Updated: Apr 21
It’s hard to believe that the last time we released our Oscars predictions was right before the COVID-19 pandemic truly started to change our daily lives. Early last year, we were blissfully able to go to movie theaters, in big groups of fellow cinema-lovers, and share tubs of popcorn without a care for social distancing. That reality seems… almost alien now. Like it happened a lifetime ago.
Since then, the movie industry has been almost entirely upended. Movie theaters shuttered and many were hit hard by the lack of ticket sales, especially the locally owned arthouses that typically screen these Academy Award-nominated films. As such, this has been the hardest year yet to see as many of these nominees as possible -- the kind of viewing that’s necessary to make informed predictions and provide insight on each film. Films that would normally be shown several times a day are being screened locally in fewer cities, typically only once or twice per weekend. To try and make money off their projects, producers are charging incredibly high prices to rent many of these titles online.
That said, we did our best, and it’s with great eagerness that we settle in for our yearly tradition of delving into what will and won’t happen on Hollywood’s Biggest Night. The Oscars may look a lot different this year, with a smaller though still in-person ceremony and red carpet, but our list of picks, predictions and snubs is back just like always. We’re only delving into the “Big Six” categories -- each of the four acting awards, as well as Best Picture and Best Director. At the end, we’ve got a couple of films we feel deserve the highlight that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to recognize.
Without further ado, here’s how we think the 93rd Academy Awards will shake out next Sunday. Here with his personal commentary for each prediction and snub is our resident film nerd, Troy Shinn:
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Who Will Win: Nomadland
Chloe Zhao’s tender-yet-gritty feature about a woman who loses everything in the Great Recession seems to have all the momentum heading into Sunday. It became the first female-directed film to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama back in February, and Zhao herself picked up a key Satellite Award for Best Director, which many see as a sign that critics are favoring her work over others. Aside from being a critical darling, Nomadland also manages to be full of non-actors, toeing the line between drama and documentary in a way that feels natural, not gimmicky. It’s also a stark commentary on capitalism, loss and personal freedom. Nomadland is certainly deserving and it received a nomination in every major category but Supporting Actor, further evidence that it’s a heavy favorite.
Who Should Win: Promising Young Woman
Sure, there’s a little bit of Scorsesian mimicry here with this female-fronted play on Taxi Driver. Both films center around a socially awkward loner who feels it’s their duty to show people the error of their ways. And both films’ heroes undergo dramatic wardrobe and hairstyle changes leading into their final acts. Plenty of people have also drawn comparisons between Promising Young Woman and 2005’s Hard Candy, directed by David Slade, about a teenager who lures predators online only to... well, do very bad stuff to them. But Emerald Fennell’s debut feature film deserves props for carving out its own style while approaching the sensitive subject of sexual assault and suicide with the shifting tones that it does. Yes, it’s dark and gritty, but it’s also bright, funny and endearing. It deftly blends genres like horror and romantic comedy in a way that has a lot more depth than the predecessors it borrows from. Of all the nominees, this one sticks with you the most and has the most unique style.
Honorable Mention: Sound of Metal
On its surface, people probably thought they knew everything they needed to know about this film just from watching the trailer: “Metal drummer loses his hearing and struggles to adapt to his new life.” While that’s certainly the driving plot, where this film truly shines is in the moments that unfold throughout its two-hour run-time. Riz Ahmed shows incredible range as Ruben, a young man who loses his hearing abruptly and has to give up his passion as a musician. But Sound of Metal is also a loving look into the companionship that disabled individuals find within their community, and we’re heartbroken right along with them when we watch Ruben throw thousands of dollars at a procedure we all know won’t truly make him happy or give him his old life back. It’s in these harsh, real moments that this film finds its true thematic legs, not in the surface struggles we think we’re in for when we plop down to watch this film.
