Oscar Gold 2021 – Who Will Win?

We’re less than 48 hours from the Academy Awards, which means it’s time to finally put up or shut up and predict what films and artists will actually take home the gold on Sunday. We’ve spent the last month poring over every nominee, analyzing the pros and cons to come to a conclusion as to what should win, but we’re no longer concerned with that. Now it’s all about what will win.

Like most major voting contests in this country, we have plenty of data to help make these projections. Just like elections have polling data and analytics, we have prior results from the whole of Awards Season to inform the picks. It’s never precisely a 1-to-1 correlation, but the voting members of the Academy represent a wide swath of the various labor unions, governing bodies, and critic groups that have already had a say. Those people are unlikely to change their vote from one ceremony to the other unless they voted for an alternate choice that wasn’t nominated in either the Oscars or the undercard event. Similarly, while I and many others would prefer that voters actually watch all the nominated films, the majority of Academy members are working professionals, and some may not have had the time to watch everything. Thus, they rely on their friends and/or the published results from these other bodies to help them cast their votes.

This allows for the possibility of some upsets here and there, as each branch of the Academy has a wide range of membership (Acting is by far the largest), and their collective opinions might skew the vote in more niche areas. Also, we can never fully discount the possibility that the Academy as a body may want to send a social or political message. Detractors constantly accuse the Oscars of having an agenda, which isn’t always fair, but sometimes the results bear out the theory. Most recently, in 2018, the first year I covered the awards for this blog, there was a noticeable “Mexican Wave” at the Oscars – in part a rebuke to Donald Trump and his fucking wall – that led to The Shape of Water cleaning up considerably, while other Latin American projects also got swept up in the hype, including Coco for Animated Feature and Original Song, and A Fantastic Woman from Chile winning what is now called International Feature. Was it an overt agenda to flip off Orange Hitler? No, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if some federal resentment helped the winds to blow in that direction just a bit.

Will similar circumstances unfold on Sunday? It could very well happen. There’s a litany of nominees dealing with social and racial justice across several categories, and in the wake of the George Floyd verdict and even more police violence being documented just in the last week, I wouldn’t be shocked if a few votes were swayed by the real-world news.

So let’s get to it. With the exception of the highest profile categories (Acting, Writing, Directing, Best Picture), I’ll simply tackle each category in alphabetical order. I’ll give my reasoning for my prediction, then state it, along with my personal preference, so that I can be on record for the areas where my vote would differ from what I believe is going to be the result. I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to vote in the polls for each category. I wanted to include public results in this as well, but there weren’t enough votes to get a good enough sample size. Hell, the first vote in every category was me, just to make sure it worked. I’m still getting used to the feature, and we’ll keep trying it out in other contexts to see if it can become a regular part of the blog. Hopefully next year we can integrate it properly.

With that, here are my official predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards!

Animated Feature
This one is a complete no-brainer, as I mentioned when I broke down the category a few weeks ago. In just about any other year, Wolfwalkers would have a legitimate shot to give Cartoon Saloon a well overdue win. In just about any other year, having two Pixar nominees would have split votes, allowing a potential underdog upset. But it’s not happening this year. Soul is just too good, and Onward, while nice, isn’t nearly at the same level of quality where it could siphon off some votes and let the wolves in. Soul has swept the Animated Feature category in every major ceremony, including the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Producers Guild, and the Annie Awards. I would love for an indie like Wolfwalkers to get its due, but even I can’t deny this one. Soul is unequivocally the best animated film of 2020, and it honestly should have been up for Best Picture as well.
Vote: Soul
Prediction: Soul

Animated Short
The short subject categories are always the hardest to predict, because you’re never quite sure where the Academy’s collective head is, but occasionally you get clues, particularly if there’s a recurring theme across the categories. I think we have that in the case of Documentary and Live Action, but there’s no direct analog with the Animated field. Usually you can default to Pixar as an early line favorite, and Burrow is sweet, but it’s not exactly memorable compared to some of the absolute juggernauts we’ve seen over the years. As such, I default to the one film that was likely seen by the largest audience outside of Pixar, and one that is at least tangentially related to other shorts in other categories. Premiering on Netflix, If Anything Happens I Love You was accessible to audiences nationwide before any other entry, and the streaming service promoted it heavily, because they knew how gorgeously devastating it was. The racial justice angle will likely spring up in the other two categories, but amongst all three, my prediction centers on an act of violence, which is what gives this film its heartbreaking climax. After a month where we averaged 1.5 mass shootings per day, gun violence is fresh in everyone’s minds, and this award seems tailor-made to bring awareness and further advocacy to the issue.
Vote: If Anything Happens I Love You
Prediction: If Anything Happens I Love You

