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Can Rosamund Pike and Alan Kim break into the race?

By David Canfield and Joey Nolfi
March 12, 2021 at 10:02 AM EST
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Global theatrical disruptions, Hollywood's exodus to streaming platforms, and a chaotic round of precursor shenanigans across the longest awards season in history have all led to this moment. As the Academy prepares to announce its nominees for the 93rd Oscars (the first to be held in the pandemic era), EW surveys the contest at this critical period, after industry guilds converged on historic contenders (Nomadland, Promising Young Woman), while outlying awards bodies (yes, the Golden Globes) and typically steadfast Oscar foretellers (BAFTA) alike remixed the race for Academy gold in unprecedented ways.

Below, see how EW's awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi expect Oscar nominations morning (cross your fingers for Minari's Alan Kim!) to pan out across all 23 categories.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

Best Picture

Nomadland
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

It's been a long, long time since a DGA nominee for Outstanding Directing has missed out on a Best Picture nomination. Theoretically, that means The Trial of the Chicago 7, Minari, Promising Young Woman, Mank, and steadfast frontrunner Nomadland have clear paths here; bolstered by PGA and (where eligible) WGA recognition, there's little doubt they're the core five. Beyond them, then, who makes it through? In this unpredictable year, we're going with nine nominees, mirroring last cycle's, but for the last time (the rules change to a hard 10 in 2022), it could be anywhere between five and 10. (Note we haven't seen less than eight or more than nine under this system.)

Most significantly represented by the major guilds are One Night in Miami... and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, SAG-ensemble nominees with key WGA and PGA backing. They're also very similar films, critically acclaimed stage adaptations largely confined to a single room. Accordingly, missing key guild noms in categories like editing and cinematography isn't much of a red flag; misses in BAFTA categories like screenplay, perhaps more troublesome, though that bloc of voters tends to under-reward films with Black casts, even by Oscar's standards. BAFTA has also had a perfect crossover with the Oscars' Best Picture lineup in recent years, which means we can't ignore The Father, despite its SAG and PGA misses. But it's hard not to see the passion behind Sound of Metal, a little indie that could with a ton of below-the-line appeal; it, along with late-breaking Judas and the Black Messiah and broader-skewing Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, rounded out the PGA 10, which tends to pinpoint eight or so Oscar nominees. (Though last year, they foresaw all nine.) In the end, for that last slot, it feels like momentum is on Judas' side. —David Canfield

Predictions:

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami...
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Alternates: The Father, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director

Nomadland
Credit: Joshua Richards/Searchlight Pictures

There are some things that, even amid the chaos of an unpredictable awards calendar spanning global uncertainty, just feel right. While the industry around her strives for inclusivity across the board, Nomadland helmer Chloé Zhao's historic run through the season (she previously became the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Director) is no diversity token. Much like the film's region-roaming Fern (Frances McDormand) traveling the American west in her van, Zhao hasn't eased on the gas since storming Venice (where Nomadland won the Golden Lion) and TIFF (where it won the Best Picture-predicting People's Choice Award) last year, before showing up at nearly virtually every other precursor in the run-up to the Oscars. Passionate consensus reaches across demographics, from industry voters to critics groups, and while it's usually an unbeatable combination in a bid for Best Picture, this year, Zhao has shared the glory every step of the way.

Statistically, earning a nomination from the DGA (as Zhao has) dramatically increases a filmmaker's chances at scoring a follow-up Oscar nod, with the guild typically sharing at least four nominees with the Academy every year. That statistic has held true across the last decade, save for the DGA's 2013 edition (two nominees crossed over) and its 2018 class, when DGA nominees Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Peter Farrelly (Green Book) lost out on Oscar nominations to non-DGA nominees Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) and Paweł Pawlikowski (Cold War). With films from Zhao's fellow DGA nominees David Fincher (Mank), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) earning widespread recognition from pre-Oscar groups, history suggests another five-for-five scenario, but Fennell's place feels less secure due to a key difference in DGA vs. Academy membership: Actors. With Regina King (One Night in Miami...), a beloved, Oscar-winning actress making her feature debut in the director's chair (an achievement the DGA recognized among its first-time filmmaker bracket), the Academy's largest branch — the actors — will likely herald the recognizable, established talents of one of their own before casting a vote for anyone else — if the directing branch similarly goes for her on nominations morning. For that, expect King, as a name, to play better with Oscar's celebrity-focused directors branch than the equally exciting Fennell. — Joey Nolfi

Predictions:

  • Lee Isaac Chung — Minari
  • David Fincher — Mank
  • Regina King — One Night in Miami...
  • Aaron Sorkin — The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Chloé Zhao — Nomadland

Alternates: Emerald Fennell — Promising Young Woman, Shaka King — Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Actress

Promising Young Woman
Credit: Focus Features

It's easiest to see the effects of the unorthodox year among the Best Actress crop. Originally slated for theatrical release in April 2020, who knows if Carey Mulligan and her career-defining work in Promising Young Woman would've sustained on the path of tradition, without the film's buzzy, timely themes thriving via social media discourse as fans clamored to stream from home when the (months-delayed) film finally made its debut earlier this winter. As it stands, Mulligan has reaped recognition from the groups that matter: SAG, Critics Choice, and the Golden Globes, though she likely sat BAFTA out thanks to that body's singular decision to let small juries determine its (impressively diverse) slate of nominees. Still, BAFTA elevated the film to great heights overall (it scored six nods).

