Following an unprecedented movie year, we may get an unprecedented Oscars. As the Academy works to increase viewership for an awards show that, like all live television, loses viewers every year, it has been gifted one of the best hooks of all: For the first time in a long time, a lot of its races feel genuinely undecided. Take these predictions with a grain of salt, but enjoy them because they may never again matter so much.
Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
One of the few locks of the night, Kaluuya broke into the Oscarverse when he was nominated in 2018 for “Get Out.” Since, then he has shown himself to be a transformative actor with unlimited potential. His work as Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” feels like his first major work. Kaluuya is mesmerizing as the charismatic activist, particularly when Hampton is speechifying. mesmerizing, The fact that it’s really a lead role stuck in the supporting category doesn’t hurt.
Original Screenplay: “Promising Young Woman”
This is typically the Cool Kids Oscar. It goes to a film, such as previous winners “Juno” and “Her” that younger voters love and older voters tolerate. As such, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is probably out here. I’m leaning towards Emerald Fennell’s provocative debut about a woman seeking justice for a friend’s sexual assault. The film is a tonal mess, but the screenplay captures the everyday horrors of being a woman in man’s world better than just about anything I’ve seen.
Supporting Actress: Yuh Jung-Youn, “Minari”
Poor Glenn Close. Just like in 2020, this was the year she was supposed to win the Oscar that everyone wants for her, but “Hillbilly Elegy” is just too awful a movie. Early in the season, I had Amanda Seyfriend for a win here for her work in “Mank,” but she hasn’t won any precursors and her campaign seems momentumless. There’s always a chance for a Maria Bakalova upset – this is the rare category in which comedies aren’t discriminated against – but the irascible grandma from “Minari” is the one to beat for now.
Director: Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”
It’s an astonishing ascension for Zhao, who made two low-budget, festival dramas before hooking up with Frances McDormand for “Nomadland.” The celebrated film melds confessional and narrative, fact and fiction into a mesmerizing collage. It would not have been possible without a visionary artist and a master craftsperson behind the scenes. Zhao is both.
Adapted Screenplay: “The Father”
“One Night in Miami” is masterfully adapted, and “Nomadland” might just sweep, but I’m not allowing “The Father” to lose here. Written by Florian Zeller (based on his own play), the film about a man careening towards late-stage dementia manipulates space and time, keeping the viewer firmly aligned with its protagonist’s befuddled perspective while always ensuring we have enough information to follow along. It’s a masterclass in structure, and it’s unlikely to win elsewhere, so this is it’s spot.
Actor: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
For his performance, for his family, and for what he meant to moviegoers, Boseman will win. His lively work in the Netflix film was like the door to a next stage of his career that will never come, one in which he moved beyond playing superheroes and music icons, and began crafting rich original characters out of whole cloth. Boseman will become the third actor, after Peter Finch (“Network”) and Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”), to win a posthumous Oscar.
Actress: Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
Here’s where it gets interesting. Except for Vanessa Kirby, whose performance in “Pieces of a Woman” hasn’t won a thing, every actress here has won a major precursor award and thus has a shot. But Frances McDormand already has two Oscars, Viola Davis has one, and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holliday”) is in the just-happy-to-be-here category. I’m going with Mulligan, who grounds a movie that could have easily spun out of control in human trauma and emotional pain.
Five years ago, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” would have won, but the Academy is younger and more diverse now. Five years from now, “Promising Young Woman,” which speaks perhaps to an even younger audience, might win. “Nomadland” is the movie of right now. It’s a quiet, gentle film about grief that speaks to this sad, mournful year we have just endured. It circles our traumas but never confronts us with them. That’s what the Academy likes in a Best Picture winner. “Nomadland” is easy to watch, easy to like, and it will easily win.
Never bet against the film with the most “magic hour” shots.
Editing: “Sound of Metal”
“Sound of Metal” is going to win this award for the same reason “Bohemian Rhapsody” won two years ago: Oscar voters think sound editing is the same as editing. It’s not.
Costume Design: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
It comes down to “Emma” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” This award has gone to a Best Picture nominee each of the last three years, and while “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” isn’t a Best picture nominee, it feels more like one.
Makeup and Hairstyling: “Hillbilly Elegy”
The oddsmakers say “Ma Rainey” will win, but this award typically goes to whichever film features the biggest transformation. What the make-up artists did with Glenn Close in “Hillbilly Elegy” is exactly what they like.
Production Design: “Mank”
“Mank” was nominated for 10 Oscars, but it’s only going to walk away with one. The Academy can’t resist David Fincher’s re-creation of Golden Age Hollywood.
Don’t count out the gentle tones of “Minari,” but all signs point to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross earning their second Oscars for the eclectic score of Pixar’s “Soul.”
Original Song: “Husavik”
One of the toughest calls of the night. The favorite is “Speak Now,” Leslie Odom, Jr.’s closing ballad from “One Night in Miami.” But “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” was such a phenomenon over the summer, and I don’t think any of us have gotten “Husavik” out of our heads. Plus, “Ja Ja Ding Dong” was not submitted.
Sound: “Sound of Metal”
It has “sound” right there in the title.
Visual Effects: “Tenet”
Surprisingly, this award typically goes to pretty good movies. Recent previous winners include “1917,” “First Man,” and “Blade Runner 2049.” None of the nominees, though, are actually good, but “Tenet” is the most good, so I’ll give it to that.
Animated Feature: “Soul”
This might not be the slam-dunk everyone thinks it is. “Soul” was predicted to be a Best Picture nominee, but it failed to make the cut, indicating less-than-stellar support across the Academy. “Wolfwalker” would be the spoiler here, but I just think it’s just too esoteric for a category historically dominated by crowd-pleasers.
Documentary Feature: “Collectiv”
“My Octopus Teacher” is the safer bet, a feel-good tale about interspecies friendship. “Time,” an artistic chronicling of a woman’s efforts to get her husband out of jail, would be the critics’ choice. And don’t count out “Crip Camp,” the happy, Obamas-produced story about a camp for the disabled. My hunch is that “Collectiv,” a story of government corruption in Romania rooted out by intrepid journalists is too riveting to ignore.
International Film: “Another Round”
In each of the last few years, an international film has broken out of its category to receive nominations in other major categories. “Cold War” got a Best Director nod. “Parasite” was nominated all over the place and won. “Another Round” is this year’s entry, earning not just a nomination here but also in Best Director. That makes it the winner here.
Animated Short: “If Anything Happens I Love You”
It’s the only one I’ve seen because it was promoted heavily on Netflix, which leads me to believe it’s the only one most voters have seen.
Documentary Short: “A Concerto is a Conversation”
A surprisingly tough race to call this year. I’m going with “Concerto,” a New York Times-produced short about music, race, and family.
Live Action Short: “The Letter Room”
One of the nominees stars Oscar Isaac. That’s the one that will win.