I am writing to you as a lone voice in the wilderness. I’ve already mentioned in my predictions for Oscar nominations the issues of audience fragmentation in the age of streaming, the abnormally protracted awards season during the pandemic, and the looming ratings debacle for this year’s Academy Awards broadcast. For this year’s Oscar winner predictions, I am writing as a particularly beleaguered Oscar lover on an archipelago floating farther and farther away from the global ritual of recognizing excellence in filmmaking.
This will be the third year when the Philippines will not be graced by a readily accessible Oscar telecast. (It’s insane to think that the last time I got to watch an Academy Awards show just by switching on the TV was the year Timothée Chalamet applauded James Ivory as he won his long-overdue Oscar for adapting “Call Me by Your Name”—or was Timmy clapping because he saw his face stitched onto Ivory’s tux?) Last year, I had to wake up early to beat the Monday morning traffic so I could watch “Parasite” win an historic best picture Oscar at a microcinema, all while cinephile friends were sharing clandestine online links so they could share in the jubilation.
This year, not only has the microcinema option been blocked because of COVID variants floating around, the nominees themselves have not been accessible to stream in the Philippines. Most Filipinos can only afford a Netflix subscription, which means they are potentially only aware of the conversation swirling around “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “My Octopus Teacher”—that is, if they even bothered to tune in at all. They are even less inclined to try out an Amazon Prime Video subscription to check out “Sound of Metal,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “One Night in Miami and Time.” As for Hulu (“Nomadland,” “Another Round,” “The Mole Agent,” “Collective,” “Quo Vadis Aida?”), HBO Max (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) or Disney Plus (“Soul”)? Those platforms aren’t even available.
I can’t avoid the apprehension that I might be talking to myself while I write these predictions. While cinemas remain shuttered in the wake of an incoherent COVID policy, we can’t even have a shared cinematic experience to start a conversation upon. But even as the Oscars retreat further into an independent film cocoon, this is a landmark year for inclusivity—nine out of 20 acting nominations going to people of color, two women nominated for director, an Asian woman facing the possibility of earning four Oscars in one night!—and so attention must be paid. And so here are my (expanded) predictions:
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
“Another Round,” Denmark
“Better Days,” Hong Kong
“The Man Who Sold His Skin,” Tunisia
“Quo Vadis, Aida?,” Bosnia Herzegovina
The winner: “Another Round.” Director Thomas Vinterberg’s surprise entrance into the nominees’ circle for directing gives this film an undeniable boost.
Possible spoiler: “Quo Vadis, Aida?” The truth is, “Another Round” with its white protagonists and their middle-aged angst looks like a privileged lightweight next to this excruciating recreation of the horrors of the ‘90s genocide at Srebrenica.
Should win: “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” A satire that skewers the rarefied air of high-class art while portraying Syria’s refugee crisis with immediacy, this scrappy Tunisian entry achieves all of its ambitions with dazzling unpredictability.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Crip Camp” (Netflix)
“The Mole Agent” (Hulu)
“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)
“Time” (Amazon Prime)
The winner: “My Octopus Teacher.” Wins at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) and the Producers Guild Awards mean this story of a documentarian’s unlikely bond with a female mollusk has the momentum to go all the way.
Possible spoiler: “Collective.” Its presence as a double nominee might give it a leg up, though that didn’t help “Honeyland” last year.
Should win: A case can be made for the suspenseful, Spotlight-like way “Collective” tackled systemic corruption in Romania’s health care system. Or the poetic approach of “Time” to the lopsided way the American penal system treats Black people. But when that octopus cuddled its human friend during one of their last days together… *wipes away a tear*
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Over the Moon” (Netflix)
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Aardman Animation, Studio Canal)
“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV+)
The winner: “Soul.” One of the sure bets of the night, “Soul” will continue the Pixar tradition of bagging this category since “Shrek” won its inaugural award back in 2002. With its score by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste also having its race sewn up, this afterlife comedy is the unassailable choice.
Possible spoiler: “Wolfwalkers.” But who am I kidding?
Should win: “Soul.” There’s a reason why Pixar keeps winning these things: their talent at character development and storytelling technique remains unmatched.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” Sasha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern
“The Father,” Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton
“Nomadland,” Chlóe Zhao
“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers
“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani
The winner: “Nomadland.” As a loose rule of thumb, screenplay awards tend to go to a best picture nominee. The momentum for “Nomadland” will likely sweep this award in its wake.
Possible spoiler: “The Father.” Speaking of momentum, the more Academy members got to watch this harrowing, intricately structured depiction of dementia, the more they started to reconsider their vote.
Should win: While I have a soft spot for “Borat” and its brave parodying, “The Father” is a breathtaking achievement in structure. It is proof positive that adaptations of plays need not be static affairs, a trap that most likely caused “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” to stumble here.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Will Berson and Shaka King
“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung
“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell
“Sound of Metal,” Darius Marder and Abraham Marder
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin
The winner: “Promising Young Woman.” A Writers Guild and a BAFTA win should keep Fennell fresh in voters’ minds. And not only would a win for her mark the first time a woman won this category since Diablo Cody’s victory for “Juno” in 2008, it would also make for the exciting possibility of two solo women triumphing in these categories for the first time.
