Oscars 2021 predictions: From 'Nomadland' to Chadwick Boseman and 'Soul'

Who will win from the Academy’s most diverse awards line-up to date?

From left: Chadwick Boseman, Chloe Zhao and Olivia Colman are frontrunners for the Oscars they're nominated for. Reuters, EPA
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The Oscars has done its best to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on this year's awards. The delay to next Sunday was intended to maximise the number of films submitted after a year of closed cinemas and increase the chances of a "normal" ceremony.

It has been announced that the event, which will take place at Los Angeles's cavernous Union Station, will feel more like a movie than a TV show. It will feature a much smaller red carpet and a downsized guest list.

However, despite efforts to make it happen, this year's awards seem destined to be forever subtitled "the pandemic Oscars" after cinema as we know it ceased to exist.

That does not mean there haven't been some great films released – we just haven't had to go as far to watch them. With five of this year's eight Best Picture nominees debuting either exclusively or, alongside a limited cinema release, on streaming platforms, the pandemic could deliver the most coveted Oscar of all for an online platform.

Here are our predictions for this unusual year’s top prizes.

Best Picture

Netflix and company have struggled to be treated as equals by the Academy Awards, but with cinemas incapacitated for the past year and streaming sites riding to the rescue, the Oscars have had little choice but to welcome them with open arms.

David Fincher's Mank could win over the Academy's Netflix sceptics with its reminiscences of Hollywood's golden era, but in terms of buzz, Chloe Zhao's Nomadland looks like the front runner. The film has already picked up the equivalent Golden Globe and Bafta, and the fact it hit a few cinemas alongside its Hulu release could please purist voters.

Lee Isaac Chung's Minari has an outside chance of pulling off a surprise, but two South Korea-linked Best Picture winners in a row may be too many, even for a diversity-hungry Academy Awards.

The other nominations are making up the numbers.

Prediction: Nomadland

Frances McDormand, left, and Swankie appear in a scene from "Nomadland." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)
Frances McDormand, left, and Swankie appear in a scene from 'Nomadland.'  AP

Best Director

It's hard to see anyone but Zhao landing the director's gong, particularly if Nomadland rightly takes Best Picture. The positive publicity generated by this year's surprise two female nominees for Best Director won't have gone unnoticed by positive-­headline-starved Academy voters.

With three features under her belt to date, Zhao also comes with a degree of directorial gravitas that Promising Young Woman's debutante director Emerald Fennell lacks.

There should be no suspicion of tokenism if Zhao does win, either. She made the best film of the past year, and she'll fully deserve to take her place alongside Kathryn Bigelow to become only the second woman to have picked up this award in the Academy's 93-year history.

Prediction: Chloe Zhao

FILE - Chloe Zhao poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 22, 2018. Zhao was nominated for a Golden Globe for best director on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 for her work on "Nomadland."  “Nomadland” has won four prizes, including best picture, at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday, April 11, 2021. The film’s director, Chloe Zhao, became only the second woman to win the best director trophy, and star Frances McDormand was named best actress. “Nomadland” also took the cinematography prize on Sunday. Emerald Fennell’s revenge comedy “Promising Young Woman” was named best British film, while the best actor trophy went to 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins for playing a man grappling with dementia in “The Father.” An event that was criticized in the recent past with the label #BAFTAsSoWhite rewarded a diverse group of talents, during a pandemic-curbed ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)
Chloe Zhao won a Bafta for Best Director for 'Nomadland'. AP

Best Actor

After a torrid few years of criticism over its white, male nominees, the Oscars PR team must have done cartwheels when they saw this year's Best Actor nominees. Not a single white American makes the list, with Chadwick Boseman, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun leading the diversity charge.

Gary Oldman and Sir Anthony Hopkins are, admittedly, white, but they're also British. Diversity of sorts?

