Oscars 2021 predictions: Win your Oscar pool with my picks

Oscars 2021 predictions: Nomadland, Minari, Chadwick Boseman
(Image credit: Searchlight; A24; Netflix)

An unprecedented year has led to an unprecedented Oscars. And my Oscars 2021 predictions can help you fill out your virtual ballot, whether your usual Oscar pool is happening this year or if you just want to follow along at home. Because while many things have changed, some remain the same and come this Sunday, those golden statuettes will go home with deserving winners.

The Oscars 2021 live stream will be unlike any other ceremony of the past, with restricted attendance, social distancing on the red carpet and virtual attendance from "hubs" around the world. But like every Academy Awards before it, the 2021 edition features a number of worthy contenders, including Nomadland, Minari, Judas and the Black Messiah and others.

As far as my Oscar predictions resume, I’ve won many Oscar pools over the years, including the last two among my group of friends. In my Oscars 2020 predictions, I correctly chose 21 out of 24 categories — including the Best Picture winner, Parasite.

So, with that said, here are my Oscars 2021 picks.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Picture

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Picture Nomadland

(Image credit: Searchlight)
  • Nomadland
  • The Father 
  • Judas and the Black Messiah 
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Last year's race ended in a photo finish, with Parasite winning in a delightful surprise over 1917. This year, there's more of a clear frontrunner in Nomadland.

Like 1917, Nomadland took all the right precursors: the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, BAFTA, Critics Choice and the Golden Globes. Last year, 1917 missed out on a SAG nomination for best ensemble, which Parasite ended up winning. That foreshadowed the latter's eventual Oscar triumph.

Nomadland also didn't receive a SAG nom, but I don't foresee a repeat of last year. For one, Nomadland featured a cast filled with real people playing versions of themselves (so they aren't technically actors). Second, the ensemble prize went to Trial of the Chicago 7, which nobody thinks has a shot at Best Picture. 

On a personal level, I'd love to see an underdog win by Minari. Perhaps it has a chance with the preferential ballot, but a win by Nomadland feels inevitable.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Director

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Director Chloe Zhao

(Image credit: Searchlight)
  • Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
  • Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
  • David Fincher, Mank
  • Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
  • Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

The Directors Guild Awards have lined up with the Oscar nine out of the last 11 years. One of those misses was last year, though, when Sam Mendes won the DGA for 1917 but Bong Joon-Ho took the Oscar. Could that happen to DGA winner Zhao? 

The Academy has grown a lot more diverse, not just in terms of race and gender but also by nationality. Which means there is a slight chance that the respected Danish auteur Vinterberg could pull off an upset, but it still seems highly unlikely. Plus, many Academy members are likely to favor making history and crown Zhao the second woman and the first woman of color to take home the Best Director trophy.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Actor

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Actor Chadwick Boseman

(Image credit: Netflix)
  • Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
  • Anthony Hopkins, The Father
  • Gary Oldman, Mank
  • Steven Yeun, Minari

The late, great Boseman has won every prize leading up to the Oscars. And he'll take this one, too. So, we expect another stirring, heartrending acceptance speech from his widow, Taylor Simone Ledward.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Actress

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Actress Viola Davis

(Image credit: Netflix)
  • 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

This is the toughest to predict out of the top categories. The precursors don't favor any actress above the other, though Davis' win at SAG puts her slightly in the lead.

You'd think McDormand would be a frontrunner since she anchors the likely Best Picture winner, but she already has two Oscars. Davis has one, but for supporting actress. 

Day pulled off a surprise win at the Golden Globes and she could follow in the footsteps of last year's Best Actress, Renee Zellweger (who also played a real-life singer in a film with a single nomination). But Davis' biggest challenger is Mulligan, a respected performer who is clearly the center of Promising Young Woman. 

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Supporting Actor 

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Supporting Actor Daniel Kaluuya

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Leslie Odom, Jr, One Night in Miami
  • Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
  • Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Much has been made of this category's weirdness, having both Kaluuya and Stanfield as supporting nominees (like, who's the lead of Judas and the Black Messiah then ... Jesse Plemons?!). 

