It’s been a year like no other. Actually, make that two years like no other, since eligibility in the unusual 14-month Oscar calendar was extended by two months until February 28, 2021. This will be the first Academy Awards since the sixth edition, listed as 1932-33, that will have included one year and part of the other, and this year’s awards will technically be categorized as 2020-21. While many theaters remained closed, streamers like Netflix and Amazon became more prominent than ever — a sea change that even the cinema-centric Academy had to acknowledge by making films automatically eligible even if they first debuted on a streamer, at least for this year.
Still, as the nominations showed, and my predictions will support, the traditional studios, whether alone or with the help of their specialty divisions, still look to triumph once the history of this weird season finally is written. An earlier version of this predictions piece appeared in the Awardsline digital edition, but there have been some changes made since then. These represent my final predictions in a year that, for many reasons, could produce some surprising results. If you use this for your Oscar pools, please remember you can’t sue me if you lose.
Oscars: Nominees Viola Davis, Riz Ahmed Round Out Show’s Ensemble Cast Of Presenters
We start with a rundown of the eight Best Picture nominees followed at the end with the name of my predicted winner, but scroll down for all 23 categories.
The only adaptation from stage to screen among this year’s eight Best Picture nominees, The Father, uses the power of cinematic images and technique to make a chamber drama about a man’s slow descent into dementia into a powerful universal story about an issue so many families are dealing with on a daily basis. It started as a French play from writer Florian Zeller, and was translated into other languages, including English, where it also became a Tony Award winning Broadway play. For the film version, and Zeller’s own feature directorial debut, it is set in a subtly-changing flat which we see through the eyes of the title character, brilliantly played by Anthony Hopkins in one of his finest performances. With a cast including Olivia Colman as his daughter, this heartbreaking drama won six nominations including well-deserved noms for its exceptional editing and production design as well.
DIRECTOR: Florian Zeller
PRODUCERS: David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi, Philippe Carcassonne
STUDIO: Sony Picture Classics
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Film Editing
Judas and The Black Messiah
A late-breaking entry into the race, this film represents one of the few major studio projects to gain significant Oscar recognition this year, landing six overall nominations for Warner Bros. with its unpredictable and complex true story of a young man named William Neal—played by Supporting Actor nominee Lakeith Stanfield—who becomes a pawn for the FBI in infiltrating the Black Panthers in the early ’70s. He encounters a life-changing experience and the power of the Chicago chapter’s 21-year-old leader Fred Hampton, played with extraordinary skill by another Supporting Actor contender Daniel Kaluuya. With a stunning directorial turn by Shaka King, and a nominated screenplay that pulls no punches, the film destroys stereotypes of the government’s attempts thwart the Black Panthers, presenting a different view as seen through the prism of a half century later.
DIRECTOR: Shaka King
PRODUCERS: Shaka King, Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler
STUDIO: Warner Bros.
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Supporting Actor (twice), Original Screenplay, Cinematography
David Fincher’s masterful look at Hollywood’s Golden Age does so via the creation of the screenplay of 1941’s motion picture classic Citizen Kane. But instead of telling it from the POV of its wunderkind director/star/producer Orson Welles, this is the story of the lesser known but brilliant screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, a self-loathing alcoholic who managed to write a movie still considered by many the greatest ever made. It chronicles his own travails and eventual fight to get credit for bringing it to fruition. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including its gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the Netflix film leads the pack, by far this year in sheer numbers, proof positive of the craft that went into this immaculate recreation of another era in movie history. Considering that Kane’s only Oscar out of nine nominations came for the screenplay credited in the end to both Mankiewicz and Welles, it is ironic that Mank, written by the director’s late father Jack Fincher, failed to be recognized in that very category. Still with an Academy that loves to see movies about themselves, and with history demonstrating the film that leads in nominations may have tactical advantage, could this be a surprise on Oscar night?