Chloe Zhao - Nomadland
Emerald Fennell - Promising Young Woman
David Fincher - Mank
Thomas Vinterburg - Another Round
Lee Isaac Chung - Minari
Who Will Win: Chloe Zhao
Again, she’s got all the momentum, especially with key wins at the Golden Globes and Satellite awards. This category is pretty much seen as locked up in Zhao’s favor, not that she isn’t deserving! Zhao’s film shows humans in the wee hours of the morning and the cold hours of night, and her eye for lighting and framing make these moments really stick with us. From its light-dark contrasts to open vistas and cramped quarters, this film is all about juxtaposition, and Zhao’s artistry behind the camera is a big reason why it works so well.
Who Should Win: Emerald Fennell
I’m a bit of a sucker for debut filmmakers who get a nomination. The achievement is huge enough in it’s own right, so it’s not like Fennell needs to come away with gold in order to have plenty to be proud of. Not only did her debut film make waves, it’s garnered a lot of late buzz that could be huge toward pushing in an upset on Sunday. It would take a lot of upheaval to unseat Zhao as the front-runner, but Fennell’s film is the one that seems to have the most individual style, with it’s popping colors and genre-blending narrative. I like Fennell for this prize, but don’t expect her to win it.
Honorable Mention: David Fincher
In the Oscars Seasons of old, Fincher’s film would probably be the frontrunner. The Academy really loves celebrating itself, so films about filmmaking -- let alone one about the greatest film of all time -- tend to generate a lot of buzz. The fact that Mank ISN’T the frontrunner just shows you how much more diverse the voter base of the Oscars has become in the last five years or so. No longer will the same cinematic stories directed by white men automatically win. That said, Fincher’s homage to Citizen Kane really is excellent and manages to be more about the politics of early 20th Century Hollywood than it is about the actual film it borrows from. The expertly mobile camera and meticulous set design really shows through in Mank, and Fincher’s efforts definitely deserve the recognition of a nod here.
Riz Ahmed - Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins - The Father
Gary Oldman - Mank
Steven Yeun - Minari
Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman
Many people will feel like Boseman gets the gold here because of his untimely passing last year. While that’s undoubtedly going to be a factor, posthumous winners are always deserving in more ways than their deaths. Boseman’s entire career revolved around portraying the Black experience in America (and Wakanda…) and his name has been in critics’ mouths for years now. While I definitely don’t think that his performance in Ma Rainey was the best male performance of the year, it sometimes takes an actor’s death for people to look back with full eyes at their careers. It’s that breadth of work that will win him the trophy, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.
Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed
Now, it should also be noted that the statuette is SUPPOSED to go to the actor who had the best performance. For my money, that’s Ahmed. He can seem a little one-note in the film, as his pent-up drummer’s anger causes him to be a constant source of smashing, bashing and terror. But it’s once the film strips away that primal rage that we start to see the real nuance to his performance. He’s angry because he’s terrified. And with his wide-eyed, heavy-booted stomping around we see a lot of ourselves in his fear and confusion. How would we react to losing the one thing that made us who we are?
Honorable Mention: Anthony Hopkins
Without even having to see The Father, I know Hopkins deserves this nomination because he’s always brilliant. But it’s also the second year in a row that he’s received a nomination after receiving a nod in Supporting Actor for The Two Popes. Even near the end of his long, iconic career, Hopkins still seems to be nailing his job.
Viola Davis - Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day - The United State vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby - Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand - Nomadland
Carey Mulligan - Promising Young Woman
Who Will Win: Carey Mulligan
Mulligan has really benefited from the late-breaking interest in Promising Young Woman. Not only did her hosting Saturday Night Live last month provide a chance for everyday Americans to meet her, she’s also riding high off her wins at the Critics’ Choice Awards and AACTA’s for Best Actress. This Oscars category is one that’s still seen as a close race, however, with Frances McDormand staking a claim as one of the few actors in history to win the same award in a just a few years’ time (she won this statue previously for her lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri).
