2021 Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win in Every Category

Another year, another chance to get a perfect score predicting who will win on Oscars night. (Chalk that up to optimism, not cockiness.) The Academy will finally hand out its little gold men on April 25, months later than usual — due to the worldwide pandemic — and officially bringing 2021’s never-ending awards season to an end.

So, who will win? Here are ET’s predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards in all 23 categories, from Best Picture right on down to the shorts. My guesses are based on who’s been winning with the guilds and other precursor awards shows, as well as deciphering the ever-changing favor of Academy voters. Although, in an awards season like no other, there’s still plenty of room for surprises. If everything goes according to plan, though — and by plan, I mean my predictions — this could be a historic Oscars.

Best Picture

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
Minari
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: Minari
Who will win: Nomadland

Has a Best Picture race ever felt like such a done deal? Even in years where there’s been an obvious frontrunner, there was still some room for surprise come Oscars night. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year, where Nomadland is so primed to win that if any other film were read off, we would say, “Why do they keep letting Warren Beatty present Best Picture?!”

Chloé Zhao’s resilient road movie became the first film to ever win both Venice’s Golden Lion Award and the Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, the latter heralding it as one to watch come awards season. Then Nomadland won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award and, most important, Producers Guild Award, and it became the only one to watch. I love Nomadland, but even I’m a bit surprised it’s so far and away the only choice, especially up against the achingly beautiful Minari, which envelops you like a warm hug and makes you feel like everything might be OK after all.

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

Who should win: Chadwick Boseman
Who will win: Chadwick Boseman

The surest sure thing at this year’s Oscars is that Chadwick Boseman will win his first Oscar, and rightfully so: That the late actor will win posthumously gives the honor an extra poignancy, but don’t let that cloud the fact that he deserves it, having acted the house down in Ma Rainey. With this final performance, Boseman left it all onscreen. He’s won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award and SAG Award already, now he will complete his set with an Oscar.

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

Who should win: Carey Mulligan
Who will win: Viola Davis or Carey Mulligan

I’m sorry, dear reader, to not give you one definitive pick here, but this race feels too close to call. Most years, a clear frontrunner will have emerged after pulling off consecutive wins at a number of precursor awards shows, but, this year, Viola Davis got the SAG Award, Andra Day won at the Golden Globes and Carey Mulligan took Critics Choice, while Vanessa Kirby and Frances McDormand were the only two to earn BAFTA nominations.

If you look to SAG as the decisive predictor, then this is Davis’ to lose. (Which would be historic, the first time in Oscars’ history all four acting winners were people of color.) My bet remains on Mulligan, though, who has yet to win an Academy Award (unlike Davis and McDormand) and who delivers a singular performance, flexing every single actorly muscle she’s got (and some we didn’t know she had) right up until the end.

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

Who should win: Daniel Kaluuya
Who will win: Daniel Kaluuya

It must be said, Paul Raci is the only nominee this year who is actually supporting. But some category fudging aside — nothing new at the Oscars — Daniel Kaluuya is the clear pick to win, having clinched the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award and SAG Award. The movie is basically an acting showcase for Kaluuya, and playing Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, he expertly balances the showier monologues of Hampton the revolutionary with the more vulnerable moments of Hampton the man. (I wouldn’t worry too much about the possibility of Kaluuya splitting votes with Judas co-star Lakeith Stanfield, since the latter’s inclusion in the category remains a head-scratcher.)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Who should win: Yuh-Jung Youn
Who will win: Yuh-Jung Youn

What once felt like this year’s most difficult race to predict now feels fairly settled. Initially, it appeared Amanda Seyfried was the frontrunner, but then she missed at SAG and stumbled in the standings. So, perhaps it would be Maria Bakalova then, who indubitably generated the most headlines for her performance, taking on a real-world villain in Rudy Giuliani. But what of the legendary Glenn Close or Academy darling Olivia Colman, could either sneak in at the last second?

No. Yuh-Jung Youn winning the SAG Award (and giving the night’s most delightful acceptance speech) has ended this debate, setting her up to become the first Korean actor to ever win an Academy Award. (Notably, Close would then tie Peter O’Toole’s record for most nominations without a win. Next time!)