DIRECTOR: David Finch
PRODUCERS: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Original Score, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound
Despite wins in precursor awards shows like the Golden Globes and Critics Choice as Best Foreign Language film rather than the purely American movie that it is, this heartfelt and emotionally rich story from Denver-born Korean-American writer/director Lee Isaac Chung has been a crowd pleaser since sweeping both the Grand Prize and Audience Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. With six Oscar nominations, it clearly has struck a chord with industry voters as well. This story about a Korean-American man (Steven Yeun) who moves his family to Arkansas in search of his American dream of owning a farm has drawn comparisons to classics like The Grapes Of Wrath, but it is a sweet and irresistible film that marches to its own drum—a universal story of the gift of family and one man striving to be a father and husband on his own terms. With key writing, directing, and acting nominations, this would be the second film in a row with a Korean footprint to take the top Oscar.
DIRECTOR: Lee Isaac Chung
PRODUCERS: Christina Oh
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Original Score
Since winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, this deliberately paced and moving ode to those contemporary American nomads who drop out of society and hit the road, has swept through awards season on a tear, taking a slew of critics’ honors, including the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA, and all-important PGA top prize. In a normal year, that would make it seem inevitable to win here, and quite frankly it is hard to go against that tradition. Frances McDormand produced and stars in the film for which writer/director/producer/editor Chloé Zhao stands to make history on Oscar night as the biggest female winner ever. Can any other movie stop its momentum? This film is poised to become Searchlight’s fifth Best Picture winner, and its first since Fox merged into Disney.
DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao
PRODUCERS: Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao
STUDIO: Searchlight Pictures
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Director, Actress, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing
Promising Young Woman
The true Cinderella story of the whole season, here is another female-driven original film poised to make history at the Oscars. With five key nominations including Picture, Actress Carey Mulligan, Director, Original Screenplay and Film Editing this is a twisty, highly entertaining movie in which a 30 year old woman gets unique revenge on some unsuspecting males by posing drunk and then offering up some very big surprises when the guys get more than they bargained for at the moment of truth. There is much more to it than that in a clever and most impressive feature film debut from thrice nominated Emerald Fennell who has already won the WGA award for her script and could see a repeat at the Oscars. But can this widely acclaimed, in some corners divisive, film go higher in an Academy still dominated by white men in the #MeToo era? It should be interesting to see.
DIRECTOR: Emerald Fennell
PRODUCERS: Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell, Josey McNamara
STUDIO: Focus Features
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Film Editing
Amazon Studios’ gripping drama of a drug-addicted metal band drummer whose increasing loss of hearing threatens his whole life and career, hits notes that seem to belie its subject matter. It’s a movie that ironically connected with audiences during a pandemic from which many people will also emerge with their lives turned upside down, needing to start over in a world they don’t recognize. Riz Ahmed beautifully plays the drummer Ruben, who finds he is lost and must overcome his own tragedy and addiction to survive within the new sounds of silence. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Picture, Actor for Ahmed, Supporting Actor for Paul Raci, Original Screenplay, Sound, and Film Editing, this is the kind of small, independently-made sleeper that has caught the audience by surprise and made an emotional impact far beyond whatever you might have thought it was about. This could turn out to be another film ripe to pull off an upset, despite the lack of a directing nomination for Darius Marder (he did win for Best First Feature at DGA) ,who is up nevertheless for his screenplay which he co-wrote with his brother Abraham from a story by past collaborator Derek Cianfrance.
DIRECTOR: Darius Marder
PRODUCERS: Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche
STUDIO: Amazon Studios
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Fourteen years after Steven Spielberg first came up with the notion of making a movie centered on this wild trial of a group of protesters accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, it finally hit the screen written and directed, not by Spielberg, but Aaron Sorkin. At the same time, it soared into the zeitgeist in terms of reflecting what is still going on in our world today. In fact, if anything, this movie chronicling events of 50 years ago is more relevant by the hour in almost an eerily prescient way. As the most socially conscious and politically rousing film among the eight Best Picture nominees, could it find its way to become the ticket in Netflix’s quest to finally have a Best Picture winner? With a sterling ensemble cast and the exceptional script by Sorkin, it has the elements needed to triumph, even without Sorkin receiving an expected Best Director nomination. If Oscar voters want to make a statement this year, the time might be just right for the Chicago 7.
DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
PRODUCERS: Marc Platt, Stuart Besser
OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing
THE PREDICTED WINNER: NOMADLAND
Vinterberg joins a rare circle of international directors who cracked the code and managed a nomination for a foreign language film—a group including Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, and many more right up to last year’s winner, Bong Joon Ho. With Another Round, an unusual story of four teachers out to prove the virtues of drinking, Danish helmer Vinterberg hit a nerve that has impressed audiences around the world, also earning him a BAFTA nomination and a sweep of the European Film Awards. With his film also up for Best International Film though, and considered a front runner there, a win in this category is a decided long shot.
Fincher is one of Oscar’s most obviously overdue directors. With two previous nominations for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, he easily could have, and should have, won this award well before now—and that doesn’t even count his classics like Seven and The Fight Club. His meticulous and loving recreation of Hollywood’s Golden Age bringing to life a screenplay written by his late father makes Mank a very personal movie, and one for which his peers have given him a third nomination in this category. But is this the year, one with a historic two women also nominated, that he can actually win here?
LEE ISAAC CHUNG
Before embarking on writing the semi-autobiographical Minari, Lee Isaac Chung had just hit 40 and decided to quit filmmaking for a teaching job in Utah instead. Fate would have it that he gave it one more try, combing his background as a Korean-American growing up in Arkansas to create this story of what family and being a father and husband really mean. It earned him two personal nominations, as well as BAFTA and DGA recognition for a film everyone seems to love.
Already making history with four nominations for Nomadland, Chloe Zhao is the odds-on favorite to become only the second woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar, and this coming in a year when she isn’t even the only female nominated—heartening news indeed. Her tender telling of this story of a group of people who hit the road and live off the land hit a nerve during an unprecedented pandemic by emphasizing the need for human connection. It just may also connect her with a few Oscars down the road.
Promising Young Woman
And speaking of that other woman nominated, Fennell is well known as an actress who currently plays Camilla Parker Bowes in The Crown, but wowed the world of cinema with her feature directorial debut, shot in just 23 days, and earning her entry into the exclusive directors’ club with nominations for her work behind the camera not only at the Oscars but also the DGA.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: CHLOÉ ZHAO, NOMADLAND
In any other year Anthony Hopkins could probably count on a second Oscar in this category for his devastating performance as a man slipping into dementia in The Father. At 83, he would probably take this walking away and he recently won at BAFTA, but this is not an ordinary year and the presence not only of a fine performance from the late Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but also the backstory of how that was achieved when no one on the film knew he was giving the performance of his career while he was dying of cancer is simply too poignant and powerful a scenario to overcome in this category. Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed are exceptionally fine first-time nominees, and both in Best Picture-nominated films, which certainly helps, as is Gary Oldman, who is just great in Mank. But he’s also a very recent winner here so not likely to repeat so soon. Bucking statistical likelihood this goes to the only actor in the category not in a film also up for Best Picture, although don’t discount a late surge for Hopkins.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: CHADWICK BOSEMAN, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
This has been an exceptional year for leading actress, one of the best in recent Oscar history to be sure. What can you say about a year in which the likes of Sophia Loren and Michelle Pfeiffer doing some near-career-best work are not even nominated? Among those who did make the cut, two of them represent the only nomination for their respective films—Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman, and Andra Day in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday—and that can be a tall, but not impossible mountain to climb. Two others, BAFTA winner Frances McDormand in Best Picture favorite Nomadland, and Critics Choice winner Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, are in movies high on the list of Best Pic nominees and therefore likely to have been more widely seen. SAG winner Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom pulled out all the stops and is formidable (but didn’t do her own singing). But it’s likely the love for that film goes to Boseman in terms of acting. He really is the center of it, despite the title. Day won the Golden Globe so don’t count her out in her film debut. McDormand likely won’t get a third Oscar so soon after the second, but does anyone out there think Mulligan is not a ‘promising’ choice here? The category is a genuine tossup and anyone’s ballgame.