Saturday, April 24, 2021

The 93rd Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the 6th Annual Academy Awards Predictions column here at, where my colleague Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I compete for bragging rights, prognosticating the Oscars!

As we all know, 2020 was the weirdest year ever for movies.  Thanks to COVID, very few films were actually released in theaters and the ones that were only saw modest-at-best box office receipts.  Many films were of course pushed back to avoid such financial disappointment, while others were made exclusive to streaming services or simultaneously released in theaters and at home.  The qualifying window was extended for this year's ceremony to include any film released between January 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021.  For the first time since the 1930s the Oscars include films released during two different calendar years.

As of this moment I've only seen four of the Best Pic nominees but I'm hoping to bang through a couple more this weekend before the show.  We shall see.  Mr. Drinan is ahead of me I think, and he's also been trouncing me in the predictions the past few years.  Come on, Ballard, get it together!

Best Picture

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Justin:  Of the eight films this year I've seen Judas, Mank, Sound of Metal, and Chicago 7.  I admired a great deal the performances in Judas, I loved the noir atmosphere and score of Mank, I related to the personal connection to sound and music in Sound of Metal, and I found Chicago 7 yet another gripping screenplay by the master Aaron Sorkin.  Of the four I think Chicago 7 was my favorite in fact, but I know it's not taking home the statue, at least not in this category.  Of the four films I have yet to watch I'm really looking forward to Promising Young Woman, as I've heard glowing things about it.  But my pick for the gold this year is Nomadland, the story of a woman who loses her job and decides to, in the words of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, "walk the Earth."  I've heard mixed things about this one but it sounds like one of those fascinating character studies that's all about establishing mood and setting.  I think Nomadland will take home the trophy.

Prediction: Nomadland

Mike: I have seen all but Mank, Sound of Metal and The Father. Out of all that I've seen, Promising Young Woman is my favorite and I hope you get to see it this weekend because it's really good. I really enjoyed Chicago 7 and I'm not surprised it got nominated but it felt like an actor's film. You know, not Best Picture worthy but could nab some acting awards. I felt the same about Judas. Really great seeing Sacha Baron Cohen take on a serious role. He was good. Before awards season began, my frontrunner pick for Best Picture was Minari. Such a well-crafted story with a lot of heart and humility to the characters. I loved it. Buuuuut, you have to keep the thunder rolling throughout awards season and right now Nomadland seems to be a freight train that might be unstoppable. I am picking it to win but hoping for Minari with the upset.

Prediction: Nomadland

JB Update: I watched PYW last night and it's superb, I think I agree it's my favorite of the nominees. 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg - Another Round
David Fincher - Mank
Lee Isaac Chung - Minari
Chloe Zhao - Nomadland
Emerald Fennell - Promising Young Woman

Justin: Quite a diverse group of directors this year, two of whom are women (which I think is a record for this category), and two of whom are Asian-American (which I'm 99% sure is a record for this category).  Last year of course Bong Joon Ho became the first Asian director to take home the statue.  I think we'll see a streak formed this year, as Chloe Zhao is my pick to win for Nomadland, also making her the first female director since Kathryn Bigelow to win this award.  Side note, it's good to see David Fincher get his third Best Director nomination; hopefully one of these years he'll win one.

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

Mike: Chloe Zhao has been absolutely cleaning up in this category this awards season and I think the Academy will keep it going for her. 

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed - Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins - The Father
Gary Oldman - Mank
Steven Yeun - Minari

Justin: Before I get to my pick I have to note the most glaring omission, and that is Delroy Lindo for Da 5 Bloods, a terrifyingly unpredictable performance from a long-overlooked character actor.  Give this guy some awards, man!  Anywho, Riz Ahmed is noteworthy here as the first Muslim actor nominated for an Oscar, for a heartbreakingly understated performance, Gary Oldman earns his third nomination for playing a character 25 years his junior, Steven Yeun jumps from zombie television fare into serious acting recognition, and Mr. Hopkins earns his second consecutive nomination after over a decade-long gap.  But this one is going, posthumously, to Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, taken by cancer far too young.  His performance in Ma Rainey was an exercise in growing desperation, and puts a big exclamation point on a versatile career.

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman

Mike:  Delroy Lindo was the biggest snub in this year's nominations. I was really shocked that he didn't receive a nod. Something about Spike Lee films that the Academy just can't get right. Anyways, like Minari for Best Picture, Steven Yeun was my frontrunner pick for this category. He played Jacob with such enormous vulnerability and tenacity that it was easy to connect with. Unfortunately, this trophy is between Anthony Hopkins and Chadwick Boseman and I don't think people will vote against Boseman. He will become the second actor to get posthumously awarded the Oscar for Best Actor following Peter Finch who won for Network in 1976.

