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Oscar Predictions 2021

Hallelujah! The latest Oscar ceremony ever is finally nigh after being delayed two months because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The 93rd edition of the Academy Awards will take place Sunday on April 25 as little gold men will be handed out in 23 categories. Anyone who has been anticipating the event knows that most of the competing titles are mainly indie movies that have been shown online on both streaming sites and VOD for safety’s sake. So this is the perfect time to predict who will win based on the clues given by what earlier events such as the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild Awards. But as a sentient human being, I often struggle with picking with my heart instead of my head—something I am allowing myself to do in at least one category this year. Here are my predictions, starting with the easiest one:

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

The winner: “Nomadland”
Possible upset: “Minari”
Ever since filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” about a group of uprooted senior citizens who choose to live in their RVs, became the first film to win both Venice’s Golden Lion and Toronto’s People’s Choice Award, it has been the one to beat. It has only solidified that status with the top prizes at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and Producers Guild. “Minari,” about a Korean family trying to make their American dream come true, is also much admired, but my head is saying no.

BEST DIRECTOR
Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round
David Fincher, “Mank”
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

The winner: Chloé Zhao
Possible upset: Emerald Fennell
History will be made as Zhao is a shoo-in to take this prize, especially after taking the Directors Guild Award. She will be only the second female to win in this category, following Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” and she will be the first Asian woman to do so.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Steven Yeun, “Minari”

The winner: Chadwick Boseman
Possible upset: Anthony Hopkins
After a career full of hero roles ranging from baseball legend Jackie Robinson to superhero Black Panther, Boseman’s last big-screen role was as an ambitious and cocky trumpet player who wants to make the big time while antagonizing his band mates. If he triumphs, Boseman would be just the third actor to earn a statuette posthumously, following Peter Finch’s best actor win for 1976’s “Network” and Heath Ledger’s supporting actor prize as the Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” As for Hopkins, he won his lone Oscar for his indelible role as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” Given that at the age of 83, he broke the record of being the oldest lead actor to be nominated and earned a BAFTA award for his portrait of a dementia sufferer, there might be some sentiment on his side.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
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 Women”

The winner: Carey Mulligan
Possible upset: Viola Davis
Here is where I listen to my heart. Nominated only once before for her lead as a precocious schoolgirl in 2009’s “An Education,” Mulligan was often underestimated in such roles as 2011’s “Shame” and 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.” But “Promising Young Woman” probably required double the acting and emoting than her fellow nominees, given that her character pulls a ruse every night to teach men who prey on vulnerable inebriated women a lesson. Mulligan injected just the right bite to her role to encapsulate the #MeToo era. It also didn’t hurt that she hosted “Saturday Night Live” and had another admired role in “The Dig.” As much as I admire Davis, especially the scene when diva-esque blues legend holds up the recording process in the studio by demanding several bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola, this isn’t my favorite of her roles. But I think the fact that she only sings one tune herself is a drawback. Also, her movie was overlooked in the Best Picture line-up. Plus, she already has an Oscar for her supporting role in 2016’s “Fences.”

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
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”

The winner: Daniel Kaluuya
Possible upset: Paul Raci
In a close race, Kaluuya benefited from the fact that his flashy role as Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton was in a 2021 release and felt fresher than the movies that came out last year. The British performer previously earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work in the 2017 horror film “Get Out.” Considering he has already won a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice Award, a SAG award and a BAFTA, he’s the clear frontrunner here. And he did a bang-up job of showing his humorous side by recently hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Then there's the dark horse Raci, a 73-year-old character actor with four decades of experience, who was raised as a child of deaf adults and is fluent in American sign language, and used his experience to play a deaf mentor to Riz Ahmed’s heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. His role being a true supporting effort might give him an edge over the others.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”

