The essential, beautiful “Nomadland” is the clear favorite to pick up the Best Picture award this year, and deservedly so. Chloé Zhao’s movie about a middle-aged woman forced to pack up her belongings in a van and travel the States looking for temporary work to make ends meet — and about the ‘tribe’ of van-lifers she meets on the way — is thought-provoking, moving and perfectly formed. It would be a huge shock if it doesn’t win. Among the what must be considered also-rans (although they’re all fine films in their own right), “Sound of Metal” — the story of a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing — would be a great left-field choice, but is surely a rank outsider, as is the excellent “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman in a heartbreaking portrayal of a father and daughter struggling to cope with dementia. The rape-revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” has plenty of buzz about it, the bittersweet, gentle “Minari” is a wonderful movie, and David Fincher’s biographical drama “Mank” is a film about the film industry (and a very good one), which always plays well with the Academy. Another biopic, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is a timely, superbly acted, examination of racial injustice. But if any film is going to pip “Nomadland” to this prize, it will likely be the powerful “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a historical legal drama based on the legal proceedings against a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring a stellar ensemble cast.
OUR PREDICTION: Nomadland
The Academy will surely take the opportunity to posthumously honor Chadwick Boseman, one of the most talented, popular and acclaimed actors of his generation, who died of cancer last year. Fortunately for the voters, Boseman was great in his last role, as cocky jazz trumpeter Levee Green in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Among his fellow nominees, British veterans Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins are both deservedly recognized for their star turns in “Mank” and “The Father” respectively (with Hopkins’ performance just ahead, in our view), while Steven Yeun is selected for his perfectly pitched performance as a frustrated but loving father trying to build a working farm for his family. Perhaps Boseman’s biggest challenge will come from Riz Ahmed who, in “Sound of Metal,” displayed a subtle, nuanced range as well as some serious technical chops — learning to play the drums and ‘speak’ sign language for the movie. You have to expect, though, that Ahmed, like the others, will ultimately lost out to Boseman. And they’re probably fine with that.
OUR PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman
This may be one of the hardest categories to call this year, with no clear favorite yet apparent. What is apparent is that all five nominees turned in stellar performances. It could be the category in which “Promising Young Woman” picks up a ‘major’ award — Carey Mulligan is excellent in the lead role, adding nuance and humanity to a character it would have been easy to play at full throttle throughout. Frances McDormand is just wonderful in “Nomadland,” but the role might (deliberately) lack the flashy touches that often grab the Academy’s attention. Viola Davis certainly can’t be accused of that — as the eponymous lead in “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” she dazzles and transfixes with her presence and vocal chops. As does Andra Day in her debut feature film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” turning in an electrifying performance as the eponymous legendary singer. This talent-filled category is rounded out by Vanessa Kirby, recognized by the Academy for her heart-rending, all-too-believable portrayal of a woman who loses her baby at birth in “Pieces of a Woman.”
OUR PREDICTION: Viola Davis
For the first time in its 93-year history, the Academy has two female nominees for best director. Could one of them become only the second woman to win the award (following Kathryn Bigelow’s triumph with “The Hurt Locker” in 2009)? We think so. Otherwise, this would be an enormous missed opportunity for the Academy to show that it’s making some effort to move with the times. Chloé Zhao’s fantastic “Nomadland” is, as mentioned, the favorite to win Best Picture, and while that’s no guarantee of landing this award, it certainly doesn’t hurt — and Zhao did an undeniably brilliant job. She deserves to win. The second female nominee is Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” It’s a very of-the-moment piece, and Fennell constructs it brilliantly, but being timely and socially relevant isn’t always a plus with the traditionally conservative Academy. Among the men, David Fincher might be feeling that his time has come. Widely recognized as one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, “Mank” has earned him his third nomination in this category. If anyone can beat Zhao to this year’s prize, it’s probably him. Both Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) have made great movies, but it would be a big shock if either of them picked up the award this year.
OUR PREDICTION: Chloé Zhao
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
The region’s hopes in this category lie with Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, nominated for her dark satire “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” in which a Syrian refugee desperate for money allows a famous artist to use his skin as a canvas for his latest work. But she faces stiff competition, not least from Best Director nominee Thomas Vinterberg’s meditative comedy-drama “Another Round.” The harrowing Bosnian war drama “Quo Vadis, Aida?” may be the latter’s closest contender, closely followed by Alexander Nanau’s “Collective,” a documentary thriller about a shocking health-care fraud in Romania. Kwok Cheung Tsang’s compelling crime romance “Better Days” is an outsider here.
OUR PREDICTION: “Another Round”
BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
The only other nominee from the Arab world at this year’s Oscars is “The Present,” directed by Farah Nabulsi and telling the story of a man in the West Bank searching for a gift for his wife, accompanied by his young daughter. It’s already picked up a BAFTA and would be a worthy winner. “Feeling Through” — a touching tale of connection between a DeafBlind man and a homeless teen; “The Letter Room” (starring Oscar Isaac); the hyper-timely “Two Distant Strangers,” about a young black man repeatedly confronted and killed by a white NYPD officer, and Israeli contender “White Eye” make this a tough, tough category to win.
OUR PREDICTION: “Two Distant Strangers”