Strange categorization quirk aside, Kaluuya has already bagged the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA and will go home with the Oscar, too.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Supporting Actress

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Supporting Actress Yuh-Jung Youn

(Image credit: A24)
  • Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
  • Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
  • Olivia Colman, The Father
  • Amanda Seyfried, Mank

When the nominations were announced, this category felt like the most difficult to predict. But things began to clear up recently. Youn won both the SAG and BAFTA, and has charmed the hell out of everybody on the awards circuit.

Nobody thinks Close should get an Oscar for a performance that was also nominated by the Razzies. Colman is fantastic in The Father, but her win for The Favourite is too recent. Bakalova is Youn's strongest competitor, but I think the Academy will end up favoring the veteran Korean actress over a newcomer.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay The Father

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Classic)
  • The Father
    Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
    Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad
  • Nomadland
    Written for the screen by Chloé Zhao
  • One Night in Miami
    Screenplay by Kemp Powers
  • The White Tiger
    Written for the screen by Ramin Bahrani

Another toss-up category, with Nomadland, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Father all with good shots at winning. 

Borat took the WGA award, but neither of the other two were eligible to be nominated. Nomadland is the Best Picture frontrunner, which confers additional weight on it. But I'm going with The Father, because this is probably the only category it could win out of its multiple nominations and I think the Academy will want to spread the wealth as much as possible.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Original Screenplay

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Original Screenplay Promising Young Woman

(Image credit: Focus Features)
  • Promising Young Woman
    Written by Emerald Fennell
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
    Screenplay by Will Berson & Shaka King; Story by Will Berson & Shaka King and Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas
  • Minari
    Written by Lee Isaac Chung
  • Sound of Metal
    Screenplay by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7
    Written by Aaron Sorkin

The original screenplay category often tips toward edgier fare, like Get Out (then again, Green Book won not so long ago).

Fennell really hit it out of the park with her feature film debut and she was rewarded for her script by the WGA, over a veteran like Sorkin. She will probably triumph at the Oscars, too, and along with Zhao, make it a very female-forward celebration.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Animated Film

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Animated Film Soul

(Image credit: Pixar)
  • Soul
  • Onward 
  • Over the Moon
  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
  • Wolfwalkers

The gorgeous Wolfwalkers deserves the Animated Feature prize this year, but alas, Apple will walk away empty-handed because Pixar almost never loses. Not to say Soul isn't very good, because it is, but I'd like to see more animated films from smaller houses get out of the shadow of the Disney juggernaut.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best International Film

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best International Film Another Round

(Image credit: Nordisk Films)
  • Another Round (Denmark)
  • Better Days (Hong Kong)
  • Collective (Romania)
  • The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
  • Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Vinterberg's inclusion among the Best Director nominations indicates a high level of support for Denmark's entry in the Academy. 

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a very worthy competitor, as is Collective (the latter is also nominated for Best Documentary, which it is also likely to lose). But it's hard not to root for the likable, boozy dramedy Another Round. 

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Documentary Feature Film

  • My Octopus Teacher
  • Collective
  • Crip Camp
  • The Mole Agent
  • Time

Fire up streaming services and find all five of these documentaries, immediately, because they're all exceptional. I almost don't want to have to pick one over the others, but that's what predictions are for. Academy voters tend to go for emotion and heart in this category and Netflix's My Octopus Teacher has an ocean full.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Animated Short Film

  • If Anything Happens I Love You
  • Burrow
  • Genius Loci
  • Opera
  • Yes-People

All five nominees have a ton of emotional heft, but If Anything Happens I Love You truly speaks to the times with its story of two parents grieving their daughter who was killed in a school shooting.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Live Action Short Film

  • Two Distant Strangers
  • Feeling Through
  • The Letter Room
  • The Present
  • White Eye

Another short that tackles the current cultural moment, Two Distant Strangers is a Groundhog's Day-like tale of a Black man killed again and gain by a white cop.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Documentary Short Subject