The winner: Yuh-Jung Youn
Possible spoiler: Glenn Close
After winning a SAG honor as well as a BAFTA trophy, 73-year-old Youn—known as the Korean Meryl Streep—stumbled while trying to thank the British contingent who honored her by declaring them to be “snobbish.” Her innocent flub on camera made her speech one of the highlights of the Oscar season so far. She currently carries the honor of being the first Korean performer to be up for Best Supporting Actress. Her chemistry with Alan S. Kim as her eight-year-old grandson, both of whom are hooked on Mountain Dew, helps elevate her performance to the next level. It comes down to the war of the grandmothers. Close is clearly the best reason to watch Ron Howard’s sub-par film version of “Hillbilly Elegy.” But she was also nominated for a Razzie for her feisty “Terminator”-loving senior citizen known as Mamaw as well. Sadly, she will likely tie the late Peter O’Toole’s record of eight losses with no wins on Sunday night.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern
“The Father” by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
“Nomadland” by Chloé Zhao
“One Night in Miami” by Kemp Powers
The White Tiger” by Ramin Bahrani

The winner: “Nomadland”
Possible spoiler: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
While Zhao’s script did not qualify to compete in the Writers Guild Awards, the momentum behind her film will likely continue in this category as well.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Judas and the Black Messiah” by Will Berson & Shaka King
“Minari” by Lee Isaac Chung
“Promising Young Woman” by Emerald Fennell
“Sound of Metal” by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” by Aaron Sorkin

The winner: “Promising Young Woman”
Possible spoiler: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Emerald Fennell won the WGA award, which allows her to be considered ahead of the pack. If she takes the gold, she would be the first woman to win in the category since Diablo Cody in 2008 for “Juno.” And it would also be the first time that female writers triumphed in both script categories. Aaron Sorkin is much admired for his verbally astute writing, but not having a directing nom might work against him.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Onward
Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

The winner: “Soul”
Possible spoiler: “Wolfwalkers”
Pixar and Disney titles usually end up taking this category. In the past decade, only two cartoon winners came from other studios than the House of Mouse: 2011’s “Rango” from Paramount and 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” 

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Collective
“Crip Camp”
The Mole Agent
“My Octopus Teacher”
Time

The winner: “My Octopus Teacher”
Possible spoiler: “Time”
This unusual doc follows a filmmaker who feels disconnected in his own life and decides to free-dive in a cold underwater kelp forest near Cape Town, South Africa. He eventually encounters a curious female octopus and forms a relationship with the creature who teaches him lessons about life and survival. Wins at the BAFTA and PGA Awards recently have made it clear that this Netflix original is the obvious frontrunner.  

DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Colette
“A Concerto Is a Conversation”
“Do Not Split”
“Hunger Ward”
“A Love Song for Latasha”

The winner: “A Concerto Is a Conversation”
Possible spoiler: “A Love Song for Latasha”
While all five contenders pack a punch, this short about a Black pianist who digs up his family’s lineage back to the Jim Crow South is the most inspiring of the bunch (read more about it here).

ANIMATED SHORT
“Burrow”
“Genius Loci”
“If Anything Happens I Love You”
“Opera”
“Yes-People”

The winner: “If Anything Happens I Love You”
Possible spoiler: “Burrow”
This hand-drawn animated feature depicts how grief affects the parents of a child who was killed by gun violence while the ghosts of the lives before tragedy struck haunt them. Considering the timeliness of the subject matter, this cartoon will likely move voters, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s been a streaming hit on Netflix, where it’s available now.
 
LIVE ACTION SHORT
“Feeling Through”
“The Letter Room”
“The Present”
“Two Distant Strangers”
“White Eye”

The winner: “Two Distant Strangers”
Possible spoiler: “The Letter Room”
This short inspired by the George Floyd protest is set in a time loop and stars rapper Joey Bada$$ and has some top-of-the line producers in the form of Sean Combs, Adam McKay, and NBA star Kevin Durant. As for “The Letter Room,” it never hurts when a short snags a major star as its lead player—in this case, a mustachioed Oscar Isaac. He plays a kindly prison guard who gets transferred to the letter room. It doesn’t take long for him to get involved with the personal lives of the inmates.

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
“Another Round” 
“Better Days” 
“Collective” 
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Quo Vadis, Aida?

