Updated: Apr 21, 2021
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