In any other year this would be an incredibly difficult call, with sterling performances all round. But with Boseman's untimely death from colon cancer last year giving added poignancy to his heart-rending performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, it's hard to envisage any scenario other than a posthumous award for the star.

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 24, 2019 US actor Chadwick Boseman poses in the press room during the 2019 American Music Awards at the Microsoft theatre in Los Angeles. Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last August, was posthumously voted best actor for 1920s blues drama "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by Hollywood's actors guild during the virtual SAG awards on April 4, 2021. / AFP / Valerie MACON
Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last August, was posthumously voted best actor for 1920s blues drama 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' by Hollywood's actors guild during the virtual Sag awards on April 4, 2021. AFP

Best Actress

Another strong field, this time with no extenuating circumstances to make choosing a winner any easier.

Nomadland's Frances McDormand is probably a slight favourite and could add to her Oscars for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Viola Davis will run her close for the prize, though, and with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom surprisingly omitted from the Best Picture list, some voters may feel the urge to make amends here.

Andra Day can't be written off after picking up the Golden Globe for her role in The United States vs Billie Holiday, while Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby seem to be outsiders, albeit deserved ones.

Prediction: Frances McDormand

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Frances McDormand in a scene from the film "Nomadland." Chloe Zhao’s film received seven British Film Academy Awards nominations on Tuesday. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)
This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Frances McDormand in a scene from the film 'Nomadland', which is up for six Oscars. AP

Best Supporting Actor

To receive two nominations in the same category says a lot about the quality of a film (it last happened in 2018, when Sam Rockwell beat co-star Woody Harrelson for his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).

On that basis, we are making this a two-horse race between Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, who are both nominated for their performance in Judas and the Black Messiah. Of the two, Kaluuya probably edges it, and the Golden Globes judges seemingly thought so, too, when they gave him their award last month.

Sacha Baron Cohen has an outside chance, having proved he can do much more than comedy with his role in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from "Judas and the Black Messiah." (Glen Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
This image released by Warner Bros Pictures shows Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from 'Judas and the Black Messiah'. AP

Best Supporting Actress

If this award were based on headlines generated, Maria Bakalova would have already collected it for her Rudy Giuliani-­baiting turn in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm. Lewd, part-improvised comedy isn't usually the kind of thing the Academy rewards, however, so we'll have to look elsewhere for our winner.

Glenn Close, who is nominated for Hillbilly Elegy, is surely due an Oscar – she is the most nominated actress ever to have not picked up an award – but plenty of people noted that when she received her seventh nomination for The Wife two years ago. Her 2019 conquerer, Olivia Colman, is up against her again this year, so could history repeat itself?

Amanda Seyfried could benefit from nostalgia-loving voters wanting to award Mank something, while Minari's Youn Yuh-Jung seems an outsider among the big names.
Prediction: Olivia Colman

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Olivia Colman in a scene from "The Father.". (Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)
Olivia Colman in a scene from 'The Father', in which she stars opposite legendary actor Anthony Hopkins. AP

Best of the rest

In terms of regional interest, Farah Nabulsi's The Present seems most likely to bring an award to the Arab world in the Live Action Short category.

Kaouther Ben Hania's The Man Who Sold His Skin is in the mix for Best International Feature, but it's competing with Best Director-nominated Thomas Vinterberg's Mads Mikkelsen-starring Another Round, so may face an uphill struggle.

Disney's Soul will add to its Best Animated Feature Globe, and Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will take Best Score for the same film.

Oscar nominations in key categories:

Best Picture


Promising Young Woman


The Trial of the Chicago 7


Judas and the Black Messiah

The Father

Sound of Metal

Best Director

Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)

Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)

Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)

Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)

David Fincher (Mank)

Best Actor
Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

Steven Yeun (Minari)

Gary Oldman (Mank)

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)

Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

Best Actress
Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)

Andra Day (The United States vs Billie Holiday)

Best Supporting Actor

LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami)

Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)

Best Supporting Actress

Amanda Seyfried (Mank)

Olivia Colman (The Father)

Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)

Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)

Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)