What a year. Along with everything else in the wake of Pandemic 2020, this year’s Oscar season has been effected in unprecedented ways.
The result has been the longest calendar delay for the ceremony in nearly 90 years, with a slate of competitors limited to small budget indies (Nomadland, Minari, and The Father, for example), splashy streamer entries (Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7, both on Netflix), and others that played in both realms (HBO Max’s Judas and the Black Messiah and Amazon’s Sound of Metal).
Yet even without a big studio juggernaut or two, this year’s season has unfolded in eerily recognizable ways, with contenders, front-runners, and even possible locks emerging based on the results of awards seasons shows and industry guild honors.
My predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards takes this past awards season into account. There are some gimmes, to be sure, but others that are legitimate coin flips.
Along with my “Will Win” predictions, I’ve also included “Should Win” and “Upset Possibilities” options, with occasional commentary.
Here’s my best guess as to how things will play out when the Academy Awards airs Sunday night, April 25, on ABC beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern.
The Predictions for
THE 93rd ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
Will Win: Nomadland
Should Win: Minari or Judas and the Black Messiah (I’m hoping for Judas as it would mark the first time that the Best Picture prize would go exclusively to a teen of black producers, including Black Panther director Ryan Coogler).
Upset Possibilities: The Trial of the Chicago 7, because it’s the most traditional Oscar-bait option.
– Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
– Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
– Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
– David Fincher, Mank
– Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Will Win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Should Win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Upset Possibilities: None. This is a lock. And her work here deserves it. Zhao has won every major directing award this season, including the most telling prize from the Directors Guild of America.
– 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: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Upset Possibilities: Anthony Hopkins, The Father. In terms of who’s worthy, it’s a coin flip between Ahmed and Hopkins to me, and Hopkins won the BAFTA (Britain’s Oscars) so that makes him a slight contender, but the late Chadwick Boseman won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) prize. More importantly, he’s deeply admired and missed. This is honoring the man more than the performance, a theatrical turn that lacks the nuances of the best screen performances.
– 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: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s, Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, or Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Upset Possibilities: Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). McDormand won the BAFTA (which makes her more likely to upset) and Mulligan is admired in a film that is very topical, but Davis won the SAG award. That gives her the edge in a competitive race. It’s also arguably her crowing achievement; truly transformative. That same descriptor could be said of R&B singer Andra Day, too. Her transformation into jazz legend Billie Holiday is impressive by any standard, but particularly given that it’s her acting debut (not just on film, but acting in any form). Completely spontaneous and in-the-moment, there’s nothing mannered, gimmicky or forced about her performance, all problems that can trip up even the best of actors in biopics.
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, Judas and the Black Messiah
Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah or Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Upset Possibilities: None. This is as much of a lock as Zhao is for Best Director. Okay, maybe Paul Raci shocks for Sound of Metal or Sacha Baron Cohen is awarded more for Borat 2 than the Trial he’s actually nominated for here, but that’s really hard to see happening. Kaluuya has won everything so far, and I doubt having to compete against fellow Judas actor LaKeith Stanfield will change that calculus.
Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Should Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Upset Possibilities: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. There’s a lot of admiration for Bakalova and Borat 2, but not enough to stop the momentum of Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari, who’s won the two most recent (and important) industry awards: SAG and BAFTA.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
– Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Person, Shaka King
– Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
– Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell
– Sound of Metal, Darius Marder, Abraham Marder
– The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin
Will Win: Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell
Should Win: Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Upset Possibilities: The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin. My least favorite screenplays are the two most likely winners. Promising Young Woman gets the edge because it’s the best opportunity to honor writer/director Emerald Fennell who’s also nominated in the Picture and Director categories. I found that her Taxi Driver-wannabe #MeToo satire revenge fantasy pulled its punches every time it should’ve been throwing them, especially in the contrived ending that is supposed to be a gut punch but is, in our age of elevating victimhood, actually a feel good option in its own manufactured way. The movie wants us to admire her; it didn’t have the guts to make us understand but question her.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern
– The Father, Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller
– Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
– One Night in Miami…, Kemp Powers
– The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani
Will Win: The Father, Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller
Should Win: The Father, Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller
Upset Possibilities: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao. A super-tight race here between The Father and Nomadland. Zhao’s achievement, ultimately, is in her directing (where she will be honored), so this feels like the perfect place to honor writer/director Florian Zeller for his debut movie — driven by a deftly intricate construction that creates the perspective of having dementia — that garnered a Best Picture nomination (along with 5 others).
