I don’t know about you guys, but this year’s Academy Awards feels a lot stranger than usual. Doesn’t it for everybody? Even though the nightmare that is 2020 is behind us, I feel like a lot of what happened carried over into 2021 and changed how we approach pop culture and public events as a whole.
Case in point is the 93rd Academy Awards. In any other year, the winners would have already been announced and we would have been well on our way to talking about the newest cinematic release, like Godzilla vs. Kong or Black Widow. This year the nominees came out several weeks after the awards ceremony would normally take place, and this year’s ceremony isn’t even until two weeks away. It feels weird to still be talking about awards season this late in the spring, let alone in April.
Either way, the Academy Awards are right around the corner, and I’m excited for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s the first taste of normalcy many of us have had since, well, March of last year, so it’s nice to get back into the swing of things when many of us didn’t even know what the state of the Academy Awards would be this year. Several of my favorite films are nominated, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sound of Metal, and of course, The Trial of the Chicago 7. And the best part: no Oscar host again this year. After all of the coronavirus and political crap we dealt with in 2020, the one thing I did not need was yet another forgettable Oscar host. Thank God the Academy listened to viewers on that one.
But there are several other things I’m less pleased with in this year’s ceremony. For one thing, Mank, one of David Fincher’s most boring and forgettable films ever put on life support, got a whopping 10 nominations at this year’s ceremony. I don’t know how it even got five nominations, let alone 10. Other amazing movies like The Invisible Man, The Devil All The Time, and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods all got zero nominations at this year’s ceremony. And for the select few that are nominated, it looks like my favorites are mostly going home empty this year, which is always disappointing.
Regardless, it’s nice to be back trying to outguess the Oscars this year. Without further adieu, here are my predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Best Picture: Ah, Best Picture. We meet again. You’ve gotten the better of me these past few ceremonies. The first half of the decade, I predicted all of your winners correctly, from The King’s Speech to Birdman. Then came 2015, and you just screwed with me in every way imaginable.
First Spotlight won Best Picture while winning only one other Oscar from the night, the first time a Best Picture winner has done so since The Greatest Show On Earth in 1952. Then Moonlight beat La La Land for Best Picture during its embarrassing announcement mixup (but hey, I’m not complaining much). Then The Shape of Water became the first science-fiction film to win Best Picture, followed by Green Book stupidly winning over Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther. Finally, Parasite became the first Foreign-language film to win Best Picture… ever. Again, I’m not complaining, but it definitely should not be the first… or last.
This year seems, SEEMS, more straightforward than in previous years, and I’m knocking on wood when I say that. Nomadland has been racking up so many Best Picture wins this awards season that you’d think it was Meryl Streep. I have no idea why it has the momentum that it does. After all, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Sound of Metal are all far more invigorating and powerful than that movie was — and amazingly enough, none of those movies are nominated for Best Director. But we’ll get to that later.
Still, I think Nomadland is going to nab the top prize. The only other real competition it has is The Trial of the Chicago 7 because of its SAG Award win for Best Ensemble Cast. Even then, it isn’t looking to get a lot of love in many other categories, which is a shame because it is such an outstanding film. All the same, Nomadland does have its wholehearted moments and it deserves to be commended for that, if not saturated in praise already.
Best Director: First of all, shame on the Academy for snubbing Aaron Sorkin in the Best Director category for The Trial of the Chicago 7. In a year where America was slammed by multiple epidemics, both social, political, and racial, The Trial of the Chicago 7 presented those same issues under a new light with heart and humor. It’s rare that a film feels as simultaneously as important as it does entertaining, yet Sorkin finds the right balance both as director and writer. Sorkin has every reason to be included on this list, while Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg has zero reasons. I don’t care how good that movie is: Another Round has zero chances of winning, while The Trial of the Chicago 7 is more than deserving of a seventh nomination. Heck, you could even trade David Fincher’s nomination for Sorkin as well. God knows Mank doesn’t deserve to be recognized here.
Regarding the rest of the nominees, Chloe Zhao has been racking up Best Director awards left and right this awards season, including the Director’s Guild, so it makes sense that she’d win Best Director at the Oscars as well. Again, I don’t know why she’s the favorite over the likes of Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari or Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman. Both of those films clearly have the director’s fingerprints on them, while Zhao’s direction on Nomadland is more nuanced than anything else. But hey, it’ll at least be nice that an Asian woman has finally won a best directing Oscar. Plus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally have an Oscar-winning director under its belt when Chloe releases Eternals later this year.
