Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ben Shenkman, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, and Alex Sharp in The Trial of the Chicago 7

We're finally approaching an end to the longest gap between nomination announcements in the Oscars' 93-year history. So welcome, friends, to my predictions for the 2021 Academy Awards! Is it 2022 yet?

Beginning at roughly 7:30 a.m. CT on Monday, March 15, all of our burning questions will be answered. Will the Academy pay attention to streaming titles? Will box office play a huge part in what gets nominated? Which five men will be cited for Best Directing?

Oh wait … those are last year's burning questions. After the unanticipated everything of the past 14 months, this year's questions are far more specific. Will David Fincher's Mank land a staggering number of mentions even though no one really seemed to care about it? Will performers of color receive a record number of acting nominations? Will, for the first time, a deceased actor earn Oscar nods for two performances in one year? Will, also for the first time, a living actor be recognized for purposely flirting with Rudy Giuliani? (My personal answers: probably, maybe, maybe, and God I hope so.)

We'll know soon enough. In the meantime, the boldface names and titles below are my predicted nominees (though not necessarily my favorites), non-boldface denotes runners-up, and predictions are in order of probability.

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

BEST PICTURE

Nomadland

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Minari

Mank

Promising Young Woman

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

One Night in Miami …

Sound of Metal

The Father

Judas & the Black Messiah

News of the World

Da 5 Bloods

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Hillbilly Elegy

“So is this gonna be an asterisk year for the Oscars?” That was the perfectly reasonable question recently posed by a friend, and considering the pandemic-bred weirdness of the movie-going experience since last March – So few theatrical releases! So much streaming! So little sense of what's actually popular! – it would've made sense if this year's roster of contenders was on the iffy side. But it so isn't! Granted, in a “normal” year, a Borat sequel probably wouldn't be much of a threat for a nod, let alone one of the 10 titles cited for the highly predictive Producers Guild of America (PGA) prize. And Hillbilly Elegy wouldn't be an option, either … although I'm keeping it as a runner-up to remind myself that if voters can give a Best Picture nod to 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, then, you know, anything can happen. But the other dozen titles above would be worthy, and more-or-less prototypical, choices in any year. Even Promising Young Woman, which might not appeal to 80-something members of the Academy, follows a familiar, enjoyably dark path recently traveled by the likes of Joker and Get Out.

Regarding those 12 possibilities, and knowing that this category could see anywhere from five to 10 movies acknowledged, I think the first five boldface titles are locks. The next two seem lock-ish. That scrappy indie Sound of Metal, which made the top-10 lineups with the PGA, Critics Choice Awards (CCA), and American Film Institute (AFI), feels like the Whiplash-y option that everyone, myself very much included, is rooting for. And The Father, which didn't make any of those aforementioned rosters, did at least score one of the five Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture – Drama, and did well with the British Academy of Film & Television (BAFTA), to boot, so let's add that one in pencil. (I can't wait to finally see the film when it hits Davenport's cineplex this Friday.)

If there's a tenth nominee (which would be very unlikely, as all nine years of this category's weighted-ballot system have produced either eight or nine), I'd expect it to go to the late-breaking hit and PGA contender Judas & the Black Messiah. Because if the Tom Hanks Western News of the World (a solid meat-and-potatoes choice in the vein of last year's Ford v Ferrari) and Spike Lee's epically scaled Da 5 Bloods (a deserved CCA nominee and contender for the Screen Actors Guild's Ensemble prize) can't unsurp Borat in the PGA lineup, there's probably little hope for them at the Oscars. Yet don't unilaterally discount them, either, and the same goes for Pixar's Soul. And the acclaimed-by-most, vilified-by-some abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. And the winner of the influential New York Film Critics Circle's Best Picture prize, my beloved First Cow. Even though every other set of Oscar precursors has apparently decided to discount it. Bastards.

