2021 Oscar Preview: Who Will Win and Who Should Win

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After last year’s Joker missile had its impact softened by a strong showing from Bong Joon-ho’s impeccable Parasite, 2020’s Oscars felt in between the miracle Moonlight win and the slap in the face that was Green Book. Now it’s on to 2021, with some nominations that’ve skipped over some major films but also highlighted some greats. Sure, it feels like we may have never had an Academy Awards show in our lifetimes. It’s been approximately ten years and one global disaster since we’ve all gathered together and judged the decisions of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deemed worthy to go down in its canon. That extended eligibility period certainly impacted the Academy’s choices, as recency bias hits hard even in normal years, but even in the extenuating circumstances of 2021, the Oscars deserve some predictions.

Now, we’ve already written extensively about some of the year’s best performances, the best films of the year and the best across genres ranging from comedy to sci-fi to horror to documentary. Additionally, this whole week will feature writing on some of our writers’ favorite Oscar candidates. But for those movies particularly singled out for this year’s awards, we’ll go a little deeper into the good, the bad and the ugly from what we did with the initial nomination announcement. This isn’t just mourning the snubbing that Da 5 Bloods received, but digging into the major categories like we do every year in order to highlight the discrepancy (or rare correlation) between what the Academy chooses to nod towards and what it actually names its winner.

Like any awards ceremony, there are flaws in both content and structure, but by analyzing both (as we partake in the fun alongside everyone else in the movie world) hopefully everyone can be a little more thoughtful when judging movies based on how many gold statues a bunch of old white folks gave it a few decades back.

Find out how to stream the nominees, and make sure you watch those short films! If you’re looking for more, check out some of our Oscars-related and -adjacent articles and all the writing done in the past year about Oscar-nominated films:

Original Screenplay



Judas and the Black Messiah – Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas
Minari – Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal – Screenplay by Darius Marder, Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin

Who Will Win: Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell

While Sorkin’s writerly ways may woo a vote or two, screenplay nods are usually the consolation prize for the well-nominated-yet-not-awarded film of the evening. For 2021, my guess is that movie will be Promising Young Woman. Emerald Fennell’s status as a first-time writer/director and the debate around her film’s message have stolen the thunder from Carey Mulligan’s performance, which means it might be what Academy voters focus on.

Who Should Win: Minari

Adapted Screenplay



Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad
The Father – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
One Night in Miami – Kemp Powers
The White Tiger – Ramin Bahrani

Who Will Win: The Father – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller

Who Should Win: One Night in Miami – Kemp Powers

Snubbed…from Space: The Vast of Night – Andrew Patterson, Craig W. Sanger

While Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 saw tons of nominations, it’s the low-fi sci-fi The Vast of Night that’s walk-and-talks were the most impressive of the year. Not only do the conversations fit naturally, characterizing and fleshing out both world and narrative while moving us along with its camera, the script orchestrates these talky segments to crescendo alongside growing dread. Culminating with a totally dark scene while an unseen voice tells a story like a radio play, The Vast of Night’s way with words is engrossing as the black sky and gritty as the dusk’s desert sand.

Actress in a Supporting Role



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

Who Will Win: Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Who Should Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Minari works because of Yuh-Jung Youn. You know that performance that Hillbilly Elegy thought Glenn Close was going to have? Yuh-Jung Youn does that about ten-fold, owning the film with an effort that’s actually Oscar-worthy and not Oscar-baiting. The South Korean veteran’s sharp yet caring grandmother, who moves into her daughter’s Arkansas home alongside her family, is every bit as deep and detailed as the overall life that Minari paints. Her jabbing dialogue and whipcrack punchlines sting, but in that backhandedly loving way that only relatives and dear friends can get away with. That’s because her wide-ranging performance is part slapstick, part symbol, and part plot point—all of which are handled with elegance and engaging energy. Few actors could chug piss (it was a prank, ok?), then convincingly turn it into an endearing lesson between grandmother and grandson. Rapport with her castmates, particularly that grandson (Alan S. Kim), makes the hefty emotional beats stick—but more importantly it allows the nuances filling out the character’s corners to feel real. She loves watching wrestling, but hates to see them risk injury. Yuh-Jung Youn’s playful eyes and poised movements in these moments create a character far better than her foul-mouthed card playing…though her winning performance makes us feel lucky we get both.

