Predictions for the biggest category in this very strange awards season.
Now that the 2021 Oscars are over, we’ve updated our predictions with the ultimate winner.
The 2021 Oscar nominations were announced bright and early on March 15, narrowing the Best Picture field to eight films, including the presumed frontrunner Nomadland as well as Netflix’s Mank, which walked away with the most nods of any film. But this race isn’t so clear cut. There were a number of notable movies that didn’t get the Academy’s recognition in the top category, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami, while underdogs like Sound of Metal and Minari made it in.
With the actual ceremony airing on Sunday, which films are considered to be the strongest candidates? Let’s assess the nominees and the prediction for this year’s Best Picture winner.
Director: Florian Zeller
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams
What it’s about: An elderly man’s reality shifts as he succumbs to dementia.
What else was it nominated for? Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Editing
What has it won elsewhere? The members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were fans, nominating it for four Golden Globes, including Best Picture. Hopkins and Colman received SAG nominations.
Could it actually win? Probably not, though it has its well-deserved fans. A late release and lack of name recognition did not help its standing.
Release date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons
What it’s about: The assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by the FBI, and the informant who led the bureau to his doorstep.
What else was it nominated for? Supporting Actor (for both Kaluuya and Stanfield), Original Screenplay, Original Song, Cinematography
What has it won elsewhere? Outside of Kaluuya, who was nominated for and won Supporting Actor, Judas was largely snubbed at the Golden Globes. Kaluuya also netted a SAG award, and the film got a PGA nomination.
Could it actually win? Possibly. The love for Judas had largely been relegated to Kaluuya’s performance, but the Academy members were big fans. They nominated Kaluuya and Stanfield for supporting actor, igniting questions of category fraud, but it’s also a sign of how strongly the organization responded to this movie.
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance
What it’s about: Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the writing of Citizen Kane.
What else was it nominated for? Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound, Original Score, Makeup and Hairstyling
What has it won elsewhere? It has been nominated a lot but won very little. The Globes came through with six nominations, and the SAGs nominated Oldman. It left all empty handed.
Could it actually win? Despite having the most nominations of any film this year, Mank still looks like a Best Picture long shot. It has been divisive among critics, and it’s likely the same among the members of the Academy, despite its love of movies about movies. Naysayers have found the talky film, which isn’t so much about the making of Kane, to be leaden, while fans have praised it as an almost radical history of the early industry. A good indication that it probably won’t take the big prize? Even with all its nods, it didn’t find its way into the editing category—usually a sign of who will actually win this thing.
Release date: February 12, 2021
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, Youn Yuh-jung
What it’s about: Yeun plays a Korean immigrant father in the 1980s who moves his family to Arkansas with dreams of starting a farm.
What else was it nominated for? Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Original Score
What has it won elsewhere? Youn was named Best Supporting Actress by the LA critics and the National Board of Review. Because it is largely in Korean, even though it’s an American production and story, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association deemed it a Foreign Language Film and nominated it there for the Golden Globes. (It won.) It made up for the controversial Globes snubs when the SAG Award nominations were announced the following morning: Yeun netted a nod along with Youn, who was a welcome surprise as a winner, and the ensemble was nominated. It was also in the PGA race. But Youn is its best hope winning the BAFTA and the Spirit as well.
Could it actually win? Minari may have been a late entry, but has long been pegged as one of the best movies of the season, and Academy members are clearly big fans. It definitely has a good shot.
Release date: February 19, 2021
Director: Chloé Zhao
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
What it’s about: A woman (McDormand) wanders America after deciding to live out of her van.
What else was it nominated for? Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing
What has it won elsewhere? Nomadland won the Golden Lion, the Venice Film Festival’s highest honor, and the people’s choice award at a largely remote Toronto International Film Festival. It has also dominated on bigger stages: It won Best Motion Picture—Drama and Director at the Golden Globes as well as Best Picture and Director at the Critics Choice Awards. Perhaps the best indicator of its frontrunner status is winning the Producers Guild Award. Meanwhile, McDormand picked up a SAG nod, and won the BAFTA, where Zhao also won Best Director and the movie took Best Film. The same weekend, Zhao was triumphant at the Directors Guild. To top things off, it had five Independent Spirit Award nominations, and took home Best Director for Zhao, Best Feature, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.
Could it actually win? It’s the frontrunner. It was nominated in all the right places and has won the most significant precursor prizes. Consider me surprised at this point if it doesn’t win.
Director: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton
What it’s about: Mulligan plays Cassie, a former med school student who dropped out after her best friend was raped. She’s let that anger consume her life, spending her nights acting drunk at bars so she can teach men a lesson. When a flirty classmate (Bo Burnham) reemerges, she’s torn between the bitter past and a potentially happy future.
What else was it nominated for? Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing
What has it won elsewhere? Though Fennell was nominated for screenplay and director and Mulligan was nominated in acting, it missed out on a best feature nom from the Spirits. At the Globes, it was nominated for Picture, Director, Actress, and Screenplay, though it missed out on any prizes. Mulligan was honored with a nod by the SAGs, and wins from the Critics Choice Awards and the Spirits. The film was up for a PGA.
