would like to spotlight Paul Raci for his outstanding work in “Sound of Metal.” Playing Joe, the guiding mentor at a facility for deaf recovering addicts, his real-life background is a perfect basis for the purpose-driven story and for the way he shapes Joe in a stream of memorable catalysts.



 

Best Supporting Actress


Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”

Olivia Colman, “The Father”

Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”

Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”



Will Win: Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

Should Win: Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

Snubbed: Olivia Cooke, “Sound of Metal”



While it started off choppy, over the season, the supporting actress race has straightened itself out and Korean veteran actress Youn has come out better for it. Youn plays the loveable, foul-mouthed, and endearingly outlandish grandmother Soonja, and her interactions with young David (Alan Kim) are some of the film’s strongest talking points. The way she juggles that side of Soonja with an emotional and sincere arc is brilliant, and you guessed it, Oscar-worthy.



 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Mank”

“News of the World”

“Nomadland”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “Nomadland”

Should Win: “Nomadland”

Snubbed: “Sound of Metal”



Joshua James Richards’ gorgeous photography for “Nomadland” has a stronghold on the category. He marries the dreamlike and expansive American west with a generous scope on Fern’s emotions. That duo stands as a sturdy companion to Zhao’s genius. Plucking inspiration from Terrence Malick and continuing the fly-on-the-wall nature of Zhao’s work, Richards’ style turns “Nomadland” into a poetic and beguiling feast.



 

Best Film Editing


“The Father”

“Nomadland”

“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Should Win: “The Father”

Snubbed: “The Invisible Man”



The race is mostly between “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Sound of Metal” — both tying for the Critics’ Choice doesn’t make things easier. Here’s why one of my favourite categories has me teetering with the possibility of an eleventh hour change.

“Sound of Metal” masterfully plays with the nuance of conversations, especially when sign language is involved, and mirrors the confusion and frustration when hearing loss starts to take shape. “The Father” takes that horror over losing a vital, (in this case, memory), and completely runs with it, seamlessly moulding inner torment with terror, in a way that makes the play-like material feel inherently cinematic. Those two films boast their modesty — unfortunately, this branch has proven time and time again it doesn’t care for that.


Segue into “Chicago 7,” a high-octane courtroom drama that juggles bountiful flashbacks, eye-lines and reactions shots. “Trial” hits the ground running in its high-paced, highly expositional opening sequence. That whiplash energy doesn’t settle down and it’s all voters have to see to make up their mind. All nominees are deserving; the merits of “Nomadland’s” glacial and careful freedom and “Promising Young Woman’s” pressure-cooker thrills should not be discounted. This begs the question, how do you judge a medium which is almost always designed to be invisible?


 

Best Documentary Feature


“Collective”

“Crip Camp”

“The Mole Agent”

“My Octopus Teacher”

“Time”

Will Win: “My Octopus Teacher”

Should Win: “Collective” or “Time”

Snubbed: “Boys State”



Academy members scared by “Time” and “The Mole Agent’s” experimentalism, “Collective’s” bleakness, and the archival “Crip Camp” will find solace in “My Octopus Teacher,” an approachable crowd-pleaser about one man’s inexplicable connection with an ‘otherworldly’ creature. Already popular in awards circles (it has won the PGA & BAFTA), it is by far the safest choice and something that will comfortably stumble into voters’ ballots. A shame really, when “Collective,” an achingly explosive recount of corruption through the lens of unflinching journalism, and the essential “Time,” an unassuming appeal against the weight of the American prison system on a father-less family, have taken a back seat everywhere else.



 

Best Documentary Short Subject


“Colette”

“A Concerto Is a Conversation”

“Do Not Split”

“Hunger Ward”

“A Love Song for Latasha”



Will Win: “A Love Song for Latasha”

Should Win: “Do Not Split”

Snubbed: “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa”



Netflix could bag another win in their most reliable category, (if you’re following a ratio of wins to nominations), with the timely and powerful “A Love Song for Latasha.” By moving past the allure of sensationalised headlines and the mournfulness of eulogies,“Love Song” crafts a moving letter, suffused with surrealism, for Latasha Harlins and her legacy. All of these shorts are gruelling business; any ounce of feel good material was left in the shortlist. However, they all share crucial stories — take the rousing Hong Kong protest-centred “Do Not Split.” Incredibly paced, shot, and edited with passion, it tells a vital story that might also benefit from its visual parallels to America’s past summer.