Cinematography
This is essentially a two-horse race at this point. While all the nominees would be worthy winners, the American Society of Cinematographers gave its annual award to Mank. Normally this would make David Fincher’s film about film the front-runner, but unfortunately, everyone else has gone for Nomadland, including the BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards (though notably Mank wasn’t eligible for the latter). I have a feeling this is going to be a rough night for Mank, despite it leading the way with 10 nominations, four more than any other film. Something tells me it will end up like The Favourite a couple years ago and only get one win, maybe two, for all those nods. Depending on where in the ceremony it gets handed out, this could be the watershed category that determines its fate. It doesn’t look good from where I sit.
Vote: Mank
Prediction: Nomadland

Costume Design
Here we have another category that’s basically in the bag. The Costume Designers Guild split its awards between Promising Young Woman (Contemporary Film), Mulan (Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film), and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Period Film). Of those three, Promising Young Woman isn’t even nominated, and no other body has given Mulan any hardware. The BAFTAs and Critics’ Choice Awards were united in picking Ma Rainey, and things should follow suit (see what I did there?) with the Academy. Ann Roth should comfortably get her second win, nearly 25 years after her first win for The English Patient, and she’ll deserve it.
Vote: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Documentary Feature
Normally this would be something of a crapshoot, as there’s rarely any consistency from one body to the next on this subject. This year, despite a litany of different nominees across all the major bodies, there seems to be something resembling consensus. The Independent Spirit Award went to Crip Camp, which would give the Obamas back-to-back wins, but the BAFTAs and Producers Guild went for My Octopus Teacher. The Critics’ Choice and Directors Guild winners aren’t nominated here, so we can count them out.

At the same time, it can’t be discounted how far marketing can go. I live in Los Angeles, where the bulk of Academy voters reside, and our televisions have been bombarded with ads for Time over the last month. It was named the Best Documentary by the LA Film Critics Association, and Garrett Bradley won the Documentary Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This is also an area where a potential wave of favor for films about racial and social justice could secure an upset. I think it’s going to happen, but if it doesn’t, look to the dead mollusk.
Vote: Collective
Prediction: Time

Documentary Short
There will almost certainly be a social justice vibe to this category. The question is who will it favor? Do Not Split is about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and its nomination was enough for mainland China to ban the entire Oscars broadcast from reaching their televisions. That might be enough to sway some voters to stick it to President Xi’s oppressive regime, but I wouldn’t count on it. Some actors and writers might go that way, but producers and directors certainly won’t, because they want to stay in good with China for that sweet sweet international box office. That’s where a film like A Love Song for Latasha comes in. In the wake of more police violence and mass shootings, including one where a black teenager was killed just this week, the harsh reminder of the disgusting miscarriage of justice in Latasha Harlins’ case will be front and center in most voters’ minds.
Vote: Do Not Split
Prediction: A Love Song for Latasha

Film Editing
Now here’s an interesting contest. Chloé Zhao got the Spirit Award here, completing her trifecta among indie voters, and it’s very possible it could happen at the Oscars as well. It’d be a huge story if it happened. However, standing in her way are two other films that have been duking it out the whole season. The American Cinema Editors union gave its “Eddie” Award to The Trial of the Chicago 7, and the BAFTAs gave it to Sound of Metal. As for the Critics’ Choice Awards? They tied! DRAMAAAAAAAA!

For me, I’m leaning towards Trial for one specific reason. It’s been a trend recently for the Academy to attempt to “spread the wealth” with the winners, especially among the Best Picture nominees. It’s kind of shitty to have 8-10 films that could be described as “best” and yet only have two of them win anything. As such, especially in a year like this where hype has swept up the top of the ticket but not the rest, look for voters to try to give each Best Picture nominee at least some token prize. Since it won’t be winning Original Screenplay (spoiler alert), this is the best chance for Trial to pick up a win.
Vote: The Father
Prediction: The Trial of the Chicago 7

International Feature
My hope was that the truly essential Collective would pick up some hardware in one of the two categories where it’s nominated. Sadly, like its historical predecessor, Honeyland, it will have the honor of being up for both International and Documentary Feature, but will come away with neither. Best Director is a much more prestigious award, so Thomas Vinterberg’s inclusion in that field all but seals International Feature for Another Round.
Vote: Collective
Prediction: Another Round