Could it actually win? We had previously thought the unabashed femininity and divisiveness of Fennell’s vision would hold it back, but it’s established itself as an awards season frontrunner. Still probably not a likely winner, but it has an outside chance.
Release date: December 2, 2020
Director: Darius Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff
What it’s about: A heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing and must reassess his life.
What else was it nominated for? Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Sound, Editing
What has it won elsewhere? Ahmed has amassed awards from the likes of the Gothams, and the National Board of Review for both him and Raci. They also both won at the Spirits. Ahmed also picked up a Globe nom for Actor in a Drama and a SAG nod. The film was honored with a PGA nod.
Could it actually win? It seems like it still has a better chance in the acting races, but Academy voters were unexpectedly huge fans of this small, intense drama.
Release date: September 25, 2020 (in theaters); October 16, 2020 (on Netflix)
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Yayha Abdul Mateen II
What it’s about: The courtroom fracas after protestors are charged with conspiracy at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
What else was it nominated for? Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Original Song, Cinematography, Editing
What has it won elsewhere? It was a favorite to win the Globes’ best picture going into the ceremony, where it was nominated five times, but only came away with a screenplay award for Sorkin. It also got a PGA nod, and won the ensemble award at the SAGs, which is that organizations equivalent of Best Picture. Even though the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy have overlap in membership, who wins the top prize at SAGs doesn’t always translate into Oscar glory. It’s worth noting that Nomadland, the clear Oscar frontrunner, wasn’t even nominated for a SAG. The Trial ensemble also won at the Critics Choice Awards.
Could it actually win? It’s a stirring (if corny) courtroom drama perfectly tailored to the current moment, but it will have to overcome the Sorkin haters. One indication that they exist in the Academy? Sorkin was not nominated for Best Director, despite having gotten a guild nomination in that area.
Our Prediction: Nomadland
While Minari had a lot of buzz going into the final stretch, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems to appeal to the more traditional Oscar voter, I’d consider it a genuine surprise if Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland doesn’t win.
Which films got snubbed?
Da 5 Bloods
Release date: June 12, 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman
What it’s about: A group of Black Vietnam vets return to the country where they fought to find the body of their friend and the treasure alongside it.
Was it nominated in any other categories? Only Original Score. The lack of love for Da 5 Bloods is the biggest snub story of the year.
What has it won elsewhere? Unfortunately, it’s been snubbed more than it’s been awarded. It missed out on a Producers Guild nomination, a good bellwether for a Best Picture nod. And while it was named best film by the National Board of Review, the Golden Globes entirely snubbed it. (That’s especially awkward given that Lee’s children are the Golden Globes ambassadors this year.) The movie fared better at the SAG nominations, where it was awarded an ensemble nod as well as one for Chadwick Boseman in supporting, but Lindo was unfortunately snubbed in Best Actor.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Release date: October 23, 2020
Director: Jason Woliner
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
What it’s about: Borat returns to America, with his daughter Tutar in tow, to cause havoc and catch Rudy Giuliani in a compromising position.
Was it nominated in any other categories? Supporting Actress (for Maria Bakalova) and Screenplay. Hey, that’s probably more than you expected for Borat.
What has it won elsewhere? Two major Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture—Comedy and Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Comedy. Bakalova was rudely looked over in the Best Actress category for Rosamund Pike in I Care a Lot. The Globes matter very little and the Globes comedy categories matter even less, but Borat did have some momentum, including a PGA nod. Outside of that, largely the love has been directed toward Bakalova, who has already won prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. She was nominated for a SAG as well.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release date: December 18, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Taylour Paige
What it’s about: In this adaptation of the acclaimed play, August Wilson writes a recording session in which the legendary blues singer clashes with an ambitious trumpeter.
Was it nominated in any other categories? Actor, Actress, Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup and Hairstyling
What has it won elsewhere? It netted five Indie Spirit noms. While left off the Best Picture race at the Globes, the HFPA did nominate Davis and Boseman, the latter of whom won. He also won a Critics Choice Award and the SAG, alongside Viola Davis who also won from that awards body. The ensemble was nominated at the SAGs, and the film netted a PGA nod.
One Night in Miami
Release date: December 25, 2020 (in theaters); January 15, 2021 (on Amazon Prime)
Director: Regina King
Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Eli Goree
What it’s about: Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay have a conversation about activism and civil rights the night Clay beats Sonny Liston in 1963.
Was it nominated in any other categories? Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Original Song
What has it won elsewhere? The ensemble has been given the Robert Altman Award from the Spirits and Ben-Adir was named the Gotham’s breakthrough performer. Despite not getting a Best Picture nod, One Night in Miami did net three Globes noms, including a directing honor for King, though ended the night with no trophies. The ensemble and Odom were nominated for SAG prizes, and the film is up for a PGA.