After the weirdest movie year, we might end up with a shockingly normal Academy Awards night — celebrating the sort of prestige titles with important themes Academy voters like to champion.
• “Nomadland” and “Minari” depict people in dire economic situations, traveling across the country to get a piece of the American dream.
• “Sound of Metal” and “The Father” center on people dealing with life-changing medical diagnoses — deafness and dementia, respectively.
• “Promising Young Woman” explores the aftermath of rape in the structure of a sly revenge thriller.
• “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” feature the same historic event, the 1969 murder by law enforcement of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton, as a plot point.
• And “Mank,” the biography of “Citizen Kane” co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz that led this year’s Oscar race with 10 nominations, is a fond look at the thing Hollywood likes to talk about the most: itself.
If the themes were familiar, what changed was how we watched the movies. With theaters closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming services were the main outlet left. “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” debuted on Netflix, while “Sound of Metal” was on Prime Video. “Judas and the Black Messiah” opened simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in February (the motion-picture academy extended the eligibility period because of the pandemic). Other films had token theatrical runs, but most people caught them at home.
The result is oddly democratizing. Before, an Oscar contender may not open in your neighborhood multiplex. This year, it “opened” in your living room.
So the 93rd annual Academy Awards — happening Sunday, April 25, starting at 6 p.m. Mountain time, on ABC (KTVX, Ch. 4, in Utah) — will be celebrating movies everyone had a chance to see. Here are what I predict will win the golden statuettes, and which movies I would pick if I had a vote.
The nominees are: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
What will win: “Nomadland,” with its quietly moving portrayal of camper-living seasonal workers, has been the frontrunner for most of the awards campaign season. Even with some mild grousing that it’s not hard enough on Amazon, it should emerge the winner.
Upset potential: If the backlash is real, it opens the race to a fast-rising contender, like “Promising Young Woman,” which crystalizes #MeToo anger into a clever thriller.
If I were voting: The best of this group is “Sound of Metal,” a look at a rock drummer battling addiction and hearing loss.
Actor in a Leading Role
The nominees: Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”; Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”; Gary Oldman, “Mank”; Steven Yeun, “Minari.”
Who will win: The Academy will want to honor Boseman, who died of cancer last August, with only the third acting Oscar awarded posthumously.
Upset potential: Highly unlikely, but Anthony Hopkins could get the nod for his portrayal of a man in the grip of dementia in “The Father.”
If I were voting: Boseman’s portrayal of a cocky jazzman realizing the limits of his luck makes this award more than an “in memoriam” tribute.
Actress in a Leading Role
The nominees: 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.”
Who will win: A dead heat among Davis, McDormand and Mulligan — with Mulligan edging out those veterans only because Davis and McDormand already have Oscar statuettes at home.
Upset potential: Davis was honored by the Screen Actors Guild, and actors make up the largest voting bloc in the Academy, so she might take it.
If I were voting: Mulligan, who channeled revenge and grief in her performance, gets my endorsement. (I’d almost pick Day or Kirby, because they both gave great performances — except that the movies they were in weren’t very good.)
Actor in a Supporting Role
The 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.”
Who will win: Kaluuya’s fiery and thoughtful portrayal of the murdered Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton is the favorite.
Upset potential: Leslie Odom Jr., playing singer Sam Cooke, provides both the melody and the heart of the powerful dialogues happening in “One Night in Miami…”
If I were voting: Paul Raci is the soul of “Sound of Metal,” as a tough-minded rehab counselor.
Actress in a Supporting Role
The nominees: Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”; Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”; Olivia Colman, “The Father”; Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”; Yuh-jung Youn, “Minari.”
Who will win: Another tight battle, mostly between Youn, a star in Korea but a newcomer to America at 73, and Colman. Youn has been on a charm offensive during the awards campaign, and it may just work for her.
Upset potential: Glenn Close has never won an Oscar, and Academy voters may finally give it to her — though they may stop themselves because “Hillbilly Elegy” is such a terrible movie.