At the very least, let’s be grateful David Fincher won’t be winning his first Oscar from Mank. Hang in there Dave: your time will come soon, and with a better movie.
Best Actor: This one is pretty much a done deal: Chadwick Boseman will win Best Actor for his final performance as a cocky and overconfident trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Besides the obvious tragedy regarding Chadwick’s sudden passing last year, the Academy has a slight preference towards awarding posthumous performances in the acting categories, with the last posthumous award going to Heath Ledger in 2008 for The Dark Knight. If Chadwick does win, he will have more than earned it, as his performance as Levee Green was smart, crass, witty, passionate, and filled with life, just like all of his performances were. I won’t be emotionally ready for this award when it comes around.
Best Actress: Okay I gotta be honest here: I have absolutely no idea who is winning Best Actress this year. I seriously don’t. That’s because awards season has been completely bonkers with handing out its actress statuettes this year, and there’s no clear-cut winner thanks to everybody working on a different page.
It’s easier to pick who won’t win than it is to pick who will win Best Actress this year, which is why you can cross Vanessa Kirby off of the list right now considering she hasn’t won diddly-squat all season for Pieces of a Woman. And despite her BAFTA win, you can also cross Frances McDormand off of the list since she already won Best Actress two years ago for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
That leaves Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, and Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holliday. Andra won the Golden Globe for her performance in that film, but unfortunately so did Glenn Close for The Wife and she still lost the Oscar to Olivia Coleman for The Favorite. That leaves Viola and Carey to duke it out for the Best Actress Oscar.
And here’s the thing about that: neither of these actresses are solidly in the lead. Davis recently won the SAG Award, which would normally makes her the best bet, but every year the Oscar deviates from at least one SAG Award winner at its ceremony (see Idris Elba in 2016, Denzel Washington in 2017, Emily Blunt in 2019). Carey Mulligan, meanwhile, has won the Critics’ Choice Award, but that’s even more inconsistent when it comes to trying to pick the Oscar winner. What to do?
Screw it. I’m going against the grain here and picking Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom already has one win secured with Chadwick Boseman anyway. It doesn’t need to get greedy with the Oscars now.
Best Supporting Actor: Again, why is Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield nominated for supporting actor with Judas and the Black Messiah? Obviously they deserve to be nominated somewhere because they were both just so outstanding in that movie, but these two leads literally got top billing for that project. Their faces were on the dang poster, for crying out loud. First the Academy snubbed Dev Patel of a Best Actor nomination for Lion five years ago, now they’ve gone and done the same thing again to the leads for Judas and the Black Messiah. What exactly is the Academy’s criteria for actor and supporting actor anyway? Do any of their rules make sense to anybody anymore?
That being said, Daniel Kaluuya probably stands the best chance for winning Best Supporting Actor here. Not that Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Raci, and Leslie Odom Jr. weren’t equally as amazing in The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sound of Metal, and One Night In Miami…, but Kaluuya was just so prominent and powerful a presence as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton that it would frankly be disrespectful to him if anyone else won. Good luck explaining to me why he’s nominated for supporting actor over Best Actor though. Maybe the Academy wanted to equally recognize Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya in the same ceremony? If that’s true, then that’s the best reasoning why he’s nominated in this category.
Best Supporting Actress: First thing’s first, why on God’s Green Earth is Maria Bakalova nominated for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm? Was the year really so desperate that this movie needed to be nominated for acting? No doubt she was brilliant in it, but I’ve always been under the presumption that mockumentary films never got nominated at the Academy Awards. If we’re suddenly allowing them for consideration now, then where was This Is Spinal Tap’s nomination in 1984?
Outside of that strange nomination, this is an unusually competitive category this year, with nominees including Hillbilly Elegy’s Glenn Close and The Father’s Olivia Colman. My pick for Best Supporting Actress, however, is Youn Yuh-jung, who plays Jacob’s grandmother Soon-ja in Lee Isaac Chung’s tender and sweet childhood drama Minari. Besides her being just as adorable and precious as any caring grandma could be, Yuh-jung carries international star power none of the other nominees possess, credited with over a hundred roles in her 50-year career. If all of that wasn’t enough on its own, she’s also been called the Meryl Streep of South Korea — and we all know how much the Academy loves Meryl Streep.