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress

Viola Davis - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Andra Day - The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby - Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand - Nomadland
Carey Mulligan - Promising Young Woman

Justin: Sadly I've only seen one of these, Viola Davis.  And she was so good I didn't recognize her until her third scene.  I'm hoping to catch at least one more of these films this weekend.  But Carey Mulligan is winning here, and it's well-deserved from what I understand.  She's a fantastic talent anyway, so it'll be great to see her take home the gold for what seems to be a career-defining role.

Update: Yup, Carey should absolutely win this - her performance was a force of nature.

Prediction: Carey Mulligan

Mike: This category is absolutely STACKED this year! I feel like you could close your eyes, throw a dart at these names and you have yourself a performance worthy of an Oscar. It shows too since each awards show this season had a different winner in this category. Carey Mulligan was a powerhouse in Promising Young Woman but, if I'm ranking this category, she misses my Top Three. For me, its between Frances McDormand, Andra Day and Viola Davis. Repeating what you said, Davis was unrecognizable in her role. She played a different kind of character than we are used to, one that's hardnosed, no bullshit and ready to throw down. I loved it! I think she could sneak in here with a win. Andra Day keeps getting mentioned in predictions but here's my thing, and I admit it's nitpicking but, she's a singer playing a singer. That's not enough range (no pun intended) to sway my prediction.

Prediction:  Frances McDormand

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen - The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya - Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr. - One Night in Miami
Paul Raci - Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield - Judas and the Black Messiah

Justin: Sweet, I've seen all five of these!  Cohen was pretty great in Chicago 7 except for the Masshole accent, which he butchered in a fashion not seen since Tim Robbins in Mystic River.  But a fine performance notwithstanding.  Odom is wonderful as Sam Cooke, forging his way toward an EGOT.  Paul Raci is the unsung hero of Sound of Metal, bringing tenderness and compassion to the role of Riz Ahmed's mentor.  Stanfield should've been nominated for Lead Actor given that he's the main character in Judas; I'm not sure how the Academy justifies putting him in the supporting category.  But he's excellent.  The favorite though has to be his castmate Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, in a performance teeming with gravitas (and unfortunately some hard-to-decipher dialogue).  Kaluuya makes you believe he could inspire throngs of people to take action and galvanize a political movement.  No complaints about this one.

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya

Mike: This is Kaluuya's to lose and it's not likely to happen since nobody has lost the Academy Award in this category after winning all the awards. So, I'm going to use this space to talk about Lakeith Stanfield, who has over the years become one of my all time favorite actors. The man is so talented and can slip into the skin of any character he takes on. I first saw him in dramatic, heartbreaking yet redemptive fashion in Short Term 12, and then had me crying laughing in the absurdly hilarious film Sorry to Bother You. He should've been nominated as a Lead Actor but the Academy will Academy.  Nevertheless he was fantastic in this role. The inner conflict with the character spilled out brilliantly in his body movement, facial expressions and intonations within his dialogue. Lakeith Stanfield is one of the greatest actors of this current generation!!!!

But with all that said.... 

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close - Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman - The Father
Amanda Seyfried - Mank
Youn Yuh-jung - Minari

Justin: I've seen two of these performances; Bakalova proves herself quite a discovery as Borat's daughter, delivering a chameleonic comic turn (and trapping Rudy Giuliani into making an ass of himself yet again), and Amanda Seyfried proves herself an accomplished actor as Mank's inspiration Marion Davies.  I think the award will go to Youn Yuh-Jung however.

Prediction: Youn Yuh-jung

Mike:  I am looking forward to the day when Amanda Seyfried will win an Oscar. She's got the talent to get one. I've heard her performance in Mank was great and she's got a lot of voters backing her. I'm not sure it's enough for an upset though. I know a lot of people are rooting for Glenn Close but that movie was just unspectacular. Glenn Close and Amy Adams have the same Oscar fate, keep getting nominated but never taking home the statue. Youn Yuh-Jung played such a great character in Minari as the grandmother who said and did ridiculous things. After all the mundane mishaps her family was experiencing, she provided such a breath of fresh air. Give it to her! 