If I were voting: Maria Bakalova did two amazing things in the “Borat” sequel: Kept up with Sacha Baron Cohen, and kept in character in the face of Rudy Giuliani’s creepiness.
The nominees are: Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”; Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”; David Fincher, “Mank”; Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”; Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland.”
Who will win: Chloé Zhao won the Directors Guild’s top honor, the first woman of color ever to do so. Expect a repeat on Oscar night.
Upset potential: There’s a lot of goodwill toward “Minari,” and director Lee Isaac Chung could be the beneficiary — though, more likely in the original screenplay category than for directing.
If I were voting: Chloé Zhao exercises great care and patience in letting the story of “Nomadland” unfold gracefully.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
The nominees are: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
Who will win: Academy voters also like to be surprised, and Emerald Fennell’s twisty script for “Promising Young Woman” does that.
Upset potential: Aaron Sorkin’s take on “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has the kind of meaty dialogue that Oscar voters equate with good screenwriting.
If I were voting: A tough call, but “Sound of Metal” produces gems of pure, raw emotion that pierce the heart.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
The nominees are: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “The Father,” “Nomadland,” “One Night in Miami…,” “The White Tiger.”
Who will win: Chloé Zhao’s work on “Nomadland,” turning a nonfiction book into a sensitive narrative, is the favorite here.
Upset potential: Two plays turned into films, “One Night in Miami…” and “The Father,” could pull out a win.
If I were voting: Zhao’s adaptation is a beautiful meditation on the shortcomings of the American dream, and deserves the award.
The nominees are: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
Who will win: The sweeping vistas caught by Joshua James Richards in “Nomadland.”
If I were voting: “Nomadland” is the most visually arresting of this group.
The nominees are: “The Father,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
Who will win: Movies about music traditionally do well in this category, so Mikkel E.G. Nielsen’s work in “Sound of Metal” might have an edge.
If I were voting: Nielsen’s sensitive handling of the material in “Sound of Metal” deserves all praise.
Music (Original Score)
The nominees are: “Da 5 Bloods,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “News of the World,” “Soul.”
Who will win: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste for the upbeat, thoughtful and jazzy sounds of “Soul.” (Reznor and Ross are competing against themselves; they also composed the score for “Mank.”)
If I were voting: The music is the key to “Soul,” in more ways than one.
Music (Original Song)
The nominees are: “Fight For You,” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”; “Hear My Voice,” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”; “Husavik,” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”; “Io Sì (Seen),” from “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”; “Speak Now,” from “One Night in Miami…”.
Who will win: “Speak Now,” co-written by acting nominee Leslie Odom Jr., could score the only Oscar win for the under-appreciated “One Night in Miami…”.
If I were voting: I have a soft spot for “Husavik,” the comic-yet-lovely ode to an Icelandic home town, in the happily silly “Eurovision Song Contest.”
The nominees are: “The Father,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Tenet.”
Who will win: The old Hollywood settings for “Mank,” designed by Donald Graham Burt and staged by Jan Pascale, should win the category.
If I were voting: In “The Father,” designer Peter Francis and set decorator Cathy Featherstone subtly and powerfully suggest a retiree’s London flat, a doctor’s waiting room and a nursing home — all seemingly within the same four walls.
The nominees are: “Emma.,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “Mulan,” “Pinocchio.”
Who will win: Ann Roth’s Roaring ’20s styles of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
If I were voting: Alexandra Byrne’s witty Austen-era designs for “Emma.”
The nominees are: “Greyhound,” “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Soul,” “Sound of Metal.”
Who will win: When the category’s name is in the movie’s title, that’s a good indicator it will win — so give it to “Sound of Metal.” (This is the first year that the two former categories, Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing, have been combined into one.)
