Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Oscar Lineup & Predictions 2021

Apr 26 2021 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

For the fifth year in a row, I’ve managed to screen all the Oscar nominees in all 23 categories before the ceremony. Likewise, my picks and predictions are included below. I’ve posted this every year since 2012, so you can follow my track record from the past decade:

Best Motion Picture of the Year


Will Win: Nomadland

Dark Horse: The Trial of the Chicago 7

My Favorite: The Father or Nomadland

Should Have Been Nominated: News of the World, Greyhound, Soul

I’ve done pretty terrible at predicting Best Picture Winners recently, and honestly, much of the world has in recent years as well. Time-tried truisms seem rather irrelevant now. Should the PGA and DGA awards still be considered strong predictors? Will Best Picture and Director continue to routinely go to the same film as they once did, or have we started a new trend?

Things like the preferential ballot, recent overhauls in the membership of the Academy, and more have made these real questions in recent years, yet this is the first time in several years where there seems to be a near consensus. Nomadland is the likely winner, while The Trial of the Chicago 7 has a slight lead over Promising Young Woman and Minari.

All three runners-up have a great chance at benefiting from the preferential balloting system, whereas Nomadland does not. However, without a clear leader among the three, most think that benefit won’t be enough. Then again, that is basically the same logic that people thought would stop Parasite last year.

Best Achievement in Directing


Will Win: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao

Dark Horse: Minari, Lee Isaac Chung

My Favorite: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao

Should Have Been Nominated: News of the World, The Father, Pieces of a Woman, The Trial of the Chicago 7

In a slightly-easier-to-predict category, both recently and in this year specifically, Chloé Zhao benefits in two main ways.

First, there’s no preferential ballot system working against her as in the Best Picture race. Second, her strongest competition isn’t actually among the nominees, so this race is entirely her’s to lose.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


Will Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Dark Horse: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

My Favorite: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Should Have Been Nominated: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Anthony Hopkins turned in one of best acting performances of all time this year, yet most expect the Oscar to go to Chadwick Boseman posthumosly.

It’s unfourtunate that these two go head-to-head in the same year. In contrast to Heath Ledger’s posthumous supporting actor win for The Dark Knight – which would have been a lock under any circumstances – Boseman probably wouldn’t win this one without his untimely death earlier in the year. In fact, I would argue his role is actually a supporting one, which would ordinarly work against him (Academy voters get to decide this for themselves when nominations are made, but a smaller role can lead to fewer votes when deciding a winner).

However, Hopkins already holds a Oscar. The Academy will probably seize this as their only chance to give one to Boseman, much as occurred at the Screen Actor’s Guild awards. SAG has a similar voting body and nominated the same five performances this year, so any deviation here would be slightly surprising.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Will Win: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Dark Horse: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

My Favorite: Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Should Have Been Nominated: Helena Zengel, News of the World

This one will be quite close. The safe bet is Viola Davis, as she’s already picked up the SAG award here. However, with the exception of Andra Day, who wasn’t nominated by SAG, anyone *could* win.

Frances McDormand was instrumental to the favorite frontrunner of the year, but she’s a previous Oscar winner already, and her role was somewhat tailored to her real life personality – not necessarily the sort of thing that makes one a clear winner. Still, if Nomadland cleans house earlier in the ceremony, expect the possibility of an upset.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Dark Horse: Sasha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (very unlikely)

My Favorite: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Should Have Been Nominated: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This doesn’t seem too diffucult. Kaluuya has been snubbed of earlier Oscar nominations. Voters have capitalized to given him every notable award so far this season. Any performance of a notable historical figure is the type of thing that tends to play well with the Academy.

In contrast to Boseman’s leading actor nomination that should have been supporting, this is a supporting actor nomination that should have been leading. Whereas Boseman’s nomination in the bigger category hurts his chances even ignoring the fact that it put’s him against the stronger competition of Hopkins, Kaluuya’s nomination in the smaller category only helps his chances and keeps him away from an uphill battle with Hopkins.

One might assume that two nominees from the same film would split votes, but Kaluuya is a clear winner between the two and he has the largest role in the film. Being labeled a “supporting” cast member beside his own co-star actually just makes his performance look like more of a frontrunner by comparison.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Dark Horse: unlikely

My Favorite: Glenn Close, Hilllbilly Elegy

Youn is the front-runner here by a pretty wide margin. Seeing a Dark Horse winner isn’t entirely out of the question, but it would be hard to narrow down any specific runner-up.

Everyone besides Seyfried seems to show up in the top two on at least one notable list.

Minari has 6 nominations, and this is the easiest one for it to win.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay


Will Win: Promising Young Woman

Dark Horse: The Trial of the Chicago 7

My Favorite: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Should Have Been Nominated: News of the World, Soul

The Writers’ Guild awards can often be a decent predictor of the Best Screenplay categories, but it’s much less foolproof than the first six categories. Promising Young Woman was the winner there – likely by the slimmest of margins.

