2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture and Best Director

Will it be a big night for Chloé Zhao and 'Nomadland'? Or can 'Minari' sneak in with a surprise win. Here's what we think will happen on Oscar night 2021 in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
Oscar Predictions Picture Director

Traditional Oscar wisdom tells us that by the time Sunday night’s ceremony gets to these two final awards, we should have a good idea who’s going to win. That could be the case in 2021, especially if Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland scoops up a bunch of the earlier awards. It seems like the most likely film to win more than four or five statues over the course of the evening. But as you’ll see in our breakdowns below, there is still plenty of room for surprises. These are our 2021 Oscar Predictions for Best Picture and Best Director.

Best Picture

It’s difficult to assess what film is most deserving of Best Picture considering the egregious and unforgivable snub of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, but fine, let’s play by the Academy’s rules and weigh the options.

Nomadland is the frontrunner and would be a perfectly agreeable, if not surprising, winner. It’s a moving portrait of America anchored by Frances McDormand’s performance. It’s certainly one of the better examples of the type of movies that win Oscars and its victory would be an amenable outcome. The Trial of the Chicago 7 stands a chance to upset. Voters love a movie based on a true story, and the Aaron Sorkin film delivers in this regard.

If an upset does happen, it’d be much better if it came in the form of Minari. The film has wormed its way into viewers’ hearts with an at once specific portrait of an immigrant family planting roots in Arkansas and a universally tender tale of love and sacrifice. Though I don’t expect it to take home the Oscar, it would be a welcome surprise if it did. Most of the other nominees are good movies that don’t have the momentum to be serious contenders, and also Promising Young Woman. (Anna Swanson)

What Should Win: Minari
What Will Win: Nomadland
What Should Be Here: First Cow

Best Director

It’s become increasingly common in recent years to see a split in the selections of Picture and Director. If we see that happen with Chloé Zhao and Nomadland, frontrunners in both categories, I’d put my money on Director being the slightly more guaranteed win. Think of 2016 when the understated drama Spotlight won Best Picture but Alejandro G. Iñárritu took home Best Director for the grandiose filmmaking of The Revenant. Indeed, Zhao’s assured direction is that of an artist who has never met a landscape she didn’t love or a sunset unworthy of her camera. Nomadland is the kind of impressively realized character study that voters will not be able to get enough of, and Zhao will surely be rewarded for it.

But Lee Isaac Chung’s command over perspective in Minari is what I believe will linger more than the painterly images of Nomadland. He deftly captures the pastoral world of the film through the eyes of seven-year-old David in some of the most heartrending and beautiful sequences. It’s the kind of astute, enveloping direction that doesn’t call attention to itself, but instead leaves you with a subtle and ineffable longing that lasts long after the credits roll. There are far worse directors than Zhao that Chung could lose to, so this category will not be anything close to the worst outcome of the night. But still, it’s a shame he may go home empty-handed. (Anna Swanson)

What Should Win: Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Who Will Win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

To read our breakdowns and analysis of every one of this year’s categories, follow the links below:

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