Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect the winners of the 2021 Academy Awards.
Every year, the Academy Awards honor the best films of the year — and what a year it was. This year’s films had to weather pandemic-induced shutdowns and closed theaters, but the results are still worthy of award consideration. For better or for worse, the Oscars sometimes throw curveballs and sometimes stick with widely-loved favorites. In preparation for Sunday’s event, the Film Beat predicts who they think will come out on top … and whether these films deserve Academy Award distinction or not.
— Kari Anderson and Sabriya Imami, Film Beat Editors
Best Picture Prediction: “Nomadland”
In some years, the Best Picture winner is truly the most deserving film — in other years, it’s “Green Book.” Eight films will compete for the top prize at the 93rd Academy Awards; if public sentiment and award-show precedence can be trusted, the Oscar will go to “Nomadland.”
Starring Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and directed by Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”), “Nomadland” is beautiful and pastoral, in a 21st century way. McDormand’s performance is compelling, and the sweeping vistas of the western United States linger in the viewer’s memory. However, the film comes up short by failing to address the real social issues of our time.
This nouveau-western will probably win, but it is up against deserving competition. “Minari” is a different and more honest sort of Americana, telling the story of Korean immigrants pursuing the American dream, not to become Korean Americans but to thrive as Koreans in America. With the power to break your heart while soothing the diasporic soul, I believe “Minari” is truly this year’s best film.
The other six films are a mixed bag and have received mixed acclaim. David Fincher’s (“Se7en”) “Mank” is, frankly, Oscar bait, but it won’t win. The Hollywood elite tends to love movies about Hollywood, and Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) gave his typical riveting performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz, who ghost-wrote “Citizen Kane.” It’s a good movie, but it isn’t a great movie, and even “Nomadland” passes that bar.
The other nominees, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Promising Young Woman,” “The Father,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” probably won’t make the cut. To quote The Daily, “I’m inclined to be a little cynical and think that any success that films like this have is based around an obsession with Black pain … But ‘Judas’ goes beyond that. It’s not an easy film to watch, but there are glimpses of Black joy that make you keep watching.”
Alas, the Oscars don’t have a great track record of celebrating films about Black history, so “Judas” is not a favorite to win. “The Father” was fabulously theatrical, and “Sound of Metal” had a definite indie touch, but while both were wonderful for the viewer, they failed to meet the standard of cinematic grandeur set by recent Best Picture winners. In brief, expect “Nomadland” to be declared the best film of 2020, but know that I’ll be jumping for joy if “Minari” nabs number one.
— Ross London, Daily Arts Writer
Best Actor Prediction: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
The year after “Moonlight” won Best Picture, demonstrating a major step forward in recognition for LGBT+ stories of color, “Green Book,” a police-sympathizing Uncle Tom story, won. Likewise, I think the white, wealthy Academy will give Chadwick Boseman an Oscar for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” so that they can return to previously scheduled white stories next year. There’s the added layer that a posthumous Oscar would be meaningful for viewers and Academy members, regardless of deservedness. Last year, I don’t think Brad Pitt gave an Oscar-worthy performance for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but I think the Academy awarded it to him because he’s been in the business for so long, and they wanted to show their appreciation for his time. They might just give Boseman the Oscar because they’d feel guilty if they didn’t.
— Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: ANTHONY HOPKINS, “THE FATHER”
Best Supporting Actor Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Between Sacha Baron Cohen’s (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) notably accent-free role in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Leslie Odom Jr.’s (“Hamilton”) successful turn to film in “One Night in Miami,” Paul Raci’s (“Baskets”) breakout role and solid presence in “Sound of Metal,” as well as LaKeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”) and Daniel Kaluuya’s (“Get Out”) brilliant duo in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” this year’s Supporting Actor category is solid. That said, while Baron Cohen, Odom Jr. and Raci all gave notable performances, I’m turning to the two central players in “Judas” for the win.
