Chasing Oscar 2021: The Predictions (Round 1)

This is an unprecedentedly strange awards season.

COVID-19 has ravaged Hollywood, shutting down theaters for the foreseeable future and forcing many films onto streaming services to be seen by a captive audience. Sensing the impending calamity fairly early, the Academy extended the eligibility period, allowed streaming-only movies to compete, and pushed its ceremony back to April, to be hopefully held in-person at the Dolby Theatre (which seems increasingly unlikely). The benefit of this new season paradigm is that the Oscar contenders are more accessible than they’ve ever been, with many of them streamable on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, or HBO Max. It effectively renders the premise of my Chasing Oscar series – to challenge myself to see as many contending films before the ceremony – moot.

There are still plenty of contenders yet to be released, but with many of the big players under my belt, now feels like a good time to look out the Oscar races and begin predicting what and who will end up where. I’ve also taken the liberty to denote that the nominees I think will win (in bold) and should win (underlined).

I’ll update my predictions after the Oscar eligibility deadline (and I’ve hopefully seen the remaining films). In the meantime, check out your potential future Oscar nominees (and winners), in my humble opinion. You can follow along with my Oscar contender reviews, updated live, here.

The films I’ve seen (reviews are linked): Nomadland, One Night in MiamiNews of the WorldThe Trial of the Chicago 7Promising Young WomanMa Rainey’s Black BottomMinariDa 5 BloodsMank, Pieces of a Woman, A Life Ahead

The films I’ve yet to see: Soul, The Father, Malcolm & Marie, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Way Back, First Cow, The United States v.s. Billie Holliday, French Exit, Cherry

Best Picture
Predicted nominees: Nomadland, One Night in MiamiNews of the WorldThe Trial of the Chicago 7Promising Young WomanMa Rainey’s Black BottomMinari, SoulDa 5 BloodsMank

Right now, momentum is on Nomadland’s side, with a slew of critics awards on its mantle. Expect that to continue well past nomination day, with the film slated to premiere on Hulu in late February. The remaining contenders are relatively straightforward, with each capturing attention in one way or another. The one movie I would keep an eye on is News of the WorldMank seemed like the traditional Oscar favorite – a film extolling the glories of Hollywood – but I would argue that the Academy might get behind the Tom Hanks vehicle and its message about the power of storytelling.

Best Director
Predicted nominees: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), Regina King (One Night in Miami), David Fincher (Mank), Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)

More than a decade after Kathryn Bigelow became the first female Best Director winner, either Chloé Zhao or Regina King will likely follow in her footsteps. The smart money is on Zhao, but don’t underestimate Hollywood’s affection for Regina King and for actors who successfully transition into directing. If she won, it would be the first time a Black director claimed the category. David Fincher is a lock for Mank, while Aaron Sorkin will likely score his first Best Director nomination for The Trial of the Chicago 7. The fifth slot is a toss-up between Lee Isaac Chung for Minari and Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods. I would give Chung the edge because of Da 5 Bloods’ early release, but that film’s intense cultural relevance could catapult it, and Lee, back into the forefront.

Best Actor
Predicted nominees: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), and Gary Oldman (Mank)

There are plenty of worthy contenders in this category, but Chadwick Boseman has emerged as the clear frontrunner by a country mile. His towering performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, combined with the tragedy of his untimely passing, recall Heath Ledger’s posthumous Best Supporting Actor win in 2009. I doubt Oscar voters will pass up the opportunity to reward a standout performance and a frequently overlooked career. If there was a spoiler, or rather a second-place finisher, it is Riz Ahmed’s astonishing performance in Sound of Metal. Rounding out the category will likely be Delory Lindo in Da 5 Bloods, Gary Oldman in Mank, and presumably Anthony Hopkins in The Father. The category isn’t set in stone, however. Steven Yuen’s steadfast performance in Minari could drum up support. One Night in Miami’s Halo effect could benefit Kinglsey Ben-Adir’s humanized portrayal of Malcolm X. Tom Hanks could perhaps wrestle in an elder statesman nomination for News of the World. If one of them finds a way in, it will probably be at Gary Oldman’s expense.

Best Actress
Predicted nominees: Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Zendaya (Malcolm & Marie)

Unlike Best Actor, this category has a bit more room to breathe. Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, Frances McDormand for Nomadland, Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman are locked in, but the fifth slot is wide open. Zendaya, fresh off an Emmy win, has earned significant buzz for the yet-to-be-released Malcolm & Marie, while Oscar veterans Sophia Loren and Michelle Pfeiffer could earn career-capping nominations for A Life Ahead and The French Exit, respectively. As for the frontrunner, I’m giving the edge to Carey Mulligan. Unlike Davis and McDormand, she would be a first-time Oscar winner. Promising Young Woman is a stronger film than Pieces of a Woman, and will likely be nominated in several other categories, including Best Picture, giving Mulligan an edge over Kirby.

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami), Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Expect The Trial of the Chicago 7 to claim at least two slots in this category, one for frontrunner Sacha Baron Cohen. While some are backing Oscar winner Mark Rylance, I’m backing Abdul-Mateen II, who steals several scenes and has a recent Emmy win on his side (see Zendaya). Leslie Odom Jr. will mount a serious challenge with his soul-stirring, Oscar-ready rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.” Paul Raci’s sensitive but firm performance in Sound of Metal has been breaking big with critics’ associations. Rounding out the category is Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah, with critics raving that his show-stopping performance as Fred Hampton could be a late-breaking winner.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted nominees: Amanda Seyfried (Mank), Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari), Helena Zengel (News of the World), Ellen Burstyn (Pieces of a Woman), Olivia Colman (The Father)

Mank has lost its awards momentum in recent, but Amanda Seyfried’s charming portrayal of Marion Davies has her as the comfortable frontrunner in the category. Her most substantial competition appears to be Yuh-Jung Youn, who serves as both comedic relief and heartbreaking foundation of Minari. After Parasite failed to yield any acting nominations last year, expect Minari’s passionate base to push hard for Youn. Ellen Burstyn’s confrontation with Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman is sure to guarantee a slot, and Olivia Colman is expected to garner her second nomination playing opposite Anthony Hopkins in The Father. Many critics are leaning towards Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. I can see Academy voters pulling a Tatum O’Neal and rallying behind the astonishing Helena Zengel for News of the World.

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