If I were voting: The sound design of “Sound of Metal” — as engineers Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh approximate what Riz Ahmed’s character is hearing from his drum kit and as his hearing is failing — is groundbreaking work, and an integral part of the storytelling.
The nominees are: “Love and Monsters,” “The Midnight Sky,” “Mulan,” “The One and Only Ivan,” “Tenet.”
Who will win: The team behind “Tenet” — Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher — are expected to win for bringing Christopher Nolan’s time-twisting ideas to life.
If I were voting: George Clooney’s apocalyptic “The Midnight Sky” benefited from the understated effects, in the Arctic and in outer space, created by Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins — a strong effort in a year without blockbusters.
Makeup and Hairstyling
The nominees are: “Emma.,” “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “Pinocchio.”
Who will win: The work — by Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson — to turn Viola Davis into the world-weary blues singer in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is the likely winner here.
If I were voting: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” just slightly over the clever work by Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti to transform a young actor into a wooden boy in “Pinocchio.”
Animated Feature Film
The nominees are: “Onward,” “Over the Moon,” “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” “Soul,” “Wolfwalkers.”
Who will win: “Soul” will make it another win in this category for Pixar.
If I were voting: “Wolfwalkers” is an astonishing blend of Irish folklore and evocative animation, and Tomm Moore and his Cartoon Saloon studio (they also did “The Secret of Kells” and “The Song of the Sea”) deserve recognition.
International Feature Film
The nominees are: “Another Round” (Denmark), “Better Days” (Hong Kong), “Collective” (Romania), “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia), “Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
What will win: “Another Round” — starring Mads Mikkelsen as a teacher who decides to live life buzzed — also got a surprise directing nomination for Thomas Vinterberg, so it’s got enough support from Oscar voters to win.
If I were voting: I have to recuse myself here, as I’ve only seen two of the nominees, “Collective” and “Another Round” — though the others would have to be phenomenal to outdo the searing documentary “Collective.”
The nominees are: “Collective,” “Crip Camp,” “The Mole Agent,” “My Octopus Teacher,” “Time.”
Who will win: “My Octopus Teacher,” directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, is the sort of mix of nature photography and human-interest story that Academy voters love.
If I were voting: “Collective” director Alexander Nanau went inside newsrooms and government offices to chronicle a scandal in Romania’s health care system as it was happening — creating a documentary with the feel of a political thriller.
Documentary (Short Subject)
The nominees are: “Colette,” “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” “Do Not Split,” “Hunger Ward,” “A Love Song for Latasha.”
Who will win: Ben Proudfoot’s “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” which follows composer Kris Bowers as he tries to channel Black history and his grandfather’s story into music, is a strong contender.
If I were voting: Norwegian director Anders Hammer’s “Do Not Split,” a riveting on-the-ground portrait of the protests in Hong Kong.
Short Film (Animated)
The nominees are: “Burrow,” “Genius Loci,” “If Anything Happens I Love You,” “Opera,” “Yes-People.”
Who will win: The Netflix-backed “If Anything Happens I Love You,” directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, will likely win because of the emotional gut-punch carried by its story of parents grieving after a tragedy.
If I were voting: The stunner here is Erick Oh’s “Opera,” an exquisitely detailed conveyor belt of a film that rewards repeated viewings.
Short Film (Live Action)
The nominees are: “Feeling Through,” “The Letter Room,” “The Present,” “Two Distant Strangers,” “White Eye.”
Who will win: The timely “Two Distant Strangers,” directed by Travon Lee and Martin Desmond Roe, in which a young Black graphic designer (played by rapper Joey Bada$$) gets killed by the same cop (Andrew Howard) over and over, “Groundhog Day”-style.
If I were voting: All five are moving, but “Two Distant Strangers” sticks in the memory stronger than the others. (All the short-film nominees — live action, animated and documentary — can be viewed at home on the Salt Lake Film Society’s SLFS@Home “virtual cinema” portal, or in person Friday through Sunday at select Cinemark theaters.)