 

Best Animated Feature


“Onward”

“Over the Moon”

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”

“Soul”

“Wolfwalkers”

Will Win: “Soul”

Should Win: “Soul”

Snubbed: “On-Gaku: Our Sound”



Probably not wise to bet against Pixar and the talents of two-time winner Pete Docter. “Soul,” the blissful, existential and mature product of a studio finessing its craft to near-perfection might as well take the trophy now.



 

Best Animated Short


“Burrow”

“Genius Loci”

“If Anything Happens I Love You”

“Opera”

“Yes-People”



Will Win: “If Anything Happens I Love You”

Should Win: “Opera”

Snubbed: “The Snail and the Whale”



While Erick Oh’s singular, instantly re-watchable “Opera” deserves to win for its bold vision, the Academy is likely to sway in favour of the commercially appealing “If Anything Happens I Love You.” Without spoiling the dread-filled crux, this piercing and poetic short explores a flurry of emotions, both painful and cathartic, and expands to volumes courageous for a twelve minute short. This category is often dominated by Disney’s top-release prefaces, so it’s always refreshing when voters advocate for modesty.


 

Best Live Action Short


“Feeling Through”

“The Letter Room”

“The Present”

“Two Distant Strangers”

“White Eye”



Will Win: “Two Distant Strangers”

Should Win: “White Eye”

Snubbed: “The Human Voice”



It’s a two-horse race between “Two Distant Strangers” and “The Letter Room.” “Two Distant Strangers” likely has the lead. Although the approach is clunky and mishandled, the concept makes enough of an impression to attract votes. “The Letter Room” has the star power to cross the finish line. I take issue with stars foraying into the medium that is supposed to platform up-and-coming directors but my issue won’t affect ballots. This could be another eleventh-hour change. For some reason, the Academy loves to award mediocre shorts — why, when the Israeli “White Eye” tackles bias and prejudice over a seemingly stolen bike, all in a devastating single take...


 

Best International Feature


“Another Round” (Denmark)

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania)

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)



Will Win: “Another Round” (Denmark)

Should Win: “Another Round” (Denmark)

Snubbed: “La Llorona” (Guatemala)



Denmark will continue its impressive track record (three wins and thirteen nominations) with Thomas Vinterberg’s contemplative booze-drama “Another Round.” The ineligible “Minari” banked off its Korean dialogue and won most ‘foreign-language’ awards, save the BAFTA. Vinterberg has now staked his claim; an unexpected inclusion in the directors lineup only boosts his chances. A deserved win for this cocktail of alcohol, mid-life maelstroms and Scandinavian insight. I’ll drink to that.



 

Best Original Score


“Da 5 Bloods”

“Mank”

“Minari”

“News of the World”

“Soul”

Will Win: “Soul”

Should Win: “Minari” or “Soul”

Snubbed: “Tenet”



The way the trio behind “Soul” blend the vibrancy of jazz with the meditative brooding of galactic electronica would be deserving of accolades. Add the pressure of simulating the fabricated soundscapes of animation and their effort becomes revolutionary. Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross have won healthily in the lead up, but Emile Mosseri’s touching and gentle score for “Minari,” with two original songs in tow, is worthy competition.


 

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 sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead”

“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”



Will Win: “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”

Should Win: “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Snubbed: “Turntables” from “All In: The Fight for Democracy”



Leslie Odom Jr. is the fourth consecutive actor to be nominated for both their performance and songwriting in the same year. Odom Jr. is aimed to clinch the prize for “Speak Now,” a genuinely stirring ballad, and one of three nominated songs that grapples with a similar topic. My personal pick would be “Fight for You,” which I can’t stop playing (send help). Even a win for “Husavik” would be a change of pace. Who doesn’t love a pop power ballad that undermines the predictability of the genre its parodying — extra points for not being a credit song.


 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling


“Emma.”

“Hillbilly Elegy”

“Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

“Mank”

“Pinocchio”

Will Win: “Pinocchio”

Should Win: “Pinocchio”

Snubbed: “Birds of Prey”



“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has outperformed itself in the makeup circuits and it’s not something I particularly understand, especially when the prosthetics masterclass that is “Pinocchio” stands in its company. Most guild awards split the prosthetics from the non-prosthetic and through that criteria, both films have been awarded. “Pinocchio” might have the edge because of its prevalence throughout, whereas “Ma Rainey” mainly banks on the work done to its titular character. Also something that stands out — branch voters can obtain a clear idea of “Pinocchio’s” craft, no zoom-ins required.



 

Best Costume Design


“Emma.”