Expect this award to either follow suit, or go to longtime legend, Aaron Sorkin. It’s too close to call.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay


Will Win: The Father

Dark Horse: Nomadland

My Favorite: The Father

You’re probably thinking if you can’t call a tight race for Original Screenplay it’s okay, you’re at least get Adapted Screenplay. Wrong.

One category tends to be tougher than the other depending on the year, but this year they’re both too close to call. The Father and Nomadland are the frontrunners for adaptations. The latter is a favorite for the big categories, and the winner of those often picks up a writting award. Expect that here if Nomadland cleans up on awards night.

However, The Father is also well-liked and likely serving as ‘just-barely-runner-up’ in far too many categories. With the script for Nomadland feeling a little thin, this would be a good place to make sure The Father doesn’t leave empty-handed.

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Will Win: Nomadland

Dark Horse: Mank

My Favorite: News of the World

Should Have Been Nominated: My Octopus Teacher, The Man Who Sold His Skin, The White Tiger

Two clear front-runners in this one: Nomadland and Mank. Nomadland gains an edge from being presumed overall favorite film of the year. Mank has an uphill battle as a black and white picture, which won’t play nearly as well among the general audience of Academy voters as it did amongst those in the cinematography branch specifically who handed it the nomination.

That said, this is a close race, and if Nomadland fails to pick up this win, it might mean it’s fallen from grace as much as some predict. In that case, look for a possible upset winner at the end of the night as well.

Best Achievement in Production Design


Will Win: Mank

Dark Horse: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

My Favorite: News of the World (from this list), Love and Monsters (overall)

Should Have Been Nominated: The Midnight Sky, Greyhound, Love and Monsters

Tenet and The Father seem unlikely here, as the other three films are period pieces typical of past winners. Of the remaining three Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has the smallest scope, but will get a boost as a favorite in the next two related categories. If it pulls off a win here, it will likely leave with five Oscars, which seems a bit unlikely.

The more likely bet is Mank, which is one of those films that Hollywood likes because it glorifies the classic cinema era. It’s the most heavily nominated film this year, and this is really the only category it has a good chance of winning. It would be surprising to see that opportunity pass by.

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Dark Horse: Emma.

My Favorite: Emma.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the frontrunner, and out of all its nominations, this is probably the most deserved.

All five nominees are essentially period pieces, which should play well. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set over the course of a few hours and has only a few characters, so I don’t find the scope of the costuming to be as grand as, say, Emma., but the quality is still present in what’s there.

Best Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling


Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Dark Horse: Pinocchio

My Favorite: Pinocchio

There are really three reasonable choices here: the two frontrunners and Hillbilly Elegy. It’s a shame the latter two aren’t in stronger contention.

Glenn Close get’s the brillantly done “let’s use makeup to make you look like a real life person from history” treatment that often plays well in this category, despite playing a charater that isn’t actually famous or recognizable.

Pinocchio manages to make a people look like wooden puppets during the entiretly of its runtime, and does so in such a convincing way that I’m not sure whether I’d think it was amazing makeup or some brilliant new photorealistic motion capture effect if you hadn’t told me.

Best Achievement in Film Editing


Will Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Dark Horse: Sound of Metal

My Favorite: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Should Have Been Nominated: Greyhound, News of the World

Historically, I have a lot of trouble with this category. It’s a close race between Sound of Metal and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Way too close to call beyond a coin flip.

In my case, I’m simply going to give the voters benefit of doubt that they choose the correct option here. Usually not noticing a portion of filmcraft is a compliment, but the editing is the first thing you notice with The Trial of the Chicago 7, and in a good way. Crosscutting between the trial and actual events is something that’s been tried in many a procedural, yet The Trial of the Chicago 7 masters it in a way I’ve never quite experienced before.

Many like to point out that Best Editing and Best Picture tend to go to the same film, and while I’ve never quite bought into that logic, Nomadland‘s presumed third-place finish here is a bit concerning. Nomadland is unlikely to win in more than a few categories. With The Trial of the Chicago 7 being the presumed Dark Horse in the Best Picture race, an actual win for it here may be an early signal of a pending upset at the end of the night.

Best Achievement in Sound


Will Win: Sound of Metal

Dark Horse: Soul (unlikely)

My Favorite: Sound of Metal

Should Have Been Nominated: Nomadland, Eurovision Song Contest

Merging Sound Editing and Sound Mixing into one category this year should make things less confusing for voters, and simplifies what would be an easy pick on your ballot this year regardless. Sound of Metal has widely been talked up as a film *about* sound, with a sound mix to match. There’s virtually no way this will go unnoticed.

Soul also created and interesting sonic atmosphere, but this was due more to it’s score than anything else. This makes it a clear runner-up.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Will Win: Tenet

Dark Horse: The Midnight Sky

My Favorite: The One and Only Ivan

Should Have Been Nominated: Greyhound

In a year where many special effect heavy blockbusters were postponed, Tenet and Mulan are the most easily recognizable films on this list and the only two with nominations in other categories. This will help put them ahead of the pack.