Who Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Regardless of who does walk away with hardware, I still think Mulligan’s performance is the most electric and fitting for the film she’s in. It takes a certain breed of actor to nail the all the terrifying but honest aspects of her character -- from the fake intoxication to the sinister leer once she’s reeled an unsuspecting man in. Then again, she’s a completely different person when she’s not able to hide under the cover of night or the guise of some character she’s come up with. It’s one thing to nail the iconic moments and another to nail the smaller ones that end up being what endears the audience to her character in the first place. I also see this as a category where Oscars voters can reward a film that got tons of major category nods but likely won’t pick up many wins to show for it.
Honorable Mention: Viola Davis
Some outlets have her right in the running for this award with McDormand and Mulligan, and it’s not hard to see why. She nails the soulful styles of Ma Rainey, while adding true depth to the non-musical moments of the film. I tend to think that Ma Rainey’s lack of any big category nominations will ultimately hurt Davis here, though, and she won’t come away with gold.
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 Standfield - Judas and the Black Messiah
Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
Normally, when two actors in the same film are nominated in the same category, you can pretty much bet that they will wash each other out on The Academy’s preferential ballot. Basically, one tends to draw votes away from the other. But this year will be an exception to the rule. Look, I don’t want to sound at all like Lakeith Stanfield isn’t a deserving actor of the nod, but there seems to be an implicit understanding within the critical world that his nomination is mostly so he can move into the “Oscar nominated” crowd. Daniel Kaluuya, on the other hand, already nabbed his first nomination for his role in 2018’s Get Out, which he failed to pick up a win for. The Academy won’t overlook him again, as his role in Judas and the Black Messiah is stellar. He brings humanity to a character who was portrayed in the media as just another angry black man who headed the Black Panther Party. But there’s also no masking the real rage that Hampton had to have in order to rise to the position. Look, I don’t know why this film had both roles in the Supporting Actor category instead of one of them landing a nomination for Best Actor, but the result is that Kaluuya is the clear favorite. It’s also likely to be one of the few wins for Shaka King’s historical drama, so Oscars voters would be mad to not reward one of these actors here.
Who Should Win: Paul Raci
I compare Raci’s turn as the leader of a deaf community to Sam Elliott’s role in the 2019 remake of A Star Is Born. Both seem to perfectly fill their functional roles for most of the movie’s runtime. One is the supportive older brother of a rockstar and the other is a disabled alcoholic who dedicates his life to helping others like him. But both also have a particular moment to shine in each film, and their performances end up being what truly drives the stakes home for the viewer. In Raci’s case, it’s a scene where he tells the hero of Sound of Metal, Ruben, that he can no longer stay in their deaf community -- because he underwent implant surgery to try and correct his hearing. We watch the emotions well up within Raci, conveying not only that he’s saddened to kick this young man out, but that he knows the procedure won’t give Ruben his life back like the young man thinks. We see in his eyes that he’s seen other deaf people go down this path, only to be devastated by the results. And he has to make decisions based on the good of everyone, not just Ruben. The result is such a powerful scene that Raci deserves the award. He won’t win it, mind you, but his is the best supporting role I’ve seen this year.
Honorable Mention: Leslie Odom, Jr.
It can be easy to think, within the first 20 minutes or so of Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night In Miami, that Odom Jr. is only in this role because everyone already knows he can sound like the iconic soul singer he portrays, Sam Cooke. But as the dialogue starts to be spat, slung and bellowed back and forth during this film, you quickly realize how much acting every member of the cast is really bringing. It’s not just that they nail the mannerisms of the real people they inhabit, they add personal touches that can only be imagined during private moments of history. Odom shows it when his usually charismatic character begins to slouch and every word is a seething whisper. Then, once the long, hot night ends and he finally gets the chance to sing the song he really wants to, Odom blows us away with a rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” that you can’t help but tear up with him afterward.
