Oscars 2021 predictions: who will win and why?

A few handy tips for your office sweepstake...

It might be a bit later than planned but there’s no stopping the Oscars. Despite cinemas being kept closed for most of the last 12 months, this has been a vintage year for films – with things looking crowded at the front of the awards race that finishes on April 25. As the Academy gets busy disinfecting its gold statuettes (and as celebrity assistants get busy gluing diamonds to designer face masks), it’s time to take a closer look at the front-runners.

Best picture

Who will win: Nomadland

If you’re looking for the safest bet of the night, put your money on Sound Of Metal winning Best Sound. But the next surest-thing has to be Nomadland taking Best Picture – a worthy winner that ticks all the right boxes for indie cred, social commentary, stellar performances and cinematic sweep.

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Who should win: Nomadland

Nomadland isn’t the best film of the year, but in a shortlist that doesn’t include First Cow, Da 5 Bloods, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, The Assistant or Never Rarely Sometimes Always, it’s probably the Best Picture. Smarter, subtler and more delicate than a lot of traditional award-winners, a victory for Nomadland will feel like a boon for proper filmmaking.

Nomadland
Frances McDormand as itinerant widower Fern in ‘Nomdland’. CREDIT: Alamy

Best actor

Who will win: Chadwick Boseman

The tragedy of Chadwick Boseman’s death hits all the harder when you watch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and realise just how good he really was – arguably giving his finest performance in the film he never lived to see released.

Who should win: Anthony Hopkins

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As great as Boseman’s final performance was, and as incredible as Riz Ahmed is in Sound Of Metal, the Best Actor of the year is the oldest that’s ever been nominated – with Anthony Hopkins’ tragic, vulnerable turn in The Father marking one of the highlights of his long career.

Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. CREDIT: Netflix

Best actress

Who will win: Carey Mulligan

Maybe the closest race of the night, with Viola Davis (who won the SAG award), Andra Day (who took the Golden Globe) and Frances McDormand (BAFTA’s Best Actress) neck and neck with Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (already bagging a Critic’s Choice statue). Since McDormand won twice already (and since the Oscars think like that), our money is on Mulligan. Just.

Who should win: Frances McDormand

She might already have two Oscars on her mantlepiece but it’s hard to watch Nomadland and not think McDormand deserves a third for a role that feels so honest and real you almost expect her to drive up to the Academy Awards in an old van.

Promising Young Woman
‘Promising Young Woman’ is out on Sky Cinema and NOW. CREDIT: Alamy

Actor in a supporting role

Who will win: Daniel Kaluuya

Something weird happened with this category this year, with only one actor (Paul Raci) actually being nominated for the right thing – everyone else on the list is clearly in a leading role, pushed into the “supporting” bracket to try and stand a better chance of winning. Of the list, Daniel Kaluuya is a clear favourite for his powerhouse turn in Judas And The Black Messiah.

Who should win: LaKeith Stanfield

But what if Judas, instead of The Black Messiah won? Taking even more of a leading role than Kaluuya, the criminally underrated LaKeith Stanfield arguably gives the film’s better performance, getting less to express but more to repress in a character arc that feels infinitely more interesting.

Judas and the Black Messiah
LaKeith Stanfield (foreground) and Daniel Kaluuya (background) in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’. CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Actress in a supporting role

Who will win: Yuh-jung Youn

The wonderful Minari runs a risk of being bested in most categories, but Yuh-jung Youn is pretty sure to get Best Supporting Actress, so far winning 30 gongs for her beautiful turn as everyone’s favourite grandma, including a BAFTA and a SAG award.

Who should win: Yuh-jung Youn

Maria Bakalova definitely deserves an award for making Rudy Giuliani stick his hand down his pants on camera in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and it would have been nice to see the industry recognise just how good Amanda Seyfried is in Mank, but this feels like Yuh-jung Youn’s year, and deservedly so.