Yet, The Midnight Sky is really the only nominee besides Tenet to win any precusor awards. Thus, it’s your clear Dark Horse pick beneath Tenet.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score


Will Win: Soul

Dark Horse: no

My Favorite: News of the World

Should Have Been Nominated: The Midnight Sky, Greyhound

Similar to the sound category, Soul is a film *about* music, with a score to match. Given that it also has three notable musicians on the ballot, this seems like a sure lock.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also scored Mank, which seems to be the next most likely winner.

Notable composer James Newton Howard’s News of the World was my favorite and might play better here if he hadn’t already been nominated 8 times. I think many people just assume he’s already won (despite that not being the case). Reznor and Ross have only been nominated one other time (The Social Network) and are thus undefeated.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Song


Will Win: One Night in Miami, “Speak Now”

Dark Horse: Eurovision Song Contest, “Husavik”

My Favorite: Eurovision Song Contest, “Husavik” or One Night in Miami, “Speak Now” or even The Life Ahead, “Io Si (Seen)”

Should Have Been Nominated: The One and Only Ivan, “Free”

There are two possible contenders in this one, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

“Husavik” benifits from being the only nominee to play during the film, while the other four are under the credits. Don’t get me wrong – often a song from under the credits that fits perfectly with the climax of a film wins this category. However, “Husavik” IS the climax of Eurovision Song Contest to such an extent that listening to the song before seeing the film is a total spoiler to the emotional climax of the film.

Meanwhile, One Night in Miami has other nominations, and more voters will actually have seen it. Furthermore, “Speak Now” has a distinct and timely message that voters will understand even if they’ve listened to the song without screening the film.

I slightly prefer the former track and clearly prefer its film. I’d love to see it conqure the category if only to prove more people saw the film than I anticipate. Recent trends have been pushing in that direction, but it seems like a bit of an uphill battle.

Best Documentary Feature


Will Win: My Octopus Teacher

Dark Horse: Crip Camp

My Favorite: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher leads the pack over Crip Camp and Time.

It’s brilliantly shot, but sort of a strange choice. Its win is probably related to the fact that this is the film that is most well known outside the Oscar race itself.

Other choices like Crip Camp or Time represent the more typical issues documentaries that usually play well in this category, and are possible alternate winners.

Best International Film


Will Win: Another Round

Dark Horse: Quo Vadis, Aida?

My Favorite: The Man Who Sold His Skin

Should Have Been Nominated: Pinocchio, The Mole Agent

Another Round seems like a pretty safe bett here for a couple reasons. First, it’s the most talked about film on the list. Second, the obvious: it’s nominated in two categories (ignoring last year’s Parasite this is a bit unusual for this category). Of course, Collective has two nominations as well, but the Best Director nomination for the former trumps the Best Documentary Feature nomination for the latter.

Quo Vadis, Aida? has been gaining recent traction. Depending on how many voters actually view all five nominees (currently all easily accessible on Hulu), it could be the upset choice.

Best Animated Feature


Will Win: Soul

Dark Horse: WolfWalkers

My Favorite: Soul

Pixar has had more competition in recent times, particularly from their own braintrust over at Disney Animation. However, with two nominees in this category this year (Soul and Onward), they’re somewhat back to form.

Even better, Soul is easily the better film to Onward and has 3 total nominations – a rarity for an animated film. All that makes this effectively a free space on your ballot.

Best Short Film, Animated


Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You

Dark Horse: Burrow

My Favorite: Opera

Though Pixar is often a strong contender in this category too, they will be supplanted this year by If Anything Happens I Love You, which serves as a bit of an issues piece from Executive Producer Laura Dern.

Calling a Dark Horse pick is probably a bit harder, but Pixar’s Burrow probably holds a slight lead over Opera and Genius Loci.

Best Short Film, Live Action


Will Win: Two Distant Strangers

Dark Horse: Feeling Through

My Favorite: White Eye

Two Distant Strangers is the most timely of the bunch, and somewhat heavily favored compared to the toss-up this category can often be.

Arguments could be made for The Letter Room starring Oscar Issac or Feeling Through, the most lighthearted of the bunch (I often find this to be a strong predictor for the category when no obvious signs are present).

Best Documentary, Short Subject


Will Win: A Concerto Is a Conversation

Dark Horse: A Love Song for Latasha

My Favorite: Hunger Ward

This category could go any of three ways: Colette, A Concerto Is a Conversation, or A Love Song for Latasha. There’s no easy way to predict here.

Colette is less heavily favored. However, it is a bit of an outlier compared to the similar nature of the other two, which could lead to it sneeking ahead in the end. A Love Song for Latasha is readily availble on Netfilx. A Concerto Is a Conversation has lead the strongest on the campaigning front.

Both of these approach similar timely issues, so it’s a tough pick, but A Concerto Is a Conversation mixes issues with art in a way the Academy might appreciate.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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