The Road to the 93rd Oscars, Part I: Are the Oscars Still Happening!?

Welcome, one and all, to our extremely belated inaugural “Road to the Oscars” article for the 93rd Oscars, set to air on April 25, 2021. This is the first April ceremony since 1988 and the latest ceremony since the very first Oscars in 1929. Thank you all for your patience, as I know that a number of you have been raring to go with your own predictions for this year! It’s going to be a doozy.

Wait, they’re still holding the Oscars this year?

There was a lot of confusion for the first few months of the pandemic as to whether there would even be an Oscars ceremony this year and, if so, what films would be eligible. The Academy ultimately extended the eligibility period through the end of February (versus the typical December 31 deadline) and decided that straight-to-streaming films would be eligible as long as the studio could show that they had intended for a normal theatrical release before the pandemic hit. What this translates to is that films that normally would’ve had some small theatrical play, like Mank and Da 5 Bloods, are eligible, while films that were always going to be streaming-only, like Bad Education, are not.

Okay, so what about the films?

The conversation right now is rightfully dominated by Nomadland, which became the first film ever to win both the Venice Golden Lion and the TIFF People’s Choice Award, to say nothing of the many awards it’s racked up at smaller festivals. Expect it to show up in the Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actress races. Yes, I know, year after year I’m bullish on female directors, and year after year the Academy disappoints me, but Zhao missing here would send an earthquake through the industry. Star Frances McDormand is something of a frontrunner for a win right now, but given how recently she won her second Best Actress Oscar, I don’t know that the Academy will be in a rush to give her a third. The big question mark for Nomadland is the supporting races: will David Strathairn sneak into a fairly weak field that is dominated by ensemble films likely to split their own votes? Could Linda May or Charlene Swankie, non-actors whose presences brighten every scene they’re in, get nominations? In both cases I lean towards a “yes.”

Netflix’s likeliest entry across the board is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s a shoe-in for Picture, Actress (Viola Davis), and Adapted Screenplay, and certain for a posthumous nomination, if not a win, for star Chadwick Boseman. Despite its strong reception, it seems a little less likely to swing a Director nomination for George C. Wolfe, as conversation around the film is dominated by the actors. Allow this to serve as your annual reminder that no Black director has ever won Best Director at the Oscars.

Someone who could change that dire stat? Recent Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King, whose One Night in Miami earned raves on the festival circuit this fall, including being the TIFF People’s Choice first runner-up. Picture and Director seem likely, as do Adapted Screenplay and a Supporting Actor nomination for Leslie Odom, Jr., the standout from a stacked cast. If another actor gets in, it’s Kingsley Ben-Adir in Best Actor. He’s in my predictions currently, but I would consider him on the bubble.

Spike Lee’s Netflix hit Da 5 Bloods is another film likely to end up in Picture and Director, as well as Original Screenplay and Actor (Delroy Lindo). Chadwick Boseman and Jonathan Majors are possibilities in Supporting Actor, but with no clear consensus favorite of the two, I wouldn’t expect either to show up. I would also consider Lee to be on the bubble in the Director race, as early reception for some of the late-season contenders is quite strong and people seem really fond of…

…Aaron Sorkin’s work for Netflix on The Trial of the Chicago 7. This could be the year that the industry favorite cements himself as more than a screenwriter, after his directorial debut Molly’s Game failed to make much of an impact. Expect it to show up in Picture and Original Screenplay, with a possibility of a Director nomination and as many as THREE Supporting Actor nominations. Do Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II all have the strength to make it in? Maybe. This is where the possibility of splitting the vote really comes in; I expect Cohen to make it in and likely one of the other two, but all three seems a step too far.

The reception for Mank, David Fincher’s new Netflix tale of old Hollywood, has been weaker than anticipated, but as I mention every year, the Academy loves a movie about moviemaking. Picture and Director nominations seem likely, as do Original Screenplay, Actor (Gary Oldman), and Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried, finally earning her first Oscar nomination, and maybe even a win).

Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his powerful play The Father is something of a mystery right now. After Sundance, it seemed a shoe-in for Picture, Supporting Actress (Olivia Colman), and Adapted Screenplay nominations, and a guaranteed Actor winner for Anthony Hopkins. All of those noms still seem likely (Hopkins’ win is no longer guaranteed thanks to Boseman), but the film’s absence from critics’ year-end lists is quite surprising. If it picks up steam again, a Director nomination for Zeller is not out of the question.

Paul Greengrass’s latest, News of the World, is likely to follow the path laid by True Grit in 2010. With a strong reception so far and sentiment running high for star Tom Hanks after he broke his nearly two decade nominations drought last year, expect this one to show up in Picture, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, with a strong chance at Director and Supporting Actress (Helena Zengel).

A24 burst onto the Oscars scene last decade with Best Picture nominees Room, Moonlight, and Lady Bird, but they’ve bungled campaigns for hits like Hereditary and The Farewell and could be on their way to doing the same with Lee Isaac Chung’s beloved Minari. After making a splash at Sundance, A24 chose to keep away from all of the major fall festivals, then decided at the last minute to enter into a bunch of the smaller festivals. The logic evades me, but people really, really, really like Minari, and I still expect it to show up in the Picture and Original Screenplay races, with an outside shot at Director. Acting nominations could go a lot of different ways: the cast is earning acclaim, but that acclaim is not centering on a specific actor, and so it becomes more a question of which fields are looking soft. Steven Yeun, criminally overlooked for Burning in 2018, is bouncing back and forth on the bubble for Actor with Sound of Metal’s Riz Ahmed (and that film’s Paul Raci could sneak into Supporting Actor, too); I give the advantage to Ahmed at the moment, but Yeun has an opening. Yeri Han could sneak into Actress in another year, but it doesn’t seem possible right now. The best chance, then, is likely Yuh-jung Youn in Supporting Actress, who benefits from two strong Actress/Supporting Actress contenders faltering. Hillbilly Elegy has tumbled out of the race, and although Glenn Close is still looking likely in Supporting Actress, Amy Adams is no longer in the Actress top tier; Ammonite did not impress on the festival circuit, though Kate Winslet is hanging on in Actress and Saoirse Ronan is still a strong Supporting Actress player. At the moment, I think Youn makes it in, but Ronan’s status as an Academy favorite cannot be ignored.

On the topic of Actress/Supporting Actress possibilities, Venice hit Pieces of a Woman must be talked about here. Vanessa Kirby seems likely to appear in the Actress race, and Ellen Burstyn is looking good to break Christopher Plummer’s record as the oldest Oscar nominee in history over in Supporting Actress.

A big question mark in the race is Lee Daniels’ The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Until recently, it wasn’t clear if this one would be releasing in the revised eligibility window. We now know that it will, and if it’s as good as rumored, we can expect it to show up in Picture and Actress (Andra Day), with outside shots at Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Supporting Actor (Trevante Rhodes). The story is similar for Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah: until very recently, it wasn’t at all clear that it would be coming out on time. At the moment, I am expecting Daniel Kaluuya to show up in Supporting Actor, but if it’s well received, it is a possibility for Picture, Actor (Lakeith Stanfield), and Original Screenplay, too.

Only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and none has since Toy Story 3’s nomination in 2010. Pixar’s latest, Soul, could change that. Early word on this is that it’s among Pixar’s absolute best – it was in the Cannes lineup and has gotten stellar reviews so far. I need to see more to move it into the top tier of potential Picture nominees, but this is a shoe-in for Original Screenplay, and I think has an outside shot at a Director nomination for the beloved Pete Docter.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always and First Cow are two films worth mentioning: both premiered early in the year to stellar reviews and have come back in a big way, dominating critics’ year-end best-of lists. With that in mind, I think both have an outside chance of showing up in the Picture and Director races, with the former standing a good chance at Original Screenplay and Actress and the latter Adapted Screenplay.

Another film making a strong showing when it counts is Promising Young Woman. I have a hard time seeing this one show up for Picture and Director because the Academy is the Academy, but I’d love to be surprised. Certainly I think Carey Mulligan is likely to appear in the Actress race, and it could sneak in for Original Screenplay.

How is this article still going? Is this done yet?

We’re nearly there! Before we jump down in the comments to discuss, I want to spend a moment discussing the three other feature categories: Documentary, Animated, and International, and a few other acting contenders.

Soul is obviously the frontrunner in the Animated Feature category. It will face stiff competition from festival favorite Wolfwalkers, the latest from the makers of Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells, and The Breadwinner. Pixar is likely to show up again for Onward, though it certainly isn’t going to be contending for the win. I expect the list to be rounded out by Netflix’s Over the Moon and Sony’s Connected, but this has been quite a good year for offbeat and international animation. I wouldn’t be surprised by appearances from festival favorites No. 7 Cherry Lane and The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, Ghibli’s return Earwig and the Witch (though this one is being billed as a TV movie and is from the miss-and-miss Goro Miyazaki, so maybe not), savior of theatrical viewing The Croods: A New Age, or Academy favorite Aardman Animations’ latest, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.

Documentary Feature is always hard to predict, and this is a strong year for the category.  The charming The Truffle Hunters accomplished the rare (never-before-seen?) feat of being selected for Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and NYFF, and I’d be surprised not to see it appear here. Dick Johnson is Dead has stayed in the conversation all year and is showing up on plenty of year-end critics’ lists, as is International Feature Film contender Collective. These three seem like sure things to me. I would expect the other slots to be filled by two of the following (listed in order of likelihood): Boys State, Crip Camp, Time, Welcome to Chechnya, Totally Under Control, Athlete A, and David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Mexico’s New Order seemed like a top contender for International Feature after earning the Grand Jury Prize at Venice and getting picked up by NEON, but in a seeming rebuke of its controversial director, Michel Franco, the country instead selected I’m No Longer Here, which must be seen as a strong contender after its showing at the Ariel Awards. Romania’s selection, Collective, has a lot of potential to show up here as well as in Documentary Feature. Festival hit Another Round, seems likely to appear for Denmark, and I think star Mads Mikkelsen has a chance at an Actor nomination. Similarly, Italy’s The Life Ahead is getting great notices for reminding everyone why Sophia Loren is a legend, and she could appear in the Actress race. My fifth slot is between Georgia’s Beginning and France’s selection, the phenomenal queer thriller Two of Us. I obviously have a personal preference here, but for the moment I have to give the edge to the Georgian selection. Other strong contenders: Charlatan (Czech Republic), My Little Sister (Switzerland), Apples (Greece), and Night of the Kings (Cote d’Ivoire). 

WHEW!

Yeah, you’re telling me! Okay folks, 2000 words later, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: let’s jump down to the comments and discuss! As in years past, I’ll post discussion threads for each of the major awards, and a general discussion thread. See you down there!