Prediction: Youn Yuh-jung

Best Original Screenplay

Judas and the Black Messiah - Will Bernson & Shaka King
Minari - Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman - Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal - Abraham & Darius Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Aaron Sorkin

Justin: Generally anytime Aaron Sorkin is nominated you have to consider him the favorite, and he'd certainly have earned it with this script, but I think the upset here goes to Emerald Fennell for a script I've seen compared to Tarantino's writing, Promising Young Woman.

Prediction: Emerald Fennell

Mike:  If I had my druthers, this category would go to Lee Isaac Chung for Minari. Great minimalist storytelling with absolutely perfectly flawed characters. Aaron Sorkin's reputation assuredly gives him the edge in this category, and rightfully so. The structure of the Chicago 7 was very well done and easy to follow. It was a very enjoyable film. One of the main things I loved about Promising Young Woman was the fine detail of the characters, the situations and the horrible act that the film is centered around. It doesn't play down to the audience and doesn't spare feelings. Very brilliantly written.

Prediction: Emerald Fennell

Best Adapted Screenplay

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm - Sacha Baron Cohen & Others
The Father - Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller
Nomadland - Chloe Zhao
One Night in Miami - Kemp Powers
The White Tiger - Ramin Bahrani

Justin: I'm not quite sure why Borat is considered an adapted screenplay, maybe because it's a sequel and based on sketch comedy?  Also it's barely a screenplay since much of it is improvised or real conversations.  But whatever, it was quite good.  One Night in Miami was a pretty excellent, thought-provoking script.  But I'm going with Chloe Zhao to take this one, which I think would mark the first time two women won both screenplay awards.

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

Mike: I was also surprised by Borat's nomination in this category. My first thought was, "Wow, it really must've been a tough year for film." What I found brilliant about One Night in Miami was that it showed that are several ways to fight for civil rights, and the only wrong option is to do nothing. If it wasn't for the BAFTA's, I would've picked Chloe Zhao for this category as well, but I'm not certain she has it. I think Nomadland is going to have a winning night, but I think that might be the reason voters would throw some love onto another nominee.

Prediction: Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller

Best Cinematography

Judas and the Black Messiah - Sean Babbit
Mank - Erik Messerschmidt
News of the World - Darius Wolski
Nomadland - Joshua James Richards
The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Phedon Papamichael

Justin: I've seen three of these, and for me the best cinematography by far belongs to Erik Messerschmidt for Mank, capturing the wonderful expressionistic film noir sensibilities of the 1940s.  Just a gorgeous-looking film.  But I think once again it's going to be Nomadland taking home the gold.

Prediction: Joshua James Richards

Mike: In this category, my heart tends to lean toward the black and white film for some reason, even though some prominent black and white nominees have won AND lost. (Roma and Schindler's List won. Good Night, and Good Luck, The Artist, and Nebraska all lost) If it wasn't for the fact that Nomadland has been steamrolling through this awards season, and  Erik Messerschmidt could certainly pull the upset here, it's tough for me to lean any other way.

Prediction: Joshua James Richards

Best Original Score

Da 5 Bloods - Terence Blanchard
Mank - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Minari - Emile Mosseri
News of the World - James Newton Howard
Soul - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross & Jon Batiste

Justin: Wow, Trent Reznor with a double nomination this year.  If you'd told me fifteen years ago the guy from Nine Inch Nails would be an Oscar winner and multiple-time nominee I'd have kicked you square in the nuts.  I'd love to see him win for Mank, which once again captured the aesthetic of the time with beautiful film noir orchestral strains.  But I think he and his collaborators will win for Soul instead.  Regardless, I'm happy anytime Reznor wins an award.  

Prediction: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross & Jon Batiste

MikeSoul has been getting too much praise this awards season to give any other nominee a consideration. It's in the bag. Nine Inch Nails it! (I'll show myself out)

Prediction: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross & Jon Batiste

Tie-Breaker: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Justin: I'm gonna go with the movie that legit made me not recognize its lead actress, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  Seriously, I don't often forget a face in Hollywood, but for the first half-hour of the movie I couldn't have picked Viola Davis out of a lineup.

Prediction: Ma Rainey

Mike: Dammit Justin! You stole my pick. This blog post on your blog is rigged in your favor and that's UNAMERICAN!!!!! *takes a breath* Anyways, alright let's see. Ummmmmmmm...I'm going to go with...

Prediction: Mank

Alright, let's hope I can make up for the last few years of pretty piss-poor accuracy.  Drinan damn near swept these predictions last year, so I have a lot of catch-up....

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