The Academy Award ceremony is scheduled for Sunday at 5 p.m., and I’ll be looking for answers to big questions: What will director Steven Soderbergh, one of this year’s producers, bring to the show? And will anybody care, considering the steady drop in ratings for the telecast (and the huge ratings hits that other awards shows have suffered this year)?
And there is the matter of the Oscars themselves. Twenty-three competitive awards will be handed out Sunday night, and here’s where I come in to give you a jump on your Oscar pool. This year, you also can compete directly against me for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to a theater of your choice; click here for details about how to enter.
Before you decide to bet the house on my predictions to take the crown in your Oscar pool, a few cautionary notes are in order: In a typical year of Oscar predictions, I’ll get 17 or so right — generally enough to land near the top of most pools but sometimes not good enough to win. And, of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results — and, this year, that might be more true than ever.
Remember as well that I have no particular insight into the Oscars, nor do I have tipsters in Hollywood or at Price Waterhouse. But I do consult a variety of sources, look for late-breaking trends and then, like the rest of you, just sort of guess.
Finally, if you need a complete list of Oscar nominees, here’s a good one.
Here we go:
Picture: “Nomadland.” Chloe Zhao’s film might be the most assured and most complete film of all the nominees in this category, and it’s been the front-runner since awards season began. But it’s hard to lead this race from start to finish, and I keep thinking a spoiler might be lurking. The problem facing an upset contender is that, to my mind, there are two of them — “Promising Young Woman” and “Minari” — and they split any votes that didn’t go to “Nomadland.” The safe pick is “Nomadland.”
Director: Zhao, for “Nomadland,” likely wins here, even if the film doesn’t land the big award.
Actor: It’s almost an open-and-shut case for Chadwick Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but there’s a slight chance that Anthony Hopkins could stage an upset with “The Father.” I wouldn’t bet on it, though.
Actress: This is one of the tightest races of the night, with Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman” and Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey” the front-runners. And it’s not out of the question that Frances McDormand could sneak in for the win, if “Nomadland” sweeps. But I’d call it a toss-up between Mulligan and Davis and I’m giving the slightest of edges to Davis, because the role requires more of a physical transformation. But choosing Mulligan isn’t a bad call.
Supporting actor: On the other hand, this is an easy call: The winner will be Daniel Kaluuya, for “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Supporting actress: The front-runner is Yuh-Jung Youn, so delightful in “Minari.” But spoilers include “Hillbilly Elegy’s” Glenn Close, nominated 6,000 times (actually eight) with no wins, and Maria Bakalova, who more than held her own against Sacha Baron Cohen in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
Original screenplay: Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” has edged out Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” in earlier awards ceremonies, and seems to be the front-runner. But the veteran Sorkin could pull off an upset.
Adapted screenplay: A tighter race than you might think, between “Nomadland” and “The Father,” which has been surging. I’m picking a slight upset here and making the call for “The Father.”
Production design: “Mank” is the favorite here — and, in fact, this may be the only Oscar the film takes home, despite its 10 nominations.
Costume design: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has the momentum in this category.
Cinematography: Another tight race, between “Mank” and “Nomadland.” Eric Messerschmidt’s work in “Mank” is dazzling, but it has the disadvantage of being shot in black-and-white: The New York Times notes that only two black-and-white films have won this category in the last 50 years — “Schindler’s List” and “Roma.” That gives the edge to Joshua James Richards’ stark but beautiful work in “Nomadland.”
Editing: And yet another tight race: I’m giving the edge here to “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but “Sound of Metal,” which won this category at the British Academy Film Awards, could surprise.
Makeup and hairstyling: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is the front-runner.
Sound: Here’s an easy call: “Sound of Metal.”
Visual effects: “Tenet.” You didn’t have to be able to follow the movie to marvel at its visual wonders. No Oscar love for those razor-sharp suits, though.
Score: “Soul” seems to be the front-runner.
Song: It’s not the strongest year for Oscar songs. The front-runner is “Speak Now,” from “One Night in Miami,” but there’s love for “Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead” and even “Husavik (My Hometown)” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”
Documentary feature: “My Octopus Teacher” is riding a wave of momentum from earlier awards shows.
International feature: “Another Round” is the clear favorite.
Animated short: “If Anything Happens I Love You,” about two parents grieving the loss of their child in a school shooting, is the front-runner.
Documentary short: This appears to be a three-way race. I would give the edge to “Colette,” but the Oscar could go to “A Concerto is a Conversation” or “A Love Song for Latasha.” “Hunger Ward,” the documentary by Portland’s Skye Fitzgerald about the famine in Yemen, appears to be out of the running.
So there you go. (Longtime Oscar followers may recall that there used to be 24 awards; the two sound categories have been combined into one, so we’re down to 23 competitive races.) If these predictions hold true, the big winner Sunday night would be “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” with four Oscars — an excellent haul for a movie that’s not nominated for best picture. “Nomadland” would have three, and “Soul” would have two. No other movie would have more than one — not an unusual outcome for a year without a clear-cut critical or audience favorite.
I’ll check back in Monday with results and, maybe, a winner of my Oscar-prediction contest.