Oscar predictions: Who will win at Sunday’s Academy Awards?

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Oscars (Part 1)

After an exhausting award season delayed months by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 93rd annual Academy Awards will at long last arrive Sunday on ABC.

The ceremony will be a unique presentation with no host and no virtual speeches. Instead, guests will attend Union Station in Los Angeles and a second location in London for international nominees. Other live segments will be filmed at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

The telecast will almost certainly garner low ratings due to pandemic exhaustion, political divisions and an overall splintering of how Americans consume television across platforms. Last year’s Oscars hit a record low of 23.6 million total viewers, but reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. It routinely remains the most watched non-sports show every year.

Either way, it’s important to honor the art and craft of filmmaking.

So it’s time to make some predictions:

Best Actor

Nominees: Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), Gary Oldman (“Mank”), Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

Spoiler: Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)

The late great Chadwick Boseman delivered a powerful performance as the brash trumpeter in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” challenging God with raw emotion from his fatal illness. As a result, he’s swept the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG Awards for a posthumous run that in part honors his body of work from “42” to “Black Panther.”

However, Anthony Hopkins just won at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), so there’s a chance he could court older voters for his second Oscar after “The Silence of the Lambs.” I also wouldn’t mind if Riz Ahmed won for “Sound of Metal.” Still, I think Boseman holds on to become just the third actor ever to win posthumously after Peter Finch (“Network”) and Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”).


Best Actress 

Nominees: Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”), Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Prediction: Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)

Spoiler: Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

This is the toughest category to predict due to an insane split at the previous award shows. Andra Day won at the Golden Globes, Carey Mulligan won at the Critics Choice Awards, Viola Davis won at the SAG Awards and Frances McDormand won at the BAFTAs. If the universe wants to be truly crazy it would next award Vanessa Kirby at the Oscars.

I doubt that will happen. Davis has a real shot at winning after being voted by her acting peers at the SAG Awards, but I think Mulligan edges her out for the win by doing makeup in a mirror like last year’s winner, Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.” The #MeToo themes of “Promising Young Woman” should also win Best Original Screenplay for a real page turner.

Best Supporting Actor

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”)

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

Spoiler: Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)

The most head-scratching pick by the Academy was putting both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in the supporting actor category for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The movie was masterful, but if both Judas and the Black Messiah are supporting roles, who was the lead?

If the two rising stars split the vote, there’s a slight chance that Sacha Baron Cohen could sneak in for the win as Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but I think Kaluuya triumphs after sweeping the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, SAG Awards and BAFTAs. It’s about time after “Get Out,” “Widows,” “Black Panther,” “Queen & Slim” and a charming turn on “SNL.”

Best Supporting Actress

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

Prediction: Youn Yuh-jung (“Minari”)

Spoiler: Maria Bakalova (“Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm”)

This category is the second hardest to call. “Borat” standout Maria Bakalova won big early this award season at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice by pranking former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but her chances are fading as the election fades from memory.

Lately, the Supporting Actress race has rightfully shifted to Youn Yuh-jung, who won at the SAG Awards and BAFTAs for her role as the grandma in “Minari,” a beautiful indie film about the immigrant experience in America. Youn deserves to win for juggling humorous wisecracks and heartfelt lullabies for an instant classic performance.

Best Director

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

Prediction: Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)

Spoiler: Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”)

The one lock is Chloé Zhao winning Best Director for “Nomadland” after sweeping every single award show: Golden Globes, Critics Choices, Directors Guild Awards and BAFTAs. Zhao mixes narrative and documentary with real-life nomads in exquisite compositions of western landscapes and intimate interiors using visual storytelling rather than dialogue.

Expect Zhao to join Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) as only the second woman ever to win Best Director. The Chinese-born filmmaker will also become the second Asian filmmaker in a row to win Best Director after Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), extending the streak of international filmmakers winning Best Director in 10 out of the past 11 years.

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”

Prediction: “Nomadland”

Spoiler: “Minari”

What’s the year’s best movie? Depends who you ask. The Academy snubbed “The Invisible Man” and “Palm Springs” as too mainstream and “First Cow” as too artsy. “Bad Education” was ridiculously slotted as a TV movie, while “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night and Miami” were missed opportunities to highlight diversity.

What’s left is a list of films that most people haven’t seen, but that doesn’t make them unworthy. This year’s crop is stellar. “Minari” could win for capturing the American Dream, “Promising Young Woman” could land a feminist knockout, and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” could be a more traditional pick after winning Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards.

Still, the default answer is the right one as “Nomadland” has racked up Best Picture victories at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, Producers Guild Awards and BAFTAs. Expect it to go the distance to win the Oscar, capturing the zeitgeist of pandemic grief and isolation. Who wouldn’t want to hop in a van and travel the country right now?

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Oscars (Part 2)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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