Dann Gire traverses the year's 'Nomadland' in search of Oscar winners
Part of me secretly hopes I am wrong about my predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Predicting many of the winners seems way too easy.
Surely, a dark horse upset or a fumbled winner's announcement will inject some surprises into a TV viewing experience that Johnny Carson once described as "Two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show."
What do we know about the 93rd Awards so far?
• The Oscars will be presented live at the Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood starting at 7 p.m. on the ABC network.
• Because of the pandemic, the Academy extended the 12-month eligibility period two months, through Feb. 28.
• The Academy also lifted its "must play in a movie theater" rule, allowing movies premiering on streaming services and digital platforms to qualify for the awards for the first time.
• All five nominees for Best Original Song will be performed in their entirety -- but not during the Oscars. They'll be featured on a 90-minute preshow titled "Oscars: Into the Spotlight."
• After being targeted by the #oscarsowhite campaign, the Academy nominated nine actors of color, setting an Oscar record for diversity.
So, who and what will take home the golden statuette on Sunday night?
I have divided my predictions into three categories: 1) Sure wins 2) Probable wins 3) Up for grabs, each reflecting the vacillating confidence in my prognosticative abilities.
Best Picture: Only one of the eight nominees possesses the power to alter our world view, to rewire how we think and how we prioritize, and to increase our awareness of the tiny, miraculous, never-before-noticed details that surround us every day. "Nomadland" will win, not just because of its visionary look at a middle-aged woman's alternative "houseless" lifestyle, but because it rides a tidal wave of accolades from around the world, most recently winning the Producers Guild Award and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award.
Best Director: Beijing-born Chloe Zhao has this in the cinematic bag for her fiercely independent drama "Nomadland." Her wins at the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America Awards plus BAFTA confirm her as the nominee to beat -- but no one will.
Best International Feature: Only one of the five nominees earned a Best Director nod. Talk about a strong indicator. Thomas Vinterberg will win for Denmark's "Another Round," a jubilant pro-alcohol, then anti-alcohol, then back-to pro-alcohol comic drama in which messages are just as mixed as the drinks.
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins delivered the finest, most nuanced film performance of the year as a dementia patient in the stage-play adaptation of "The Father." But he will lose the Oscar to the late Chadwick Boseman, whose sheer joy of performing and startling character arc in the stage-play adaptation "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" has won virtually every major award, except for BAFTA, which anointed Hopkins, a home-turf British actor.
Best Supporting Actor: No supporting actor has ever lost the Oscar after winning the Critics Choice Award, a Golden Globe, SAG Award and BAFTA Award. Daniel Kaluuya, star of "Judas and the Black Messiah," won them all. And he will win the Oscar.
Best Animated Feature: Pixar's "Soul" director Peter Docter will become the first person to receive three Oscars in this category, following his wins for "Up" and "Inside Out."
If any nominee can challenge "Soul," it will be "Wolfwalkers" with its distinctively hand-drawn animation fused with 3-D to create inventive wolf point-of-view shots.
Best Visual Effects: Christopher Nolan's palindrome-obsessed "Tenet" builds upon a coldly unemotional narrative gimmick, but its cool, sophisticated time-reversal effects can't be denied.
Best Production Design: Give it to "Mank" for its posh and timely sets and props recreating 1930s-1940s Hollywood in glorious black-and-white.
Best Costume Design: Put your money on "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" with "Emma" and "Mank" nipping at its heels. "Ma" most recently netted the BAFTA.
Best Hair and Makeup: Put your money on "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" with "Emma" and "Mank" nipping at its heels. "Ma" most recently netted the BAFTA Award.
Best Short Film Animated: Pixar's "Burrow" will lose to "If Anything Happens I Love You," an emotion-pumping, hand-drawn short that will have you reaching for hankies before you even know why you're doing it.