Live Action Short
As I mentioned during the category breakdown, no American short film has gotten the kind of attention and publicity that Two Distant Strangers has gotten. It’s poignant, visceral, and extremely artistic. And again, given the recent events with regard to racial justice and police violence, this is about as in the bag as anything can get.
Vote: Two Distant Strangers
Prediction: Two Distant Strangers

Makeup & Hairstyling
The Make-Up and Hairstylists Guild gave out five awards this year, two of them to Birds of Prey, which is curiously not nominated given that Suicide Squad won this category previously. Of the other three, Pinocchio got a win for special makeup effects, while the other two went to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. That ostensibly creates a two-horse race, but honestly, this is Ma Rainey’s to lose, especially when coupled with the almost assured Costume Design win. The film has also picked up wins with BAFTA and Critics’ Choice.
Vote: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Original Score
This is another one that’s in the bag for Soul. While Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are up twice in this category, the addition of Jon Batiste’s jazz tracks puts it over the top and prevents peel-off votes for Mank. The Soul trio has picked up wins from the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Critics’ Choice. Should be no suspense here.
Vote: Soul
Prediction: Soul

Original Song
Diane Warren has been nominated 12 goddamn times in this category without a win. If there’s going to be an “It’s her turn” moment, it’ll be here. “Io sì (Seen)” won the Golden Globe and several other smaller circuit awards during its run, and in a relatively weak year music-wise, this is probably her best chance to finally get off the schneid. However, “Speak Now” got the Critics’ Choice win, and there was a small outcry that One Night in Miami… didn’t get more recognition from the Academy. The film is only up for this and for Leslie Odom, Jr. as Supporting Actor. As he likely won’t win that one, giving him this award as a consolation for co-writing and performing the Original Song might be the way Academy voters apologize for the oversight.
Vote: “Speak Now”
Prediction: “Speak Now”

Production Design
The Art Directors Guild gave film awards to Tenet, Soul, Da 5 Bloods, and Mank. Only two of those films are up in this category, and consensus from other bodies (Critics’ Choice and BAFTA) lean towards Mank. I can’t really argue against it, as it was my personal preference as well, and as I said, I think Mank will get decimated on Sunday. This will likely be its only win.
Vote: Mank
Prediction: Mank

Sound
of Metal. End of analysis. It’s won everything, and deservedly so.
Vote: Sound of Metal
Prediction: Sound of Metal

Visual Effects
If there’s one category where the associated union is likely to be overruled, it’s here. Inexplicably, the Visual Effects Society gave awards to Mulan and The Midnight Sky, even though both movies suck, and no other body has given them anything. Critics’ Choice and BAFTA both gave the win to Tenet, and given its nomination for Production Design as well, I can’t see any outcome where it doesn’t win.
Vote: Tenet
Prediction: Tenet

Adapted Screenplay
There’s a little bit of drama here. The Writers Guild gave the award to Borat, BAFTA played homer and gave it to The Father, and Critics’ Choice gave it to Nomadland. Chloé Zhao could walk away with four Oscars on Sunday night, and that would be even more bonkers than when Alfonso Cuarón did it two years ago, because one of them wasn’t actually his; he was accepting on behalf of Mexico. Zhao could have all four to herself. I don’t think it’ll happen, though. I’m pretty sure Editing is going to Trial, and this is the one that’ll go to The Father as its consolation prize, as the tremendous acting throughout will likely fall short and it certainly won’t win Best Picture.
Vote: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Prediction: The Father

Original Screenplay
Up until about three weeks ago, I’d have bet anything that Aaron Sorkin was going to pick up another win, as he got the Golden Globe and had the most eminently quotable script of the set. Then, for whatever reason, Emerald Fennell started winning everything, even though her script is the weakest part of Promising Young Woman. She got the Writers Guild Award, the BAFTA, the Critics’ Choice Award, and the Independent Spirit Award. That certainly negates whatever the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was thinking. The tea leaves say that this will be the participation trophy year, and this’ll be the win for Promising Young Woman.
Vote: Minari
Prediction: Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor
Initially this looked like a contest between Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sacha Baron Cohen, with Odom having the slight edge after his Globe win. Conventional wisdom would have also said that Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield would cannibalize each other as two leading men nominated in the incorrect category for the same film. Instead, the results have given lie to convention, as Kaluuya has swept the proceedings since then, with the exception of Paul Raci’s win at the Independent Spirit Awards, where Judas and the Black Messiah wasn’t eligible. He should have won for Get Out, and he should be up for Best Actor here, so it looks like the Academy’s voters are going to make up for both infractions and give him the win.
Vote: Sacha Baron Cohen
Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova got the win from the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Globes completely punted by giving the award to Jodie Foster for the aggressively mediocre Mauritanian. Since then, it’s been all about Youn, as Minari‘s beloved Soon-ja has taken America by storm. There’s still a part of me that wants to watch Glenn Close win the Razzie AND the Oscar for the same role, but it won’t happen.
Vote: Olivia Colman
Prediction: Youn Yuh-jung