Normally, an actor starring in a film with as much Best Picture heat as Nomadland would be considered a steam-rolling presence in any acting category, but while Frances McDormand has shown up at every major precursor, she's yet to win much of anything beyond regional critics' prizes. The same goes for likely nominee Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom). The United States vs. Billie Holiday star Andra Day, however, struck gold — a Golden Globe, to be exact — at a vital moment just before Oscar voting began, and countless headlines (which industry folks surely read) rightfully touted her shock victory's impact on the race at large, catapulting her from outlying contender to legitimate threat to Mulligan's rise.

That brings us to the fifth slot. Once occupied by Pieces of a Woman's Vanessa Kirby, who began the season strong by winning the Volpi Cup at Venice, but has felt like a steady decline as buzz for the film itself — in opposition to those of her fellow category contenders — has all but disappeared, and that matters in a year ruled by stir-crazy voters with shorter-than-usual attention spans. On the flipside, like Mulligan, Rosamund Pike has a strong digital presence (social media was rife with memes and chatter for weeks following I Care a Lot's immediate rise to No. 1 on the Netflix charts) as well as a shock Golden Globe victory in her corner, and that's exactly where you want to be at the top of Oscar voting instead of resting on a track record that means less and less as the race evolves (just ask Jennifer Lopez). — JN

Predictions:

  • Viola Davis — Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Andra Day — The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  • Frances McDormand — Nomadland
  • Carey Mulligan — Promising Young Woman
  • Rosamund Pike — I Care a Lot

Alternates: Vanessa Kirby — Pieces of a Woman, Amy Adams — Hillbilly Elegy

Best Actor

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Chadwick Boseman
Credit: David Lee/Netflix

The late Chadwick Boseman has this category locked down; that much we know. If not for his candidacy, this would be a race between similarly assured nominees Riz Ahmed and Anthony Hopkins. That leaves two slots. The SAG five feels like the uneasily safe bet, with Gary Oldman and Steven Yeun both backed by major Best Picture contenders, even as the performances themselves haven't generated much heat. Which of course leaves open the possibility of an upset or two. Delroy Lindo, once thought to comfortably figure into this five, has been on the outside looking in and may have too much of an uphill climb at this point, with Da 5 Bloods' near-disappearance from the precursor circuit. And watch out for surprise Globe nominee Tahar Rahim, whose film The Mauritanian snuck into BAFTA's top 5 films, normally a major indicator of Academy interest. He's the beating heart of that film, so he'll be getting a share of votes. For now, though, we're sticking with SAG. — DC

Predictions:

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

Alternates: Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian, Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

Best Supporting Actress

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Credit: Amazon Studios

This one hurts to think about too much, so we'll keep it simple: Best Supporting Actress is a mess, but it's still a mess you want to revel in, given the number of talented women involved. For a moment, on-again, off-again frontrunner Maria Bakalova fell off our predictions list entirely, but as Borat Subsequent Moviefilm continues to show up in the oddest of precursor positions (that PGA nod really bowled us over), the Bulgarian star appears to be back in the race for her career-making turn in the digital blockbuster — especially after she was able to break through BAFTA's wildly unpredictable set of nominees.

But, Bakalova has yet to win many contests against her category mates (she won the Critics Choice award, though that's voted on by non-industry people, and she competed and lost at the Globes — again, a collective of journalists — in Lead Actress), and her place is far from assured. While actors seem to fall back on familiar faces amid torturous uncertainty (Hillbilly Elegy's Glenn Close is the only lock who has traveled the entire season relatively unscathed when it comes to nominations), Yuh-Jung Youn has seemingly bounded ahead as Minari continues to swell with notices from the PGA and DGA, after SAG previously decorated the film with an ensemble nod (atop individual notices for Youn and Steven Yeun).

Amanda Seyfried started the season in a strong place and, whether they adored her performance or not, many suspected she'd go along for the inevitable Mank nominations steamroll, but as far snappier contenders rose around Netflix's stuffy historical tale (Promising Young Woman, Judas and the Black Messiah), Seyfried seemed to be the most glaring casualty, missing out on an important SAG nod (though her costar Gary Oldman did not). The Father appears to be succeeding on the strength of its actors alone (it has shown up in important places absolutely nowhere other than the Globes), so Olivia Colman's profile seems poised to earn her another nomination here. Rounding out this group will probably be Jodie Foster for The Mauritanian, as the Golden Globe champion for Best Supporting Actress hasn't missed out on an Oscar nomination since Katharine Ross in 1976. — JN

Predictions:

  • Maria Bakalova — Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Glenn Close — Hillbilly Elegy
  • Olivia Colman — The Father
  • Jodie Foster — The Mauritanian
  • Yuh-Jung Youn — Minari

Alternates: Helena Zengel — News of the World, Amanda Seyfried — Mank

Best Supporting Actor

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Credit: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.