Best Animated Feature: Can we just start calling the Best Animated Feature Oscar the Best Pixar Feature already? Pixar has won so many of these Oscars that it’s just getting ridiculous at this point. This year their chances of winning are doubled with not only the larger-than-life Soul getting nominated, but also the endearing and touching brotherhood fantasy Onward.
While Onward is my personal favorite out of the nominees, Soul has a more dedicated following and explores more profound themes of life and purpose in its seemingly simple story. Even though both of Pixar’s nominees are equally worthy of the award, I think Soul will end up winning Best Animated Feature.
Best Documentary Feature: Again, no idea who will win Best Documentary. At first glance I thought Collective would stand the best chance at winning since it’s also nominated for Best International Feature. But then I remembered that was the same case for Honeyland last year, and look at how that turned out. My next thought went to Time for touching on issues such as incarceration, the prison system, and poverty, but that film has a very mixed reaction amongst audiences, and I don’t think the Academy would go with it given its divisive reception.
The next best bet then is My Octopus Teacher, and admittedly it is a unique premise about a filmmaker befriending an octopus in the ocean for a year. In recent years, interesting documentary subjects have won over the Academy more than interpersonal ones have (see Icarus, Free Solo). For that reason, I’m going with My Octopus Teacher.
Best International Feature: All of the nominated films for Best International Feature seem to be on equal footing here with one key exception: Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round. Besides Best International Feature, Vinterberg is also nominated for Best Director and is the only other Best International Feature nominee to secure two nominations at this year’s ceremony. That pretty much assures Another Round’s win in this category, as it is historically unusual for a filmmaker to be nominated for Best Picture or Director and not end up winning Best International Feature. At least Minari isn’t foolishly nominated in this category like it was at the Golden Globes. I guess the Academy learned from the Hollywood Foreign Press’ mistake.
Best Original Screenplay: This category could go to to one of two nominees on Oscar night: Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. Between the two nominees, I adore The Trial of the Chicago 7 more not just for its subject matter, but for its brilliant handling of it. It emotion and gravitas, smart and electrifying dialogue, witty sense of humor, and stark parallels to modern society give power and purpose to this politically-charged drama, and all of that is thanks to Sorkin.
Emerald Fennell, however, has also crafted an ingenious and well-thought-out narrative behind the black comedy thriller Promising Young Woman. Handling a subject matter as serious as rape and sexual assault is always a difficult and delicate matter, but Fennell handles it well with grit, intelligence and striking commentary. It’s a close call between the two nominees, but if we’re going off of who has the better chances, it’s probably Promising Young Woman since Aaron Sorkin already won a writing Oscar in 2011 for The Social Network. If Fennell does win, it will be well-earned, although I kind of hope Sorkin would win his second Oscar for The Trial of the Chicago 7. But hey, maybe it’s better this way. At least the Academy gets to avoid the wrath of the feminists for another year.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Again, can someone please explain to me how the hell Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is nominated for best screenplay? No, better yet, why is it nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? While the rest of the nominees were based off of books or plays, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is based on the character of Borat, which is just as dumb as when Toy Story 3 was nominated for being based on its characters, or when Whiplash was nominated for being based on its own short film. Don’t even get me started on the Writer’s Guild of America, who unbelievably had the gall to name the Borat sequel the winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. I don’t care whether or not it can be considered a contender at the Oscars: the movie doesn’t deserve a nomination, let alone a freakin’ win. For that reason I’m knocking it off from my list of contenders. It doesn’t even warrant a nomination, and I’m not about to give it what it doesn’t deserve.
Now then, looking at the four other nominees, there’s only one real other contender I see from the pack: Nomadland. While it’s questionable how Chloe Zhao chose to adapt Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction novel into a fictional narrative, the story she does weave is just as earnest as its source material, and she does a great job integrating the real-life nomads featured in the book and casting them as themselves in the movie. There are quite a few moments in the film where these nomads are talking, and you’re wondering if they’re actually acting or if they’re reliving their life experiences that brought them here. That level of authenticity is rare in the movies, and for that reason I think Nomadland is most primed to win Best Adapted Screenplay.
Best Film Editing: Of all of the categories the Academy Awards recognizes on Oscar night, Best Film Editing has the least respect. Not because film editors aren’t artists of their own craft, but because for the past few years, the Academy Awards has chosen the literal worst winner they could among its pack of nominees. Dunkirk was a choppy and incomprehensible mess of a movie that couldn’t assemble a concise narrative if it wanted to, while it’s a straight-up crime that Ford v. Ferrari won the editing Oscar when Rush wasn’t even nominated. Don’t even get me started on Bohemian Rhapsody winning the bloody Oscar over the likes of The Favourite, Vice, and BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee is upset that he lost Best Picture to Green Book, while I’m more upset that BlacKkKlansman lost to John Ottman literally ripping up the celluloid for Bohemian Rhapsody.
