Academy Award season is finally here, in the midst of a real clusterfuck of a year for film. Most cinemas around the world were closed for the better part of last year, and studios rushed to get their films distributed on streaming services. While this isn’t great for the theatre devotees among us, it’s exceptional for those of us who rarely leave the couch. It also means people in Australia have actually had the chance this time round to see most of the big films nominated at the forthcoming Oscars.
Those Oscars, the 93rd ceremony, are set to air from 10am AEST on Monday, April 26. For obvious reasons, the ceremony will be downsized, but it will mostly take place in person, which spares us some of the awkwardness that the Golden Globes served us. (I don’t know if I’m happy or sad about this fact.)
It seems fitting that, after an absolutely batshit and unpredictable year, the Oscars race in 2021 is pretty batshit and unpredictable as well. With the exception of Parasite’s historic wins, the 2020 race was incredibly predictable to the point where there was almost no point in watching.
For many of the categories in 2021, however, it could really go many different ways. Sure, there are some shoo-ins, but the usual precursory award ceremonies we use to predict the Oscars – The Golden Globes, The Critics’ Choice Awards, The SAG Awards and The BAFTAs – have had completely different winners and losers. But, playing psychic is fun, so here are mypredictions for six major categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supp. Actor and Supp. Actress) in prep for you to berate me
when if I get it wrong.
Actress In A Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
This year’s Best Supporting Actress nominees can be divided into five distinct tropes we see frequently throughout the Academy Awards since its inception. We’ve got a newcomer who blew audiences away in her first (American) film role, Maria Bakalova. We’ve got an actor who has lost so many times at the Oscars for performances they should have won for, Glenn Close. We’ve got a newly minted Academy darling who clearly is a favourite of voters, Olivia Colman. And then there’s an incredibly famous movie star whose work is finally being taken seriously by the Academy, Amanda Seyfried. And we have a screen legend in a foreign country’s film industry who has finally broken through to America, Yuh-Jung Youn.
This one’s tricky, because all five actors could theoretically win based on performance because they were all stellar. However, it seems that the cards are going to – rightly – fall in the favour of Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn. Her performance as Soon-ja in Minari helped prevent the film from becoming corny or melodramatic, giving it biting humour and unexpected sass. Almost 60 years into her acting career, Yuh-Jung Youn took home the BAFTA and the SAG award for her performance. When you watch Minari, her performance is likely to be the one that stays with you. Especially off the back of Parasite’s sweep, the Academy’s newfound openness to Korean cinema might help push one of the country’s biggest actors over the line – despite Minari being an American film.
Bakalova could stage an upset, as she won the same award at the Critics’ Choice. And Glenn Close could receive the award purely because she’s missed out so many times (she currently ties the record for most nominations without a win at eight). It’s possible that the Academy could give her the award to make up for performances that were overlooked - like Fatal Attraction and The Wife – but Yuh-Jung Youn’s train here shows little signs of slowing.
Actor In A Supporting Role
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah/
Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom, Jr. – One Night In Miami
Paul Raci – Sound Of Metal
The immediate thing you notice about this category is both Kaluuya and Stanfield are nominated for their performances in Judas and the Black Messiah. Given Stanfield plays the ‘Judas’ figure in the film, and Kaluuya plays the ‘Black Messiah’, it begs the question as to… who was the lead? Stanfield’s role was, in my opinion, easily the lead one, so it’s baffling to me that both actors were put forward for consideration in the supporting category when they could have had a nomination one in each. Cohen’s role in The Trial of the Chicago 7 served a similar purpose to that of Yuh-Jung Youn’s in Minari, in that it was meant to serve as a quick-witted comedic refresher amongst an otherwise dense and dramatic plot. On the contrary, Raci’s role in Sound Of Metal was beautifully subdued and intimate, beyond the fact that the film replaces most of what would be typical dialogue with American Sign Language.
Daniel Kaluuya will walk away with this Oscar. Despite having previously missed out on the win for Actor in a Leading Role in 2017 for Get Out (an absolute joke by the way) Kaluuya clearly has the style of acting that the Academy loves. In Judas, he’s intimidating and stern yet passionate and resilient. He melts the vulnerability he displayed in Get Out with the alluring coldness he showed in Widows for an absolute knockout performance as the late Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panther Party in Illinois. And he has absolutely dominated awards season – taking home the BAFTA, the SAG, the Critics’ Choice and the Golden Globe for his performance.
