Oscar predictions 2021: It’s a year of underdogs and overachievers

Even as ‘Nomadland’ and Chadwick Boseman seem virtually unbeatable, some upsets can’t be ruled out.

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The late Chadwick Boseman (pictured accepting a trophy on behalf of Taraji P. Henson at the 2018 NAACP Image Awards) is all but a lock to win the best actor Oscar.

Maury Phillips/Getty Images

With the Oscars just around the corner, here’s a question for you: What do the following movies have in common?

“Blade Runner” (1982)

“Catch Me If You Can” (2002)

“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003)

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

“Hail, Caesar!” (2016)

“The Italian Job” (2003)

“Pearl Harbor” (2001)

No, they’re not all Academy Award winners — “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” got robbed! — but they all made use of L.A.’s Union Station as a filming location, though not always as a train station. In “The Dark Knight Rises,” it was the courthouse where Scarecrow tried Bane’s enemies; in “Blade Runner,” it was a police station; in “Catch Me If You Can,” it was the Miami Mutual Bank.

Beat the Critic

To submit your own Oscar predictions and compete to win a night out at the movies with Richard Roeper, go to suntimes.com/beatthecritic.

On April 25, Union Station will have perhaps its most unusual role ever — as the primary site for the 93rd annual Academy Awards, which will have no host, a downsized crowd (only nominees, their guests and presenters), and yes, a video chat component. Initially the producers mandated there would be no Zooming and nominees had to be present to participate, but after it was noted at least nine nominees were overseas and wouldn’t be able to attend, the rules were relaxed to allow remote participation.

There’s even a change to the ballot this year. Instead of the usual 24 categories, we’ll have 23, as the sound editing and sound mixing awards have been combined into one category: The Academy Award for sound. This was done to reflect the current state of that particular art, with editing and mixing, well, often mixing and overlapping.


“Nomadland” director Chloe Zhao (left) shares a moment with star Frances McDorman on the film’s set.

Searchlight Pictures

I’ve filled out my ballot and you can fill out yours for the chance to win a fabulous prize package. As usual, there are some prohibitive favorites, most notably Chadwick Boseman to win a posthumous best actor award for his brilliant and bold and heartbreaking performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and Chloe Zhao to win best director for “Nomadland,” which remains the front-runner in the best picture category.

But even in best picture, which has eight nominees and thus makes it more likely for an underdog to slip across the finish line first, there’s an outside chance Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” could pull off the upset. It’s the kind of traditional, historical message-movie that wins awards. (It’s also damn good and spiritually faithful to events, and though Sorkin won’t win for his direction, he could win another Oscar for his screenplay.)

Let’s take a look at the glamour categories.

Best picture

In the case of stellar works such as “The Father,” “Sound of Metal,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank” and “Promising Young Woman,” it really is an honor just to be nominated. As mentioned, “Nomadland” remains the heavy favorite at -600 on the online betting sites (meaning that if you were inclined to wager, you’d have to bet $600 to win $100), but “Chicago 7” has an outside chance — and if you’re looking for a real upset, “Minari” at 12-1 just might capture enough hearts and minds of voters.

Best director

It will be an enormous upset if anyone but Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) wins. It WAS an enormous upset when director Thomas Vinterberg was nominated for his dark comedy “Another Round,” but it’s great to see a spotlight shining on this Danish film, which is nominated for best international feature film and should win.

Best actor

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Gary Oldman (“Mank”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”) all did fine work, but Chadwick Boseman is the runaway winner. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which Boseman’s name isn’t called.


Carey Mulligan plays a vigilante avenging sexual predators in “Promising Young Woman.”

Focus Features

Best actress

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) is a long shot and probably doesn’t have a chance of winning (but you should see the movie and take in her shattering performance), and groundbreaking four-time nominee Viola Davis has only an outside chance, mostly because she’s getting into that Meryl Streep territory where voters know she’ll be back, again and again.

That leaves us with three strong contenders. Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) has won twice before and Andra Day’s performance in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is better than the movie, so I’m going with Carey Mulligan for her searing and stunningly good performance in “Promising Young Woman.”

Best supporting actor

Even LaKeith Stanfield expressed surprise he was nominated for best supporting performance when he was clearly the lead in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” but the ways of the Academy voters remain mysterious at times. It’s cool to see veteran Chicago character actor Paul Raci nominated for “Sound of Metal,” and Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) getting recognition as a true actor, and it’s only a matter of time before the sublimely talented Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) wins Oscar — but the night of April 25 will belong to Daniel Kaluuya for his multi-layered portrayal of Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”


Daniel Kaluuya of “Judas and the Black Messiah” accepts the best supporting actor award from the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday.


Best supporting actress

This is the tightest race in recent memory, with all five nominees listed at around 3-1. As much as I enjoyed Maria Bakalova’s brave and crazy funny work in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” I don’t believe improvising with the likes of Rudy Giuliani requires the same level of acting as the other nominees brought to the table in their respective roles. Still, it won’t be a shock and it’ll be kind of fun if Bakalova wins. Yuh-Jung Youn is a fantastic force in “Minari” and it’s the kind of out-of-nowhere performance by an unknown the Academy loves. (See Linda Hunt for “The Year of Living Dangerously” and Dr. Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields.”) Amanda Seyfried gave the best performance in “Mank” and Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) is a sentimental favorite, as this is her eighth nomination and she has yet to win — but a lot of people despised that film, so Close might have to wait until nomination No. 9. Olivia Colman won best actress just a couple of years ago for “The Favourite,” but Oscar voters love those brilliant British actors, and honoring Colman would be a way of recognizing “The Father,” which will fall short in the other categories for which it’s nominated.

So who am I going with? Check my ballot below!

And the winners will be ...

Best Picture: “Nomadland”

Best Director: Chloe Zhao (“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 Adapted Screenplay:“Nomadland”

Best Original Screenplay: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Cinematography: “Mank”

Best Costume Design: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Best Film Editing: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Best Production Design: “Mank”

Best Original Score: “Soul”

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

Best Sound: “Sound of Metal”

Best Visual Effects: “Tenet”

Best Animated Feature:“Soul”

Best Documentary Feature: “Time”

Best International Feature Film: “Another Round” (Denmark)

Best Animated Short: “If Anything Happens I Love You”

Best Documentary Short: “A Love Song for Latasha”

Live Action Short: “Two Distant Strangers”

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