Yuh-jung Youn Minari
Yuh-jung Youn in ‘Minari’ CREDIT: Plan B Entertainment

Best director

Who will win: Chloé Zhao

When Chloé Zhao wins Best Director (not if, when), she’ll be only the second female winner in Oscars history. More significantly, she’ll be the first Asian woman to win the award, helping to drag the Academy out of the stone age with her beautifully wrought rust-belt refugee drama.

Who should win: Chloé Zhao

David Fincher turned his passion project into a perfectionist masterpiece with Mank, but Zhao’s film has more heart; moving with something that feels uniquely honest and real. It should be a great moment for filmmakers of all genders and ethnic identities when Zhao finally lifts the little gold man.

Chloe Zhao
Chloe Zhao, director of ‘Nomadland’. CREDIT: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Best documentary

Who will win: My Octopus Teacher

There’s no greater love than that between a deep-sea diver and an octopus. Filmmaker Craig Foster chronicles his long relationship with a mollusc – gaining its trust, playing games, fighting off sharks – and makes a beautifully shot documentary that’s sweet enough for Academy members to sit through, and poignant enough to get their vote.

Who should win: Time

My Octopus Teacher is a nice film, but it’s not a great one. If you want to watch a documentary that really punches its weight, check out director Garrett Bradley’s Time. Following one woman’s fight to get her husband released from prison, Bradley pokes his camera into all the holes in the American justice system while telling a powerful story about love and family. It’s unmissable, but it also doesn’t have an octopus in it.

Best original screenplay

Who will win: Promising Young Woman

Likely to miss out on the bigger gongs, Emerald Fennell is expected to get recognised for her screenplay, following the same pattern we saw at the BAFTAs and the Critic’s Choice Awards. Seeing as she’s up against Aaron Sorkin, Hollywood’s own long-standing poet laureate, it should still feel like a huge win.

Who should win: Minari

Promising Young Woman tells you how to feel, but Minari lets you feel it. So much of Lee Isaac Chung’s script seems to be written between the lines – making a small story feel big without ever underlining the weight of the emotion.

Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in ‘Promising Young Woman’. CREDIT: Alamy

Best adapted screenplay

Who will win: Nomadland

Another tough call, with three or four nominees all practically neck-and-neck. But since the Academy almost always face a difficult decision by sticking down another vote for their favourite film, expect Nomadland to chalk up another win here.

Who should win: One Night In Miami

Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller’s intricately woven script for The Father deserves a lot of praise, but not quite as much as Kemp Powers’ One Night In Miami – a fictional four-way biopic that covers politics, music, sport, celebrity and ego at the sharp end of the civil rights movement. That Powers wrote this and Soul in the same year is seriously impressive stuff.

One Night In Miami
Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke in ‘One Night In Miami’. CREDIT: Alamy

Best original score

Who will win: Soul

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross stand two chances of winning for Best Original Score – for Mank, and for Soul (alongside jazz composer Jon Batiste). Both scores are very worthy winners but Soul feels like the kind of collaborative soundtrack that doesn’t happen often – an obvious choice for anyone who loves jazz, hip-hop, Celeste, new-age electronica, or… Nine Inch Nails.

Who should win: Soul

The best Pixar score since Toy Story? Probably. John Batiste’s jazz tracks feel like they belong on a whole other album from Reznor/Ross’ ambient score, but at the same time they don’t – mirroring the film’s parallel path from life to death and back again. Stick on ‘Falling’, ‘Earthbound’ or ‘Just Us’ and float away to Disney’s existential happy place.

Best original song

Who will win: ‘Speak Now’ from One Night In Miami

Leslie Odom Jr.’s best musical moment in One Night In Miami comes when he pulls off a perfect rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, but since he didn’t write that song he can only hope it helps him win Best Supporting Actor instead. Sounding powerful, relevant and radio-friendly over the end credits, ‘Speak Now’ ought to make sure Odom Jr. doesn’t leave empty handed.

Who should win: ‘Husavik’ from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga was funny but forgettable, but there’s no chance you’re ever getting ‘Husavik’ out of your head. Managing to sound like a parody and a classic at the same time, if Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams entered the real Eurovision with this they’d get a clean sweep of douze points.

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