oscar futures

Oscar Futures: Our Last, Best Guess at the Nominations

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by Amazon Studios, Netflix, Warner Bros, A24, Focus Features and Searchlight Pictures

The never-ending (or, depending on your perspective, never-beginning) Oscar season finally comes to a head on Monday: After a two-month extension to the eligibility window, March 15 will bring the nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards. It’s been a long, hard road, full of elegies and monologues, and everything’s been shaken up in the last week. As nomination voting began, industry groups containing actual Oscar voters made their favorites known — first the PGA and DGA, and then the BAFTAs, who threw everything into disarray. For the first time, the Brits’ acting and directing categories were voted on by 10-to-12-person juries, which means that, as far as precursors go, we should take those nominations with an entire fry-up’s worth of salt. Meanwhile, the Critics Choice Awards shined a last-minute spotlight on some deserving contenders.

So, after all that, who are we picking? Our choices in the top six categories are below:

Best Picture

The Father
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Producers Guild nominations are to the Best Picture field what chopping up an onion is to most recipes — the base you start with before you add your own spice. The PGAs nominate ten films every year, and we can usually expect seven or eight of them to crack the Oscar lineup, and maybe one or two who missed out at PGA to sneak back in. Of this year’s nominees, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 feel like our top-tier contenders, and acting vehicles Ma Rainey and One Night in Miami will get in thanks to love from the Academy’s largest branch. That brings us to seven. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an obvious pick as the first PGA nominee to go, but who takes its place? The PGA skews more populist than Oscar does, so Soul and News of the World both missing there likely counts them out. But late-breaker The Father rebounded from its snubs from the producers and editors guilds by cleaning up at the BAFTA noms, which seems to indicate enough international support to become our eighth.

In the interest of spreading the wealth, let’s assume we’ll get nine nominees this year, with the race coming down to the two PGA titles left: Judas and the Black Messiah, and Sound of Metal. While Judas is the more likely of the pair to bag an acting trophy, Metal has been racking up the guild nominations all week, which gives it the edge for me.

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
David Fincher, Mank
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

I’ve gone with the same fivesome the DGA chose, which is hardly automatic: The guild and the Academy rarely overlap exactly in their choices. But these are our top five Best Picture contenders, and while there is a chance Sorkin gets snubbed by a directors branch that tends to prefer an auteur over solid, unflashy filmmaking, the three first-timers most likely to replace him — One Night in Miami’s Regina King, Sound of Metal’s Darius Marder, and The Father’s Florian Zeller — share the same disadvantage. If you want a dark horse, consider Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg, a celebrated European who could appeal to a branch that’s more global than most.

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian
Steven Yeun, Minari

Ahmed, Boseman, and Hopkins have made it in everywhere, but the other two Actor spots are up for grabs. Mank’s Gary Oldman was a Globe and SAG nominee, but the Herman Mankiewicz biopic has missed a few key noms recently, and considering the Academy already gave Oldman his Oscar a few years ago, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was our unexpected snub on nomination morning. I’m bullish on Minari, so Yeun gets one of the open seats for leading its ensemble, and the last spot goes to Rahim’s turn as a Gitmo prisoner in The Mauritanian, which followed up its Globes success by performing shockingly well at the non-juried BAFTA categories.

Best Actress

Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

All season long we wondered which wild-card performer would nab the fifth seat in Best Actress. Andra Day’s surprise Globes win over the other women listed above locked her in for that spot, and as contenders like Amy Adams and Zendaya have seen their films fade, I don’t think any of the core four are in danger, either. (I wouldn’t put too much stock in Mulligan’s snub at the BAFTAs, which seems like the kind of random result you occasionally get with a jury system.)

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Alan Kim, Minari
Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

No one got a bigger boost during Oscar voting than 8-year-old Alan Kim, who capped off a string of charming media appearances with a tearful acceptance speech at the Critics Choice Awards last weekend. Then he got a BAFTA nom, which, jury or not, might have swayed Academy members hesitant about joining his corner. Was it enough to help him break through in a category where Jacob Tremblay quite literally came up short? I’m betting so, since Minari has more Best Picture heat than Room did, and Kim was in many ways the face of its campaign. (Call it the Marina de Tavira rule.) He joins our trio of locks — Cohen, Kaluuya, and Odom Jr. — but with Da 5 Bloods stumbling and Chadwick Boseman certain to win the lead category, I suspect the late actor will not be among them here. Instead, voters will recognize Raci, a critics’ fave who was shut out of the major precursors, but finally gets his due when the Academy can’t bring itself to nominate Jared Leto for saying “tacos” weird.

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

She’s back! I’d been wary in recent weeks of Bakalova’s chances of pulling a Melissa McCarthy, so what changed? Borat getting a PGA nomination helped, as did her Critics Choice win and BAFTA nom, which might have reassured voters that the Bulgarian newcomer was indeed “Oscar-y” enough. Furthermore, Mank’s blank in BAFTA’s Best Picture category has me dropping pundits’ early-season frontrunner Amanda Seyfried, as I’m increasingly convinced the Academy will consider it a purely technical achievement. And Colman and Foster both get in, thus spurring vivid memories of past trauma for fellow nominee Glenn Close.

Oscar Futures: Our Last, Best Guess at the Nominations