Oscar Predictions: In a Weird Year, Will We See Weird Winners?

Oscar Predictions: In a Weird Year, Will We See Weird Winners?

“Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Promising Young Woman” are among the prime contenders, but one of them could be completely shut out

Steve Pond

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”: Netflix / “Sound of Metal,” “Promising Young Woman”: Amazon / “Soul”: Pixar / “Judas and the Black Messiah”: Warner Bros. / “Nomadland”: Searchlight

AWARDS BEAT

The longest and strangest Oscar season ever is almost over. Voting has ended, the accountants are tallying the ballots and soon the pandemic Oscars will mercifully bring the season to a close.

And while we think we know most of what’s going to happen on Sunday night at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, can we really be sure in a year in which everything happened virtually and real awards buzz was all but impossible to track? No, we can’t.

Here’s how crazy things are: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has a real chance to win Best Picture, but it might have an even better chance of going home without a single award.

At this point, we know what’s won all of the awards leading up to the Oscars, and we know that Academy voters like to spread the love around: Over the last decade, the Best Picture winner has only averaged only three-and-a-half total wins, with a peak of five for “The Artist” in 2012 and a low of two for “Spotlight” in 2016. So here are our best guesses of what’s going to prevail in all 23 categories — down from the usual 24 Oscar categories now that the two sound categories have been combined into one.

Best Picture
Nominees:
“The Father”
“Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Mank”
“Minari”
“Nomadland”
“Promising Young Woman”
“Sound of Metal”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

By all rights, “Nomadland” should be an easy pick in this category. It won the Producers Guild Award and the Directors Guild Award, the two most formidable Oscar predictors. It also won at the Golden Globes and BAFTA — and while films including “La La Land” and “1917” have won those awards but then lost Best Picture, “Nomadland” seems more intimate and personal than the bigger, flashier movies that won for director but lost for picture.

So why does it feel as if “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Promising Young Woman” have a shot to win? Maybe it’s because this has been such a strange year, when nothing feels certain and it’s hard to trust the usual precursor awards. Maybe it’s because of the rapidly expanding, increasingly international Academy, or because we don’t how engaged voters will be in this elongated year full of distractions. Maybe it’s because “Chicago 7,” with its huge ensemble cast, is more of an actors’ movie, and actors are still the Academy’s largest branch by a decent (though shrinking) margin. Maybe it’s because the Academy’s preferential voting system in this category looks for a consensus winner, and “Nomadland” can be divisive.

All of this is to say that an upset wouldn’t be shocking. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the string of important wins that “Nomadland” has assembled.

Predicted winner: “Nomadland”

Chloe Zhao with Frances McDormand on the set of “Nomadland” / Searchlight

Best Director
Nominees:
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

While we’ve seen a number of upsets in the Best Picture category in recent years, the Best Director category has usually gone as expected. (One exception: last year, when Bong Joon Ho won for “Parasite” in a slight upset over the favored Sam Mendes for “1917.”) Even if another film scores a surprise victory over “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao has run the table on directors awards, and her film is such an impressive personal statement, and such a singular piece of filmmaking, that she’s essentially a lock here.

Predicted winner: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Actor
Nominees:
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Anthony Hopkins scored an upset win over Chadwick Boseman at BAFTA, but you could argue that Hopkins had home-court advantage at that London-based awards show. So even though his heartbreaking turn in “The Father” is one of his best ever, and even though Riz Ahmed could be a candidate to score an even bigger upset, Academy voters are likely to use this opportunity to salute the late Chadwick Boseman for a fierce performance that would definitely have been in the running if he were still alive and well. Virtual awards shows aren’t designed to provide powerful emotional moments, but Boseman’s wins have done just that over the last couple of months … although a surprise win by Hopkins could be a memorable and emotional one, too.

Predicted winner: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Carey Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman” / Focus Features

Best Actress
Nominees:
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”

Vanessa Kirby seems unlikely to win for a film that may scare some viewers off with its harrowing reputation, but all four of the other nominees could absolutely emerge victorious in this ferociously competitive category. Viola Davis won the SAG Award, Andra Day won the Golden Globe, Frances McDormand won BAFTA and Carey Mulligan won the Critics Choice Award, the first time ever that those four awards have gone to four different actresses.