The good news is this year’s pack of nominees doesn’t have anyone that’s as outwardly bad as the aforementioned winners are, just nobody that really sticks out like Whiplash, Argo, or The Social Network did. My personal favorite is Alan Baumgarten for The Trial of the Chicago 7, not just because of his smart assembly of events playing out throughout the picture, but also because of his great intercutting between characters’ dialogues alongside each other. Plus he’s been nominated before for 2013’s American Hustle. If I had to pick the most worthy winner out of these nominees, it’d be The Trial of the Chicago 7 hands down.
However editing isn’t just fast-paced intercutting between action and dialogue — it’s also knowing when not to cut and letting events play out naturally to understand what our characters are going through. Sound of Metal does a brilliant job with the latter, as whenever Ruben Stone begins to lose his hearing, the loss of sound plus his facial expressions makes for painting a beautiful yet tragic picture of what he is experiencing.
It’s a tough one, but I’m personally going to go with Sound of Metal. The quick editing techniques really haven’t sold itself in recent years with nominees The Big Short and Vice going home empty, plus I kind of like the idea of an indie favorite like Sound of Metal beating out the big production company-prowess of The Trial of the Chicago 7. Either way, let’s be grateful Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t taking home the award this year. I would probably lose my mind if it got a lifetime achievement award in editing or something like that.
Best Cinematography: It’s amazing to see how quickly the Oscars can elevate someone to the level of their well-established peers. Take Best Cinematography nominees Sean Bobbitt, Dariusz Wolski, and Phedon Papamichael. In any other year, they would be considered the biggest contenders in this category, with their credits including not only the recently released Judas and the Black Messiah, News of the World, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, but also The Martian, Prometheus, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice In Wonderland, 3:10 To Yuma, Ford v Ferrari, and 12 Years A Slave. At the Oscars, artists’ careers speak for themselves, and these nominees definitely carry very impressive ones.
As loaded as these cinematographer’s filmographies are, they are amazingly enough the underdogs this year next to Nomadland’s Joshua James Richards, who has worked alongside collaborator Chloe Zhao since her director debut Songs My Brother Taught Me in 2015. And his work on Nomadland is stunning, eloquently capturing both the beauty and isolation of life on the road as a nomad. I don’t advocate for Nomadland for several awards this Oscar season, but I happily will for cinematography because it’s just that lush and gorgeous. Again, another filmmaker might be able to pull an upset, but considering all of the love and adoration behind Nomadland it isn’t likely.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Here’s a rarity for the Academy Awards: the makeup category once again has five nominees under consideration. Normally Best Makeup only has three nominees, but this is the second time the Academy has filled all five makeup slots, right after Bombshell won this Oscar last year. That’s great for the Academy and even better for the nominees. Still, it doesn’t make my predictions any easier.
As far as this year’s nominees go, I quite like the makeup work turning Federico lelapi into a wooden puppet in Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, as well as Hillbilly Elegy for turning Amy Adams and Glenn Close into some convincing-looking southern hicks. But if I have to look at the most striking makeup work, it has to be Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Its transformation of Viola Davis into the Mother of Blues herself Ma Rainey is just too impressive to miss, whether you’re looking at her blush makeup or her several exotic hairstyles. Sometimes it’s the transformation of one key character that sets the winner over the edge (see Vice, Darkest Hour and The Wolfman’s Best Makeup wins). If we’ve gotta bet on one leading lady, it’s got to be Ma Rainey.
Best Costume Design: Another tough category, and man am I sick of saying that. The matchup for Best Costume Design comes down to the snazzy and stylish jazz suits and dresses of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the elegant and enchanting wardrobe of Emma. Looking at the nominees themselves doesn’t make the matchup any easier, because not only has Ann Roth and Alexandra Byrne both been nominated five times: they’ve also both won Oscars already, Ann for The English Patient in 1996 and Alexandra for Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. So who the heck is going to win the award this year?