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: CAREY MULLIGAN, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Always a competitive category, this year it is also Oscar’s most diverse, with three exceptional performances from Black actors among the five nominees. We are also seeing the first time two Black actors compete against each other from the same film in the same category: BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice winner Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah. The latter was a jaw-dropping surprise on nomination day as he wasn’t even being campaigned in this category, rather lead actor instead, and no one had predicted he would land here. The fact that he did means the path got a little more complicated for front runner Kaluuya who has the showiest role, while Stanfield has the trickier task. Could this mean an opening for Sasha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7 in which he expertly plays Abbie Hoffman, or for Leslie Odom Jr.’s remarkable Sam Cooke in One Night In Miami as the only one of the five candidates not in a Best Picture nominee? All four of the above play real-life people, increasingly a plus at the Oscars, but if a split occurs, could the prize go to a veteran getting his first big recognition, Paul Raci in Sound of Metal? Voters do like to reward long careers in this category. Still the odds seem to be on Kaluuya’s side for his second nomination in three years.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: DANIEL KALUUYA, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Initially this seemed to be the toughest category to call of all the acting races this year as it appeared it really could easily go to any one of the five nominees for any number of reasons. Bulgarian newcomer Maria Bakalova in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm could ride a wave of international support for her endearingly, and challenging (thank you Rudy Giuliani) performance. Also globally imposing would be Korea’s “Meryl Streep”, Yuh-Jung Youn as the unforgettable and wild grandmother in Minari. Oscar first-timer Amanda Seyfried was a standout playing ’30s star Marion Davies in Mank. For playing a star who never got awards recognition from Hollywood, could Seyfried be the beneficiary and make up for that while wowing all on her own here? And then there is the rematch of the Best Actress race just two years ago between veteran Glenn Close who received her eighth nomination this time for the critically-reviled but popular Hillbilly Elegy that ludicrously landed her a razzie nomination as well (c’mon guys), and Olivia Colman’s quietly touching performance opposite Anthony Hopkins in The Father. In the recent past we have seen actors like Mahershala Ali and Christoph Waltz win two Oscars in a short time frame, so it is not out of the question for the much-loved Colman. Wow. But although some sentiment is on Close’s side, the recent SAG and BAFTA wins for Minari’s feisty grandma just cemented my own hunch that she’s got this in the bag..
THE PREDICTED WINNER: YUH-JUNG YOUN, MINARI
The WGA winner in this category was Emerald Fennell, taking the prize on her first time out with Promising Young Woman. That likely makes her the front runner, not only because of a WGA win but also her film was startlingly original and isn’t that what this category is all about? It also appears to be the year of the woman, and a female sweep of the writing categories seems to be in the cards. Stiff competition comes from writing god Aaron Sorkin’s sorting out of The Trial of the Chicago 7, but he did have all those trial transcripts to work from, so some might think it is not as original and take points off. That would be unfair, because the way he managed to weave in all aspects of this event and its aftermath is nothing short of masterful. This will be a close contest between those two movies, but if Lee Isaac Chung’s lovely and personal Minari wins here, that could also portend a Best Picture upset just as Parasite pulled off last year when its early win as Original Screenplay gave a clue to its Oscar night fate. Sound of Metal and Judas and the Black Messiah have their supporters, but probably not enough to overcome the heavyweights competing in this category.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: EMERALD FENNELL, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Two plays brought skillfully to the screen made the cut, and both The Father and One Night in Miami did some splendid cinematic things to take away the staginess inherent with their initial conception. But in writing categories Best Picture nominees usually have the edge, so eliminate Miami and move on to the two literary adaptations Nomadland and The White Tiger. Eliminate the latter, fine as it is, since this is its only nomination, and move the former forward since it is considered a Best Picture frontrunner and that is a huge plus. Winning a WGA award can’t hurt, but because of the guild’s quirky rules, the non-union Nomadland didn’t get the opportunity (and neither did The Father for the same reason). That honor went to the most offbeat of the nominees, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan with nine credited writers including Sacha Baron Cohen. He says they may have won at WGA because half the guild worked on the film. You never know. The first Borat movie was also Oscar nominated, so the writers’ branch likes comedy in this instance and that’s a good thing, and this wild ride actually had a mission to make a difference in perhaps the most important Presidential election ever. If voters get that aspect, maybe it could squeak out a win as happened at WGA, but voters may believe (wrongly) that it wasn’t really “written”. Oscar history favors the Best Pic frontrunner, but Nomadland felt more improvised with non-pro real life nomads in the cast. This is where voters can honor the craft and soul of Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play with english translation by Christopher Hampton.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: FLORIAN ZELLER, CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON, THE FATHER