Historically, races like this have often been won by the younger actress, which in this case would be Mulligan. But Davis could well make “Ma Rainey” only the eighth film to produce Best Actor and Best Actress winners, and the first to do so without a Best Picture nomination … and McDormand has the advantage of being in what will likely be the Academy’s favorite movie … and Day would become the latest in a long line of actresses who sang their way to an Oscar, including Renée Zellweger, Emma Stone, Marion Cotillard and Reese Witherspoon in recent years. I’m going with a gut feeling here, but does anybody have a four-sided coin I can flip?

Predicted winner: Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees:
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”

Daniel Kaluuya has won almost every supporting-actor award on the road to Oscar, but in this category he’s facing something new: His co-star in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” LaKeith Stanfield, is also nominated, which could conceivably split the “Judas” vote. If that happens, the likeliest spoilers would be Leslie Odom Jr., who performs the formidable task of singing like Sam Cooke in “One Night in Miami,” or Paul Raci, who could the beneficiary of real love for “Sound of Metal.”

But voters have been casting ballots for Kaluuya all season long, and Stanfield’s presence on the ballot isn’t apt to change that.

Predicted winner: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Yuh-Jung Youn in “Minari” / A24

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees:
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Yun-Jung Youn, “Minari”

At various points in this long awards season, Maria Bakalova, Glenn Close, Olivia Colman and Amanda Seyfried have all seemed to be potential favorites in this category — but over the last two months, one significant award after another has gone to Yuh-Jung Youn, the charmingly feisty grandmother in “Minari.” While Close is still looking for her first win after eight nominations, and Bakalova is one of the year’s most delightful discoveries, SAG and BAFTA seemed to seal the deal for Youn.

Predicted winner: Yun-Jung Youn, “Minari”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees:
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
“The Father”
“Nomadland”
“One Night in Miami”
“The White Tiger”

“Borat” won the Writers Guild Award for adapted screenplay, but WGA rules had disqualified “Nomadland” and “The Father” — and at the Oscars, this race is probably between those two films. It’s tempting to think that voters will use this category as the best opportunity to reward “The Father.” But if you think that “Nomadland” will win Best Picture, as I do, you have to acknowledge that the Best Picture winner has also won a screenplay award all but four times in the last 20 years. (And one of those four was a silent movie, “The Artist.”)

Predicted winner: “Nomadland”

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees:
“Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Minari”
“Promising Young Woman”
“Sound of Metal”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

This feels like another two-horse race, this time between “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Promising Young Woman.” At first, noted wordsmith Aaron Sorkin seemed to have the upper hand with “Chicago 7,” replete with its crackling courtroom dialogue — but when the two films have gone head-to-head recently, including at the Writers Guild Awards, Emerald Fennell’s provocative “Promising Young Woman” script has typically come out on top. Both screenplays are sharp and timely — but unless “Chicago 7” gets on a roll that includes Best Picture, Fennell’s cry of female rage may feel sharper and more timely.

Predicted winner: “Promising Young Woman”

Best Cinematography
Nominees:
“Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Nomadland”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Unlike the writing categories, Best Cinematography is thoroughly disconnected from Best Picture. The same film has won both categories only twice in the last 20 years, though Joshua James Richards’ luminous magic-hour compositions in “Nomadland” make it a formidable competitor whether or not the film wins Best Picture. Its chief rival is Erik Messerschmidt’s rich black-and-white work in the film that won the American Society of Cinematographers Award, “Mank.” Still, the Oscars and the ASC disagree more often than they agree.

Predicted winner: “Nomadland”

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” / David Lee/Netflix

Best Costume Design
Nominees:
“Emma”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Mulan”
“Pinocchio”

It’s been five years since “Mad Max: Fury Road” became the second consecutive film to win both Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, but it may be time for another of those twofers. In this case, the period clothes of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — in which Chadwick Boseman’s shoes are a central plot point — will probably edge out the fancier and frillier “Emma” or the old-Hollywood duds of “Mank.”

Predicted winner: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Best Film Editing
Nominees:
“The Father”
“Nomadland”
“Promising Young Woman”
“Sound of Metal”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

This award used to go to the Best Picture winner most of the time; in the last decade, though, it’s only gone to the winner once, and instead has almost always gone to a Best Picture nominee that doesn’t end up winning. And for the last seven years in a row, it has also gone to a film that wins one or both of the Oscars for sound. So if “Sound of Metal” is going to win the sound award this year, that means it’s probably going to win film editing, too, right? “Chicago 7” could break the streak, but don’t count on it.