Daniel Kaluuya's established himself as a solid frontrunner here, with Leslie Odom Jr. and Sacha Baron Cohen not running too far behind. All will certainly be nominated here. Beyond them, it's a little hard to say; the math is with Jared Leto (The Little Things) and Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods) based on major precursors, but the former feels like a classic, Jennifer Lopez-esque case of a contender peaking early but unlikely to go the distance. And now that Boseman is such a clear, decisive frontrunner in Best Actor, after Globe and Critics' Choice wins, his standing here is a bit less sure. Paul Raci and David Strathairn have missed across SAG and the Globes, but the former is a passion critic's pick and the latter a lovely segment of the Best Picture frontrunner. Strathairn hasn't campaigned, however, leaving him in the background. We like the chances of Alan Kim, the young superstar who steals every scene of Minari. — DC

Predictions:

  • Sacha Baron Cohen — The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Daniel Kaluuya — Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Alan Kim — Minari
  • Leslie Odom, Jr. — One Night in Miami...
  • Paul Raci — Sound of Metal

Alternates: David Strathairn — Nomadland, Chadwick Boseman — Da 5 Bloods

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nomadland
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Frontrunner Nomadland wasn't eligible for WGA, and will find a place here without a problem. Steady Best Picture players One Night in Miami... and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom were nominated for WGA, and will repeat with Oscar. The WGA field also featured News of the World, a solid guild film that has nonetheless struggled to gain traction where it counts, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the resident comedy choice. We think, after its surprise PGA nom, the latter has enough heat here to pull through, but The Father (another WGA-ineligible) shouldn't be ruled out either, judging by its BAFTA showing. Finally, we're still watching out for the last WGA nominee, The White Tiger; it too had a good day at BAFTA, and there's a lot of quiet support for this film coalescing in this category. — DC

Predictions:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • The Father
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami...

Alternates: The White TigerNews of the World

Best Original Screenplay

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Features

Once considered a fringe contender flirting with entering the race, Promising Young Woman has soared into the collective consciousness of awards voters across multiple factions of the industry, from the producers and writers to the directors and the British Academy. Aaron Sorkin might be a name writer for The Trial of the Chicago 7, but Fennell's strength in other sects of the race (plus general appreciation for her singular take on reframing the rape-revenge subgenre) points to far more excitement to award something fresh and progressive over stuffy tradition. Expect mainstays Minari and Mank to round the field out, along with the well-liked Pixar adventure Soul. — JN

Predictions:

  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Soul
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Alternates: Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Animated Feature

Predictions:

  • The Croods: A New Age
  • Onward
  • Over the Moon
  • Soul
  • Wolfwalkers

Alternates: The Willoughbys, Trolls World Tour

Best International Feature

Predictions:

  • Another Round
  • Collective
  • I'm No Longer Here
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?
  • Two of Us

Alternates: Charlatan, The Mole Agent

Best Documentary Feature

Predictions:

  • Boys State
  • Collective
  • Crip Camp
  • Dick Johnson Is Dead
  • Time

Alternates: The Truffle Hunters, My Octopus Teacher

Best Original Score

Predictions:

  • Mank
  • The Midnight Sky
  • Minari
  • News of the World
  • Soul

Alternates: Da 5 Bloods, Tenet

Best Original Song

Predictions:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm ("Wuhan Flu")
  • Judas and the Black Messiah ("Fight for You")
  • The Life Ahead ("Io Si")
  • One Night in Miami... ("Speak Now")
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 ("Hear My Voice")

Alternates: Eurovision Song Contest ("Husavik"), All In: The Fight for Democracy ("Turntables")

Best Sound

Predictions:

  • Greyhound
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Soul
  • Sound of Metal

Alternates: Nomadland, Tenet

Best Production Design

Predictions:

  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Mulan
  • News of the World
  • Tenet

Alternates: The Midnight Sky, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Cinematography

Predictions:

  • Cherry
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Nomadland

Alternates: The Trial of the Chicago 7, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Predictions:

  • Birds of Prey
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Pinocchio

Alternates: The Glorias, Emma

Best Costume Design

Predictions:

  • Emma
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Mulan
  • Promising Young Woman

Alternates: Ammonite, One Night in Miami

Best Film Editing

Predictions:

  • Mank
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Alternates: Minari, The Father

Best Visual Effects

Predictions:

  • Mank
  • The Midnight Sky
  • Soul
  • Tenet
  • Welcome to Chechnya

Alternates: Mulan, The One and Only Ivan

Best Documentary Short

Predictions:

  • Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa
  • Colette
  • Hunger Ward
  • A Love song for Latasha
  • What Would Sophia Loren Do?

Best Live-Action Short

Predictions:

  • Feeling Through
  • The Human Voice
  • The Letter Room
  • The Present
  • Two Distant Strangers

Best Animated Short

Predictions:

  • If Anything Happens I Love You
  • Burrow
  • Kapaemahu
  • Out
  • The Snail and the Whale

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