Alan S. Kim in Minari

BEST DIRECTING

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

David Fincher, Mank

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods

Darius Marder, Sound of Metal

Florian Zeller, The Father

Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

For perhaps the first time in Academy history, the question regarding this category won't be “Will any women get nominated?”, but rather “How many women will get nominated?” The Golden Globes, to the credit of this resoundingly non-credible organization, acknowledged three female directors: Fennell, One Night in Miami ...'s Regina King, and Zhao, the latter of whom is so in here that she's basically a Renée-Zellweger-in-Judy lock for the win. I do have serious doubts about King making the lineup, considering that the directors' branch, which hasn't been terribly hospitable to women and directors of color over the years, is also sometimes inhospitable to actors making their feature-film directorial debuts. (Just ask A Star Is Born's Bradley Cooper.) Fennell, though, seems on safer ground … even though she's also an actor … and is also making her feature-film directorial debut … . Let's keep predicting Fennell anyway, and if she and Zhao do become the sixth and seventh female nominees for Best Directing, they'll likely be joined in their category by near-sure-thing Fincher, and by Chung, whose semi-autobiographical Minari is looking more and more like a legitimate possibility for a Best Picture win.

Zhao, Fincher, Chung, and Fennell also received highly predictive nominations from the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and for the Oscars' fifth spot, I know I should be going with the DGA-cited Sorkin, whose film is another Best Picture favorite. But based on the group's known tastes, the Academy's directors' branch likes their nominees to have a distinctive look and directorial personality, and Chicago 7, as fun as it is, doesn't deliver much of either. This branch is also fine with contenders whose works don't wind up nominated for Best Picture, as Foxcatcher's Bennett Miller and Cold War's Pawel Pawlikowski can attest. So with numerous conceivable options including Marder, Zeller, Judas & the Black Messiah's Shaka King, and First Cow's Kelly Reichardt, I'm going with Lee. Even the film's detractors have to concede that Da 5 Bloods has a distinctive look and directorial personality all over the place.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

BEST ACTRESS

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy

Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead

This category really should be a gimme. McDormand, Mulligan, Davis, and Kirby all scored the triple-crown of pre-Oscar recognition: nominations from the Globes, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and the Critics Choice Awards. And CCA nominee Day won the Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. So those five are most likely our final five. (Such a lineup would mark the first time two Black female leads were nominated for Best Actress since 1973, when Diana Ross was nominated, as Day would be, for playing Billie Holiday.) But I dunno. That Pieces of a Woman opener involving the real-time home birth is a really tough sit, and things hardly get easier afterward, when we have Shia LaBeouf going full-frontal and initiating rough sex with Kirby to look forward to.

Deserving as Kirby would be, voters do have less traumatizing Best Actress options. Such as 86-year-old screen legend Loren for a sentimental Italian drama directed by one of her sons. Or SAG nominee Adams – a six-time Oscar contender – for a movie almost no one liked, but one that's far less harrowing than Kirby's. Or the Globes' Best Actress in a Comedy champ Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot, even though the Academy has never been too keen about rewarding evil anti-heroines in pitch-black comedies. (Unless it's the one Pike played in Gone Girl. Hmm.) But going out on my shakiest limb in the major categories, I'm predicting a huge surprise when 22-year-old Flanigan lands the fifth spot for her screen debut… though it shouldn't be that big a surprise. Flanigan was a CCA nominee. She's up for Best Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards. She won Best Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle. She's picked up a good half-dozen “breakthrough of the year” citations from national critics' organizations. And if you've seen Never Rarely Sometimes Always – or even just that heartbreaker scene in which she answers an abortion counselor's questions for five uninterrupted minutes – you probably agree that Flanigan absolutely deserves a nod.

Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian

BEST ACTOR

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Gary Oldman, Mank

Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian

Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

LaKeith Stanfield, Judas & the Black Messiah

Steven Yeun, Minari

Just because the late, great Boseman has this deserved award all sewn up doesn't make this category uninteresting. Quite the opposite, actually!

At age 83, Hopkins would – make that will – be the oldest Best Actor nominee of all time. British wunderkind Ahmed would – again, will – be the first Pakistani nominated for any acting Oscar. Globe and BAFTA nominee Rahim, a strong maybe at best, would be the first Frenchman (not counting the French-American Timothée Chalamet) cited here since Best Actor recipient Jean Dujardin nine years ago. Venturing beyond my predicted five, SAG contender Yeun (whose role and wonderful performance may be too reserved for recognition) would be the first South Korean up for an acting Oscar. If Da 5 Bloods' Boseman and Judas & the Black Messiah's Daniel Kaluuya receive their widely predicted Supporting Actor recognition and Lindo and/or Stanfield do as well, that pairing or pairings would, astonishingly, mark the first time two Black male actors were nominated for the same movie. (CCA nominee Lindo being dissed by the Globes and SAG makes me crazy, by the way, considering the actor should be as sure a bet in this category as Hopkins and Ahmed.) And with the CCA-cited Tom Hanks, from News of the World, and Ben Affleck, from The Way Back, as the only possible spoilers, and ultra-long-shot spoilers at that, it looks like Oldman will have to carry the torch for middle-aged white guys all by himself this year. We're such a maligned people, I'm tellin' ya … .

Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Olivia Colman, The Father

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian

Helena Zengel, News of the World

Dominique Fishback, Judas & the Black Messiah

Colman is getting nominated. That's literally the only thing I'm sure of here. And I haven't even seen The Father yet. Welcome to my most insanity-producing category of 2021! I truly haven't been this unsure about a roster of contenders since 2016, when the Best Supporting Actress race was equally up-in-the-air. (I correctly predicted a miserable two-out-of-five that year, so proceed with caution.) Here's what we know so far. Seyfried earned career-best reviews and is widely considered the best thing in Mank, but she missed a SAG nod, which isn't a good sign. Youn has earned more critics' prizes than any other Supporting Actress contender, but didn't get a Globe nod, and the Academy has been notoriously stingy about rewarding Asian actors in the past. (The lack of even one acting nominee for Parasite still burns me.) CCA winner and debut sensation Bakalova has scored everywhere possible, even earning a Best Actress nod from the Globes, but it is a largely improvisational performance in a frequently crude (if brilliant) slapstick sequel hardly the Academy's traditional wheelhouse. And Close, who would be up for her eighth career prize, has shown up in nearly all the right places, too, if not necessarily for the right movie. If voters aren't going to give her the win for Hillbilly Elegy, and it's looking increasingly unlikely that they will, are they even going to bother nominating her? (How awkward, for both of them, that this Oscar season is potentially setting up a replay of 2019's Close v. Colman, after which the latter – clearly as surprised as any of us were – was named Best Actress.)

For this published moment, let's stick with that lineup anyway … even though Germany's 12-year-old Zengel received Globe and SAG recognition, and even though bypassing The Mauritanian's co-star would make Foster the first Globe-winning Best Supporting Actress not to receive a corresponding Oscar nod in 44 years. And because the ultimate-lineup possibilities clearly aren't confounding enough, let's not forget the completely plausible contenders that are Fishback (who scored BAFTA recognition when Seyfried, Close, Foster, Zengel, and even Brit sensation Colman didn't), Pieces of a Woman's Ellen Burstyn, Sound of Metal's Olivia Cooke, and I Care a Lot's Dianne Wiest, the outside-the-box long shot I'm rooting for the hardest. Rosamund Pike's Globe win likely put the Netflix flick which was among the streaming service's top-10 views for an inordinately long time – on the radar for a lot of Academy members. Even if they don't go for Pike, might they instead go for Wiest – a two-time winner and beloved screen presence the Academy hasn't acknowledged in 26 years?

Daniel Kaluuya in Judas & the Black Messiah

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas & the Black Messiah

Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami …

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods

Mark Rylance, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Alan S. Kim, Minari

Jared Leto, The Little Things

How strange that the acting category with the most potential options – all those men in Chicago 7 and Mank and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Da 5 Bloods and One Night in Miami … ! – has become the acting category that feels the least likely to budge. With one exception.

I'm feeling incredibly confident about the first four names on my list, my only caveats being that voters may not be crazy about Da 5 Bloods and know that Boseman will get nominated for Ma Rainey's regardless, and that Baron Cohen, enjoyable though he is, isn't universally considered Chicago 7's best-in-show. (Personally, I'd rank him about fifth among his ensemble.) So while I cross fingers for Raci, a deserving BAFTA nominee who might easily be passed over, at age 72, for still having no name recognition at all, and really hope voters aim higher than Leto, who did score unanticipated Golden Globe and SAG nods for his admittedly entertaining Little Things weirdo, let's predict that the million-or-so Chicago 7 castmates yield a second category entry. I'm going with Rylance, whom I would cite as best-in-show. But don't count out the possibilities of Eddie Redmayne (an Abbie Hoffman v. Tom Haden Oscars showdown would be fun), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella, or even Jeremy Strong, who scored an Emmy for HBO's Succession this past fall and is certainly a memorable presence in Sorkin's film. (Stoners can be so adorable!) And if none of those options make it in, is it too much to hope that Minari's eight-year-old sweetheart Kim does instead? The scene-stealer did make the BAFTA lineup over the likes of Boseman, Rylance, and even Baron Cohen. And did you see Kim, in his miniature tuxedo, weep his way through his Best Young Actor/Actress acceptance speech at the CCA?! I'm all verklempt just thinking about it.