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

“Mank”

“Mulan”

“Pinocchio”

Will Win: “Mulan”

Should Win: “Mulan”

Snubbed: “Promising Young Woman”



“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s” outfits by legendary Ann Roth won its respective category at the recent Costume Designers Guild Awards in a decision that has cemented it as many prognosticators' favourite. What they miss, however, is that “Mulan” also won that night, in the sci/fi & fantasy field. The politics and substance around “Mulan” is iffy, to say the least, but it’s a vision that prioritised style; Bina Daigeler’s costumes stand out on top. A film littered with stale scenes could benefit from a designer’s point of view — if you ever find yourself zoning out, just chew on the designs. On the other hand, “Ma Rainey” could suffer from a limited wardrobe that loses itself in an execution that favours blocking and shattering performances. I’m banking on an upset, akin to “Fantastic Beasts” win over “Jackie” but I’m also bracing myself for that door to come slamming in my face.



 

Best Production Design


“The Father”

“Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

“Mank”

“News of the World”

“Tenet”

Will Win: “Mank”

Should Win: “The Father”

Snubbed: “Emma.”



The Academy loves when production designers change their beloved Los Angeles into a retro paradigm. “Mank” will follow in the footsteps of “La La Land” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” for its ardent recreation of Old Hollywood’s wealth and opulence, notably through its blueprints of Hearst Castle, Cafe Trocadero and the mahogany-lined walls of executive offices. Although this branch doesn’t particularly like contemporary design, “The Father” deserves praise for its ever-changing rooms, corridors and details that perfectly accompany a whirlpool of disorientation.



 

Best Sound


“Greyhound”

“Mank”

“News of the World”

“Soul”

“Sound of Metal”

Will Win: “Sound of Metal”

Should Win: “Sound of Metal”

Snubbed: “The Outpost”



Perhaps it’s abrasive to flock towards a film that has ‘sound’ in the title. Though “Sound of Metal” truly comes alive by moving away from the metallic-clashing that its title insinuates, to embody an intimate detail of hearing’s wavering range, how atmospheres grow when the world goes mute, and the difficult sonic journey of recapturing a ‘birth-right’ trait of life.


 

Best Visual Effects


“Love and Monsters”

“The Midnight Sky”

“Mulan”

“The One and Only Ivan”

“Tenet”



Will Win: “Tenet”

Should Win: “The Midnight Sky”

Snubbed: “Mank”



This year’s competition is fairly standard across the board. The summer popcorn flicks and the Best Picture overlap (which boosts winning chances) are missing. This branch loves to award ‘prestige’ films that satisfy their taste for ‘artistic’ interpretations of the craft. “Tenet” will draw the long end of that stick even if its supervisors admitted it has less effects shots than an average romcom. Maybe “The Midnight Sky,” an effects-heavy film with a space sequence and loads of green sequence should win — what’s not to love in that?


 

Best Adapted Screenplay


“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

“The Father”

“Nomadland”

“One Night in Miami”

“The White Tiger”



Will Win: “Nomadland”

Should Win: “Nomadland”

Snubbed: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”



Zhao takes bold strokes building her story. Her mediative scope that favours singular moments over a resignation to traditional storytelling will likely result in Zhao’s (third) win for the night. Brimming with down to earth soul, it feels deeply authentic and greatly expands on a profound source material. “Nomadland” is likely on the top of voters’ screener lists, so I’m not straying into “The Father” territory yet.


 

Best Original Screenplay


“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Minari”

“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”



Will Win: “Promising Young Woman”

Should Win: “Promising Young Woman”

Snubbed: “Mank”



Fennell’s whip-smart and thrilling screenplay has (thankfully) been propelled by wins from the BAFTAs and Writers Guild of America. Fennell has pulled off an incredible task like no other, moulding the conventions of thrillers, dark comedy and a hint of horror with a seemingly simple revenge tale. Most importantly, when it comes to judging in this category, Fennell’s script reads beautifully; her attention to detail and descriptively visceral wording, especially when it comes down to primitive behaviour, is clever, taut, and potential future study material.


 

This awards season has been a rollercoaster. Last year's cinematic mess resulted in one of the most pleasing set of nominees in recent Oscar awareness. Recently I’ve been going through “Parasite’s” wins and though the page will soon be turned on a new chapter of winners, I’m looking forward to seeing how they write their path in film, and Oscar history. This year’s producer trio promise that next week’s ceremony will feel like a movie and though I've still no idea what that actually means, I’m eager, as always, to see how this all plays out.