Directing

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Who should win: Chloé Zhao
Who will win: Chloé Zhao

Best Picture and Best Director don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but when the Picture winner is as much a filmmaker’s film as Nomadland is, Chloé Zhao will surely collect a little gold man as its director ahead of taking the night’s top honor. (She’s swept the awards circuit thus far.) Zhao’s film is exquisitely cinematic and deeply human, and she not only directs an Oscar-worthy turn from star Frances McDormand but equally touching performances from her cast of non-professional actors and real-world nomads. When she wins, she will become only the second female winner in Oscars history (after Kathryn Bigelow in 2010), and the first Asian woman to win Best Director.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman & Lee Kern
The Father, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers
The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani

Who should win: The Father or One Night in Miami
Who will win: Nomadland

The Writers Guild Awards are hardly a guarantee of how the Academy will cast its vote, though it’s smart to consult the guild’s winners in crystal balling the Oscars. (Last year, both Jojo Rabbit and Parasite won with the WGA and went on to win at the Oscars.) The heavily improvised Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which tallies a whopping eight writers, won the WGA, but due to guild rules, neither Nomadland nor The Father were even in contention. I predict the former — which, while sparse in dialogue, does impressively adapt its non-fiction source material — will collect another W here.

I would love to see Florian Zeller (with co-writer Christopher Hampton) or Kemp Powers pull off an upset here, each having adapted their own plays and managing to avoid the final film feeling like a recorded stage show, while still holding onto all those exquisitely crafted monologues. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Powers, who had a helluva year having written both One Night in Miami and Soul.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Berson & Shaka King
Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal, Darius Marder & Abraham Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin

Who should win: Promising Young Woman
Who will win: Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell, meanwhile, won the WGA — and the CCA — giving her the frontrunner edge in a field that is almost entirely auteurs. The Academy loves a writer-director, and the fact that Fennell collected a Best Director nomination too will serve her well here with voters who want to see her win something for executing her uncompromised vision in Promising Young Woman. (The heaviest hitter in the race, Aaron Sorkin, was notably snubbed in Directing.) Fennell would be the first woman to win this category since Diablo Cody in 2008, and never before have female screenwriters won both categories.

Animated Feature Film

Onward
Over the Moon
A Shawn the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Soul
Wolfwalkers

Who should win: Wolfwalkers
Who will win: Soul

It takes a special sort of movie to dethrone Disney and Pixar in the animation race — it’s only happened twice in the last decade, the most recent being Into the Spider-Verse in 2019 — and Wolfwalkers could be that movie. It is wholly original, with imaginative style and a charming story at its heart. Unfortunately, it hasn’t ginned up the sort of Spider-Verse-level fervor needed to elbow its way to the front of the pack. Instead, Soul, which is original in its own way and similarly moving, will take the cake, having already won every other animated award this year.

Documentary (Feature)

Collective
Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher
Time

Who should win: Time
Who will win: Time

The documentary branches was snubapalooza this year (with would-be nominees such as Boys State, Dick Johnson Is Dead, The Truffle Hunters and Welcome to Chechnya ending up won’t-be nominees), which should have narrowed the field. But this feels like a toss-up between My Octopus Teacher (a late-breaking crowd-pleaser about filmmaker Craig Foster’s interactions with the titular sea creature, which won the PGA) and Time, Garrett Bradley’s critically acclaimed, sprawling portrait of love against the prison industrial complex. For me, Time was not only the best documentary of last year, but the best film, period, so I’m holding out hope it will come through in the end.

Documentary (Short Subject)

Colette
A Concerto Is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

Who should win: A Concerto Is a Conversation
Who will win: A Concerto Is a Conversation

The short doc contenders are a small but powerful bunch, each spotlighting its worthy cause be it gun violence or 2019’s anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong. Do Not Split, which documents the latter, is perhaps the most discussed contender at the moment, considering China allegedly banned the Oscars over its nomination.

That said, I expect this race is between A Concerto Is a Conversation (New York Times Op-Docs’ short about a Black pianist tracking his family’s lineage to the Jim Crow South) and A Love Song for Latasha, Netflix’s ode to Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old girl whose death helped ignite the 1992 L.A. uprising. A Love Song has timeliness on its side — not to mention that Netflix has two recent wins in this category — but I predict the win will go to A Concerto, which is the uplifting tearjerker of the five.

