2021 Oscar nomination predictions


It’s that time once again when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences chimes in with what they think are the best that cinema had to offer in 2021. They’ll have a lot of worthy options to pick from when deciding their nominees. Some people’s dreams will come true, and some people’s will be crushed. But that’s just how the game is played. 

In this article, I’ll be doing a dive into the above-the-line categories, giving predictions and analysis on who will likely show up. The Academy will announce its nominees on the morning of Feb.8. 

*Nominees are listed in order of likelihood to be nominated, with the first listed being the most likely. 

Best Supporting Actor

NOMINEES: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Troy Kotsur, Ciarán Hinds, Jared Leto, Bradley Cooper

After Paul Raci broke ground last year as a nominee born from deaf parents, Troy Kotsur will surely become the first male deaf nominee in Academy history. His “CODA” co-star, Marlee Matlin, was the first deaf nominee back in 1986. 

The other frontrunner in this category is Kodi Smit-McPhee, with Ciarán Hinds sitting comfortably in the middle. Jared Leto will get in for his gonzo “House of Gucci” performance, which will also net him a Razzie nomination. 

The last slot is between Bradley Cooper and Ben Affleck, who each have something working against them. Affleck gives a great performance in a movie no one cares about in “The Tender Bar,” and Cooper appears in only 5% of the total runtime of “Licorice Pizza.” But Cooper is beloved, and has been nominated eight previous times across the acting, writing, and producing categories, so that’ll probably give him the edge here. 

Best Supporting Actress

NOMINEES: Ariana DeBose, Caitríona Balfe, Kirsten Dunst, Aunjanue Ellis, Ruth Negga

Rita Moreno won the 1961 Oscar for her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” and now Ariana DeBose will likely win the 2021 Oscar for the same role. Caitríona Balfe, Kirsten Dunst, Aunjanue Ellis all sit comfortably, with Ruth Negga and Ann Dowd fighting for the fifth spot. 

Both “Passing” and “Mass” are underseen movies that showcase undeniable work from both actresses. Negga, a previous nominee for “Loving,” will probably come out on top with the support of her precursor nominations at BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG; with Dowd appearing at Critics Choice and BAFTA.

Best Leading Actor

NOMINEES: Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Denzel Washington, Peter Dinklage

Smith, Cumberbatch, Garfield and Washington are all locks at this point. 

Three actors vye for the fifth slot between Peter Dinklage, Javier Bardem, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Dinklage and Bardem are neck-and-neck, with DiCaprio on the outside looking in. Dinklage’s nomination would be his welcoming into the film scene after spending years on television, which netted him four Emmy awards. Bardem is a previous Oscar winner and could be boosted if “Being the Ricardos” overperforms. My money goes on Dinklage in a close call. 

Best Leading Actress

NOMINEES: Nicole Kidman, Lady Gaga, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Stewart, Olivia Colman

A category that was once was chaos has now been whittled down and has become the easiest to pick. During the reshuffling over the months, Nicole Kidman has replaced Kristen Stewart as the frontrunner, with previous nominees Chastain, Colman and Gaga rounding out. 

Best Original Screenplay

NOMINEES” “Belfast,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Don’t Look Up,” “King Richard,” “Being the Ricardos”

This group seems to be pretty much set in stone, with everyone except Zach Baylin (“King Richard”) being previous nominees/winners. The next closest competition comes from Michael Sarnoski for “Pig” and previous category winner Pedro Almodóvar for “Parallel Mothers.” Neither of them have picked up the necessary precursors to be a threat to the status quo, so it seems like everything will go as predicted. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

NOMINEES: “The Power of the Dog,” “West Side Story,” “CODA,” “Drive My Car,” “The Lost Daughter”

It’s no doubt who the eventual winner will be as Jane Campion’s adaptation has been a steamroller this season. Tony Kushner has been nominated for each of his previous two collaborations with Steven Spielberg, and he’s expected to be nominated again for his raved update to “West Side Story.” “CODA” sits in the middle, with several others jockeying for the final two spots. “Dune” will be the nomination leader, but it does have the sci-fi bias working against it. I’m predicting the spots will go to the more Academy-friendly material of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter.” And then there’s always the possibility of Joel Coen sneaking in unannounced for “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” 

Best Director

NOMINEES: Jane Campion, Denis Villeneuve, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kenneth Branagh

There are six people fighting for five spots, with Campion, Villeneuve and Spielberg locked in. This nomination will be Spielberg’s eighth total, giving him the third-most of all-time. Anderson and Branagh have the last spots for now, with Hamaguchi knocking on the door. I foresee those two keeping their seats as they both netted the necessary Directors Guild nomination, and have quite the illustrious reputation within the industry. 

Best Motion Picture

NOMINEES: “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” “West Side Story,” “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” “King Richard,” “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Being the Ricardos,” “Drive My Car”

It’s the first year the Academy will have a locked set of 10 nominees, meaning we no longer have to guess how many movies will be nominated. We have eight locks from “Power of the Dog” down to “Don’t Look Up,” with the final two spots between the four films of “Being the Ricardos,” “Drive My Car,” “Tick, Tick…Boom!” and “House of Gucci.” 

The Academy has responded well to Aaron Sorkin’s (“Being the Ricardos”) work in the past, with his “The Trial of the Chicago 7” almost winning the whole thing last year. “House of Gucci” is too divisive, and “Tick, Tick…Boom!’s” only other likely nomination will be for Andrew Garfield’s lead performance. That leaves “Drive My Car” as the prime candidate for the final spot, as it has resounding critical support and fits the Academy’s goal to reward more international films.