The only thing that stands in his way is Stanfield, but not because Stanfield’s a threat (he will win an Oscar one day, mark my words, but it won’t be this time). No, having two actors nominated in the same category for the same film can be detrimental as the votes can be split between them, giving the majority to someone else. This is especially true when both characters play such an integral role in the film and have similar screentime, as is the case with Stanfield and Kaluuya. We’ve seen such a hindrance before, when Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon were both nominated for Best Actress in 1992 for Thelma & Louise, but neither walked away with the award.
While Paul Raci’s performance should give him that unlikely majority based on performance alone, Sacha Baron Cohen would probably walk away with the award in that scenario, especially since the Academy also favoured the work he did as part of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
Actress In A Leading Role
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces Of A Woman
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
A historic year in the Best Actress category. For the first time since 1973, and the second time ever, more than one Black woman is up for the award. Beyond that, the similarities between 1973 and 2021 actors in this category are frighteningly uncanny. In 1973, the two Black women that were nominated for the award were Cicely Tyson for Sounder and Diana Ross for The Lady Sings The Blues. The Lady Sings The Blues marked Diana Ross’ first major film role, having already established a now legendary career in music. Similarly, The United States vs. Billie Holiday marked Andra Day’s first major film role, after – you guessed it – having already established a career in music. But, beyond that, both Ross and Day earned their nomination for playing the same woman – Billie Holiday. Spooky, right?
The Best Actress category in 2021 is by far the hardest major one for me to predict, because it could go practically any way. Viola Davis won the SAG, Andra Day won the Golden Globe, Frances McDormand won the BAFTA and Carey Mulligan won the Critics’ Choice – meaning the usual precursors for Oscars point us in no clear direction. However, most of these women are up against certain disadvantages. Frances McDormand won her second Best Actress Oscar in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, so there’s less need to reward her again so soon. Vanessa Kirby has the disadvantage that, well, she didn’t win any of the main precursors when all of her fellow nominees did.
Andra Day has a few disadvantages, one being that she isn’t traditionally an actress. The Academy historically doesn’t like to reward people new to acting who already have an established career elsewhere. It can happen – Frank Sinatra and Cher both did it – but it’s rare. Day also scored the only nomination for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which means the Academy didn’t favour the film overall. The last person to win in this category under those circumstances was Julianne Moore for Still Alice, and that was back in 2015.
However, you’d be ignorant – even in 2021 – to think that Day and Viola Davis aren’t at a disadvantage because of their race. Famously, or infamously, only one woman of colour has ever won the Best Actress award – Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball in 2001. A joke, quite frankly. While the odds could very well fall in the favour of either Davis or Day, we can’t ignore the Academy’s routine overlooking of performances by women of colour when trying to predict the award.
So, based on all that, Carey Mulligan – who has been nominated in the category once before – has history in her favour and could walk away with the award, but it truly could go any way.
Actor In A Leading Role
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Riz Ahmed – Sound Of Metal
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Gary Oldman – Mank
Steven Yeun – Minari
Once again, 2021 proves to be a historic year for a lead acting category. Three men of colour are nominated: Chadwick Boseman, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun. Interestingly, these nominations are the first for all three of them. And, as per, they’re up against two old white British men who both already have Best Actor Oscars to their name. But, in stark contrast to the Best Actress category, this race is a complete no-brainer.
Chadwick Boseman will posthumously win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s as simple as that. His death is still felt immensely around the world, partly due to his cultural impact being cemented thanks to his role in Black Panther a few years back. Giving Oscars, or any major award, posthumously is always a deeply sombre and emotional instance, and it doesn’t always happen. Most recently, Heath Ledger posthumously won for his groundbreaking and legendary performance in The Dark Knight.