Who Should Be Ashamed They Were Nominated: Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Costume Design



Emma – Alexandra Byrne
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ann Roth
Mank – Trish Summerville
Mulan – Bina Daigeler
Pinocchio – Massimo Cantini Parrini

Who Will Win: Mank – Trish Summerville

Who Should Win: Emma – Alexandra Byrne

Production Design



The Father – Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton
Mank – Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
News of the World – Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan
Tenet – Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Who Will Win: Mank – Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale

Who Should Win: The Father – Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

Makeup and Hairstyling



Emma – Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze
Hillbilly Elegy – Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson
Mank – Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff
Pinocchio – Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti

Who Will Win: Mank – Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff

Who Should Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson




Judas and the Black Messiah – Sean Bobbitt
Mank – Erik Messerschmidt
News of the World – Dariusz Wolski
Nomadland – Joshua James Richards
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Phedon Papamichael

Who Will Win: Mank – Erik Messerschmidt

Who Should Win: Nomadland – Joshua James Richards

Film Editing



The Father – Yorgos Lamprinos
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
Promising Young Woman – Frédéric Thoraval
Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Alan Baumgarten

Who Will Win: Nomadland – Chloé Zhao

Who Should Win: Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

Finding the rhythm of filmmaking’s visual language and making it work with spoken dialogue is one thing; blending the rhythms of camerawork, spoken language, sign language and musical performance is a magic trick. So many hyperspecific, understated performances in Sound of Metal would be undersold or underappreciated if not for the masterful editing holding all the different forms of communication together, melding them into conversations that are either meant to be understood or incomprehensible—all through the power of implication, juxtaposition and shot length. The film’s mastery in both sound and editing are intertwined to make it one of the year’s most technically impressive narratives.

Best Sound



Greyhound – Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman
Mank – Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin
News of the World – Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett
Soul – Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker
Sound of Metal – Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

Who Will Win: Sound of Metal – Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

Who Should Win: Sound of Metal – Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

Visual Effects



Love and Monsters – Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox
The Midnight Sky – Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins
Mulan – Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram
The One and Only Ivan – Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez
Tenet – Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

Who Will Win: Mulan – Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

Who Should Win: Tenet – Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

Yeah, yeah, Tenet has been a bit of a maximalist Christopher Nolan joke since its inception (ha ha), but a VFX nod might be the best way to appreciate its incredible choreography, stunt work and the effects—large and small—making it all stick. With a film that’s characters encourage you to not worry and simply watch, you better have a lot of confidence in your team’s ability to sell your gimmick. Nolan’s team sells it.

Short Film (Animated)



Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You

Who Will Win: Burrow

Who Should Win: Genius Loci

Animated Feature Film



Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Who Will Win: Soul

Who Should Win: Wolfwalkers

Actor in a Supporting Role



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

Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Who Should Win: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Yes, Riz Ahmed does an excellent job as the lead of Sound of Metal and is a core component of why the film about a metalhead drummer losing his hearing is one of 2020’s best. However, Paul Raci’s impeccable supporting performance as Joe, a man running a deaf community of recovering addicts—pinpointed to a pained, compassionate, imperfect place of authority—is the glue holding everything together. Lest things feel preachy or inauthentic, Raci’s tough love and deadpanned delivery (both of ASL and spoken English) ground relationships and setting alike. Joe cares. You can feel it. He’s seen every direction that this story can go. Raci is able to convey that with little other than practical conversation and some silent looks. It’s potent and warm, yet hard—with a baked-in disappointment that still proffers up a candle flicker of optimism at every opportunity. It’s a perfect, textbook example of how to support: Raci doesn’t steal scenes, he just makes them better in every possible way. He allows his scene partners to soar while he anchors us in emotional truth. He glows with a measured brightness to fill out the radiance already emanating from the lead. It’s wildly compelling and a stunning feat of dramatic control.

