The 2021 Oscars: Predicting the winners

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The 2021 Academy Awards will be presented this Sunday (8 p.m. on NBC). The last Oscars ceremony was 441 days ago, but it seems like a lifetime.

The film industry is among the commercial enterprises hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Handing out trophies for the best movies over the past year feels less like honoring superlative achievement than survival of the fittest.

Oddly, the most unstable year in film may produce one of the more predictable Oscar ceremonies. Without the usual movie awards campaign season in terms of both quality and quantity, the forecasted winners have coalesced around a seemingly consensus opinion. It all makes for honorees who feel more ordained than superlative.

Regardless, here we are, and so before the Academy Awards are handed out this Sunday evening, here is my annual primer of what/who will and should win each of the six main categories, plus what actor or film was robbed of their rightful Oscar nomination.

Best Picture

Nominees: “The Father”; “Judas and the Black Messiah”; “Mank”; “Minari”; “Nomadland”; “Promising Young Woman”; “Sound of Metal”; “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

What Will Win: Having won the Producers and Directors Guilds awards, along with a Golden Globe, “Nomadland” is a shoe-in for the big prize of the night.

What Should Win: “Sound of Metal” is terrific and a worthy nominee in any year. But “Minari” is timely, thought-provoking, and the best of this bunch.

What Got Snubbed: “The Invisible Man” possesses far more depth than anyone would have predicted (seriously). But “One Night in Miami”is among the most provocative, well-written films of 2020 and patently deserved an Oscar nom.

Best Director

Nominees: Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”; David Fincher, “Mank”; Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”; Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”; Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

Who Will Win: Chloe Zhao has already snagged the Directors Guild Award, the most reliable predictor of any Oscar. She will take home the golden trophy.

Who Should Win: Lee Isaac Chung’s examination of Asian immigrants in rural America was layered, contemplative, and the best directorial work in this group.

Who Got Snubbed: I have no idea how Darius Marder is not nominated for “Sound of Metal,” one of the best and most logistically challenging films of the year.

Best Actor

Nominees: Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”; Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”; Gary Oldman, “Mank”; Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman’s towering performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not just a fitting coda for his truncated career. It is among the best film acting performances in recent years, and it will win on Sunday.

Who Should Win: Posthumous Oscar winners often run the risk of being lifetime achievement awards. Not so with Boseman, who towers over an otherwise deserving group of nominees.

Who Got Snubbed: Although misserved by a flawed film, Delroy Lindo was stellar in “Da 5 Bloods” and deserved a nomination.

Best Actress

Nominees: Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”; Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”; Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”; Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”; Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Who Will Win: This is the only intrigue among the big six Oscars. “Nomadland’s” awards season momentum has tended to Frances McDormand. Carey Mulligan has the showiest role an aggrieved woman out for vengeance from misogynists. But my money is on Viola Davis to add a Best Actress Oscar to her 2016 supporting win for “Fences.”

Who Should Win: A sign of a terrific acting performance is one that leaves you wanting more by film’s end. So is the case with Viola Davis as real-life blues icon Ma Rainey.

Who Got Snubbed: There are two notable omissions. Elisabeth Moss’s turn in “The Invisible Man” ran the emotional gambit, and Zendaya was a jaw-dropping standout in the otherwise wretched “Malcolm & Marie.”

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”; Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”; Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”; Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”; Lakeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya swept most of the pre-Oscar awards for his turn as activist Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and he will add an Oscar to the list.

Who Should Win: In an otherwise outstanding film, Leslie Odom Jr. stood out among the rest of the capable cast in “One Night in Miami,” portraying singer Sam Cooke. Odom Jr. is also nominated for Best Original Song for the film, and he’ll be performing at Sunday’s ceremony. But he merits a win for his acting, too.

Who Got Snubbed: Among its crowded cast, Mark Ryland was somehow overlooked for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” But Bill Murray gave one of the most simple and enjoyable performances of the year in “On the Rocks” — the film only comes alive when he is on-screen.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”; Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”; Olivia Colman, “The Father”; Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”; Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

Who Will Win: After Boseman for Best Actor, the lock of the night is Youn Huh-jung winning for “Minari.”

Who Should Win: “Mank” clearly deserves only three of its 10 nominations: cinematography, original score, and Amanda Seyfried for her turn as actress Marion Davies. She deserves the win.

Who Got Snubbed: The Academy largely got this category right. My one addition would be Ciara Bravo as a junkie-with-a-heart in the little-seen “Cherry.”


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