2021 Oscar Predictions

This is the time of year when pundits and prognosticators begin rolling out their next year’s Oscar predictions.  Thanks to COVID-19, we still have exactly one month until the actual Oscar ceremony.  Something like a deadly worldwide pandemic isn’t going to stop my year-ahead Oscar predictions.

BEST PICTURE

Dune
The French Dispatch
Luca
Mass
Passing
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Worth

The most difficult parts of one-year ahead predictions are trying to balance the blockbusters with the small-scale films that land on Oscar’s radar.  Directors like Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Jane Campion and Joel Coen are no strangers to directing Best Picture nominees, and expect them all to repeat here.  I feel the weakest about Dune, which may be way too weird for the Academy to truly embrace.  For true populists, Pixar’s Luca will fill the animated film drought for the Best Picture lineup since Toy Story 3 was Best Picture nominated in 2010 (it has still only happened three times).

The rest of the lineup is filled out with buzzy festival titles like the 9/11 -court drama Worth, the female/race relation drama Passing from actress-turned-director Rebecca Hall, and the heavy school shooting drama Mass.  The Best Picture lineup has been nine nominees for the past few years, but I’m only predicting eight.  

Alternatives on the radar include festival holdover Nine Days, George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, Princess Diana biopic Spencer, John Michael McDonough’s The Forgiven, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Soggy Bottom and Sundance hit Coda.

BEST DIRECTOR

Denis Villaneuve, Dune
Edson Oda, Nine Days
Rebecca Hall, Passing
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Three of the five potential nominees are returning customers (Villaneuve, Campion, Coen), while Oda and Hall would be first-timers for their first film.  While four of the five nominees are also Best Picture nominees, Nine Days feels like a film the Academy wants to reward, but doesn’t want to elevate it to Best Picture.  Best Director nominations without a corresponding Best Picture nod hasn’t happened often since expansion in 2009, but it has happened two of the last three years.

Alternates include Pedro Almodovar for Parallel Mothers, Pablo Larrain for Spencer, Wes Anderson for The French Dispatch, Sara Colangelo for Worth, Fran Kranz for Mass, Paul Thomas Anderson for Soggy Bottom, John Michael McDonough for The Forgiven and George Miller for Three Thousand Years of Longing

BEST ACTOR

Clifton Collins Jr, Jockey
Idris Elba, Three Thousand Years of Longing
Michael Keaton, Worth
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Lead categories love stars and Will Smith, Michael Keaton, Idris Elba and Denzel Washington definitely count as stars.  Collins has been a long-time character actor with a familiar face.  Finally given a leading role in a festival film, expect him to last all the way to Oscar night.  Keaton and Smith have long dry stretches, but have meaty parts in Worth and King Richard.  I will always predict Denzel Washington until he lets me down.  Idris Elba is the real wild card.  He hasn’t been close to an Oscar nomination since his near miss in 2015.  The Oscars could already view him as overdue.

Alternatives include Benedict Cumberbatch in Power of the Dog, Winston Duke for Nine Days, Ralph Fiennes in The Forgiven, Michael Fassbender for Next Goal Wins, Brendan Frasier in The Whale, Bradley Cooper in Soggy Bottom, and Austin Bulter in Baz Luhrman’s Elvis film.

BEST ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Ana De Armas, Blonde
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Two Oscar winners and three young up-and-coming first timers?  Sounds like a Best Actress lineup to me.  I am hesitant to put McDormand on there for the third year out of four, but maybe she should stop giving all these great performances.  Cruz has been nominated for an Almodovar performance before, so that tracks.  De Armas is playing Marilyn Monroe, so there should be plenty of eyes on that.  Ditto for Stewart as Larrain directed Natalie Portman to a Best Actress nomination for Jackie.  Kirsten Dunst has been on the outer rims of Oscar love for years and maybe it takes the deft hand of Jane Campion to push her over the edge.

Alternatives include Tessa Thompson for Passing, Taylour Paige for Zola, Tilda Swinton in Three Thousand Years of Longing, Angelina Jolie in Those Who Wish Me Dead, Emila Jones in Coda and Jessica Chastain in The Forgiven

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Colman Domingo, Zola
Jason Isaacs, Mass
Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
Stanley Tucci, Worth
Benedict Wong, Nine Days

Best Supporting Actor is probably the most erratic of categories.  Sometimes, there are nothing but previous winners (2012), or there is a mix of new nominees with a singular holdover (2013).  The latter is an apt comparison as Stanley Tucci is the only of the five potential nominees with a previous nominatin.  The other four all fit into the same category: the long-time reliable character actor with the chance to break through in a big way with awards.  Isaccs is the only one of the four who has sniffed any sort of Oscar buzz with The Patriot, but Domingo has been on a big hot streak.  Wong and Plemons have been in plenty of things to extend goodwill in their direction.

Alternatives include a number of men from Dune, Don’t Look Up and The French Dispatch, Tom Hanks in Baz Lurhman’s Elvis film, Reed Birney in Mass, Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog, Jack Farthing, Timothy Spall or Sean Harris in Spencer, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale in Nine Days and Andre Holland and Bill Camp in Passing

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, Spencer
Riley Keough, Zola
Thomasin McKenzie, The Power of the Dog
Ruth Negga, Passing
Amy Ryan, Worth

This is a lineup I can get behind!  Negga and Ryan have been putting in great work for years but only have one nomination to show for it.  Meanwhile, Hawkins has a pair of nominations including starring in a Best Picture winner.  McKenzie and Keough feel like they are already overdue despite their young age.  Negga is the only one of the bunch where I feel confident she will make it to Oscar night.  Keough and Ryan have received solid festival notices as well.

Alternatives include Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd for Mass, the number of women from Dune, Don’t Look Up and The French Dispatch, Zazie Beets in Nine Days, Elizabeth Moss in Next Goal Wins, Hong Chau or Samantha Morton in The Whale and Marlee Matlin in Coda.

There is so much unknown about the Oscar qualifying window as well as what is being or has been affected by the pandemic.  Who knows what will be a festival hit and what will bomb.  Enjoy my full predictions index here.

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