Across the longest run-up to any Academy Awards ceremony in history, studios have more time than ever (13 months between January 2020 and February 2021) to unleash their prize ponies into relatively uncharted territory, as a global pandemic's impact on theatrical releases, new eligibility rules, an expanded Best Picture set (locked at a hard 10 slots), and a rapidly diversifying Academy membership viewing streaming titles en masse are all set to converge over one of the most unpredictable contests in history in the weeks ahead.
Though we're just under five months away from the April 25 Oscars ceremony, EW's awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi have (super early) projections for which contenders to look out for as the pieces fall into place. Read on for our full set of 2021 Oscar predictions in every major category — which will be updated as the race changes.
Sustaining buzz throughout any season — let alone history's longest Oscar contest — is a monumental feat, but Chloé Zhao's cross-country technical masterwork Nomadland about a van-dwelling drifter (Frances McDormand) is also a cross-category player currently riding on universally enthusiastic reviews out of the fall festivals.
Alternates: Cherry, News of the World, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, The White Tiger
David Fincher's black-and-white industry tale about Herman J. Mankiewicz's liquor-soaked journey to writing Citizen Kane might be a tough sit for more casual moviegoers, but the directors' branch has a notorious flair for complexity, and the film's meticulous construction and industry-focused story — fluffed by killer performances Fincher coached from Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfriend — is right up their alley.
Alternates: Regina King, One Night in Miami; Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah; Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, Cherry; Ramin Bahrani, The White Tiger
With Jennifer Hudson's Respect officially out of the 2021 race, the path is clear for another massive talent to take Best Actress with her portrayal of a real-life figure, as Viola Davis prepares to sing her way into the Academy's heart in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix's highly anticipated biographical drama.
Alternates: Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman; Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy; Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit
Posthumous Oscars are rare, but not impossible. And the best way to honor the late Chadwick Boseman's legacy would be to adorn him with the industry's highest acting honor — but his hold on the race isn't a sympathy vote: Boseman's eclectic filmography has long been building toward an Oscar nomination, and he'll likely get it for one of his final on-screen appearance as a fitting cap for a groundbreaking career.
Alternates: Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami; Tom Hanks, News of the World; Tom Holland, Cherry; Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal; Steven Yeun, Minari; Colin Firth, Supernova
She only has a handful of scenes in Mank — which is no doubt the Gary Oldman show — but Amanda Seyfried subtly makes every frame all about her in one of the most exciting performances of her career as real-life star Marion Davies.
Alternates: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari; Ciara Bravo, Cherry; Priyanka Chopra Jonas, The White Tiger; Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite; Helena Zengel, News of the World
Further bolstered by the critical high from his well-received Borat sequel, Sacha Baron Cohen's Hollywood resurgence feels destined to peak with an Oscar nomination for his gripping, unexpected turn in Aaron Sorkin's courtroom drama.
Alternates: Mark Rylance, The Trial of the Chicago 7; David Strathairn, Nomadland; Eddie Redmayne, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Stanley Tucci, Supernova
An Academy darling, Sorkin has notched two screenplay nominations (on top of one win) since 2012, and critical reaction to his tightly written, fact-based historical drama feels as timely as it does punchy — a perfect combination to catch voters' eyes this year.
Alternates: Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Judas and the Black Messiah; Promising Young Woman; Palm Springs; On the Rocks
An increasingly crowded category, a path to victory seems clear for no one at this early stage, but, considering initial reviews, Zhao's powerful story stands a healthy chance at keeping the competition at bay — for now.
Alternates: I'm Thinking of Ending Things; Cherry; First Cow; Hillbilly Elegy; The United States vs. Billie Holiday
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