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The Trophy Hunter: 93rd Oscars Ballot

| Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Jackie Junco | The Observer

This Sunday’s 93rd Academy Awards will cap one of the strangest, most turbulent years in recent movie history. To celebrate, I’ll complete my Trophy Hunter series with a final Oscar ballot. A combination of streaming and screenings, both in-person and virtual, allowed me to see every feature and short nominated this year. Last year’s ballot found me going 20-for-24 overall (I underestimated the power of “Ford vs. Ferrari,” at my own peril). Hopefully, I’ll do even better this year. Below, you’ll find my picks for who will win and should win each category.


Best Picture

Nominees: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “Nomadland”

Should Win: “Minari”

This has solidified into a three-movie race, with “Nomadland” serving as a clear front-runner alongside hopefuls “Minari” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Chloe Zhao’s low-key docudrama would be one of the smallest Best Picture winners ever, continuing a years-long Oscars drift away from big-budget, mainstream successes. Whether or not a presumptive “Nomadland” win will serve as another indicator of this trend or merely a COVID-aided blip remains to be seen. 

“Nomadland” has been the favorite in this category since its festival premieres last year, leaving smaller paths to victory for its competitors. The easy-to-love, hard-to-hate “Minari” could benefit from the weighted ballot for Best Picture, which asks voters to rank their choices rather than select an outright winner. If “Minari” snags the second spot on enough ballots, it could surge past “Nomadland.” 

A “Chicago 7” win would happen solely because of the Academy’s largest voting body: actors, whose ranks also comprise a sizable portion of the SAG group that gave “Chicago 7” its top prize in the lead-up to Oscar night. Aaron Sorkin’s pedantic polemic is the kind of movie that has found success at the Oscars before — particularly in the acting categories — and could overcome Sorkin’s lack of a Best Director nod to win Best Picture. 

At this point, however, wins for “Minari” or “Chicago 7” would constitute massive upsets. Look for “Nomadland” to come away with the biggest award of the night. 


Best Director

Nominees: Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari;” Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman;” David Fincher, “Mank;” Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round;” Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”

Will Win: Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”

Should Win: Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”

Any potential split between Picture and Director — steadily more common before last year’s “Parasite” sweep — will be decided in the former category. Zhao has this locked up, crowning one of the oddest directorial career arcs in years. She’ll win a Best Director Oscar for only her third feature film, before being assimilated into the Marvel Borg with this year’s “Eternals.” 


Best Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees: 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: Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Should Win: Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

This is the most fascinating above-the-line race of the night, with four potential winners and plenty of history-making potential among the five nominees. Mulligan (Critics’ Choice), McDormand (BAFTAs), Day (Golden Globes) and Davis (SAG) have split the Oscar precursor awards. (Apologies to first time nominee Kirby, who does genuinely heart wrenching work in the otherwise blasé “Pieces of a Woman.”) Wins for McDormand or Davis would place them in historical company: McDormand would tie Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep for most Best Actress Oscars with three and Davis would become the first Black actress to win two Oscars. 

While all four have a chance at winning, Davis’ win at SAG is the most indicative of Oscar success, which is good news. Her eponymous turn in “Ma Rainey’s” was the performance of the year, all wounded confidence and fiery mettle. Her win would set “Ma Rainey’s” to become the first movie to win both Best Actress and Best Actor since 1998’s “As Good As It Gets,” which leads me to …


Best Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: 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” 

… The easiest-to-predict category of the Oscars. Boseman has been penciled in as the winner here since “Ma Rainey’s” became available on Netflix, and with good reason. The closest comparison for Boseman here is Heath Ledger’s work in “The Dark Knight:” a posthumous award for a performance that is at once a career-best and an indicator of what could (and should) have been. 


Best Actress in a Supporting Role

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

Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”

Should Win: Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”

While this category spent the first half of Oscar season trading momentum among a handful of nominees, it has since coalesced around BAFTA and SAG winner Yuh-Jung. The only upset to watch out for here is Glenn Close’s somnambulant “Hillbilly Elegy” performance. Close probably won’t break her (frankly unbelievable) 0-for-8 Oscar streak here — but if she does, the win would join Al Pacino and “Scent of a Woman” in the ignoble history of makeup Oscars. 


Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: 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”

If the makeup Oscar is the worst kind of Oscar nonsense, then a move like nominating both of a film’s lead actors in the Supporting category is the best kind. Together, Stanfield and Kaluuya elevate “Judas and the Black Messiah” beyond its overly cautious script. Kaluuya just might be the most exciting young actor working in Hollywood today, and a win here would cement that status. 


Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “The Father,” “Nomadland,” “One Night in Miami,” “The White Tiger”

Will Win: “Nomadland”

Should Win: “The Father”


Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “Promising Young Woman”

Should Win: “Minari”


Best Cinematography

Nominees: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “Nomadland”

Should Win: “Mank”


Best Costume Design

Nominees: “Emma,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “Mulan,” “Pinocchio”

Will Win: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Should Win: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”


Best Editing

Nominees: “The Father,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Will Win: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Should Win: “Sound of Metal” 


Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Nominees: “Emma,” “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “Pinocchio”

Will Win: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Should Win: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”


Best Production Design

Nominees: “The Father,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Tenet”

Will Win: “Mank”

Should Win: “Mank”


Best Score

Nominees: “Da 5 Bloods,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “News of the World,” “Soul”

Will Win: “Soul”

Should Win: “Mank”

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are double-nominated this year, and while a win for “Soul” seems preordained, the classical Hollywood allusion of their “Mank” score is probably the strongest work in this category. 


Best Original Song

Nominees: “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah;” “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7;” “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest;” “Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead;” “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”

Will Win: “Speak Now”

Should Win: “Husavik”


Best Sound 

Nominees: “Greyhound,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Soul,” “Sound of Metal”

Will Win: “Sound of Metal”

Should Win: “Sound of Metal”

The Oscars did away with the two sound categories — Sound Editing and Sound Mixing — this year, opting to instead combine them into a single award. This not only ignores the important distinctions between the two practices, but also refuses to award two different films which have superlative work in one but not both of the categories. (Case in point: last year’s categories, which were split between “1917” and “Ford vs. Ferrari.”) “Sound of Metal”’s ingeniously mixed audio will win this year, but “Soul” should’ve had a chance to be rewarded for its creatively-designed soundscapes. 


Best Visual Effects

Nominees: “Love and Monsters,” “The Midnight Sky,” “Mulan,” “The One and Only Ivan,” “Tenet”

Will Win: “Tenet”

Should Win: “Tenet”

There are some fun nominees here — the charming and underseen gorilla flick “The One and Only Ivan” chief among them — but would-be blockbuster “Tenet” has this one in the bag thanks to Christopher Nolan’s emphasis on mixing practical and computer-generated effects. 


Best Animated Feature

Nominees: “Onward,” “Over the Moon,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” “Soul,” “Wolfwalkers”

Will Win: “Soul”

Should Win: “Soul”


Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: “Collective,” “Crip Camp,” “The Mole Agent,” “My Octopus Teacher,” “Time”

Will Win: “My Octopus Teacher”

Should Win: “Time”

The recent documentary boom has produced some fantastic movies — “The Act of Killing,” “Apollo 11,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — which nevertheless went unrecognized by the Academy. True to form, the same Oscars branch that ignored “Hoop Dreams” neglected to nominate some of 2020’s best films in favor of a movie where a man talks to an octopus. “My Octopus Teacher,” Netflix’s sleeper (and sleepy) hit, is the presumptive winner here over “Collective,” “Time” and outright snub “Boys State.” To say this would be a bad call on the Academy’s part would be an understatement. At its best, documentary filmmaking reframes the world around us, shining a light on under told and under sung stories. “My Octopus Teacher” doesn’t do any of that; it just makes you root against an endangered species so that the movie will end. Justice for “Boys State,” the best movie I saw in 2020.  


Best International Film

Nominees: “Another Round,” “Better Days,” “Collective,” “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” “Quo Vadis, Aida?”

Will Win: “Another Round”

Should Win: “Another Round”


Best Animated Short

Nominees: “Burrow,” “Genius Loci,” “If Anything Happens I Love You,” “Opera,” “Yes-People”

Will Win: “If Anything Happens I Love You”

Should Win: “If Anything Happens I Love You”


Best Documentary Short

Nominees: “Colette,” “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” “Do Not Split,” “Hunger Ward,” “A Love Song for Latasha”

Will Win: “A Love Song for Latasha”

Should Win: “A Love Song for Latasha”


Best Live Action Short

Nominees: “Feeling Through,” “The Letter Room,” “The Present,” “Two Distant Strangers,” “White Eye”

Will Win: “Two Distant Strangers”

Should Win: “The Letter Room”

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