International Feature Film

Another Round (Denmark)
Better Days (Hong Kong)
Collective (Romania)
The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Who should win: Another Round
Who will win: Another Round

This category was signed, sealed and ready to be delivered to Another Round when its director, Thomas Vinterberg, landed a surprise Best Director nomination over helmers of this year’s Best Pictures. Clearly, the Academy liked his Danish dramedy, about a group of friends drinking their way through mid-life crisis. As they should, it’s an incredible film. I’m going to use an added coulda, woulda, shoulda to recommend everyone watch Collective, which is recognized here and in Best Documentary. It’s a tough watch — about the Romanian government’s disastrous handling of a national tragedy — but watch, you must.

Film Editing

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

Who should win: The Father
Who will win: Sound of Metal

While Academy voters occasionally default to most editing when casting their ballot (remember Bohemian Rhapsody?), we’ve got ourselves a neck-and-neck race. There’s a part of me that wants to say Chloé Zhao’s name recognition in editing her own film might upset here, but I predict this category will come down to Sound of Metal versus The Trial of the Chicago 7. I’m opting for the former — with Mikkel E.G. Nielsen’s editing skillfully pairing with the movie’s audacious sound design — but were I the sole voter, I would present it to The Father‘s Yorgos Lamprinos, who deftly creates a necessary sense of imbalance in the very structure of the film.

Cinematography

Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
News of the World
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: Nomadland
Who will win: Nomadland

Earmark another award for Nomadland. While so much about the Oscars is subjective, there’s little debate to be had here: Nomadland is by far the prettiest movie of the bunch, thanks to director of photography Joshua James Richards’ naturalistic yet complex cinematography of magic hour panoramas. (If anyone were to spoil, look to Mank‘s Erik Messerschmidt, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)

Sound

Greyhound
Mank
News of the World
Soul
Sound of Metal

Who should win: Sound of Metal
Who will win: Sound of Metal

Gone are the days of deciphering the differences between sound mixing and sound editing and remembering which favors war movies and which musicals. Beginning this year, the Academy is combining them into one category: Best Sound. This one is a gimme, as anything other than Sound of Metal winning would be nonsensical — and not just because the category is literally right there in the title. The film, about a rock musician losing his hearing, is such an immersive audio experience that if it were to only to win one Oscar all night, it should be for its sound design.

Music (Original Score)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=-Xnu1aCyx5I%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Da 5 Bloods
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Soul

Who should win: Soul
Who will win: Soul

Emile Mosseri’s score for Minari is gorgeous, if you haven’t given it a listen yet. Still, I can’t see how Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste don’t win for their collaboration on Soul. The Academy clearly responded to Reznor and Ross’ work this year — they’re dual nominees, also responsible for the music in Mank — and with Soul, voters also get to award a virtuoso jazz pianist in Batiste. (Their score previously won this category at the Globes and CCA.) The Oscar win will be Batiste’s first, and Reznor and Ross’ first since winning for The Social Network in 2011.

Music (Original Song)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=1vAvQ9Um8hQ%3Ffeature%3Doembed

“Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah
“Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“lo Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

Who should win: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Who will win: One Night in Miami

What Eurovision manages to pull off — walking the line of parody and homage, full of campiness and genuine heart — is nothing short of a feat, and it’s best summed up in the movie’s climactic, show-stopping ballad, with its sweeping anthemic lyrics and Will Ferrell backing vocals. It’s also catchy as hell. (No surprise, as “Húsavík” hails from Rickard Göransson, Fat Max Gsus and Savan Kotecha, who have written for some of the biggest pop stars in the world.)

I expect a number of Academy voters will gravitate toward a more serious-mined original song, and “Speak Now” offers a chance to recognize Leslie Odom Jr., who is only the fourth person to earn a song and acting nomination in the same year. (He’s also up for Best Supporting Actor.) One Night in Miami didn’t get as much Oscars recognition as I expected, but if it wins here, it won’t walk away empty-handed.