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Minari

Promising Young Woman

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Sound of Metal

Mank

Judas & the Black Messiah

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Another Round

This one is feeling close to locked-and-loaded, and my only hesitancy about going with Mank is that its screenplay – all those withering bon mots aside – is widely considered the movie's least successful element. But considering the script is by David Fincher's deceased father, denying Jack Fincher a posthumous nod when the film is going to be nominated close to everywhere else would be the ultimate in rudeness. Still, don't completely discount those three non-boldface titles, or Da 5 Bloods or Soul or Palm Springs, either – even at the expense of an apparent done-deal such as Chicago 7. Remember when the Academy's writers' branch dissed Aaron Sorkin for Steve Jobs? And A Few Good Men? And The American President? And Charlie Wilson's War? And … ?

Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., and Eli Goree in One Night in Miami ...

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nomadland

The Father

One Night in Miami …

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

First Cow

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

News of the World

Because degree-of-difficulty counts for a lot, Nomadland (a fiction adapted from a nonfiction) is good to go and an almost guaranteed eventual winner, and I'm thinking past Oscar champ Charlie Kaufman might score a “Welcome back!” nod for I'm Thinking of Ending Things, which would mark his first screenplay nomination in 16 years. But my gut – or maybe just my gut-level love for First Cow – is telling me that one of the three play adaptations isn't going to make it in. I just have no earthy idea which one that would be. Lacking an obvious answer, let's go with all of them scoring here … and I'll grudgingly hope that Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond have better luck with their sequel Second Cow. That's happening, right … ?

Soul

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Soul

Wolfwalkers

Onward

The Croods: A New Age

Over the Moon

Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

The Willoughbys

Earwig & the Witch

Among the boldface mentions, one of those movies I loved, one I really liked, one I liked well enough, one caused me to fall asleep, and one I know nothing about except that it picked up a bunch of critics' prizes. Looks like a traditional Best Animated Feature roster to me!

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

One Night in Miami …, “Speak Now”

All In: The Fight for Democracy, “Turntables”

The Life Ahead, “Io si (Seen)”

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, “Husavik”

Giving Voice, “Never Break”

Judas & the Black Messiah, “Fight for You”

The Trial of the Chicago 7, “Hear My Voice”

Sound of Metal, “Green”

All I want for Christmas is for “Husavik” to get nominated. Okay, and Maria Bakalova, too. And maybe Delroy Lindo and Paul Raci and Dianne Wiest and Alan S. Kim and First Cow. But really, that's all.

Stacey Abrams in All In: The Fight for Democracy

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Boys State

Collective

Crip Camp

Welcome to Chechnya

All In: The Fight for Democracy

MLK/FBI

The Mole Agent

Time

 

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Quo Vadis, Aida?, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Collective, Romania

Dear Comrades!, Russia

Another Round, Denmark

La Llorona, Guatemala

Sun Children, Iran

The Mole Agent, Chile

A Sun, Taiwan

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Nomadland

Mank

News of the World

Minari

Tenet

Da 5 Bloods

Judas & the Black Messiah

The Midnight Sky

 

BEST FILM EDITING

Nomadland

Mank

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Sound of Metal

Minari

The Father

Judas & the Black Messiah

Promising Young Woman

Tom Hanks in News of the World

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Mank

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Midnight Sky

News of the World

Pinocchio

Emma.

Mulan

Tenet

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Mank

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Emma.

Mulan

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

News of the World

Pinocchio

First Cow

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal

BEST SOUND

Sound of Metal

Mank

Soul

The Midnight Sky

Tenet

Da 5 Bloods

Greyhound

News of the World

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Soul

Mank

News of the World

The Midnight Sky

Minari

Da 5 Bloods

The Little Things

Tenet

George Clooney in The Midnight Sky

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Tenet

Soul

The Midnight Sky

Mank

Welcome to Chechnya

Love & Monsters

Mulan

The One & Only Ivan

 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING

Pinocchio

Hillbilly Elegy

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Mank

Birds of Prey & the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Emma.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The Glorias

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