Best Actor
It’s been a foregone conclusion that Chadwick Boseman would get a posthumous Oscar for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but in the last week, a couple small wrenches have been thrown into our expectations. He got the win from SAG, Critics’ Choice, and the Globes, but in the last week, Riz Ahmed pulled the upset at the Independent Spirit Awards and Anthony Hopkins got the victory at the BAFTAs. One you could dismiss as a homer pick, but do so at your own peril, as Olivia Colman had that as her only pre-Oscar victory before she curb stomped Glenn Close. And while the Spirit Awards are given out after the Academy’s voting deadline, the fact that he beat out Boseman straight up does raise a couple of eyebrows. In the end, though, I think the Academy decided long ago, and rightfully so, that Boseman would go out on top.
Vote: Chadwick Boseman
Prediction: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress
This is the most wide open field this category has seen in years. Only Vanessa Kirby has failed to pick up something. Carey Mulligan got the Critics’ Choice win and the Spirit. Viola Davis won with SAG, Andra Day got the Golden Globe, and Frances McDormand got the BAFTA. If it’s a pure numbers game, the money’s on Carey Mulligan, as she’s the only one to get more than one major award, but with Boseman’s likely victory for Best Actor and the Costume and Makeup categories being in the bag because of Viola Davis’ transformation, it would be foolhardy to suggest that the Academy writ large would see only the look and ignore the performance. This makes me laugh immensely, as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will very likely win more awards than most – if not all – of the Best Picture winners, and it was bafflingly not nominated.
Vote: Viola Davis
Prediction: Viola Davis

Best Director
This is going to be Chloé Zhao’s night. She will join Kathryn Bigelow as the only other woman to win this award, and she will be the first minority woman to win. The hype machine has been in high gear for her the entire way through, and it’s a worthy victory. Peter Spears and Frances McDormand trusted her with the material to make this movie, and she was essentially a one-woman show, writing the script, directing the film, and performing the edit. No one has made a more complete effort out of their film, and as such, she will receive the highest honors in film. Even though I slightly preferred David Fincher’s work on Mank, I can’t really argue against this result.
Vote: David Fincher
Prediction: Chloé Zhao

Best Picture
This is kind of a rarity, where just about every below-the-line category has some intrigue and options, but Best Picture is a 100% lock. Nomadland has won top honors from the Producers Guild, Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and BAFTA. It’s essentially a clean sweep. And before you can say, “But Bill, what about last year? 1917 won all those, too, but Parasite won Best Picture in the end,” there are two things to keep in mind. One, no film in this set comes close to Parasite‘s quality, or even 1917‘s for that matter. Two, there was a litany of technicalities last year that prevented Parasite from competing for the top prize with other bodies. Both the HFPA and BAFTA have rules against non-English language films getting their version of Best Picture. The tide didn’t start turning until SAG gave their Best Ensemble prize to Parasite, which is their equivalent of Best Picture, and as the Acting Branch is the largest of the Academy’s membership, they held a lot of sway as voting deadlines approached. This year, SAG chose The Trial of the Chicago 7, but there’s no other evidence to suggest that film might pull the upset, as Chloé Zhao has gotten the top two prizes across the board while Aaron Sorkin hasn’t even been nominated in half of them. It’s just not an apt comparison this time. Nomadland won the moment it was first mentioned around Christmastime, and it hasn’t looked back. A lot of other categories are in question right now. This one isn’t.
Vote: Minari
Prediction: Nomadland

***

And that’s the scorecard, ladies and germs! Feel free to use these predictions to fill out your own ballot, and if you win a bunch of money, send me an Omaha Steak or something as thanks. We’ll see you Sunday for the Oscars, where I’ll be keeping up a live diary here and live tweeting from the @actually_paid account, so follow that for updates!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you agree with these assessments? What upsets do you see happening? Will Diane Warren finally get a win and go away? Let me know!

2 thoughts on “Oscar Gold 2021 – Who Will Win?

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