Best Cinematography: This will be a duel between Erik Messerschmidt's "Mank" -- emulating Gregg Toland's deep-focus, black-and-white camera work from "Citizen Kane" -- and Joshua James Richards' immersive, widescreen camera lens -- centered around a stunning tracking shot -- in "Nomadland." Here, inspiration trumps emulation, so bet on "Nomadland."
Best Supporting Actress: Glenn Close will tie Peter O'Toole's zero-for-eight Oscar loss record for her role in "Hillbilly Elegy," for which she also received a Razzie Award for worst actress. Go figure. "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" star Maria Bakalova could pose a strong upset threat to "Minari" actress Yuh-Jung Youn, whose recent BAFTA win gives her the Oscar edge.
Best Sound: Two previous awards -- for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing -- have been consolidated into a single Sound Award this year. And that "new" award will go to "Sound of Metal" for aurally replicating how a rock musician slowly loses his hearing.
Best Film Short Live Action: Two leading shorts will duke it out, but "Two Distant Strangers" will triumph over Oscar Isaacs' strong contender "The Letter Room."
Best Film Editing: If history indicates future outcomes, a "Nomadland" Best Picture win should statistically trickle-down to this coveted editing Oscar. But not this time. Amazon Studios' "Sound of Metal" should win decisively for its crisp cutting.
Best Song: "Speak Now" from "One Night in Miami," holds the Oscar advantage, having been co-written by Best Supporting Actor nominee Leslie Odom Jr. as singer Sam Cooke. (Alert: the 11th annual Guild of Music Supervisors Awards cited "Hear My Voice" from "The Trial of the Chicago 7" as winner of the Best Film Song. We shall see.)
Best Score: Which will win? The score to "Mank" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross? Or the score to "Soul" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross plus Jon Batiste? With Stephen Colbert's favorite bandleader in the mix, "Soul" can't lose.
Best Documentary Feature: Traditionally, a socially heavy subject such as a woman fighting to release her husband from a 60-year prison sentence -- as in Amazon's "Time" -- would be an easy prediction. But a welcome, offbeat story about the friendship between a filmmaker and an octopus in the South Africa kelp forest? Give this Oscar to "My Octopus Teacher."
Best Original Screenplay: The Golden Globe went to Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7." But Variety, Critics Choice and the Writers Guild named Emerald Fennell the winner for "Promising Young Woman," a smart, horrifying feminist avenger thriller that inspires much more debate than Sorkin's work. It should win, although on an appeal, the verdict could go to "Trial."
Up for grabs
Best Adapted Screenplay: No clear runaway winner here, as the Writers Guild Award went to "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," BAFTA chose "The Father" and two betting services (BetOnLine and Gold Derby Odds) give the Oscar to "Nomadland." When in doubt, go with the gamblers: "Nomadland" written by Chloe Zhao.
Best Documentary Short: Another tough call, but I will go with "A Concerto is a Conversation," about a young jazz musician and composer whose 91-year-old grandfather traces his life from his Jim Crow-era roots to a successful businessman. It just feels like a classic Academy Award winner, more so than the other nominees.
Best Actress: Arghh! This is the most difficult category to predict. Let's see now ... Variety gives the Oscar to Viola Davis, who won the SAG Award. The Golden Globes went with Andra Day ("The United States vs. Billie Holiday") in drama. Carey Mulligan picked up the Critics Choice Award for "Promising Young Woman." Then the BAFTA Award went to Frances McDormand for "Nomadland."
Both BetOnLine and Gold Derby oddsmakers name Mulligan the winner with Davis a close second.
I would personally go with Davis, but the last time the actor and actress Oscars went to the same movie happened way back in 1998, when Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt both triumphed for "As Good As It Gets." Plus, their movie had a Best Picture nomination which "Ma Rainey" does not.
That leaves Mulligan in the catbird seat ... unless Andra Day stages the upset of the year with a stunning dark horse victory for her role as Billie Holiday. After all, Oscar voters love musical characters.
Nah. I'm going with Mulligan.