The strangest feeling I had in quite some time was elation after watching this year’s Academy Awards. Who would have thunk it, the Academy made a cool choice for Best Picture! Although, with the benefit of some distance from the event to soak it all in, Parasite‘s Best Picture win masked a lot of uninspired nominations and winners, especially in the acting categories. But hey, progress is progress!
Being almost two weeks removed from the ceremony — and living in the current age of an insatiable desire for content — we must now look forward to the next awards cycle, staking out which movies may be successful next year. Such an exercise comes with a massive caveat: projecting the awards race this far in advance is beyond a crapshoot. (A shitshoot?) Any number of reasons can ruin one’s credibility:
- Release dates change
- Projects fall into development hell
- Currently unannounced projects can come out of nowhere
- The Academy tends to not like good things
- Some of these movies end up not being as good as they look now
- We’ve haven’t seen any of these movies (unless you attended Sundance in January — or you were thinking The Grudge has a great shot at Best Picture)
Back in 2018, when I made these same predictions for the 2019 Oscars ceremony, I crowned The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a Steven Spielberg joint yet to go into production, as the big winner. Last year, I handed out plenty of nominations to Lucy and the Sky and The Last Thing He Wanted. The former was widely panned upon its release, and the latter will most definitely end up on my worst of the year list in some form at the end of 2020. I guarantee that I’ll get burned in unforeseen ways once again this year from the predictions made in this article.
But even with a low success rate, this kind of exercise is still rewarding. It helps to take stock in what’s coming and helps to see possible big picture storylines. One of which will certainly be the number of high-profile musicals vying for acclaim; currently, I see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, and Netflix’s The Prom as legitimate awards players. Another is Netflix in general, which once again has an outrageous slate of movies on paper. And sprinkled in there as well are a ton of previous Oscar winners and nominees, possible newcomers, and a few redemptions along the way. Despite the unpredictability, the 2021 Oscars are shaping up to be quite the treat on paper.
Let’s take a look at my hopefully-not-terrible 2021 Oscar predictions in each of the Big Five Academy Awards categories:
Best Adapted Screenplay
Netflix is working with two of the best in 2020: David Fincher and Charlie Kaufman. Fincher’s Mank, the story of writer Herman Mankiewicz’s battle with Orson Welles for writer’s credit on Citizen Kane, will most likely feature prominently across the board. However, the narrative is clear for positioning the movie in this category: David Fincher’s father, Jack Fincher, wrote the script for this film back in 2002 and then unfortunately passed away in 2003. Not only will his son most likely be able to get as much out of the script as possible — as he normally does in his exquisitely crafted films — but the movie will act as a touching tribute to his father…and to cinema in general.
Elsewhere, Charlie Kaufman is back with his next project I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and it would be wise of all of us to take notice. Kaufman has been far more selective with the films he has decided to direct when compared to the number of projects he has decided to write, so one can expect I’m Thinking of Ending Things to be unimaginably heartfelt in a truly strange yet mesmerizing way.
While other projects such as Blonde, The Last Duel, and Nomandland will be big-time players in other categories (Nomadland, especially), Kaufman feels like the gut winner, mostly because the screenplay awards are generally awarded to the most imaginative scripts as a consolation prize because they will not factor into the Best Director or Picture Oscars later on in the ceremony. (Refer to Rule #4 above for an explanation.) His movies are always so fascinatingly strange. Maybe enough to alienate some voters, but the Writers’ Guild rewards originality routinely.
Andrew Dominik, Blonde
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel
Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Jack Fincher, Mank
Projected Winner: Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Best Original Screenplay
The Original Screenplay category is always a little more difficult to measure this far in advance as many of these projects are normally shrouded in secrecy far longer than their adapted counterparts. But, from years past, we know that the Academy loves Aaron Sorkin and Wes Anderson; these nominations feel like the sure-fire bets of the lot.
As for the rest of the group assembled here, there’s a lot of intrigue given the distributors that will be handling their campaigns. Fresh off of their big success with Parasite, Neon looks to be positioning Ammonite, a lesbian love tale based loosely on Mary Anning’s life, as their 2020 awards tentpole. Along with Francis Lee helming the project, Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan have signed on as the two leads. However, a slight controversy of Francis Lee playing a little fast and loose with some of the known details of Anning’s love life has already circled the film, so a nomination for Ammonite may be all we see.
It will be fascinating to see what Apple does for On the Rocks‘ campaign, being a relative unknown in the film distribution space. Much like Netflix when they begin pushing their original programming, Apple will surely divert a lot of resources to Sofia Coppola’s film. (They clearly have the extra cash for it.)
But my projected surprise winner of the night will be Lee Isaac Chung and Minari. The South Korean film is fresh off of multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival, including the Audience Award, which may portend awards-season success. If Parasite proved anything, it’s that the Academy will reward foreign-language films with the right campaign. Minari threads the needle of being complex while staying accessible, a combination that Parasite used to its advantage. A24 has a big-time slate of movies this year that may hurt Minari‘s chances, but it would be unwise to count it out.
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Francis Lee, Ammonite
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Sofia Coppola, On the Rocks
Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch
Projected Winner: Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
When possible, the Best Actress category is one of the few categories the Academy uses to crown who it thinks will become the next big thing in the industry. A recent example is Jennifer Lawrence’s win for Silver Linings’ Playbook, which shot the actress into superstardom almost immediately.
