Ask any Oscar prognosticator, and they'll tell you that surprises at the Academy Awards aren't the norm. Because of all the bellwether awards ceremonies that happen pre-Oscar — the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs — the frontrunners are usually foregone conclusions heading into the Big Night.
In keeping with a year that has thrown one curveball after another, the 2021 Oscars aren't so cut and dry, particularly in the acting categories. So it's going to be more difficult to predict the big winners this year, but we'll do our best. We're running down some of the top categories, not only guessing who will be victorious but choosing who's most deserving.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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 SHOULD WIN: Uniformly great performances here (I love that Raci, the least known of the group, was recognized), but if I had a ballot, my vote would go to Daniel Kaluuya. He's one of the most charismatic and versatile young actors we have — he should have been nominated in 2019 for his chilling work in Widows — and while he gets all the thunderous speeches as the so-called Black Messiah, his take on Fred Hampton is textured and complex. Whether it should even be considered a "supporting" role (he's more of a co-lead with fellow nominee Stanfield) is another debate entirely.
WHO WILL WIN: Kaluuya will probably take the Oscar, too, considering he's been a favorite throughout awards season.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
WHO WILL WIN: At the beginning of awards season, Maria Bakalova, disappearing into the role of Borat's daughter, seemed to be the front-runner in this category. She still has a shot, but Youn has since won the SAG award and the BAFTA, meaning she likely has the upper hand. It'll be deserved.
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari
WHO SHOULD WIN: Of these performances, the only one that didn't grab me was Oldman's; I wish Delroy Lindo's commanding turn in Da 5 Bloods had taken his slot. But of the remaining nominees, I'm torn between Ahmed and Hopkins, both playing men grappling with a loss of cognition — Ahmed as a drummer going deaf, Hopkins as an aging intellectual succumbing to dementia. I'm leaning toward Anthony Hopkins in The Father, though, because he's completely transformative and unbelievably moving. He's been great in so many movies, but this is arguably his best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in 1993's The Remains of the Day.
WHO WILL WIN: Chadwick Boseman is the surest bet of the night, and he'll become only the third actor (after Peter Finch in Network and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight) to receive a posthumous Oscar. It's a shame that we don't have dozens of new Boseman performances ahead of us.
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
WHO SHOULD WIN: All of these performances are stellar, but my vote would go to Carey Mulligan, not because her role in Promising Young Woman had the highest degree of technical difficulty, but because she's required to lead us into shocking, unexpected situations and is convincing all the way. I've been a fan of Mulligan since her Oscar-nominated breakthrough in 2009's An Education, and more than a decade later, she's the emotional anchor of another film about predatory men and the definition of consent. It's a controversial movie, and I have some issues with its plotting, but Mulligan never takes a wrong step.
WHO WILL WIN: Looking at the normal pre-Oscars predictors offers no help here. All of the major acting awards have gone to different performances: Day won the Golden Globe, Mulligan won the Critics Choice Award, Davis won the Screen Actors Guild Award, and McDormand won the BAFTA. So what's a guesser to do? Because the Academy has such a huge overlap with the Screen Actors Guild, I'll tentatively predict Davis as the victor here. But this is truly anyone's ballgame. Hell, Vanessa Kirby could easily surprise everyone and walk away with the statuette.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
WHO WILL WIN IN OTHER CATEGORIES
Director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland
Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
International Feature: Another Round
Animated Feature: Soul
WHAT SHOULD WIN: I really like most of these movies (I don't think Mank or Trial of the Chicago 7 belong here), so in narrowing the list down to my personal favorites, I asked myself, Which of these would I most like to see again right now? Based on that rubric, I have to go with Darius Marder's Sound of Metal, just barely edging out The Father and Nomadland. This is the sort of scrappy independent film that would, in a normal year, likely be overlooked by the Academy, and I'm so glad it got recognition. Yes, it concerns serious, heavy subject matter, but it exudes so much more warmth, humor and sweetness than movies about disabilities are typically afforded. It's not all dour and downbeat.
WHAT WILL WIN: Nomadland seems to be the favorite here, with Chloe Zhao likely becoming the second woman to win best director. It's about time. ♦
The 2021 Academy Awards air Sun, April 25, at 5 pm on ABC.