Maria Bakalova - Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close - Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman - The Father
Amanda Seyfried - Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn - Minari
Who Will Win: Olivia Colman
Colman picked up her first Oscar just two years ago for her turn as Queen Ann in The Favourite. Interestingly, she pulled off an upset against Glenn Close that year, too, just as she will this year (poor Close keeps killing it, having EIGHT Oscar nominations throughout her storied career, only to keep losing to up-and-comers like Colman). Just like at the 91st Academy Awards, Close will be snubbed from winning because she’s in a film that got no other nominations in major categories. Colman, in The Father, has a lot more momentum and category recognition. I confess, I didn’t see The Father (it left my local cinema the weekend I planned on watching it, for some inexplicable reason) but, knowing Colman’s previous work and impressive abilities, I’m certain she’s deserving of a win.
Who Should Win: Yuh-Jung Youn
Youn is the crass-yet-tender heart and soul of Minari -- literally, it’s her character who plants the title herbs along the creekside. I could seriously gush about her performance for hours, as she at-once seems like every grandma ever and no grandma you’ve ever seen before. She dotes on and protects her grandkids, but she also swears while teaching them to play cards and she has a penchant for watching professional wrestling on TV. Her desire to help her family ultimately ends up costing them everything, but her lessons wind up making a larger impact on the characters than any other single aspect of this film. For an actress who’s had a long and successful career abroad, it may be enough to simply get recognition here in America with this nomination. I still think she should walk away with the gold, though, as her performance is THAT good.
Honorable Mention: Maria Bakalova
Getting nominated for an acting award for a role in a comedy is, truly, no small feat. Comedies tend to be completely shut out of The Oscars, so the fact this Borat sequel managed to get nods in several categories is beyond exciting. I hope it translates to more critical darling satires in the future. Again, I have to point out that I didn’t see this film (I hate Amazon and all it stands for, and therefore refuse to buy Prime just to watch a few movies), but Bakalova is managing to generate a lot of steam for her role and the late bid for her win here could be enough to pull of an upset. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened since last year’s Oscars.
1) Palm Springs
Here we have an example of a comedy that WAS overlooked by The Academy, seemingly just because it’s a comedy. Palm Springs even had an early-year push in January and February to get more audience recognition, so that it could eke out a nomination somewhere. But it was to no avail. And it’s a shame, too, because despite this film starring the ever-annoying Andy Samberg, it manages to be a lot more than just a dumb comedy. It’s got sci-fi elements and thriller components all wrapped up in the rom-com cocoon that makes for seriously enjoyable viewing. Cristin Milioti also NAILS her performance. From the writing to the acting to even the filmmaking basics like camerawork, Palm Springs deserved a lot more credit than it got, which is to say none at all.
2) Another Round
I’ll seriously never know what goes through the heads of The Academy voters when they do things like nominate a Foreign Feature film with just one other category -- a big one in a Best Director nod for Thomas Vinterberg. How can a movie this good, good enough to receive a DIRECTING nod, not get any other nominations? Not even a writing nod? And no love for Mads Mikkelson’s dynamic performance? This is the film I expected to see a lot more of and has been inexplicably nixxed from several other categories. This year proves why many Oscars categories should be expanded: only five nominees go for Best Original Screenplay, despite the fact that eight get into the Best Picture race. That means the five spots will pretty much always go to the frontrunners for Best Picture, and then you get snubs like this one for Another Round. It will almost certainly win in Best International Feature, however, so it’s not like this film is shut out entirely.
Let us know what you think about our predictions, and let us know your biggest movie snubs by signing in to leave a comment below. Anyone can make a profile to Curbside Press for free and interact with our articles more! If you really feel like supporting our brand of local, grassroots arts journalism, consider buying a Premium Subscription for just $5 a month.
As always, be sure to SHARE this content with the fellow film nerds in your life. Happy movie-watching, Curbsiders.