But, beyond that, Boseman’s incredible and harrowing performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will help take out the award – and if you’ve seen the film (it’s on Netflix!), you’ll know why. It’s a film set over just one day and set in only two separate rooms in a recording studio. Yet, Boseman delivered a performance full of passion, grief, remorse, stubbornness, bravado, comedy, drama and more. He didn’t have a plot that sprawled several months (and countries) like Ahmed. He didn’t have the level of prestige that Hopkins has. He didn’t have heartfelt, family-friendly themes that Yeun had. And, frankly, he didn’t have a movie that celebrates movie-making (which the Oscars are big fans of) like Oldman.
And yet, outside of all that, Boseman’s performance stands out among all the nominees, and having won the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and the SAG, it seems almost certain to stand out at the Oscars as well.
Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
David Fincher – Mank
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
THIS IS NOT A DRILL. TWO WOMEN ARE NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. TWO WOMEN ARE NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR.
At this point, I really should open a thesaurus to find a synonym for ‘historic’, but that word also applies to the Best Director category, as the Academy has apparently only recently learned that women also direct films! Who would’ve thought?!
Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell, disappointingly, mark only the sixth and seventh women ever nominated for Best Director in the 93 year history of the Oscars. And, also disappointingly, only one of those women who has ever won – Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Zhao also has the title of first woman of colour ever nominated for the award and, with Lee Isaac Chung, is the sixth/seventh Asian director to ever be nominated. It’s a big year, folks.
Finally, it looks like the win will be historic too, as Chloe Zhao is almost certain to take home this award. Nomadland is a stunning character study that uses barren landscapes to focus on some of life’s most intimate moments, and Zhao’s deft touch saw what could be a tedious film become truly enthralling.
Zhao has already completely dominated awards season. She won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the Critics’ Choice and The Directors’ Guild of America Award for directing. In fact, of the 24 major directing award nominations Zhao earned thanks to her direction on Nomadland, per Wikipedia, she has won 23 of them. The only directing award she hasn’t won is the Oscar.
Frankly, none of the other nominees could really stage an upset at all. The momentum is behind Zhao and, with a chance to make history, she is poised to take it all the way.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound Of Metal
The Trial Of The Chicago 7
The Best Picture category is a funny one. Up until very recently, it had always been pretty predictable. Oscar-baiting is very much a thing, after all. But in the past few years, the tide has begun to turn.
First there was that Oscar moment in 2017, where the award was initially given to La La Land (predictable Oscar-bait) before it was quickly revealed that that was a mistake, and given to the Black-led, LGBTQ+ film Moonlight instead. The next year, The Shape Of Water surprised everyone after it beat out predicted winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And, most notably and most importantly, Parasite’s unprecedented win last year completely opened the doors for less predictable (and less white) films to take out the evening’s biggest prize.
So, when you look at 2021’s nominees, there are some clear options that typically would be frontrunners based on history. But, knowing what we know now, we also have to consider the possibility that less conventionally Oscar-baity films could, too, take out the award.
In my mind, the Best Picture race ultimately comes down to three films: Nomadland, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and Minari.
Nomadland has widely been considered a milestone of 2020 cinema, partly because of the year it was released. With a plot centered around a woman who is trying to find home before learning that home is wherever she feels like, the themes of the film have a very different currency thanks to the pandemic because of the uncertainty and instability it forced us all to endure.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is the most traditionally Oscar-baity of the eight nominees. Biopic? Check. Ensemble cast? Check. Legal drama? Check. Predominantly male cast? Check. Circumspectly acknowledging systemic racism while centering white men (Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, arguably Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the heroes? CHECK.
But Minari seems to be the fan favourite. I don’t mean to labour the ‘historic-ness’ of Parasite again, but the impact it had on the mainstream acceptance of non-English – and specifically Korean language – cinema cannot be overstated. It’s important to remember that Minari is an American film and helps reframe the “American Dream”. A struggling family moving to a new place in order to better their lives, facing multiple adversities and ultimately coming out successful is the cornerstone of films that celebrate the American dream. This is just the first time we’ve seen that story told by non-white people be taken so seriously by the Academy.
We might be surprised by the actual results of any of these races, but at least we can be grateful for one thing – Sia’s Music is nowhere to be seen.
See if our predictions are on the money next Monday, April 26. The Oscars kick off at 10am AEST and you can watch the awards show live on 7plus.