Documentary (Short Subject)



A Concerto Is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

Who Will Win: Hunger Ward

Who Should Win: Do Not Split

Documentary (Feature)



Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher

Who Will Win: Time

Who Should Win: Time

Time is just too beautiful and, with a new showing of racist hate and discrimination from our justice system making the headlines daily, too timely for the Academy to ignore. It helps that it’s also a hell of a film.

Short Film (Live Action)



Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers
White Eye

Who Will Win: Two Distant Strangers

Who Should Win: The Present

Best International Feature Film



Another Round
Better Days
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Quo Vadis, Aida?

Who Will Win: Another Round

C’mon, it got a director nomination alongside the fancy American films.

Who Should Win: Collective

But the Academy should put some respect on this doc’s name, seeing as it’s a stunning film that’ll likely get overtaken by the crushing Time.

Music (Original Song)


“Fight For You,” Judas and the Black Messiah
“Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Husavik,” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Io Si (Seen),” The Life Ahead
“Speak Now,” One Night in Miami

Who Will Win: “Speak Now,” One Night in Miami

Who Should Win: “Husavik,” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

What We Want to Hear: “JaJa Ding Dong,” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Music (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

Who Will Win: Mank – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Who Should Win: Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste

Hey, as long as Reznor and Ross take one home this year, I’ll be happy—though this is the rare category where each nominee could pull out a win and be completely worthy. It would also be nice if Da 5 Bloods’ single nomination paid off, but don’t hold your breath. That’s a snub, snub, snub that won’t ever be fixed.




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

Who Will Win: David Fincher, Mank

If Mank led some kind of sweep, I’d be shocked, but a Fincher win here isn’t inconceivable considering the eccentricity of its production, the ego-stroking Hollywood subject matter and his A-list name.

Who Should Win: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Actress in a Leading Role



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

Who Will Win: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Snubbed but We’re Still Thinking of Her: Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

To quote our review of Charlie Kaufman’s Netflix mind-bender, “Jessie and Jesse are great. Their performances and their characters are hard to describe.” Yeah, seriously. Having the two leads of this dreamscape share a first name in real life is self-reference upon self-reference…which would be perfect enough for Kaufman WITHOUT them being fantastic in the film. A large portion of the movie is a two-hander between Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons (their two nebulous characters being in a relationship) driving around in the dark and snow. Gags like being able to hear the other’s inner monologue are played to perfection, with mystery, tension and laughs doled out with little more than insinuation and timing. Then there are the monologues, with one listening and the other just going on and on. Somehow, still compelling. The script is notably sharp, but Buckley and Plemons are putting it through its paces—it’s like watching the New York Philharmonic do The Rite of Spring. The brilliant pair split off for some highlights of their own, but when they’re together in I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the leads create some truly engrossing harmonies.

Actor in a Leading Role



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

Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Boseman deserves the posthumous win (though Ahmed and Hopkins are both incredible), if only for leaving us with the best work of his career as a parting gift.

Who Should Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Picture



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

Who Will Win: Nomadland

Who Should Win: Nomadland

The Best Cow: First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s buddy cow-medy was unfairly punished for its early release, period setting, genre (Western) and vibe (quietly companionable). First Cow’s Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro), King Lu (Orion Lee) and dairy bovine might not check any of the Oscars’ boxes, but it’s one of the year’s most impressive films. Beautiful, funny, thoughtful and insightful into a very particular kind of relationship—one that begins out of convenience or obligation, then blooms into something more. Its udderly American trappings should’ve made it a sure bet for our awards, solidifying its timely timelessness as one of those definitive anecdotes of our culture. What do we talk about when we talk about the West? Why not milk and friendship? Struggle and togetherness? Square frames and worn clothes? First Cow was never going to be Best Picture material, but it’ll outlive many of this year’s nominees.