Oscar nominations 2021: Who’s in for sure – and who may get snubbed

“March Madness” wasn’t coined for this year’s Oscar race, though it certainly seems appropriate.

Even taking out the delays, virtual film-festival season, new rules and other varied havoc wreaked by COVID-19 on the road to the April 25’s Academy Awards, there’s been plenty of chaos with few actual frontrunners. February’sGolden Globes offered some surprise wins – per usual – but the British Academy of Film Television and Arts’ suddenly ultra-diverse pack of nominees (following a whitewashed situation a year ago) made it all a bit more interesting.

Who knows if left-field choices even matter in a time where audiences have barely seen any of the strongest contenders, though it’s certainly made trying to predict who’s getting Oscar nominations Monday morning considerably dicey. It’s not like insanity was going to stop us from making fearless picks anyway.

Let’s look at the six major Oscar categories and break down the contenders from the pretenders:

Oscars 2021: Who’s up, who’s down, and where you can watch this year’s contenders

Will they make history?: 8 names you need to know as the Oscar race heats up

Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, from left) takes a picture of his friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) in "One Night in Miami." (Photo: PATTI PERRET)

Best picture

The best: With Globe and Critics Choice wins, and key Producers Guild and Directors Guild nods, the American road-trip epic “Nomadland” is going to roll right into an easy nomination. Same goes for family story “Minari,” period drama “One Night in Miami,” musical tale “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” and courtroom flick “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – each can boast honors from all four guilds (actors, producers, writers and directors).

The rest: Although the expanded field allows a maximum of 10 best picture nominees, usually, at most nine make it in. Fighting it out for the remaining slots will be “Citizen Kane” origin story “Mank,” innovative deaf-culture drama “Sound of Metal,” 1960s historical piece “Judas and the Black Messiah,” gripping dementia film “The Father” and war movie “Da 5 Bloods.” However, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” might come in dressed like Donald Trump, upend a favorite and have the last laugh.

Chadwick Boseman as self-centered cornet player Levee in Netflix's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." (Photo: DAVID LEE/NETFLIX)


The best: Late “Ma Rainey” star Chadwick Boseman has already picked up Globes and Critics Choice hardware: He’s not only a lock for a nomination, Boseman seems destined to win. The rest of the category will likely be fellow SAG nominees Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Gary Oldman (“Mank”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”). 

The rest: The last time Oscars and SAG overlapped exactly for the lead actor was 2010. And the lack of awards “Mank”-mentum doesn’t help Oldman. If there’s an opening, it probably won’t go to “Borat” star – and Globe winner – Sacha Baron Cohen (who’s a stronger candidate for supporting actor) but instead to either Critics Choice contender Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”) or BAFTA and Globe nominee Tahar Rahim (whose film “The Mauritanian” is picking up steam late). 

Carey Mulligan stars as a clever woman on a quest for vengeance in "Promising Young Woman." (Photo: FOCUS FEATURES)


The best: Critics Choice winner Carey Mulligan (who’s absolutely killer in “Promising Young Woman”) and fellow SAG nominees Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey”) will cruise to nominations. And while she doesn’t have a SAG nod, Andra Day’s best drama actress Globe win for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” should be enough to propel her into a coveted spot, even if she’s a lot better than her period musical drama is.

The rest: Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) has SAG and BAFTA nominations to her credit, Amy Adams (“Hillbilly Elegy”) and Zendaya (“Malcolm & Marie”) could be contenders – even if their movies aren’t at all – but look out for Rosamund Pike, whose Globe win for Netflix’s trendy and irresistibly dark “I Care a Lot” makes her dangerous. 

Daniel Kaluuya (center) plays Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in the historical drama "Judas and the Black Messiah." (Photo: GLEN WILSON)

Supporting actor

The best: Some of us are still sore Daniel Kaluuya didn’t get his first Oscar win for the fabulous “Get Out.” He’s getting another chance, folks: Playing Fred Hampton in “Black Messiah,” Kaluuya is an extremely safe bet after Globe and Critics Choice victories. Expect him to be joined by fellow SAG nominees Cohen (“Chicago 7”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”).

The rest: Shockingly, it’s at least possible Jared Leto (“The Little Things”) pulls a surprise nod as he did with Globes and SAGs. Critics Choice and BAFTA nominee Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) has a better chance, as does Boseman (“Da 5 Bloods”). Boseman would make Oscar history being the first posthumous double nominee.

David (Alan Kim) and his grandma (Yuh-jung Youn) form a close bond in "Minari." (Photo: JOSH ETHAN JOHNSON/A24)

Supporting actress

The best: In the most Wild West category of this year,“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” starMaria Bakalova so far is in the pole position with Globe and Critics Choice wins. Fellow scene-stealer, and BAFTA and SAG nominee, Yuh-jung Youn is riding a wave of love for “Minari” while Olivia Colman – two years removed from a best actress win for “The Favourite” – is great opposite the legendary Hopkins in “The Father.”

The rest: This is where it gets volatile. Jodie Foster of “The Mauritanian” came out of nowhere to win a Globe in her pajamas so she’s a definite threat. Amanda Seyfried was an early favorite for “Mank” but has been losing steam since. Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) is enough of an Oscar darling to push past her critically pilloried movie, while fellow SAG nominee Helena Zengel (who’s 12!) might be on voters’ minds with strong work opposite “News of the World” co-star Tom Hanks. In addition, Ellen Burstyn (“Pieces of a Woman”) is a Hollywood legend who hasn’t had a nod in 20 years and up-and-comer Dominique Fishback (“Black Messiah”) has a BAFTA nod for a movie that’s making the most of a late-season entry. 

Director Chloe Zhao (right) chats with star Frances McDormand on the set of "Nomadland." (Photo: JOSHUA JAMES RICHARDS)


The best: Most of the time, four out of the five names in the filmmaker Oscar nominees line up with the DGA contingent, which is good news for Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”). Zhao would be the first woman of color to earn a best director Oscar nod.

The rest: The bad news forthe luminaries above is the last time DGA and Oscar totally overlapped was 2010, and Fincher might be the most vulnerable with the underperformance of “Mank” so far. If a spot opens up, the strongest candidates are two contenders in the DGA’s first-time filmmaker category – Globe nominee Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Florian Zeller (“The Father”) – while Spike Lee (“Da 5 Bloods”) and Paul Greengrass (“News of the World”) loom as dark horses.

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