Possible spoiler: “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Never underestimate how deeply the actors’ branch worships at the altar of Aaron Sorkin.
Should win: May I be allowed a tie here for “Minari” and “Sound of Metal”? For how immersed they are in their subjects—the Asian immigrant and deaf experiences, respectively—and how flawlessly they both stick their endings.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
The winner: Yuh-Jung Youn. A case can be made that “Minari” really comes alive when her shrewdly humorous grandmother enters the story. But this category remains Oscar’s most viable option to honor Lee Isaac Chung’s quietly revolutionary film.
Possible spoiler: Glenn Close. Maybe Oscar will take pity and reward this consistently excellent actor her due, though the specter of both Oscar and the Razzies giving her a seal of approval for the same role will make that unlikely.
Should win: It takes a lot to watch Rudy Giuliani shove his hands down his pants and not run screaming from the hotel room—kudos to you, Maria Bakalova!— but Yuh-Jung Youn is the undeniable heart of her film.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of 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”
The winner: Daniel Kaluuya. Despite Oscar’s head-scratching decision to nominate his fellow castmate Lakeith Stanfield in the supporting category (so who was the lead in “Judas and the Black Messiah”—the ‘60s fashions?), Kaluuya’s win is as close to a lock as you can get in the prime categories.
Possible spoiler: Paul Raci. Oscar rectified a glaring omission in the precursor awards by giving this first-time actor a much-deserved nomination, but again, Kaluuya’s victory is all but engraved.
Should win: Paul Raci. Being the hearing son of deaf parents means Raci’s portrayal of a deaf counselor is the least mannered, most lived-in performance of the bunch.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE
Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
The winner: Context is nearly everything when it comes to predicting Oscar winners, which means this category is the real nail-biter of the night. Mulligan won the Critics Choice, Day won the Golden Globes, Davis won the Screen Actors Guild, McDormand won BAFTA, and Kirby won…the Venice Film Festival? A case can be made for and against each of these nominees, so we’ll go with Viola Davis for winning the SAG Award and for a role particularly suited to America’s fraught conversation on race.
Possible spoiler: Carey Mulligan. Don’t forget: Mulligan’s is one of only two nominated performances this year tied to a best picture nominee, and Oscar might not be inclined to reward its top two acting laurels to a film that isn’t in the running for the top prize. (See best actor, below.)
Should win: Carey Mulligan. Equal parts avenging angel, vulnerable soul and killer vehicle for zingers, Mulligan’s Cassandra Thomas is a riveting high-wire act.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Steven Yeun, “Minari”
The winner: Chadwick Boseman. An Oscar-winning performance is almost always about narrative, and nothing could beat Boseman’s: An actor delivering praise-worthy work cut down at the prime of his life. Which means Boseman’s story hews closely to Heath Ledger’s (who won a supporting actor Oscar posthumously for “The Dark Knight”), and could lead him to be the first Black actor to win a posthumous lead acting Oscar.
Possible spoiler: Anthony Hopkins. Nothing is assured in this Oscar year, so look for Hopkins to stage a possible late-stage surge for “The Father” after a highly visible BAFTA win.
Should win: More and more I gravitate towards a subtle, less-is-more approach to my acting preferences. Which means Hopkins’ and Riz Ahmed’s internal yet fierce performances as a father facing the ravages of dementia and a metal drummer coming to terms with his impending deafness are more up my alley than Boseman’s mannered, crafted-from-the-stage turn.
Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
Chlóe Zhao, “Nomadland”
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
The winner: Chlóe Zhao. After her notoriously insular colleagues knighted her with a Directors Guild Award, Zhao is poised to be only the second woman to win in this category after Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, and the first Asian woman to do so.
Possible spoiler: Emerald Fennell. The only real name who is making any waves in the conversation is the only other woman in the category. With Promising Young Woman, Fennell crafted a devilishly entertaining and painfully relevant film in the age of #MeToo.
Should win: Just for the sheer level of craft—for an aesthetic reminiscent of the best of Terrence Malick without his self-indulgence—Zhao deserves to take it home.
“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.)
“Nomadland” (Fox Searchlight)
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
“Sound of Metal” (Amazon)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
The winner: After walking away with Venice’s Golden Lion and Toronto’s People’s Choice awards, “Nomadland” has been the film to beat, steamrolling through awards season with wins at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Producers Guild Awards.
Possible Spoiler: But taking the lessons of “La La Land” and “1917” into account, might Oscar be more inclined to spread the wealth away from seemingly anointed choices? Are they prone to rubber-stamp a film about senior itinerants living out of their RVs, or will they choose to make a statement about Asian-American acceptance by crowning “Minari”?
Should win: While “Nomadland” is a stunning achievement, my heart beats for the quiet sincerity of “Minari.”