It’s finally time. After the longest Oscar season in two decades, we’re finally approaching the tail end. This Sunday, we will know, officially, who the best film of the year was in a year of craziness and uncertainty. And while many (ok, most) of the categories, seem like chalk this year, make no mistake: the craziest categories this year are some of the closest I’ve ever seen in an Oscar season.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start by talking Best Picture. And by talking Best Picture, we can address the elephant in the room. Nomadland is winning Best Picture. It’s pretty much set in stone. No matter how you slice it, it comes out on top. Guild wins? It won the DGA, PGA, and the BAFTAs. Needs both the Editing and Screenplay nod to win? It’s one of the five competitors (alongside Promising Young Woman, Chicago 7, Sound of Metal, and The Father) in those categories. I even turned to my Simulated Oscar Ballot to see how things go, and while Sound of Metal and Minari both took a few of those counts, neither has much of a chance at the Oscars – and their #2 pick? Nomadland. Now, I’m always nervous to call something a “lock” after the whole Moonlight debacle. And theoretically speaking, Minari has the same path to the Oscar as Moonlight did. But Nomadland plays. It’s a warmhearted film that’s timely and powerful, and while it fails The Travis Test (it will not be on my Top Ten list next week), it’s still close enough to hold off the competition and win the day.
Now, no film can win Best Picture without a few other awards. Nomadland will also win Best Director for Chloé Zhao, who will become the second woman and first woman of color to ever win the prize. In fact, that one’s such a lock, you could bet all your money on it and turn a pretty penny. Nomadland is also likely to take Best Cinematography, should it hold off a close competitor in Mank. As for Best Adapted Screenplay, I think Zhao is likely to win a second Oscar here, but things are a lot trickier. You see, the Brits really love The Father. And the Academy loves spreading the wealth, making this the only category The Father could theoretically win. I’m still sticking with Nomadland, because I feel a sweep brewing. But be warned: this category is trickier than you think.
Amongst the acting locks, the only categories you can call “over and done with” are the male categories. Unless Anthony Hopkins surges late (and it’s worth noting a lot of interviewed voters commented “The race is over but I’m voting Hopkins”), Chadwick Boseman will become the third actor to win a posthumous Oscar for his incredible work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman has nearly swept the season to date, with the exception of the BAFTAs, based solely on the strength of his performance and the compassion of his wife. It will be a powerful, exciting moment to see the late actor’s career come to a far-too-soon end with a much-deserved trophy. I’d say Youn Yuh-Jung is in a similar situation in Best Supporting Actress. While there’s real power behind the Maria Bakalova train (it’s definitely a Marisa Tomei-type win), Yuh-Jung has been on a winning streak lately, and she’s so good in Minari, this is the best way to reward both her and the film. Meanwhile, Daniel Kaluuya has far less to worry about in Best Supporting Actor – if he loses for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah, we’ve witnessed one of the biggest shocks in Oscar history. After all, the reason we got two leading actors in the Supporting category is because of some weird math where Kaluuya won twice (I’ll write about it sometime). People love him, people love this performance, and he’s going to win, hands down.
As for the feature categories, things are pretty much locked up. Pixar always wins, so Soul should be taking this one home. And when International Films get extra Oscar nominations, like Best Director, it’s usually a pretty safe bet they’ll win the International Feature Oscar. Unless Quo Vadis, Aida? Upsets, I’d say Another Round is taking this one easily. And the tech categories are mostly locked up at this point. Ma Rainey has swept the season in terms of makeup and costumes, so expect it to win both awards there. Tenet will win Best Visual Effects, because of course. Mank will take home Best Production Design for recreating San Simean. Sound of Metal’s Sound design is some of the most innovative I’ve seen – consider it your future winner. And Soul will win Best Score, unless Reznor and Ross split the vote with themselves. Go make some easy cash with these categories.
Now that we’ve gotten the locks out of the way, let’s talk the trickier categories. For example, Best Original Song. Unlike most years, there’s no clear “breakout” song contender. There’s no “Shallow” or “Let It Go.” In fact, only three songs have made any sort of impact, and even then, the dent is minimal. First, there’s Leslie Odom Jr.’s soulful song “Speak Now,” which is mostly forgotten in One Night In Miami because it comes right after he sings “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Next, you have Diane Warren, the most nominated songwriter without a win in history, and her forgettable song from The Life Ahead. And finally, you have the little song that could, “Husavik” from Eurovison. Now, the smart money is Warren, because they really want to give her an award. And if I voted with my heart, I would pick “Husavik,” which is one of the most memorable musical moments I’ve seen in a long time. But I’m picking Odom, because the voters know him, they’ll think of Hamilton, and he’ll eek out a ridiculously close win. Warren will get another chance.
Meanwhile, we have to talk about the Chicago 7 in the room. Chicago 7 has some real heat behind it in many categories, but can’t seem to get a win anywhere. Which is strange, and a little frightening, considering it could end up as our Best Picture winner – after all, it did win the SAG Award for Best Ensemble, the best Oscar predicator. So I’m going to look at its two best chances. First, there’s Best Editing. Editing is a real bloodbath this year – statistically, Sound of Metal should win this award. And the Brits already awarded it as such. But Metal’s editing is very traditional – nowhere near the flashiness of past winners like Bohemian Rhapsody and Ford v Ferrari. That’s why I’m sticking with the ACE Editing winner Chicago 7 to win this award. Which brings us to Original Screenplay, which features the epic battle between the 2nd and 3rd place contenders, Promising Young Woman and Chicago 7. Now, I’ve had a hunch all year that this race would resemble Get Out vs. Three Billboards, where the flashier film won out. Promising Young Woman is flashier, more quotable, and arguably better structured than Chicago 7, and that’s why I’m predicting Emerald Fennellto win here. But should Sorkin sneak out a win…look out. We could be looking at a Spotlight situation.
