The glitz. The glamour. The gloves. Get ready for Hollywood’s biggest night, pandemic-style.
The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis will present some unique challenges to the 93rd Academy Awards. But the show will go on, with limited attendance and a host of scrupulous safety measures. While there were initially concerns that 2020’s drastically reduced cinematic output might result in a lackluster competition, the race for the Oscar has been as fierce as ever.
So who will go home with the gold? Here now are my annual predictions, designed to help you win your Oscar pool in any thoroughly sanitized and socially distanced setting.
"Judas and the Black Messiah"
"Promising Young Woman"
"Sound of Metal"
"The Trial of the Chicago 7"
PREDICTION: "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
The conventional wisdom is that "Nomadland" has the Oscar all sewn up. The timely contemporary drama has won many of the major bellwethers, including the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Producers Guild of America and British Film Academy (BAFTA) Awards. However, those successes don’t necessarily lead to Oscar glory. Recent films like "La La Land" and "1917" similarly collected those kudos, only to go down in defeat at the Academy Awards. The reason? A preferential ballot is used to determine the Best Picture, and the system works against movies that are even slightly divisive. Though "Nomadland" does have plenty of admirers, it also draws a fair number of detractors. They typically criticize the glacial pace, as well as the lack of a conventional plot. Meanwhile, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is generally appreciated by most Oscar voters. The script and direction have largely been praised, and the rich dramatic performances from its distinguished cast of actors have received exceptional acclaim. (Remember that actors make up the largest bloc of voters.) In the end, widespread support means that the Academy could rule in favor of "Trial," delivering it a verdict of Best Picture of the year.
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING:
"Another Round," Thomas Vinterberg
"Mank," David Fincher
"Minari," Lee Isaac Chung
"Nomadland," Chloé Zhao
"Promising Young Woman," Emerald Fennell
PREDICTION: "Nomadland," Chloé Zhao
Eleven years ago, Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") became the first woman in history to receive the Academy Award for Best Director. She’ll soon be joined by Zhao. Her work on "Nomadland" is considered the most significant artistic achievement of the year. She’s pulled off a clean sweep of all of the major directing prizes thus far – most notably the Directors Guild of America Award. Even if "Nomadland" loses Best Picture, this is one Oscar that it has in the can.
BEST LEADING ACTOR:
Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"
Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"
Anthony Hopkins, "The Father"
Gary Oldman, "Mank"
Steven Yeun, "Minari"
PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"
The "Black Panther" actor tragically lost his battle to cancer last year. "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" was his final film, and it’s evident that he gave it his all in his farewell performance. His electrifying portrayal of a lively blues musician has already earned him Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards for Best Actor. It’s hard to imagine the Academy not following suit. Boseman’s only threat is the esteemed Hopkins, who delivers a career-best turn as an elderly man struggling with dementia in "The Father." (Hopkins was able to overcome Boseman at BAFTA.) As astonishing as Hopkins is, he’s a previous Oscar winner - for his iconic role as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s Best Picture "The Silence of the Lambs." That probably gives Boseman the edge, coming out on top with "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom." Expect this to be the night’s most bittersweet moment, as the Academy pays tribute to a most talented actor gone far too soon.
BEST LEADING 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"
PREDICTION: Carey Mulligan, "Promising Young Woman"
This contest has created an Oscars conundrum like we haven’t seen in decades. Let me first do a quick race recap. Mulligan took the early lead after doing well with the critics. Day then shook things up by upsetting at the Golden Globes. Davis would go on to surprise at the SAG Awards. And McDormand recently accepted the BAFTA, where hometown girl Mulligan wasn’t even nominated. So what does this all mean for the Oscar? I think that it’s a case of process by elimination. First, you can count out Kirby – considered the weakest piece in this puzzle. I would argue that you can similarly discount two-time Best Actress champion McDormand, whose quiet performance in "Nomadland" doesn’t seem to merit her a third. Day was overlooked by both SAG and BAFTA and "Billie Holiday" generated no other nods. It’s not looking like her day. Davis was outstanding as always in "Ma Rainey," and her SAG victory is a certainly a good omen. However, she’s been somewhat overshadowed by her co-star Boseman. Also, "Ma Rainey" missed the Best Picture lineup. No film not up for Best Picture has ever taken both lead acting awards. That leaves Mulligan the last lass standing. Her portrayal of a young woman seeking revenge is arguably the most original, daring and intense performance by an actress this past year. "Promising Young Woman" is also very popular with the Academy, having scored nominations in five key categories – including Best Picture. I’ll concede that while I can’t promise anything, I sense that passion for "Promising" will carry Carey to conquest. So my money remains on Mulligan.