Will Win: Soul
Should Win: Soul or Wolfwalkers
Upset Possibilities: Wolfwalkers. After seeing the masterpiece that was Soul, I assumed it was a slam dunk for this category. Then I saw the equally masterful (yet in entirely different ways) Wolfwalkers on Apple TV+. Both are superb achievements that, unfortunately, the pandemic has robbed us of experiencing on the big screen where they initially belonged. Soul is the Pixar production here (and likely received some votes for Best Picture from the Academy membership), which gives it the edge.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
– Another Round (Denmark)
– Better Days (Hong Kong)
– Collective (Romania)
– The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
– Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Will Win: Another Round
Should Win: Quo Vadis, Aida? (Set in the Yugoslav / Serbian wars of the 1990s, this is as close a thing to Schindler’s List as I’ve seen since that movie, but without the benevolent savior. It’s on Hulu.)
Upset Possibilities: Collective, but barely. Another Round has been the toast of the field (pun intended), including having scored a surprise Best Director nomination for Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. It’s accomplished in its craft and ensemble, but as a story it goes from very intriguing (even challenging) set up to a more conventional second act, which makes the Romanian documentary Collective (which is also nominated for Documentary Feature) the better choice.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
– Crip Camp
– The Mole Agent
– My Octopus Teacher
Will Win: My Octopus Teacher
Should Win: Time
Upset Possibilities: Crip Camp and Collective. The front-runner here is easily my least favorite. It’s almost embarrassing to call it a documentary. It’s beautifully shot with stunning oceanic images and seascapes, but boy is it manipulative and, seemingly, even false. With its story of how a man’s midlife crisis was healed by his connection with a specific octopus, My Octopus Teacher feels more like Netflix’s version of a Disney Earth Day movie that takes lush nature footage and constructs an overly-sentimental (and wholly assumptive) anthropomorphic narrative around it. But people are talking about how much it makes them cry and/or affirm their own ideals about our best relationship with nature, so there you go.
Will Win: Soul, Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Should Win: Soul or Da 5 Bloods, Terence Blanchard
Upset Possibilities: Mank, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. The only competition that Soul composers Reznor and Ross (and Colbert late night jazz musician Jon Batiste) have are Mank composers Reznor and Ross. Terence Blanchard would be very worthy for his classical, even epic work on Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, but the mix of jazz and ethereal techno on Soul is truly special and award-worthy.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
– “Fight for You” – Judas and the Black Messiah – H.E.R.
– “Hear My Voice” – The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Celeste
– “Husavik (My Home Town)” – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
– “Io Si (Seen)” – The Life Ahead – Laura Pausini
– “Speak Now” – One Night in Miami… – Leslie Odom Jr.
Will Win: “Speak Now” – One Night in Miami… – Leslie Odom Jr.
Should Win: I don’t have an honest, informed opinion on this one.
Upset Possibilities: “Husavik (My Home Town)” – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Perfect category to honor the civil rights era film One Night in Miami… along with the Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr. There’s a lot of love and respect for the song from the Will Ferrell comedy Eurovision, but it feels like a bit of a reach for Oscar voters, especially when they have such a bait choice like Odom.
Will Win: Do Not Split
Should Win: Do Not Split or Colette
Upset Possibilities: This category is a total toss-up (not something you want to hear for your Oscar ballot voting). All are excellent, in what is easily the best slate of the three shorts categories. 4 of the 5 are very heavy, which may give the one feel-good option (A Concerto is a Conversation) an edge. Of those 4, Colette is the one with actual catharsis (a big plus), and it’s also a Holocaust story, which always plays well with Academy voters. All that said: A Love Song for Latasha is an inventive, even experimental doc that poignantly tells the story of a young, smart, talented African-American teenager who was killed by gun violence, so it has topicality in its favor. I’m choosing Do Not Split simply because I think its the best of an impressive field, in large part because it’s so urgent as it documents the current and unfolding crisis in Hong Kong of China crushing its democratic freedoms. The whole Western world should be doing something about this — at the very least taking a stand against China on the issue — but we’re just looking the other way.