It’s not uncommon for the Supporting Actor category to have two people from the same film, but what makes this year particularly odd is that its two frontrunners are arguably the main characters of their film. The fact that Stanfield’s performance as Bill O’Neal and Kaluuya’s as Fred Hampton place them as the titular “Judas” and “Messiah” respectively does raise questions of why — not to mention how — this happened.
Still, I’m going with Kaluuya, for two main reasons. One, his performance has already netted him a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award, a SAG Award and a BAFTA, all for the Best Supporting Actor category. Secondly, we all know how the Academy loves giving awards to actors who portray historical figures, especially based on how they emulate their mannerisms and speech. Still, if I’m being honest, I’ll be happy either way. They both deserve it, even if the “supporting” distinction feels a little off.
— Kari Anderson, Senior Arts Editor
WINNER: DANIEL KALUUYA, “JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH”
Best Actress Prediction: Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
In years past, the Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice and BAFTA Awards have typically served as a sign for who will win the Best Actress award at the Oscars. For example, in 2018, Frances McDormand took all 4 awards for her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” before going on to win the Academy Award as well. This year, though, this strategy is useless. While the BAFTA went to McDormand for “Nomadland,” the Golden Globe went to Andra Day for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” the SAG went to Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and Carey Mulligan won at the Critics Choice Awards for “Promising Young Woman.”
Vanessa Kirby, the fifth nominee, has yet to be awarded for her incredible performance in “Pieces of a Woman.” Not only would it be extremely satisfying for each acting award to go to a different actress, but it would also be very much deserved. In my mind, the first twenty minutes of “Pieces of a Woman” should have been enough to give her all the awards. The intense long take that opens the film takes the audience through the process of a home birth that ends tragically; it is grueling to watch. While I’m not sure how much of a chance Kirby has, as “Nomadland” does seem to be expected to sweep its other categories, I would be so happy to see her win.
— Judith Lawrence, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: FRANCES MCDORMAND, “NOMADLAND”
Best Supporting Actress Prediction: Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”
Going into an awards season that started off with the Golden Globes snubbing “Minari” for a Best Picture nomination, I didn’t have very high hopes for the Oscars. Before the nominations were announced, I was worried that the cast of “Minari” would meet the same fate as the cast of “Parasite,” all of whom were notably shut out of the acting categories in 2020. However, I was relieved to see that maybe Hollywood has learned its lesson, as Alan Kim (debut), Steven Yeun (“Burning”) and Youn Yuh-jung (“Beasts Clawing at Straws”) have been picking up nominations and wins left and right.
In South Korea, Youn is a legend with a celebrated career in film and TV that spans five decades and has already earned her a number of accolades, but she has only just started to be recognized internationally. Her performance as Soonja — a boisterous, warm, foul-mouthed grandmother — is my favorite of the year, and after back-to-back SAG Award and BAFTA wins earlier this month, I think she has a real shot at becoming the first South Korean woman to win an Oscar. She has some tough competition in Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”) for “The Father,” but my heart’s telling me to stick with Youn. After all, very few movie moments have ever made me feel as warm as Youn saying, “Minari is truly wonderful, wonderful.”
— Katrina Stebbins, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: YOUN YUH-JUNG, “MINARI”
Animated Feature Film Prediction: “Soul”
When it comes to awards season, it’s difficult for other animated films to bring down Pixar, regardless of whether the film in question is deserving. However, in this case, Disney Pixar’s “Soul” is worthy of Best Animated Feature Film recognition for its imaginative and charming storyline, along with its uncanny animated recreation of Manhattan. The film tackles existential questions through its personification of complex concepts like pre-existence and the afterlife, and it does a pretty solid job. “Soul” explains those ideas in a way that not many philosophers have been able to do quite as simply.
