Oscars 2021: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

Normally, around this time of year, I would be lodging many complaints about who was nominated at the Oscars: too white, too male, too many white male biopics. But this is not a normal year in any sense. Most of the traditional Oscar bait was pushed off until we can see it in theaters again, which means that most of the nominees are more indie, and, in my opinion, more deserving than usual. Stories that usually wouldn’t gain traction with the Academy–movies made by and about women, biopics about lesser-known and more radical pockets of history, smaller stories about fringe subcultures and the lives of American immigrants–are now set to sweep the Oscars on Sunday night.

As a result, this is a historic year for the Oscars, in good ways as well as sad ones. There were many notable “firsts” in the nominees: Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim man nominated for Best Actor, while Steven Yeun is the first Asian man, Judas and the Black Messiah is the first Best Picture nominee with an all-black production team, and Chloé Zhao is the first Asian-American woman and the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director. Also, after the Academy failed to nominate any women for Best Director last year, this is the first year two women were nominated in the category. I want the pandemic to end, but can we just cancel all of the Oscar bait every year?

As is my annual tradition, I’ve watched all of the Best Picture nominees except one–this year, it’s Mank. I gave it a try, because I love Amanda Seyfried, but I just couldn’t get through it. But other than that, I don’t have all that many complaints! There were still a few snubs, of course–mostly films that came out to great acclaim early last year and were promptly forgotten, like Kitty Green’s #MeToo thriller The Assistant or Eliza Hittman’s abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Women had a good year, y’all!

Here are my final Oscar predictions: who will win, and who should win.

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: Promising Young Woman

There are really only two Oscar bait-y movies on this list: Mank, a very boring and pleased-with-itself throwback to Old Hollywood, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, an entertaining courtroom drama with witty dialogue, an overly sentimental patriotism, and big melodramatic redemption arcs for harmful white men while rousing music plays in the background. (So an Aaron Sorkin movie, although mercifully light on the daddy issues.) Everything else on this list is a little more offbeat and essentially worthy. I wouldn’t be upset about a win for Sound of Metal, Minari, or The Father–all devastatingly well-acted character studies, even if they’re lacking a little in narrative thrust. I’d be happy about a win for Judas and the Black Messiah, which unlike The Trial of the Chicago 7, really did that period justice in all of its complexity. Nomadland will almost certainly win for its authentic tribute to a uniquely American subculture. But I would have to go with Promising Young Woman, which is just firing on all cylinders, from the writing and direction right down to the casting of beloved early aughts heartthrobs as insidious, rapey “nice guys.”

Snubs: The Assistant, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, One Night in Miami

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

David Fincher, Mank

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round

Will win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Should win: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Chloé Zhao’s all-but-inevitable win will be both historic–she’ll be the first Asian-American woman to win the prize–and well-deserved. Nomadland is beautifully filmed, and her work with non-professional actors is a triumph of empathy. That said, I could write a dissertation on Emerald Fennell’s audacious directorial choices in Promising Young Woman (in fact, I made all of my students write papers about those choices this semester). The way she plays with genre expectation is nothing short of masterful; she deserves the Oscar for the “Stars Are Blind” rom-com montage alone.

Snubs: Kitty Green, The Assistant; Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Regina King, One Night in Miami

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: Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

This race is the most open of any of the acting races, but it looks like it will go to either Carey Mulligan or Viola Davis. They’re both fantastic, but my vote would go to Vanessa Kirby’s tour de force performance in Pieces of a Woman. The film itself can’t live up to the promise of the harrowing first act, which portrays a tragic home birth gone wrong in one claustrophobic take, but Kirby’s fiercely committed and physical performance is what awards shows were made for.

Snubs: Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear; Julia Garner, The Assistant; Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Han Yeri, Minari; Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma

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: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Boseman’s tragically early death makes him a lock for this category, but he would deserve the award regardless. His performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom shows an incredible range–he can veer from carefree charisma to seething anger and then back again, all within the same scene. Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed should both win Oscars at some point, but Boseman earned this one.

Snubs: Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman, The Father

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Will win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Should win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Yuh-Jung is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking as the inappropriate grandma in Minari, and deserves the win. I would also be happy with Olivia Colman, although my favorite supporting turn this year came from newcomer Talia Ryder in the unsung abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. She had a less flashy role than the (also excellent) lead actress Sidney Flanigan, but Ryder’s subtle performance perfectly captured the fraught vulnerability of being a teenage girl in a society that tries to legislate and control women’s bodies.

Snubs: Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah

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

Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya

The biggest question of this year’s Oscars is: if Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are both supporting players in Judas and the Black Messiah, who is the lead? Anyway, Stanfield would have deserved a nom in the leading category, but this category belongs to Kaluuya, who was completely captivating as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

Snubs: Alan Kim, Minari

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

This is the most likely win for Promising Young Woman, and sadly might be the only one, but I’ll take it!

Snubs: The Assistant, Palm Springs

Best Adapted Screenplay

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

The Father

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

The White Tiger

Will win: Nomadland

Should win: The Father

Snubs: Emma.

Nomadland’s successes don’t really hinge on its screenplay, which gets a little muddled by the end, but in off-the-cuff moments with its real-life subjects. Same goes for Borat, where the magic is primarily in improvisation. One Night in Miami‘s script is great at times, although it still feels a little bit like a play. By contrast, The Father, which is also based on a play, feels like a movie through and through. The script also manages to be purposefully disorienting–so the viewer can experience the terror and confusion of dementia–while also holding your hand through discovering what’s real and what’s not, so the narrative still has stakes. If The Father wins any awards, it should be this one.

Best Sound

Greyhound

Mank

News of the World

Soul

Sound of Metal

Will win: Sound of Metal

Should win: Sound of Metal

I don’t usually have a super strong opinion on this category, but after watching Sound of Metal, my first thought was that it had to win for its sound. (I’m also glad the Academy decided to consolidate the categories of Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, since those seem like two sides of the same coin.) The sound design brilliantly immerses the viewer in the experience of hearing loss–I got physically anxious at the muted sounds of Ruben’s blender.

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