Costume Design

Emma
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Mulan
Pinocchio

Who should win: Emma
Who will win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

How you could look at Alexandra Byrne’s eye-catching yet Regency-accurate spin on Jane Austen in Emma and not throw the little gold man her way is beyond me. (And you thought Anya Taylor-Joy couldn’t be dressed better than she was in The Queen’s Gambit!) I predict Ann Roth will take home the statuette for her work on Ma Rainey, however, which will make history: At 89, she will tie Call Me By Your Name screenwriter James Ivory as the oldest Oscar winner in Academy Awards history.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Emma
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Pinocchio

Who should win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Who will win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

In truth, I would have loved to see some of the more fanciful shortlisted options make the cut, like Jingle Jangle or Birds of Prey. (If Suicide Squad can win this category, the superior Birds of Prey could at least get a nomination.) Pinocchio fits that mold, but it will surely prove appealing and off-putting to voters in equal parts. The wigs in Hillbilly Elegy, meanwhile, were certainly a topic of conversation, but not necessarily in the way you’d want. So, of the period pieces, I’m giving Ma Rainey the edge, for assisting Davis in delivering a Best Actress-making transformation.

Production Design

The Father
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
News of the World
Tenet

Who should win: The Father
Who will win: Mank

Peter Francis does something pretty outstanding with The Father: Because the film is told from the disoriented perspective of a man with dementia, the sets themselves are constantly shifting and changing — the production design evolving beyond setting and becoming a key storytelling device. That gets my vote. Then again, Don Burt meticulously recreated freaking Hearst Castle for Mank, which isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. I expect the Academy won’t be able to resist the return to the Golden Age of Hollywood that Burt crafted.

Visual Effects

Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
The One and Only Ivan
Tenet

Who should win: Tenet
Who will win: Tenet

Say what you will about Tenet, with its incomprehensible plot and even more incomprehensible rollout, but you can’t say it didn’t look cool. The One and Only Ivan has some of the best animal CGI in recent memory and The Midnight Sky does outer space VFX work at the highest level, but Tenet hangs its hat on the gee whiz factor of its effects shots — even if Christopher Nolan claims there aren’t all that many. I wonder, too, if Nolan’s impassioned stumping to save the theatrical release even amid a global pandemic will earn him favor with some streaming-opposed voters, which could give him the extra edge.

Short Film (Animated)

Burrow
Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You
Opera
Yes-People

Who should win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Who will win: If Anything Happens I Love You

Safe money says when it doubt, go with the Disney or Pixar short. This year, that’s the fluffy — both in content and critters — but sweet Burrow, which has both its brevity (at six minutes, it’s the shortest of the nominees) and pedigree going for it. If Anything Happens I Love You should and will win, however, an affecting story of grief told via hand-drawn animation, about parents haunted by ghosts of their former selves as they grapple with losing their child to gun violence. Tragically, the short has only become more urgent since its release. (You can watch it now on Netflix.)

Short Film (Live Action)

Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers
White Eye

Who should win: Feeling Through
Who will win: The Letter Room

The shorts categories are notoriously difficult to predict, especially when a case could be made for any one to win: The Present has the backing of Netflix; White Eye is executed in an impressive 20-minute single take; and Two Distant Strangers is both timely (it was inspired by the George Floyd protests) and inventive (it’s set in a time loop), starring rapper Joey Bada$$ and produced by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Adam McKay and NBA star Kevin Durant.

My personal pick is Feeling Through, which centers on a homeless youth assisting a DeafBlind stranger and features a genuinely affecting performance by Steven Prescod. But in screening this year’s selection of shorts — some of which are upwards of 30 minutes — Academy voters will likely be drawn to The Letter Room, which stars a bona fide movie star in Oscar Isaac. (If not The Letter Room, I expect Two Distant Strangers will take this.)

If you want ET’s predictions in one quick and easy list, here you go:

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Best Director: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Best Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao

Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

Best Animated Film: Soul

Best Documentary: Time

Best International Film: Another Round

Best Editing: Sound of Metal

Best Cinematography: Nomadland

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Best Documentary Short: A Concerto Is a Conversation

Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Live Action Short: The Letter Room

The 2021 Oscars air live on Sunday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC. In the meantime, stay tuned to ETonline.com for complete Oscars coverage.

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