Denmark’s Another Round is the front runner here, having swept the European Film Awards, and additionally landed its filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg a Best Director nomination at both BAFTA and the Oscars. Impressive indeed for a foreign entry, and a reason why this is the high profile likely pick. If the documentary from Romania, Collective, wins here it would be a first for a doc, but not likely and quite frankly Docs should stay in their own lane. That is why there is a Best Documentary Feature category. Hong Kong’s Better Days, a two-hour-plus film on bullying, was a bit of a surprise to get in, but could have strong international appeal, even though Hong Kong’s carrier of the Oscar show has announced it won’t be airing the Oscars—a move many think is because of criticism from China. That leaves as an alternative to beating the Danes, Tunisia’s inventive and intriguing The Man Who Sold His Skin, and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s devastating and powerful Quo Vadis, Aida? to pull off an upset. The latter has repeatedly been mentioned when I asked voters which film they chose. Still you probably have to go with the odds in order to win your pool, but I smell a possible upset in the cards for Bosnia. Might be close.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: ANOTHER ROUND, DENMARK
Pixar is competing against itself with two entries this time around, Onward and Soul. The former has little chance of an upset, in fact, virtually none, as even the studio itself has put all its marbles behind the groundbreaking Soul—a jazz-infused musical treat that also represents true diversity for a change in this category. Of the other three nominees, Netflix’s Over the Moon from well-regarded animation veteran Glen Keane, as well as that streamer’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon would both seem long shots. That leaves Apple’s most promising shot at a first Oscar win, the stunning Wolfwalkers, third in a trilogy from Ireland’s Tomm Moore. Can the third time be a charm for Moore? Not really.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: SOUL
It would be good to look to ASC as a clue to what might also win here, although that group of cinematographers is not always in lockstep with the Academy’s eventual choice. ASC went with Mank, they have a sweet spot for Black and White movies as they proved recently with Cold War which did not match the eventual Oscar choice. Even if ASC nominated the complex Cherry while the Oscar branch replaced it with Judas and the Black Messiah. I don’t see Sean Bobbitt’s exceptional work for the latter crossing the finish line, especially when there are the likes of the aforementioned Erik Messerschmidt’s gorgeous black-and-white work on Mank, Dariusz Wolski’s beautiful western flavored News of the World, and Phedon Papamichael’s exceptional The Trial Of The Chicago 7. BUT doesn’t this go instead to first-time nominee Joshua James Richard’s stunning southwestern vistas in Nomadland? Sure looks like that is the one to beat here despite the ACE choice.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: JOSHUA JAMES RICHARDS, NOMADLAND
This award almost ALWAYS goes to a period piece, and the older the better. That rule bodes well for Alexandra Byrne’s designs for Emma—the kind of film that usually triumphs. But veteran Ann Roth is back in the race for her saucy work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and at 88, she is this year’s oldest nominee in any category and certainly one of the oldest ever. Bina Daigeler’s stirring work on Disney’s live action Mulan can’t be discounted, and neither can Massimo Cantini Parrini’s inventive threads for the delightful Italian import Pinocchio, but I am not sure how widely seen the latter was, although it is certainly there to be downloaded in the Academy’s digital screening room. Then there are Trish Summerville’s sumptuous golden age of Hollywood creations for Mank , looking ever like the best of the period in black-and-white glory. I am guessing the Academy might like to blow what could be their one last kiss to Roth, but it could go to Emma too. It’s tight, and I reserve the right to change my mind.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: ANN ROTH, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Collective, a detailed look at an investigation into Romania’s flailing health care system, pulled off the rare feat of being double-nominated both here and for International Film, and that quite frankly seems wrong. Choose one or the other and settle for also being eligible for a Best Picture nomination. Nevertheless, this is the category that Collective belongs in, and because of its visibility in both it might be the favorite here, certainly by critics who also championed the challenging Time. Both are formidable, but I have a feeling sentiment might rule the day, and one of three other nominees including Chile’s remarkable The Mole Agent in which a man in his 80’s goes undercover in a nursing home; the tear jerking and amazing My Octopus Teacher; or maybe making it two years in a row for the Obamas’ Higher Ground, this time with the inspiring Crip Camp. The latter two are from Netflix. The Producers Guild, BAFTA, and Critics Choice all rewarded My Octopus Teacher, and I think that could be the one with the emotion lotion to win here too.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