Predicted winner: “Sound of Metal”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Nominees:
“Emma”
“Hillbilly Elegy”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Pinocchio”

If “Hillbilly Elegy” hadn’t been such a critical punching bag, its transformation of Glenn Close and Amy Adams might have had a real chance. (Of course, it did get two nominations, including one for Close, so maybe voters don’t care what the critics think.) As it stands, the makeup work on a movie that was received more kindly, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” seems to be in good shape to win – though you really can’t rule out “Pinocchio,” which was probably the least-seen nominee but has by far the most elaborate makeup.

Predicted winner: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

“Soul” / Pixar

Best Original Score
Nominees:
“Da 5 Bloods”
“Mank”
“Minari”
“News of the World”
“Soul”

It’s unusual that the Academy’s Music Branch allowed a score written by three different composers to qualify in this category, but that novelty – with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross writing the underscore to “Soul,” and Jon Batiste supplying the jazz music performed by the characters – should be enough to push it to a victory. Its chief rival is probably the second nominated Reznor/Ross score, “Mank.”

Predicted winner: “Soul”

Best Original Song
Nominees:
“Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest”
“Io sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead”
“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”

“Speak Now” is the presumptive front runner in this category, thanks partly to the fact that it’s co-written and sung by Best Supporting Actor nominee Leslie Odom Jr. But three of the nominated songs – “Speak Now,” “Hear My Voice” and “Fight for You” — are inspirational songs about standing up and speaking out, all of them with roots in the soul music of the 1960s. It’s possible that the common ground shared by those songs may be enough to split the vote three ways and open the door to one of the other nominees.

In that case, the choice would be between a song that is more central to its movie than any other nominee, “Husavik” from the Will Ferrell comedy “Eurovision Song Contest,” and an Italian-language ballad that would give Diane Warren her first win in 12 nominations, “Io sì (Seen).” Warren has sentiment behind her, but “Husavik” has an advantage of its own: When voters go to the Academy Screening Room, they can see clips of how the nominated songs are used in their movies – and while the other four songs play over end credits, the “Eurovision” song is showcased in a gloriously over-the-top production number. Still, this award has gone to a song from a non-animated comedy only once in this century.

Predicted winner: “Io sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead”

“Mank” / Netflix

Best Production Design
Nominees:
“The Father”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Tenet”

This is another of the craft categories that seems to have a clear front runner – in this case, the recreation of Golden Age Hollywood (and of Hearst Castle) in “Mank.” While the other nominees are impressive – with “The Father,” for instance, using its design as a way to keep the audience as uneasy and uncertain as Anthony Hopkins’ character – the scale and richness of “Mank” will make it the second winner in a row that could be described by the title “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Predicted winner: “Mank”

Best Sound
Nominees:
“Greyhound”
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Soul”
“Sound of Metal”

It’s hard to tell how combing Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing into a single Best Sound category will affect the voting, but here’s a statistic worth considering: No movie with the word sound in its title has ever lost the Oscar in a sound category. Sure, that statistic might be more impressive if not for the fact that only two had ever been nominated, 1952’s “Breaking the Sound Barrier” and 1965’s “The Sound of Music.” But “Sound of Metal” is a strong favorite here, because the film depends so much on the way its sound design captures the sense of the main character losing his hearing.

Predicted winner: “Sound of Metal”

“Tenet” / Warner Bros.

Best Visual Effects
Nominees:
“Love and Monsters”
“The Midnight Sky”
“Mulan”
“The One and Only Ivan”
“Tenet”

“The Midnight Sky” won the Visual Effects Society’s top award and may have the year’s most eye-catching bit of VFX in its scene of blood spilling from an astronaut’s helmet in zero gravity. But for years, voters in the category have gone for the effects in movies that don’t necessarily feel like visual-effects showcases. This year, that may give a slight edge to Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” which famously used practical effects whenever possible but also required the VFX wizards to help create a world in which time is moving forward and backward simultaneously (or something like that). Plus the two Nolan movies that are most comparable to “Tenet,” 2010’s “Inception” and 2014’s “Interstellar,” both won in this category.

Predicted winner: “Tenet”

Best Animated Feature
Nominees:
“Onward”
“Over the Moon”
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”
“Soul”
“Wolfwalker”

“Wolfwalkers” is a great and gorgeous movie, and Cartoon Saloon’s Tomm Moore really ought to win an Oscar after being nominated for every one of his three features. But he made the mistake of releasing his movie in the same year as a new Pixar movie by Pete Docter, whose “Soul” (with co-director Kemp Powers) has won everything this season and isn’t about to stop now. Barring the biggest upset in years, Docter will become the winningest person ever in the category by the time Oscar night is over.