Which brings us to Best Actress. So here’s the situation with Best Actress. The first award of the season, the Venice Volpi Cup, went to Vanessa Kirby. The second, the Golden Globe, went to Andra Day. The Critics Choice Award went to Carey Mulligan. The SAG Award went to Viola Davis. And the BAFTA went to Frances McDormand. That’s five different awards going to five different winners. And none of them have a real power or word-of-mouth train behind them. What a sh*tshow. I can eliminate Kirby (the Volpi Cup really doesn’t mean much in this regard) fairly easily, but after that? It’s really anyone’s game. I’m not kidding, I don’t have a clue. I may change my guesses another three times before the ceremony. We could even see a tie, like Barbra Streisand and Katherine Hepburn. I’m also not too confident in Frances McDormand – voters are nervous about giving someone three Oscars and giving them “Greatest Of All Time” status.
That leaves three actresses, each with their own narrative: Andra Day, Carey Mulligan, and Viola Davis. Now, Day’s got a lot going for her: she’s an ingenue, she sings her own songs, and she’s a real-life figure in Billie Holiday. However, I don’t think the Academy will award her for a first-time role, and SAG didn’t nominate her – that’s a big hurdle to overcome. Plus, I kinda hate that film – review pending. So that leaves Mulligan and Davis. Both have arguments for. Mulligan could follow the Adrien Brody route, where the split ended up benefiting a non-winner, and the Academy LOVED her film. Meanwhile, Viola Davis won the SAG Award – the biggest indicator of an Oscar win – and there’s a lot of people who want to see her win her second Oscar, this time in Lead. Since I can’t decide, I’ll hedge my bets. As much as I’d love to see Mulligan win, I’m predicting Davis, because Mulligan has not won a major award to date. That way, if Mulligan upsets, I’ll be happy. And if she loses, I’ll have gotten one right (and be happy, because Davis is our greatest working actress). I’m not confident in this category. But I can’t keep overthinking things.
I suppose I should touch on the Shorts contenders, in order to help you win your Oscar pools. Well, the Shorts categories are always a bit of a wild card – sometimes, they go for the biggest star power, sometimes they go for the most depressing, and sometimes they pick something with heart. It’s always a crapshoot. The easiest category is Best Animated Short – despite support for Opera, If Anything Happens I Love You has starry producers, is the best film, and tackles the subject of mass shootings. Best Documentary Short is a little more challenging. While Hunger Ward is too bleak and too exploitative, the others all have their benefits – Do Not Split tackles Chinese oppression and political protests/riots (and got the ceremony banned in China), Colette interviews a 90-year-old Nazi fighter who lost family in the Holocaust, A Concerto Is A Conversation is upbeat and happy (and features an Oscar category), and A Love Song For LaTasha explores the ramifications of hate crimes on society through a young girl’s death. Concerto could win the upbeat vote, and Colette could win as a Holocaust story, but I think it’ll go to A Love Song For LaTasha, a film I loved that is unbelievably powerful (and timely, in the aftermath of last year).
And speaking of the aftermath of last year, the Best Live Action Short nominees all tackle, in a variety of ways, the ramifications of policing, in ways both mild and catastrophic. I’d say we can rule out White Eye, which has absolutely no buzz. And despite having the most celebrities, I feel that The Letter Room has likely fallen out, despite Oscar Isaac’s presence at the center of it. Which leaves three contenders: Feeling Through, The Present, and Two Distant Strangers. The Present is a powerful film about a Palestinian man being harassed on his anniversary by the corrupt Border Patrol. But Palestinian films historically don’t do well with the Academy. The smartest money is on Strangers, a Groundhog Day-style story about a police shooting of an unarmed Black man. It’s well-shot, powerful (or exploitative, as many critics have noted), and will have been timely, with the Derek Chauvin trial and Adam Toledo/Daunte Wright shootings overlapping with voting (my apologies for thinking so crassly). But Feeling Through is the most uplifting, best executed short in my opinion. And I think it’s warmth and humanity in portraying a young homeless man’s random encounter and friendship with a blind-and-deaf man will win over voters’ hearts. While my brain says Strangers, I’m following my heart with Feeling Through.
Well, that brings us to the end of the predictions process. This long season will finally come to an end, and as surprising as this sounds, I’m actually sad to see it end. But we’ll have answers soon enough, as the 93rd Academy Award Ceremony will begin at 8:00 pm this Sunday – 6:30 if you want to watch the pre-show Oscars: Into the Spotlight, where the Original Song nominees will be performed. I’ll see you then, and until that time, you can see my full predictions below. Feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments!
Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Actress: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Buttom
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-Jung – Minari
Best Director: Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best International Feature: Another Round
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Documentary Short: A Love Song For LaTasha
Best Live Action Short: Feeling Through
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: “Speak Now” – One Night In Miami
Best Sound: Sound of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Cinematography: Nomadland
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Film Editing: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Best Visual Effects: Tenet