Pundits know this is the category that you have to at least be nominated in to have a chance of winning Best Picture. Only once in 40 years has that rule not proven true, and that was when Birdman managed a Best Picture win without an editing nomination, but that was because they made a big deal saying it was all just one shot. Best Picture prospects aside, the actual winner here can be something else indeed. All five are Best Pic nominees, The Father, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7. The latter could have the edge and it won last weekend at the ACE Eddies. Chloé Zhao has one of her historic four nominations here for Nomadland, but this seems to be an unlikely place where she will actually win one, and I doubt Promising Young Woman comes out on top here either, especially after its loss to non-Oscar nominated Palm Springs in the ACE Eddie comedy category. The Father’s editing was subtle and truly brilliant, but will the Academy at large notice? I have a feeling Sound of Metal, a technical high wire act, could squeak this one out.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: MIKKEL E.G. NIELSEN, SOUND OF METAL
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
For my money, the finest, and most imaginative work in this category came from Italy’s Pinocchio, and if enough voters saw it I would not be at all surprised to see it pull off a shocker. However, the odds favor the vividly garish looks created for Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—over the top but quite effective—and for Glenn Close’s complete physical transformation into Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy. As for the other two, Emma seems less likely to triumph here, and Mank may have a better chance, but still needs a boost against more obvious likely winners mentioned earlier. Oscar voters too bad you didn’t watch Pinocchio.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: SERGIO LOPEZ-RIVERA, MIA NEAL, JAMIKA WILSON, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Sometimes the winner in this category is the entry that just screams music. If that course is followed once again, then expect Pixar’s Soul to march into the winner’s circle. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are previous winners, and they were joined by the jazz contributions of Jon Batiste, who is primed to become only the second Black composer to win in this category, following Herbie Hancock who took it for ‘Round Midnight in 1987. Even Quincy Jones couldn’t pull off a win in this category. Veteran James Newton Howard really deserves an Oscar, and some day he will get one, but unfortunately, even with News of the World repping close to his finest work, he will again be overlooked, as will Terence Blanchard with only his second career nomination for Da 5 Bloods, and Emile Mosseri for his lilting work on Minari.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: TRENT REZNOR, ATTICUS ROSS, JON BATISTE, SOUL
Three of this year’s nominees are strong anthems for the times, passionate pleas to get involved and stand up and fight. Will they cancel themselves out? All were written (in collaboration with others) and performed by big name musical stars. You have H.E.R.’s powerful “Fight For You “from Judas and the Black Messiah. You have Celeste and Daniel Pemberton’s hypnotic and gripping “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7. And you have Leslie Odom Jr.’s perfectly timed “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami. Of that trio, the smart money is going to Odom’s Critics Choice-winning song, and not just because he is also up for Supporting Actor, and this could be a way to give him a prize. It’s really good, as was his exemplary work in channeling the great Sam Cooke, which gives it a strong scenario for a win. Then you have the big novelty number that snuck in this year: “Husavik” from Eurovision. A song written for a song contest? You know it just might have a chance here, crazy as it seems for a tune sung by Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams (who was dubbed). Finally, there is the 12th nomination for perennial bridesmaid, Diane Warren, ironically the queen of writing the kind of anthems competing against her this time. Her chances lie with an Italian song (written with and sung by Laura Pausini) for the beautiful “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead, already a Golden Globe winner. Is the 12th time the charm? Do you speak Italian? She deserves it but it doesn’t mean she will win it, even though The Motorcycle Diaries and its Jorge Drexler song “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” proved most recently a foreign language tune could be a victor here in 2005.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: ‘SPEAK NOW,’ ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
By its very presence in this category, the far from flashy production design of the chamber drama, The Father proves the branch that voted on these nominations recognized the challenge and subtlety employed in helping us see the apartment through the eyes of a man slipping into dementia. Brilliant. The period recreations of 1920’s New York in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and 1930’s Hollywood in Mank are fine entries. Post Civil War America is spare but gorgeously appointed for News of the World, and the twisted futuristic world as dreamed up by Christopher Nolan for Tenet is certainly mind blowing. Still Hollywood loves Hollywood so…