It feels like Ana de Armas is on the same trajectory, doesn’t it? She broke out with her good-natured performance as Marta Cabrera in Knives Out last fall and will play a prominent role in No Time to Die in April as the new Bond Girl. She is also a co-lead in Netflix’s Sergio, which premiered at Sundance in January. We’ll be seeing a lot of her this year, capped off with Blonde, a fictional retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life. It’s 100% a movie star role — the kind that the Academy loves to reward.
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Jennifer Hudson, Respect
Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Kate Winslet, Ammonite
Projected Winner: Ana de Armas, Blonde
There are quite a few possible storylines in the Best Actor category. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in Ironbark is one the Academy loves: it’s based on a heroic historical figure and features a serious weight transformation. Basically, it’s the classic Oscar nomination. Ironbark could sneak into more categories as well as the “okay, boomer” entry in the field.
There’s almost always a performance from a smaller film that sneaks into the field. In the last three ceremonies, we’ve seen Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory, Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate, and Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. all get nominations. Steven Yeun for his work in Minari is my pick in this slot. (Though an under-the-radar performance in a smaller film could sneak in and take that slot without an issue.)
Gary Oldman almost feels like a shoo-in for a nomination as Herman Mankiewicz in Mank. As does Matt Damon for Stillwater, the latest Tom McCarthy film. Strangely, Damon has never won an Oscar for acting — I’m sure that fact will play in Focus Features’ campaign for the film.
And yet, this category feels like Denzel Washington’s to lose as he teams with Joel Coen (but not Ethan Coen) for a reimagining of the classic Shakespeare tale Macbeth. You can picture it now: Washington showing off all his acting skills as he recites classic monologue after classic monologue. And with the win, Washington would have three Oscars, joining the ranks of greats such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, and Jack Nicholson that also have three wins to their name.
There’s just one catch: Macbeth may pivot towards a 2021 release. It began filming in early February, but no release date has been set as of yet.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Ironbark
Denzel Washington, Macbeth
Gary Oldman, Mank
Matt Damon, Stillwater
Steven Yeun, Minari
Projected Winner: Denzel Washington, Macbeth
There’s a strong sense that the Academy still has an aversion to films distributed by Netflix. So even though there will unquestionably be an “it’s time” narrative for Fincher and his work in this category, I don’t see the Academy going that way, unfortunately.
Instead, I foresee another important moment on the horizon: Chloe Zhao winning for Nomadland, becoming only the second woman to take home the prize. Searchlight Pictures knows how to run a campaign, and Zhao’s latest film will be their big prestige release of the fall. Zhao is also the director of Marvel’s The Eternals — which also due out next fall — meaning that she will in the news for many months at a time. I strongly doubt that the Academy will heavily feature The Eternals at the ceremony, but Zhao winning could very much be for her work throughout the year and not just for Nomadland.
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
David Fincher, Mank
Jon M. Chu, In the Heights
Ridley Scott, The Last Duel
Tom McCarthy, Stillwater
Projected Winner: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Typically, Best Director and Best Picture are tied together at the Oscars, even if the correlation has been less absolute in recent years. All of this means that Nomadland, a very intimate movie with a small cast, may end up winning Best Picture. (If my predictions are remotely close to the ballpark, that is.)
Recent years have seen fascinating movies win Best Picture…except for Green Book and everything in The Shape of Water that wasn’t fish sex. Nevertheless, smaller, more intimate movies are getting their shot in awards’ season with increasing frequency. With a growing outcry for an increase in women nominations in more of the above-the-line categories, maybe an overwhelming narrative helps push Nomadland over the edge.
And if previous years have taught me anything, we shouldn’t count out Searchlight Pictures in mounting an overwhelming campaign. Ever.
Another item to note in this category is that I opted to place In the Heights in the field of nominations instead of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. With a film adaptation of The Prom in the mix as well being another high-profile musical to come this year — as I alluded to in the introduction of this article — there’s bound to be a cannibalization effect as these musicals will inevitably cancel each other out due to a perceived sameness by general moviegoers. Or, they’ll be pitted against each other in film discourse and one will emerge as the victor. One nominee out of the three seems like a reasonable outcome.
Spielberg being adamant about remaking West Side Story was curious right from the start. The lukewarm initial reception of the idea may turn into an all-out rejection if the film is too similar or too different from the still beloved original, which may catapult something bold and fresh-feeling like In The Heights into the front of this particular race.
Projected Nominations (based on the assumption that the Academy grants the maximum of 10 nominations):
I’m Thinking of Endings Things
In the Heights
The Last Duel
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Projected Winner: Nomadland
Movies to Watch Out For
Because I’m too much of a coward to whittle down my list and need to cover all my bases, below are a few movies not among my imaginary list of nominations above that could factor into the 2021 awards season:
Amsterdam (working title)
Bad Blood (possibly a 2021 release)
Da 5 Bloods
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
News of the World
Red, White, and Water (working title)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Many Saints of Newark
This is Jane
West Side Story
…and many more, I’m sure.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on my 2021 Oscar predictions? Comment down below!
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