The most unpredictable awards season in living memory is nearing a close, with this year’s Academy Awards set to take place on 25 April – two months after they were originally scheduled. There’s already been plenty to celebrate, thanks to a groundbreaking, diverse set of nominees.
For the first time in history, more than one woman has been nominated in the Best Director category: Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland. Sound of Metal’s Riz Ahmed has become the first Muslim actor to be nominated for Best Actor, while Minari’s Steven Yeun is the first Asian-American actor to do so. With her fourth Oscar nomination for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Viola Davis is now the most-nominated Black actress ever, and the only Black woman with two Best Actress nominations.
Parasite winning Best Picture last year – the first film not in the English language to do so – signalled that change was in the air, with many hoping that the Academy’s efforts to diversify its voting body had already resulted in concrete change. But this has also been an awards race shaped by the pandemic – one of Zoom acceptance speeches, technical glitches, and A-list stars in pyjamas. The Oscars are determined, against all odds (and common sense), to still be an in-person affair.
The ceremony will be split between two Los Angeles locations: the Dolby Theatre, its traditional home, and Union Station. Steven Soderbergh, the official producer of this year’s proceedings, has assured all potential attendees that there will be stringent testing and social distancing measures in place.
Since the pandemic caused several potential nominees to have their release dates pushed back, including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, this year’s race isn’t quite as dominated by the usual Oscar-bait powerhouses. David Fincher’s Mank, a romantic but conflicted depiction of Hollywood’s old studio system, leads the pack with 10 nominations. But, elsewhere, it’s all fairly neck-and-neck – Nomadland, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, and Sound of Metal are all tied in second place with six nominations each.
Here’s what to expect when the Oscars take place on 25 April.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Will win: Nomadland
Should win: Minari
Shoulda got a look-in: One Night in Miami…
Mank may have racked up the most nominations, but that doesn’t necessarily make it this year’s frontrunner. All signs, in fact, point to Nomadland, which burst onto the scene last September at the Venice Film Festival and has been amassing accolades ever since. It’s already won Best Film at the Producers Guild of America Award, one of the best predictors for the Oscars, and became the first film directed by a woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama.
Zhao’s semi-documentarian approach to the life of a van-dwelling, cross-country seasonal worker (Frances McDormand) means Nomadland doesn’t quite fit the traditional image of a Best Picture winner. But the past few years – which have seen Moonlight, Parasite, and The Shape of Water all take the top prize – have started to challenge the very idea of what Oscar bait looks like. If the Academy does fall back on old habits, it will almost certainly pick Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom drama Trial of the Chicago 7, with its cavalcade of worthy speeches. A better runner-up would be Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, a tender invocation of the American dream that feels perfectly suited to these self-reflective times. Excluded entirely was Regina King’s debut, One Night in Miami…, a rousing adaptation of Kemp Powers’s Sixties-set play.
Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Will win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Should win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Shoulda got a look-in: Regina King, One Night in Miami…
Just as Nomadland remains the favourite to win Best Picture, so Chloé Zhao is expected to become the second woman ever to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. It would also make her the first woman of colour to win. Zhao’s voice is present within every corner of her film – she co-produced it, co-wrote it, and edited it. That’s the kind of achievement that surely deserves recognition. Sure, David Fincher is an industry favourite making a film about the industry, but Mank missed out on crucial screenplay and editing nominations – plus Zhao’s own name is on the rise, thanks to a high-profile gig directing Marvel’s superhero team-up Eternals.
Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Will win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Should win: Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Shoulda got a look-in: Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth
There are some fierce performances in this category, so the results could go one of several ways. Carey Mulligan has several critics circle awards to her name, so she’s arguably the safest best here. Plus, this is her second nomination and would mark her first win – for a career-best performance in a powerful film dealing with the complex realities of sexual assault. But then there’s Viola Davis, who won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award, a fairly reliable Oscars predictor, for her electric performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And what about Andra Day, a relative underdog who defied the odds and snagged a Golden Globe? It’s a shame that the allegations surrounding star Shia LaBeouf have (understandably) held back Pieces of a Woman – despite the issues with the film, Vanessa Kirby’s raw and primal turn as a grieving mother deserves to be a part of the conversation. And it would have been wonderful to see Nicole Beharie’s performance in Miss Juneteenth honoured here – it’s a delicate, masterful piece of acting that sees all the joys and woes of motherhood reflected in Beharie’s soft, sad eyes.
Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari
Will win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Shoulda got a look-in: Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
This is another tough category packed with worthy performances. Anthony Hopkins’s turn in The Father, as a man navigating his own dementia, is widely considered one of his best. Sound of Metal sees Riz Ahmed, an actor who’s been wildly underappreciated for much of his career, finally get his dues. And then there’s Chadwick Boseman. It’s hard to see how he won’t win – his performance in the big-screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play, which follows a set of Black musicians in Twenties Chicago, crackles like embers in a fire. He would have always been the favourite, but his death late last August undoubtedly adds a new layer of significance. One thing to note – Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods has been largely shut out of the Oscars, and it’s particularly glaring when it comes to Delroy Lindo’s absence from this category. When the film first came out, his nomination seemed like a sure thing. But, when it comes to the Oscars, a lot can change in a short amount of time.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Will win: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Should win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Shoulda got a look-in: Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
The Best Supporting Actress race has shifted several times in the run-up to the Oscars. Where it once seemed like Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Colman had gained the favour of voters, it now looks likely that either Maria Bakalova or Yuh-Jung Youn will snap up the award. Their performances couldn’t be any more different: Bakalova is the relative unknown who won everyone’s respect by braving the most nightmarish of situations (yes, that moment with Rudy Guliani) and remaining wickedly funny while doing so. Youn, meanwhile, is a veteran of the Korean screen who brought beauty, warmth, and humour to the role of a grandmother who defies expectations. It’s surprising, however, not to see Jodie Foster among this year’s nominees, considering she picked up a Golden Globe for her reliable and strong-willed turn in The Mauritanian. Perhaps it’s not the best of the year, but it seems a more obvious pick than Glenn Close in the much-maligned Hillbilly Elegy.
Actor in a Supporting Role
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
Will win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Should win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Shoulda got a look-in: Alan Kim, Minari
It would have been nice to see eight-year-old Alan Kim honoured here for Minari – it’s always impressive to see a young actor be so present and connected to the emotions of a film. Unfortunately, this category suffered from what can only be called “Oscar shenanigans”. Both Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya were nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, leaving the rest of us to wonder who on earth, then, was the lead in Judas and the Black Messiah? The worry here is that this could end up splitting people’s votes. It would be a terrible mistake, considering Kaluuya’s formidable portrayal of civil rights leader Fred Hampton has not only been a clear favourite in the race so far, it’s also simply one of the best performances of the year.