Predicted winner: “Soul”

Best International Feature Film
Nominees:
“Another Round,” Denmark
“Better Days,” Hong Kong
“Collective,” Romania
“The Man Who Sold His Skin,” Tunisia
“Quo Vadis, Aida?,” Bosnia & Herzegovina

Once upon a time, you couldn’t vote in this category unless you’d seen all five nominees in a theater — and in those days, the powerful “Quo Vadis, Aida?” would have had a real chance to pull off a surprise win. But the rules are different now: Everybody can vote, and they’re on the honor system to watch all the nominees before doing so.

The new rules potentially expand the number of voters and reduce the possibility for upsets, which makes Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” the clear favorite. Not only did it dominate the European Film Awards in a year in which the Academy’s membership is increasingly international, but Vinterberg was also nominated for Best Director, making it the only nominee that also appears in another category. And in 11 of the 12 years in which films were nominated in both the international and directing categories, the double nominee has won the international Oscar.

Predicted winner: “Another Round”

“My Octopus Teacher” / Netflix

Best Documentary Feature
Nominees:
“Collective”
“Crip Camp”
“The Mole Agent”
“My Octopus Teacher”
“Time”

“Collective” is the only nominee that’s also nominated in another category, Best International Feature Film, while “Time” is the one that has received the most acclaim and awards going into the Oscars. They both have a shot to win, particularly “Time.” But “My Octopus Teacher,” which was one of the least-heralded films when it landed the nomination, is a sleeper that people have been discovering on Netflix. Like many films based around nature footage, you can question the veracity of the story it tells, but its combination of spectacular underwater footage and unabashed sentiment has turned it from a surprise into a front runner.

Predicted winner: “My Octopus Teacher”

Documentary Short
Nominees:
“Colette”
“A Concerto Is a Conversation”
“Do Not Split”
“Hunger Ward”
“A Love Song for Latasha”

This strong group of films encompasses more variety than is usual for the documentary short category, and you could make a solid case for any of the nominees as potential (and deserving) winners. “A Concerto Is a Conversation” is touching and timely and has a strong Hollywood connection, “Do Not Split” is a verité doc that feels immersive and immediate, “Hunger Ward” contains the most harrowing and also the most unforgettable images of any nominee and “Colette” mixes the horrors of World War II with a thorny but endearing character study. If “A Love Song for Latasha” could have a slight edge for its lyrical portrait of Latasha Harlins, the teenage girl who was shot by a shop owner in Los Angeles in 1991, maybe it’s because the last three winners in this category, and seven of the last 10, have focused on female central characters.

Predicted winner: “A Love Song for Latasha”

Best Animated Short Film
Nominees:
“Burrow”
“Genius Loci”
“If Anything Happens I Love You”
“Opera”
“Yes-People”

Since 2013, a Disney or Pixar movie has won in this category in every odd-numbered year, and the streak could well continue with Pixar’s charming short “Burrow.” But as the shortest of the nominees, it may feel less substantial than some of the other contenders – particularly “If Anything Happens I Love You,” a Netflix short that uses simple line drawings to sketch a wrenching portrait of parents struggling to come to terms with an unspeakable tragedy. When they’re not saluting the impeccable artistry of Disney and Pixar, voters often go for the most personal movies, and “If Anything Happens” probably hits too hard to be ignored.

Predicted winner: “If Anything Happens I Love You”

Best Live Action Short Film
Nominees:
“Falling Through”
“The Letter Room”
“The Present”
“Two Distant Strangers”
“White Eye”

Oscar Isaac’s mustache alone is worthy of awards for “The Letter Room,” a wry character study directed by his wife, Elvira Lind. And if they don’t go for the movie star or his facial hair, voters could turn to “The Present,” which shows life on the West Bank through the eyes of an imperiled child, always a favorite approach in this category. But with the Derek Chauvin trial going on while Oscar voters were casting their ballots, you couldn’t get much timelier or more powerful than “Two Distant Strangers,” in which Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe take what could be a gimmicky premise – a “Groundhog Day” approach to police killings of Black men – and turn it into a potent and haunting drama.

Predicted winner: “Two Distant Strangers”

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