With an original plot and some added Pixar charm embedded within the lovable and quirky protagonist-sidekick duo, “Soul” is my predicted winner of the Animated Feature Film category. It takes a creative masterpiece to visualize the journey from life, to death, to pre-existence and everywhere in between. Pixar took a stab at the idea, and then did what they do best: wowed the crowd.
— Laura Millar, Daily Arts Writer
International Feature Film Prediction: “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
With its neatly contained and cinematic storyline, “Another Round” is a likely choice for Best International Feature Film. Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal”) adds star power to the Danish film, which essentially chronicles the mid-life crises of a few high school teachers. Fairly balanced with moments of joy and pain, “Another Round” ticks all the boxes. But it isn’t nearly as provocative or memorable as “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
Based on true events from July of 1995, near the end of the Bosnian war, when the inhabitants of Srebrenica were chased from their homes by Serbian soldiers, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” dramatizes a botched effort by the United Nations to protect civilians. A truly heartbreaking film, “Aida” borrows from “Come and See,” a 1984 film about Nazi brutality in WWII. The two films depict the act of genocide in a similar fashion, and both left me dumbfounded by the human capacity to commit evil.
Aida (Jasna Đuričić, “White White World”) is a translator working with the United Nations, and this fringe role plagues her as she desperately tries to save her husband and two sons from a dreadful fate. The film is artful yet clear in its narrative, and Đuričić’s performance is captivating. The title, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” means “Where are you marching, Aida?” and is a reference to Peter accepting his fate in the Bible, according to NPR.
This is the better of the two films, but likely doesn’t have what it takes to win. “Another Round” is more accessible, and director Thomas Vinterberg’s (“The Hunt”) creative touch makes for a lighter film, despite dark moments. “Quo Vadis, Aida?” is a film to be studied, loved and wept over, but “Another Round” fits the bill for an Academy Award.
— Ross London, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: “ANOTHER ROUND”
Adapted Screenplay Prediction: “Nomadland”
It’s always a safe bet to go with the Best Picture favorite in the screenplay categories, and given how “Nomadland” has been performing in the awards circuit up to this point, it would be a safe bet to lock up the Adapted Screenplay category. Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”) is nominated in four different categories for her wonderful film “Nomadland” (Picture, Director, Screenplay and Editing), giving her a chance to pull a Bong Joon Ho and sweep like he did last year with “Parasite.” In the Adapted Screenplay category, there really doesn’t seem to be much competition: The Oscar Advanced Analytics have Zhao as a heavy favorite, and among the other nominees in the Adapted Screenplay category, “Nomadland” seems to be the only one consistently winning at other awards ceremonies.
While all of the nominees would be deserving in this category (and while it would be hilarious to see “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” win an Oscar), this seems like Zhao’s award to lose. I’m making “Nomadland” winning Adapted Screenplay my Lock of the Week.
— Mitchel Green, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: “THE FATHER”
Original Screenplay Prediction: “Promising Young Woman”
This race is a bit tighter than the Adapted Screenplay category. Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) was the early favorite to take home this prize for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but in recent months “Promising Young Woman” has picked up a lot of steam by racking up a large number of other awards wins.
Emerald Fennell’s debut film appears to be a big hit with the Academy, as it was nominated for four of the “Big Six” categories; given its popularity with the voting body, it’s safe to assume that it will bring home at least one award. Ultimately, given the film’s standing in the other categories it is nominated for, I’d say the Academy is most likely to recognize it in the Original Screenplay category.
Although the Academy does love nominating Sorkin’s work, he has already won before — which may convince some voters to cast their vote elsewhere. It’s an incredibly strong Original Screenplay category this year: “Judas and the Black Messiah” or “Minari” could easily cause an upset here (especially if they are not recognized elsewhere, since the Academy likes to spread awards around films they like whenever possible). But the race up to this point has been between Sorkin and Fennell, and I am going to go with “Promising Young Woman.”
— Mitchel Green, Daily Arts Writer
WINNER: “PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN”