Boy, what a season, huh? Despite the fact that 2020 was objectively longer, something about the 2021 Oscar race feels like it has gone on forever. Maybe it’s the lack of a frontrunner (things moved quickly when Nomadland just won everything), maybe it’s how vicious this season has been, or maybe it’s how terrible the ceremony’s going to be (I’ll have a write-up on that soon). But whatever the reason, it’s all coming to an end, as the 94th Academy Awards will be handed out this Sunday. And I’ve got some final thoughts on who’s going to win.
We are in the middle of the most inconceivable Oscar race. Statistically speaking, The Power of the Dog is the safest, smartest choice. It’s near-impossible to win Best Picture without an editing nomination, it has racked up the most nominations both at the Oscars and abroad, and it enters with both BAFTA and DGA support. And yet – and yet – CODA continues to be the little film that could. It overperformed at the BAFTAs, it won the SAG and PGA Awards – the best precursors to the top prize – and it just makes people feel good. The cast is who everyone wants to talk to at ceremonies, they’ve gone to the White House – everything about it feels inevitable. Even when I ran my Oscar simulation, CODA damn near won the whole thing. On Film Twitter.
So despite the science, despite the math, I’m going with my gut (especially given its status of passing the Travis Test) and predicting CODA will win the top prize. In fact, I think CODA’s about to win a clean sweep (not that it’s hard with just three nominations), also winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur – a win I’ve been dreaming about since first seeing the film last August. As for Dog, it’s in a precarious situation. It’s unfathomable the film will only win Best Director for Jane Campion – how can a film have the Best Direction but nothing else is the best? But looking at its competition – mainly Dune – I don’t see a spot for it to win. While Johnny Greenwood or Ari Weigner may upset in Best Original Score and Best Cinematography, I’ve got to vote with the stats. Campion will be the first director since Mike Nichols to win Best Director and nothing else.
Going through the rest of the acting categories, things mostly look locked up, with one exception. Will Smith is going to win his first Oscar for King Richard. Ariana DeBose will be the sole West Side Story winner whilst making history two times over – the first female character to win two different performers an Oscar (joined by Vito Corleone and The Joker), as well as the first openly queer performer to ever win an Oscar. What an exciting, depressing statistic. However, as locked as these three categories seem to feel, Best Actress is something of a different beast altogether. Honestly, all five actresses have a similar path to the Oscar, although it feels like three have broken away, for different reasons: Jessica Chastain, Olivia Colman, and Penelope Cruz.
Colman’s won a surprise Oscar before, and it could happen again, but I’d say the race is mostly between Chastain and Cruz. The love for Cruz has been hard to deny – in fact, I almost switched at the last second. But Chastain has the only clear industry award under her belt, a narrative of “she’s overdue and produced this film herself,” and backup in the form of a tech win – The Eyes of Tammy Faye is currently looking to edge out Dune and Coming 2 America in Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Over the last decade, transformative makeup and an Oscar-winning performance have gone hand in hand – The Iron Lady, Dallas Buyers Club, Darkest Hour, etc. It’ll be close – maybe even a tie – but I’ve got to stick with my gut and go with Jessica Chastain.
Now that we’ve beaten around the bush, let’s talk tech awards. Now, I’ve written before that it’s not a question of Dune winning a tech award, it’s a question of how many? And I’ve settled in on five: Cinematography (Greig Fraser will be aided by The Batman’s recent appraisal), Visual Effects, Sound, Original Score, and Best Film Editing. Editing is going to be its hardest competition – it hasn’t won a major Editing award yet, and faces stiff competition from the well-liked Hank Corwin for Don’t Look Up and Hollywood’s go-to fixer on King Richard. But Editing and Sound often go hand in hand, and the odds of Dune losing there are slim to nil. So I’m putting my money down on Dune for Best Editing. The sci-fi epic will, however, likely lose Best Costume Design to Cruella, and should see Nightmare Alley take home Production Design (this is, however, arguably the second-hardest tech award to predict). And Best Original Song should see “No Time To Die” overtaking Encanto (it depends on how many voters mistakenly think “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is nominated).
Things get significantly tougher when approaching the Screenplay awards. While Adapted is pretty clear-cut – CODA vs. Dog – Original Screenplay is a complete and utter mess. One-time frontrunner Belfast has struggled all season, only winning prizes from the no-crossover Globes and Critics Choice Awards. However, its toughest competition, Licorice Pizza, lost at the WGA Awards, where half its competition wasn’t even nominated. The winner there was Don’t Look Up, a film that has just as many supporters as it does haters. These three are in stiff competition with each other, as well as the really beloved surprise nominee The Worst Person In The World. It’s entirely possible it could benefit from all the vote-splitting. I’m currently predicting Belfast in a photo-finish, but God, this category’s gonna be close.
Arguably the hardest category to predict is Best Documentary. Thus far, Flee and Summer of Soul have an equal number of precursor awards. They also have their own narratives to victory – Soul as the light, incisive look at the music industry, Flee with its look at immigration, sexuality, and history. The winner here is going to be a toss-up. Hell, I’ve changed almost every day this week. When I started writing this article, I was leaning towards Flee, and a part of me still thinks the Academy will want to give the triple-nominee something. But Disney has advertised Summer of Soul well, and it’s hard to deny the infectious power of Questlove’s musical hit. I’m switching over to Soul, my original choice, for now, but man this one’s gonna be close.
Thankfully, the other feature awards won’t be anywhere near as difficult. Encanto is winning Best Animated Feature in a cakewalk (it’d take a miracle for Flee or my beloved Mitchells to overcome), and Drive My Car should best Worst Person and Flee to win International Feature. Which brings us to the shorts. I’ll likely do a write-up on the shorts sometime before Sunday night, but having seen all fifteen, there’s certainly some stiff competition heating up there. Animation should be pretty easy – the strongest adult contender, Bestia, will likely be too dark for the Academy, giving Robin Robin the edge. Meanwhile, Documentary Short should see a two-way race between Audible and The Queen of Basketball. New York Times Short Films like Basketball have been faring well in recent years, but Netflix dominates this category with aplomb, and Audible’s too good a story to pass up.
Which brings us to Best Live Action Short, where three films seem to be in a dead heat for the award. Three types of films tend to win the Live Action Short award: timely satire (whether good or bad) like Skin or Two Distant Strangers, star-led vehicles like The Shore and The Phone Call, and the most-complete projects, like Sing or The Neighbors’ Window. The options this year include the clever satire Please Hold, the Riz Ahmed-produced The Long Goodbye, and the wholly-realized Ala Kachuu – Take and Run. A few weeks ago, I would have picked Ala Kachuu or The Long Goodbye, with the edge going towards Goodbye. It’s timely (a South Asian immigrant family led by Ahmed is torn apart by a far-right militia) and features a previous Best Actor nominee – in fact, one who likely placed Top Three in voting. But the film is incomplete – it feels like half a music video. Meanwhile, Please Hold has been bubbling up to the surface, both in memory and in support – it’s clever, it’s funny, it’s haunting, and it’s topical. Expect this one to earn a surprise win at the ceremony on Sunday.
We’ll know soon enough how things are going to shake out. Maybe there’s a Best Picture upset for Belfast or King Richard (not inconceivable if Aunjanue Ellis or Best Film Editing upset). We’ll most likely have a clear vision of how the night will go after Original and Adapted Screenplay are handed out. The 94th Academy Awards will be presented Sunday, March 27th at 8:00 pm, with eight categories presented on social media starting at 7:00 pm. They will be hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. You can see my full predictions posted below. And leave your own predictions in the comments!
Best Picture: CODA
Best Actor: Will Smith – King Richard
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur – CODA
Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Best Director: Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Best Original Screenplay: Belfast
Best Adapted Screenplay: CODA
Best Animated Feature: Encanto
Best International Feature: Drive My Car
Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised…)
Best Documentary Short: Audible
Best Live Action Short: Please Hold
Best Animated Short: Robin Robin
Best Original Score: Dune
Best Original Song: “No Time To Die” – No Time To Die
Best Sound: Dune
Best Production Design: Nightmare Alley
Best Cinematography: Dune
Best Costume Design: Cruella
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Best Film Editing: Dune
Best Visual Effects: Dune