It could be my bias speaking again, but I think Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has just the slightest edge over Emma. One, the costumes are just as striking and spectacular as the film’s titular character is. Second, from a numbers perspective, Ma Rainey’s is just more loved by the Academy than Emma. is. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is nominated five times at the Academy Awards, while Emma. only has two nominations. Ma Rainey’s is literally the only film tied in nominations with Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman, and it isn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Films nominated in more categories is usually bound to get more accolades, which is why Ma Rainey’s is the safest choice for costume design.
Best Production Design: With an unbelievable 10 nominations under its belt, Mank was bound to win in one category or another, and production design is Mank’s moment to shine. Not only do the sets evoke the feel and sensation of 1930s Hollywood, but it also does a brilliant job recreating the era through the black-and-white lens of Citizen Kane. Still, as far as positives go that’s one of the few the film can fairly claim, and I have no idea why the film is also nominated for Best Picture or Director since it’s more dull than an E.L. James novel. Either way, its production is outstanding, and if Mank does win the Oscar, it will be the only one it has rightfully earned.
Best Musical Score: Shoutout to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for being nominated not once, but twice in this category. Not only did they score the snazzy and sensational ‘40s jazz soundtrack of Mank, but they also provided a lo-fi vibe to the heavenly and uplifting sounds of Soul. Either one could win on Oscar night, but my money is on Soul. Not only does its mesmerizing score go perfectly with the movie’s heavenly premise, but it’s also simply so beautiful and euphoric to listen to on its own. Mank might be able to pull an upset, but considering all of the love and adoration behind Soul, it isn’t likely. Whichever film wins the Oscar, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have already won.
Best Original Song: It’s interesting to see how many songs in this year’s Oscars are dedicated to social causes compared to previous ceremonies. H.E.R. offers a beautiful and soulful R&B single with Judas and the Black Messiah’s “Fight For You,” while Celeste gives an emotional plea for help in The Trial of the Chicago 7’s “Hear My Voice.” But the most powerful track comes from Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” for One Night In Miami…, where he offers simple spoken word on listening and unifying against injustice before crescendoing into a monumentally moving chorus.
The Oscar could go to any one of these amazing nominees on awards night, but my pick is Leslie Odom Jr. Not only is “Speak Now” my favorite song nominated, but his star power also elevates him slightly above his fellow nominees. Be honest now: do you really think the Academy Awards will pass up on the chance to recognize a Hamilton star? Then again though he does play Aaron Burr, so if the Academy does decide to snub him, they’re somewhat justified for doing so.
Best Sound: First of all, props to the Academy Awards for finally wising up and condensing the sound editing and mixing Oscars into one category. I know many sound editors may understandably be frustrated by the decision, but come on. Several elements go into all of the technical categories. You don’t see separate categories for Best Cinematography, Best Framing, Best Panning, Best Lighting, and Best Focusing. The Academy Awards are meant to recognize outstanding efforts overall, not pander to every single department of a production.
That said, let’s plunge into the newly-named Best Sound category. It’s easy to predict who will win this year, and frankly, it isn’t even close: Sound of Metal. Given that the premise of the film revolves entirely on the sounds Ruben Stone does and doesn’t hear, it makes sense that so much effort goes into this film’s sound production. Still, I can’t overstate how masterful the editing and mixing of this film is. Not only are the sounds crisp and clear when they need to be, but they’re also equally distorted, messy, and compressurized, giving us a clear understanding of what Ruben is experiencing when he’s going deaf. It’s brilliant work from Sound of Metal’s sound engineering team, and frankly, no other nominee in this category is anywhere near as deserving.
Best Visual Effects: Tenet. While not the most refined Christopher Nolan film, it does offer some dizzying visual effects, with objects and people moving forward and backwards through time like a clock’s two hands moving in opposite directions. In another year, maybe Tenet would be considered the dark horse compared to the rest of the nominees. But 2020 was a dismal year, and its competition is monsters, CGI animals, and a bad live-action Disney remake. Wor a in raey driht a rof debbuns eb t’now soidutS levraM tsael tA.
And at last, we arrive at the dreaded short categories, the films I’ve never seen but am nonetheless asked to predict anyway. For documentary and animated short, I’m picking “A Concerto Is A Conversation” and “If Anything Happens I Love You” only because those are stimulating titles and nothing else. And “The Letter Room” has the only actor I recognize out of all of the short nominees thanks to Oscar Isaac, so that’s the one I’m going with for Best Live Action Short. Easiest shorts predictions ever.
Well that’s it for now folks. I’ll see you on Oscar night. Remember to wear your mask.
– David Dunn