Will Win: Two Distant Strangers
Should Win: White Eye
Upset Possibilities: The Present. Another toss-up category but with a little more clarity. Two Distant Strangers takes a Groundhog Day approach to police violence against young African-American males, so its the most relevant of the bunch, but it’s also amateur in its execution. Conversely, White Eye — the one-take “crime story” about unexpected class disparity and illegal immigration — is easily the most accomplished of the nominees. The Present, a father-daughter story that plays out against the Israeli oppression of Palestinians — won the BAFTA, so it has a solid shot. The Letter Room stars Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac, so it has A-list appeal, and Feeling Through (about the bond between a homeless man and a blind-deaf stranger) is the most sentimental of the bunch. (Both Two Distant Strangers and The Present are available on Netflix, which also boosts their chances.)
Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Should Win: If Anything Happens I Love You or Opera
Upset Possibilities: Burrow. This could go a few ways. I’m betting on If Anything Happens I Love You for a couple of reasons: one, its topical subject matter (which sneaks up on you) and, two, it’s widely available on Netflix. (It’s also effectively animated in its own right.) Opera is the opposite; not only is it not available to stream anywhere, but it is inaccessible in the extreme. I can’t say I even liked it, let alone understood it. The diorama of (seemingly) a journey through time and culture is more of a modern art installation than a film, but it’s intricately considered and made. Burrow, on the other hand, is imminently accessible; the Disney Plus short is cute and sweet, and easily available.
– Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Person, Shaka King
– Mank, Erik Messerschmidt
– News of the World, Dariusz Wolskis
– Nomadland, Joshua James Richards
– The Trial of the Chicago 7, Dariusz Wolskis
Will Win: Nomadland
Should Win: Nomadland
Upset Possibilities: Mank. This is another coin flip race. Mank actually won the Cinematographers Guild prize, so it’s considered the favorite on that basis alone, but Nomadland won the BAFTA along with a slew of critics awards. I think that film’s overall momentum as the night’s Oscar favorite will carry it to a win here as well.
BEST FILM EDITING
– The Father
– Promising Young Woman
– Sound of Metal
– The Trial of the Chicago 7
Will Win: Sound of Metal
Should Win: The Father
Upset Possibilities: The Trial of the Chicago 7. Another close race with a Guild / BAFTA split. The Editors Guild with with Trial while BAFTA went for Sound of Metal. The Oscar Academy has members from both orgs, but BAFTA is closer in its general membership makeup so I’ll favor their choice here.
Will Win: Mank
Should Win: Tenet
Upset Possibilities: Tenet and Ma Rainey’s, but unlikely. The extravagant detail of Mank‘s 1930s Hollywood has garnered it all of the major industry awards, including from the Art Directors Guild and BAFTA.
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Emma.
Upset Possibilities: Maybe Mank, but I doubt it. Here’s another case where the likely winner has been forecast with major industry wins, as Ma Rainey’s has been honored by both the Costume Designers Guild and BAFTA.
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Pinocchio
Upset Possibilities: None. Following the theme of the previous two categories, Ma Rainey’s won top honors from the Makeup & Hairstyling Guild and BAFTA.
Will Win: Sound of Metal
Should Win: Sound of Metal
Upset Possibilities: Greyhound. There’s a slight but unlikely possibility that the World War II sea battle sound of Greyhound could sneak in a surprise win (it’s certainly in the wheelhouse of past Oscar winners), but the use, manipulation, and absence of sound in Sound of Metal (about a rock drummer going deaf) is so vital to the arc and impact of this powerful Best Picture nominee — including the best ending to any film all year, one that is understated but powerfully earned.
Will Win: Tenet
Should Win: Tenet
Upset Possibilities: The Midnight Sky. The story and audio mix of Tenet may be convoluted, but the visuals are as stunning and inventive as you’d expect from a Christopher Nolan mind-bender. Certainly worthy of a win here, especially as they implement some practical slight-of-hand trickery as well.