Ken’s 2021 Oscar Predictions

Believe it or not, it’s time for the Oscars. While many of the contests seem to have safe frontrunners, there are still quite a few that are somewhat uncertain, and at least one that is truly up in the air. Here are my final predictions:

BEST PICTURE: Nomadland

With wins at major industry precursors, including the strongly predictive Producers Guild of America, alongside an endless parade of critics’ prizes, it’s clear that Nomadland enters Oscar night with a substantial advantage. But if any other movie is to win, perhaps the beloved Minari could play well with the category’s preferential ballot. Other possibilities include Promising Young Woman, which is the only movie besides Nomadland which has the classically vital combination of directing, acting, writing, and editing nominations for a Best Picture champion; or even The Trial of the Chicago 7, for a big movie that’s appeared at many precursors. However, any of these would constitute a considerable shock, as Nomadland is by far the nominee with the most key wins playing in its favor.

BEST DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

However, there’s no ambiguity here. Zhao has run the table in this category, winning at virtually every major awards ceremony in this entire season. Her lead is more than substantial, it’s insurmountable.

BEST ACTRESS: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This is perhaps the toughest acting contest that I can remember. There is no frontrunner, and the major acting precursors of the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, SAG, and BAFTA have entirely diverged from each other. While Vanessa Kirby seems to be falling somewhat behind her fellow nominees, in that she has not win a major precursor (though has been nominated at all of them), Andra Day has won a Globe and plays the lead role in a biopic (a historically Academy-favored genre), Carey Mulligan has won the Critics Choice Award and stars in one of the year’s most-discussed movies, Frances McDormand has won the BAFTA and is in the Best Picture frontrunner, and Viola Davis is playing a real person, has won the SAG Award – and actors constitute the single largest branch of the Academy – and her film is very likely to feature another winning performance in another category (more on that later). 

At the end of the day, this category features five stellar performances from five incredibly talented artists. I’m sure most of us would be thrilled by any of these nominees winning, though I’m still very uncertain about who will win. I’ve second-guessed over what to predict here more times than I can count – and if I had to narrow it down to two top contenders, I’d guess this is between Mulligan and Davis. However, when it comes to making a final prediction, I’m going to lean towards the importance of the SAG Award – which demonstrates significant industry support – and predict Davis to win the Oscar.

BEST ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

While some, after Anthony Hopkins’s somewhat-surprising win at BAFTA, have begun wondering if there may be an upset brewing here, I don’t subscribe to that belief. Boseman has won reliably at other major precursors, and I believe that it is still far more likely than not that Oscar voters will honor him with a well-deserved Oscar for his towering final performance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

For a while, it seemed as if this category would be as up in the air as Best Actress turned out to be, but it seems like Youn has cemented a sturdy lead, and I predict her win here with a fair degree of confidence.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

One of the biggest surprises on nomination morning was seeing two of Judas and the Black Messiah’s stars nominated here – Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield – not least of which because Stanfield’s performance was campaigned in the lead actor category. But while concerns of vote splitting subsequently arose, Kaluuya has built such a prohibitive lead through the precursors that it’s hard to imagine him losing on Sunday.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s win at the Writers Guild of America Awards gives Promising Young Woman a definitive advantage here. This feels like the most likely place for the film to be honored, even if Carey Mulligan can’t quite triumph in the crowded Best Actress contest.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Father

It’s certainly possible that Chloé Zhao could win another Oscar here, if Nomadland is the presumptive Best Picture titan that it’s likely to be, but I can’t help but consider the acclaim that has met The Father as awards season has progressed and more voters have had the chance to see it, and this could be a prime place to reward the film. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: My Octopus Teacher

Wins at BAFTA and the Producers Guild of America lead me to believe that My Octopus Teacher is favored here, though precursors here seem to have less of an impact over the eventual Oscar winner than they do in other categories.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Soul

Soul has been the preeminent leader here since the beginning, and nothing has happened to indicate anything has changed.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE: Another Round

Also nominated in Best Director, Another Round has both the profile and the acclaim necessary to win in this category.

BEST FILM EDITING: The Trial of the Chicago 7
While some prognosticators are predicting a win for Sound of Metal here – and I do believe that it is a formidable contender – The Trial of the Chicago 7’s flashy style and win at the ACE Eddie Awards are, I believe, more than enough for it to win this Oscar.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Nomadland

Joshua James Richards’s stunning cinematography has been cited by a myriad of precursors, but note that the American Society of Cinematographers, somewhat unexpectedly, went for Mank. I don’t think that tips the balance alone, as the ASC and this Oscar category are not all that closely correlated, but perhaps Nomadland is not the particular frontrunner here it once was.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Soul

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste have won at most of the precursors thus far.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Speak Now” – One Night in Miami…

“Speak Now” has been the favorite for the majority of the season, and there’s been nothing that really challenges its status as the nominal favorite; it could also be seen as a way to honor an acclaimed film not likely to win anywhere else. However, it’s by no means a heavy frontrunner. If something else were to win, it could be “Io Sì” from The Life Ahead, awarding Diane Warren an Oscar after twelve nominations; or possibly “Husavik,” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mank

Mank may have more nominations than any other movie (ten), but I don’t have any confidence it will win anywhere except in this category.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has more or less performed in line with expectations through the precursors, including recent wins at both BAFTA and the Costume Designers Guild Awards.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

A similar note applies here. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has won repeatedly across the board in this category as well.

BEST SOUND: Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal’s brilliant sound design has won a handful of prior awards, including BAFTA, and I believe it will continue on to the Oscar. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Tenet

I have a hard time seeing how Tenet loses its season-long status as this category’s frontrunner; although there have been some various late arguments for an upset, perhaps to The Midnight Sky, I’m not sure how that would pan out.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: If Anything Happens I Love You

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: A Love Song for Latasha

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Two Distant Strangers

As I say every year, the short subject categories are hard to predict, as there aren’t any precursors to look for clues from, or easy ways to get a reading on the state of the campaigns. I rarely have anything to comment on in the individual categories, as I usually just defer to the conversations I have followed and go with the consensus favorites, and hopefully can predict at least one or two correctly.