The winner: “Another Round”
Possible spoiler: “Collective”
After filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s surprise nomination for Best Director, this title about a band of men who drink their way through their mid-life slump that stars a top-notch Mads Mikkelsen became a clear frontrunner in this category. It would be shocking if the support that landed the director nomination didn’t translate to a win here.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
“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

The winner: “Nomadland”
Possible spoiler: “Mank”
The key to correctly guessing below-the-line categories is to choose the film with the most of whatever craft is being saluted. In this case, Mother Nature is practically McDormand’s co-star as the camera celebrates the majesty of Western deserts, multihued skies, rocky terrain and exotic fauna and flora while indulging in glorious magic-hour tableaus. As for a potential upset, the last time that an Oscar hopeful made a big splash by being in black and white was 2011’s “The Artist.” Like David Fincher’s “Mank,” it was set in the early days of the motion picture industry. “Mank” could provide some heavy competition for the frontrunner.

BEST EDITING
“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

The winner: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Possible spoiler: “Sound of Metal”
If we stick to the more is better philosophy, “Sound of Metal” would triumph. But I am hedging that bet since “The Trial of the Chicago 7” won the ACE Eddie Award for dramatic feature.

BEST SOUND
Greyhound
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Soul”
“Sound of Metal”

The winner: “Sound of Metal”
Possible spoiler: None. 
This year the Academy finally realized that most common folk never really knew the difference in sound editing and sound mixing. Therefore, they simplified the process by making it a single category. Given that the word “sound” is in the very title of this shoo-in about a rock drummer who loses his hearing is one of the surest bets of the evening. 

ORIGINAL SCORE
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

The winner: “Soul”
Possible spoiler: “Minari”
Given that “Soul” is all about the making of music, it probably has the most-packed score of any of these contenders. It doesn’t hurt that the talent responsible is in the form of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross—who previously won the category for their work on 2010’s “The Social Network” and are double nominees this year—along with master pianist Jon Batiste contributing jazz compositions. ”Minari” has a knock-out of a score thanks to composer Emile Mosseri, but it is unlikely to be a threat to the Pixar publicity machine.

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

The winner: “Husavik”
Possible spoiler: “Speak Now”
“The Story of Fire Saga,” a spoof of the Eurovison Song Contest, doesn’t hit enough campy comedic high notes, but it does end well with this memorable soaring power ballad that feels likely to become a welcome earworm long after the movie ends. The potential spoiler was co-written by Leslie Odom Jr. who also plays crooner Sam Cooke in Regina King’s film. He is just the fourth person to earn a song and acting bid in the same year.  

COSTUME DESIGN
Emma,” Alexandra Byrne
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth
“Mank,” Trish Summerville
“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler
“Pinnochio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini

The winner: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Possible spoiler: “Emma”
More is better and the flashy 1920s era fashions onscreen created by stalwart Ann Roth will likely take home the trophy, tying “Call Me by Your Name” screenwriter James Ivory as the oldest Oscar winner ever.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
“Emma”
“Hillbilly Elegy”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
Pinocchio

The winner: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Possible spoiler: “Hillbilly Elegy”
Just looking at the glistening makeup on Viola Davis’ face as well as her much-maintained coif allows us to believe she is the mother of the blues.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
“The Father”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“News of the World”
Tenet

The winner: “Mank”
Possible spoiler: “The Father”
Any project that can recreate the Hearst Castle, which was referred to as Xanadu in “Citizen Kane,” onscreen deserves gold and more. As for “The Father,” a key element that supplements the storyline is how the sets of this drama are forever changing. They reflect the disorientation and anxiety that Anthony Hopkins’ dementia patient suffers as his health status goes from bad to worst and his living circumstances and caretakers change.

VISUAL EFFECTS
Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
“Mulan”
The One and Only Ivan
“Tenet”

The winner: “Tenet”
Possible spoiler: “The Midnight Sky”
I give thumbs down to the complicated plot, but director Christopher Nolan rarely makes a misstep when it comes to jaw-dropping special effects.

Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly thirty years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

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