  • A Concerto Is a Conversation
  • Colette
  • Do Not Split
  • Hunger Ward
  • A Love Song for Latasha

Colette is a tearjerker that tracks an elderly woman's visit to a World War II concentration camp. Normally, I'd say that's unbeatable, but Concerto is just as emotional as it follows composer Kris Bowers examining his family roots.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Cinematography

  • Nomadland - Joshua James Richards
  • Judas and the Black Messiah - Sean Bobbitt
  • Mank - Erik Messerschmidt
  • News of the World - Dariusz Wolski
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Phedon Papamichael

The American Society of Cinematographers bestowed their award on Mank, but they tend to favor black and white movies and often don't align with the Oscars. In this case, I think Academy voters will follow their Best Picture votes and select the naturalistic look of Nomadland.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Film Editing

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Film Editing Sound of Metal

(Image credit: Amazon)
  • Sound of Metal - Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
  • The Father - Yorgos Lamprinos
  • Nomadland - Chloé Zhao
  • Promising Young Woman - Frédéric Thoraval
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Alan Baumgarten

The American Cinema Editors guild honored Trial of the Chicago 7 and Palm Springs, but they also don't often match up with the Oscars. Best film editing often ends up more like the Most Editing award (to wit, last year it went to Ford v Ferrari). This year, though, I think the more subtle Sound of Metal will prevail.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Production Design

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Production Design: Mank

(Image credit: Netflix)
  • Mank
  • The Father
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • News of the World
  • Tenet

This Oscar usually goes to a period production, which puts a strike against The Father. And the only other Best Picture nominee is Mank, which a movie about movies — and there's nothing the Academy loves more.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Costume Design

  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Emma
  • Mank
  • Mulan
  • Pinocchio

And this Oscar almost always goes to a period piece. Last year, I wrote, "When in doubt, though, go with the one with big, poofy dresses" (and my prediction, Little Women, won). This year, that would be Emma. Instead, I think the Academy won't be able to resist the chance to honor 89-year-old Roth and make her the oldest woman to ever win an Oscar.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Emma
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • Mank
  • Pinocchio

This Oscar rewards the biggest transformations, especially ones where famous actors become famous real people (previous winners: Bombshell, Vice, Darkest Hour). But there's no obvious choice here. Pinocchio probably features the most jaw-dropping transformations, but hardly anybody saw it. Mank is a contender, but I'm going with the stunning makeover of Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Original Score

  • Soul - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste
  • Da 5 Bloods - Terence Blanchard
  • Mank - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Minari - Emile Mosseri
  • News of the World - James Newton Howard

Reznor and Ross are double nominees, but they need not worry about splitting votes. Music at the heart of Soul, and its score will be honored accordingly.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Original Song

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Original Song One Night in Miami with Leslie Odom Jr

(Image credit: Amazon)
  • “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
    Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth
  • “Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah
    Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas
  • “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7
    Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
  • “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
    Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson
  • “Io Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)
    Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

Not a banner year for the Original Song category, which, let's face it, needs an overhaul. Four of the nominees play over the end credits, though that doesn't make the fifth, "Husavik," any more likely to win (as much as I'd like it to). "Speak Now" is a perfectly fine anthem that speaks to the times and is performed by a supporting nominee. 

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Sound

  • Sound of Metal
  • Greyhound
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Soul

The Academy finally combined the sound editing and sound mixing awards into one, which is great since most people never knew the difference and they usually went to the same film (though not always — last year had a split). Usually, I'd say you can't go wrong picking a war movie like Greyhound, but in this case, Sound of Metal is the clear favorite with its unique and subtle take on a man's loss of hearing.

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Visual Effects

Oscars 2021 predictions: Best Visual Effects Tenet

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)
  • Tenet
  • Love and Monsters
  • The Midnight Sky
  • Mulan
  • The One and Only Ivan

Generally, I would predict a win by a Best Picture contender in this category, even over blockbuster franchises. Last year, I was correct to choose 1917 over Avengers: Endgame. But this time, none of the nominees are up for Best Pic, so go with the biggest one, which is Tenet.

Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.