Oscars 2021: Our Predictions for the Big Winners This Year
I try to predict how the 9000-odd Academy members will vote in the marquee categories.
Picking favourites, and standing steadfast by them, during the awards season is a form of masochism. For these annual self-congratulation rituals breed a ton of frustration, and provide rare satisfaction. It reaches a flashpoint right after the Oscar nominations are announced. Some flock to social media to air their outrage. Others, like me, grumble to themselves, or the nearest ally they can find. Each snub always feels like a personal slight somehow.
Yet, each year, so much energy is invested in this ultimately meaningless exercise. The Grammys and Oscars being “ratings disasters” are such a familiar headline, but you're still watching. You know they are not about excellence, but economics. But you're still rooting for that dark horse. More often than not, it won't even get nominated. On the rare occasion it does, and rarer still it wins, external reinforcement never tasted so sweet.
The 93rd Academy Awards had its considerable share of snubs. It had some surprises too. The nominees were not so white. More than one woman was nominated for Best Director for the first time. Two lead stars were nominated in the supporting actor category. Unlike the glitchy Golden Globes on Zoom, the Oscars will be an in-person ceremony. So, expect the usual pomp and pageantry. Agents and producers will be thanked, and long speeches will be cut off by “wrap it up” music.
On cue, I try to predict how the 9000-odd Academy members will vote in the marquee categories: the “Big Five” (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay). I will also look at nominees that should win but won't, and those that should have been contenders but aren't.
Nomadland quickly gathered steam as the film to beat, once it followed up top crowns at Venice and Toronto with a win at the Golden Globes. Now boosted by PGA, DGA and BAFTA wins, Chloé Zhao's meditative vision of life on the road is a near-certainty for Best Picture at the Oscars. The one film which could cause an upset is Aaron Sorkin's showier The Trial of the Chicago 7. David Fincher's Mank is the kind of loving homage to old Hollywood that the Academy is usually a sucker for. Think back to The Artist, Argo or even The Shape of Water. Emerald Fennell's vigilante thriller Promising Young Woman too seems unlikely to win, even though it is only about as edgy as the Academy can handle. Nomadland is the easier sell without doubt. The weight of recent history on its side, it has connected with critics, voters and the general public. Of the titles in contention, my own pick is Minari. Of those not in contention, it has to be First Cow. The three films from Zhao, Lee Isaac Chung and Kelly Reichardt (respectively) are all about the same thing in a way: people trying to survive on the fringes of society chasing the American Dream. If Minari cuts deeper than Nomadland (at least for me), First Cow resonates longer, and looks destined to endure as a classic of American cinema.
Who will win: Nomadland
Who should win: Minari
Who should've been in the running: First Cow, Lovers Rock, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, Shirley, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
The safe money is certainly on Chloé Zhao. Having already earned the admiration of her peers at Directors Guild Awards earlier this month, the Oscar is hers to lose. David Fincher perhaps flew closer to the sun than the others, but all the nominees delivered ambitious work. The grand scale of what Mank achieves still pales in comparison to the emotional scope of what Another Round achieves in Thomas Vinterberg's agile directorial hand. An intoxicating drama about unfulfilled lives is captured so intuitively by the Danish filmmaker it will resonate even if you aren't suffering through a midlife crisis, like Mads Mikkelsen and co do in the movie. Another Round is as much a director's tour-de-force as it is an actor's. As for who should have been nominated, Kelly Reichardt (First Cow) and Steve McQueen (Lovers Rock, Mangrove) pulled off something far more interesting on smaller budgets than what Fincher or Fennell did with Mank and Promising Young Woman respectively.
Who will win: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)
Who should win: Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)
Who should've been in the running: Kelly Reichardt (First Cow), Steve McQueen (Lovers Rock, Mangrove), Darius Marder (Sound of Metal), Josephine Decker (Shirley), Kitty Green (The Assistant)
Chadwick Boseman, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun turned in career-best work last year. But also in contention are two Oscar-winning veterans: Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman. There's a lot of sensitively captured pain among the nominees. Hopkins conveys the pain of a dementia-stricken man struggling to make sense of a shifting reality. Boseman's performance carries the weight of not just Black suffering throughout history, but his own untimely death. A posthumous win here would certainly be well-deserved. What really floored me was Riz Ahmed's anchoring performance in Sound of Metal. His searching eyes capture the frustrations of a musician wrestling with his disability and identity, and he does it without the need for words. At least five others belong in this category — Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Hugh Jackman (Bad Education), John Boyega (Red, White and Blue), Orion Lee (First Cow) — making a case for increasing the nomination limit to 10.
Who will win: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Who should win: Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
Who should've been in the running: Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Hugh Jackman (Bad Education), John Boyega (Red, White and Blue), Orion Lee (First Cow)
More deftly discerned pain in the Best Actress category too. Vanessa Kirby's performance aches with grief over losing her newborn child. Viola Davis and Andra Day play real-life music icons Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday, both of whom are engaged in power struggles with the White establishment. Carey Mulligan's avenging angel is arguably the best thing about Promising Young Woman, and I wouldn't grumble too much with her being the favourite because she's due an Oscar. But she does face stiff competition from Frances McDormand, who's really in by default. Hunting for a third Oscar to add to her mantle, McDormand's turn is more understated. But what I can't shake is Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man, which I saw more than a year ago. She doubled it up with an even more frantic performance in Shirley. Picking up from where she left off in Queen of Earth and Her Smell, Moss somehow brings something new to each women-on-the verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown role she takes on.
Who will win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Who should win: Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Who should've been in the running: Elisabeth Moss (The Invisible Man and Shirley), Han Ye-ri (Minari), Julia Garner (The Assistant), Jasna Djuricic (Quo vadis, Aida?), Haley Bennet (Swallow)
The screenplay categories tend to be seen as consolation prizes for filmmakers the Academy cold-shouldered in the Best Picture category but still yearns to be in their good graces. This year, that's One Night in Miami, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and The White Tiger in the Best Adapted Screenplay. But none of them are really the frontrunner. Nomadland is. Among the nominees, Florian Zeller's The Father — which Christopher Hampton based on Zeller's own play — is perhaps the strongest entry. It transcends the limitations of stage-to-screen adaptations, by skilfully playing to the strengths of each art form where necessary. If I'm Thinking of Ending Things had turned up on the Academy's radar, Charlie Kaufman should have been a serious consideration for adapting Iain Reid's unfilmable novel with a strand of introspection. While all five of this year's Best Original Screenplay nominees have also been nominated for Best Picture, they don't always overlap. The former often gives us a better idea of the year's best films than the latter. Because Best Original Screenplay is also the only category where genre films aren't entirely excluded. Consider Get Out which won in 2017, and Her in 2013. Or The Lobster which was nominated in 2016, and Ex Machina in 2015. But this year, the category had some glaring omissions, genre films or otherwise.
Who will win: Promising Young Woman
Who should win: Minari
Who should've been in the running: Dan Sallitt (Fourteen), Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Radha Blank (The 40-Year-Old Version), Kitty Green (The Assistant), Channing Godfrey Peoples (Miss Juneteenth)
Who will win: Nomadland
Who should win: The Father
Who should've been in the running: Charlie Kaufman (I'm Thinking of Ending Things), Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond (First Cow), Sarah Gubbins (Shirley), Rita Kalnejais (Babyteeth), Eleanor Catton (Emma)
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