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"
PREDICTION: Daniel Kaluuya, "Judas and the Black Messiah"
If you’ve been paying any attention to this awards season, you don’t need a messiah to tell you that Kaluuya is taking home the Oscar. He’s incredibly powerful in a plum role, which comes complete with an all-stops-acting killer speech. Kaluuya handily defeated the competition at all of the precursors, and "Judas and the Black Messiah" edged out several high profile releases to crack the Best Picture category. Kaluuya received his first Oscar nomination for 2017’s acclaimed horror comedy "Get Out." This time you can bet that he gets it. ("It" being the Oscar trophy.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Maria Bakalova, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"
Glenn Close, "Hillbilly Elegy"
Olivia Colman, "The Father"
Amanda Seyfried, "Mank"
Yuh-Jung Youn, "Minari"
PREDICTION: Yuh-Jung Youn, "Minari"
While this category was initially looking like a headscratcher, it appears that we have a clear favorite. Veteran Korean actress Youn’s warm role as the grandmother in the crowd-pleasing "Minari" has won over audiences and critics alike. She overcame far more famous names to triumph at both the SAG and BAFTA Awards, and delighted observers with her humble acceptance speeches. Best Picture nominee "Minari" is turning out to be a genuine sleeper hit, and this is easiest place to reward it. Ironically, Youn’s victory means a record eighth loss for perennial Oscar nominee Close. Yet no one is coming to close to Youn this year.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
"Judas and the Black Messiah"
"Promising Young Woman"
"Sound of Metal"
"The Trial of the Chicago 7"
PREDICTION: "Promising Young Woman"
Hollywood heavyweight Aaron Sorkin would normally be the favorite for his superbly scripted "The Trial of the Chicago 7." But the award for "Best Original Screenplay" usually translates to "most original screenplay" – and that’s Emerald Fennell’s "Promising Young Woman." The film presents a unique and inventive premise, and fills it with numerous twists and turns. Like last year’s Original Screenplay winner "Parasite," it provides a surprise ending that leaves audiences astounded. Expect "Promising" to see a happy Hollywood ending, as Emerald rocks her way to Oscar gold.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
"Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"
"One Night in Miami"
"The White Tiger"
PREDICTION: "The Father"
Most pundits are actually betting on "Nomadland." I can’t help but be somewhat doubtful. As I explained earlier, I question the strength of "Nomadland" in the Best Picture sweepstakes. And even if "Nomadland" succeeds there, its screenplay is hardly its biggest asset. There’s limited character discourse and very little plot. Will voters really wish to reward the writing? If they don’t, "The Father" seems perfectly positioned as the alternative selection. It’s the only other Best Picture nominee, and it’s a dialogue-driven picture from start to finish. Additionally, Hopkins’ expected defeat for Best Actor makes this best place to honor "The Father." Barring a potential spoiler by "One Night in Miami," "The Father" should go the farthest of these five.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
"Over the Moon"
"Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon"
There’s not much that needs to be said here. Disney/Pixar tends to rule this category, and "Soul" has crushed the competition at all of the precursor animation awards. Even the presence of a second Disney/Pixar entry ("Onward") poses very little threat. As the animated feature with the most heart, "Soul" is marching onward and upward - on a steady course for Oscar.
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM:
"Another Round," Denmark
"Better Days," Hong Kong
"The Man Who Sold His Skin," Tunisia
"Quo Vadis, Aida?," Bosnia and Herzegovina
PREDICTION: "Quo Vadis, Aida?"
I always like to offer a specialty category, to help you impress your friends and really kill it in the office (or work from home) Oscar pool. I’m choosing International Film this time, because I suspect that we’ll see one of Oscar night’s biggest shockers. "Another Round" claimed most of the European film awards and is widely seen as the favorite. But having seen all five of the contenders, I’m expecting "Quo Vadis, Aida?" to triumph. The film dramatizes events leading up to the Bosnian War’s Srebrenica Massacre in 1995. It’s the most powerful, riveting and heart-stopping movie that I have seen in years. Conversations with my sources indicate that Academy members have been similarly blown away. "Quo vadis" is Latin for "Where are you going?" I envision "Aida" responding, "On my way to the Oscar – for Best International Film of the year."