THE PREDICTED WINNER: DONALD GRAHAM BURT, JAN PASCALE, MANK
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
I was sorry there weren’t more fun shorts in this category which nevertheless offers impressive choices for voters. The punch-in-the-gut, and sadly relevant, tale of the effects of a school shooting in If Anything Happens I Love You is all too true of the times in which we live. It has the emotional power to win, despite the various attributes of the very French artiness of Genius Loci, the vividly performed Icelandic Yes People, and the very busy and dazzling mind-bending take on great art in South Korea’s Opera. All three of these aforementioned films show the global reach of Oscar in this category. For sheer visuals, Opera has it over anything else, but for sheer heart and delight, Pixar’s Burrow and its central and determined Bunny is the most traditionally deserving of the bunch. Depends what mood voters were in, folks.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU
LIVE ACTION SHORT
All five of these films have reasons to vote for them. Two Distant Strangers with its Groundhog Day view of killings of Black people took its inspiration from the murder of George Floyd, and plays it over inventively in a different way again and again. With that trial making headlines as voting was in progress, it feels especially relevant and important. Feeling Through is guaranteed to touch you with its story of the connection between a young Black man helping a deaf and blind stranger (the first film to actually star a deaf/blind person) find his way home. The Letter Room has star power with Oscar Isaac delivering letters to death row prisoners. White Eye wraps its simple story around a stolen bike and how the incident changes two lives. The Present, my favorite of the bunch, is an exceptionally well made and simply told story of a Palestinian father and husband taking his young daughter past Israeli outposts in the West Bank in order to buy an anniversary gift for his wife. This is a toss-up, but the emotional pull of Feeling Through or Present could be their ticket to the stage, but again that is just a hunch as I could give you a reason for each of them.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: PRESENT
MTV Documentary Films is doing a big push for Hunger Ward which chronicles a humanitarian crisis affecting children in Yemen, while the film of Hong Kong riots and protests, Do Not Split, is generating publicity due to controversy and the feeling that China is apparently upset about its inclusion. Hong Kong’s Oscar broadcaster has even backed out of televising the event this year just to add to suspicions of political pressure being applied. Netflix’s timely A Love Song For Latasha, revisiting the life of a young black girl killed in L.A. three decades earlier has its supporters, but I have a hunch the winner might be either Colette—a holocaust-themed story of a 90-year-old survivor of the French resistance at long last travelling to Germany after vowing never to set foot in the country, to the same soil where her brother was killed in a Nazi concentration camp 74 years earlier—or New York Times Op-Docs A Concerto Is A Conversation about jazz virtuoso Kris Bowers tracking his debt to his own grandfather and family lineage from the Jim Crow south to Walt Disney Hall. It comes from Executive Producer Ava DuVernay among others.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
This year the Academy has made a major change by eliminating one of the two sound categories and combining mixing and sound editing into just one category for the first time in decades. It doesn’t really matter because in recent years, the same film tends to win both, not always though. Since even most Oscar voters don’t really know what goes into great sound work, usually war films and musicals score best here. In that regard, WWII adventure Greyhound and Disney/Pixar’s Soul could stake out a win. News of the World and Mank don’t seem as likely victors. That leaves one other nominee: Sound Of Metal, a movie with “sound“ in its title, and extraordinarily subtle and groundbreaking work that should define what a winner is for Best Sound. I am guessing that for once even Oscar voters understand that.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: SOUND OF METAL
Hollywood held back the kind of blockbuster tentpoles that normally compete for this award because theatres were largely closed, so you have something of a ragtag bunch nominated that might not have made it in a year of the usual big giant effects movies that normally populate this category. Even with that caveat, huge barnburners like Wonder Woman 1984 didn’t even make the cut. Love and Monsters somehow did, but it was even AWOL on the Academy’s screening site, and so did Disney’s live action Mulan. George Clooney combined two challenging effects movies in one with the outer space and arctic CGI work of The Midnight Sky. If I were voting, I would check off the flawless CGI animal creations that gave The One and Only Ivan its wondrous personality and charm, but did voters as a whole see this Disney+ family film? This would seem to be the place to give Nolan’s Tenet some recognition for being the lone movie that dared to keep the summer blockbuster alive in the year of a raging pandemic.
THE PREDICTED WINNER: TENET