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Oscars 2021: Our critic picks who should, will win

(L to R) Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie

(L to R) Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin in "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Credit: NETFLIX/Niko Tavernise

This year's Oscar races feel unusually wide-open, which is to be expected after such an unusual year. With moviegoing essentially off-limits during the pandemic, few films managed to gain traction even on home streaming services. As a result, the big Oscar contenders feel driven by critical consensus rather than box office success or word-of-mouth. When the awards are handed out Sunday, you may see several historical firsts for women and people of color — even if you haven't seen the movies they're winning for. Here's how things are likely to pan out:


"The Father"

"Judas and the Black Messiah"




"Promising Young Woman"

"Sound of Metal"

"The Trial of the Chicago 7"

SHOULD WIN "The Trial of the Chicago 7," which takes a distant countercultural event — the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention — and makes it feel like breaking news.

WILL WIN "Nomadland." Chloe Zhao’s film puts a human face (Frances McDormand as a wandering gig worker) on a highly topical issue (the pitfalls of capitalism). It’s an Oscar-winning formula.


Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"

Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"

Anthony Hopkins, "The Father"

Gary Oldman, "Mank"

Steven Yeun, "Minari"

SHOULD WIN Boseman. The late actor showed a different side of himself here as a jazz musician in the 1920s.

WILL WIN Boseman. This will be an Oscar for all the work he did, and all the work he might have done.


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"

SHOULD WIN Odom. The actor-singer shines as soul icon Sam Cooke, here portrayed as a sophisticated crooner with a cool, calculating side.

WILL WIN Kaluuya. With wins at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild in this same category, Kaluuya goes into the Oscars with the wind at his back.


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"

SHOULD WIN Davis. It’s a relatively brief lead performance, but Davis’ version of Ma Rainey — a boldly independent woman who helped create the blues — leaves a lasting impression.

WILL WIN Davis — but don’t bet too big on it. Day won the Golden Globe and Mulligan won the Critics Choice Award in this category, so just about anything could happen.


Maria Bakalova, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"

Glenn Close, "Hillbilly Elegy"

Olivia Colman, "The Father"

Amanda Seyfried, "Mank"

Yuh-Jung Youn, "Minari"

SHOULD WIN Youn, for her performance as a Korean grandmother transplanted into the American heartland.

WILL WIN Youn, who would be the first Oscar-winning South Korean actress.


"Another Round" Thomas Vinterberg

"Mank" David Fincher

"Minari" Lee Isaac Chung

"Nomadland" Chloé Zhao

"Promising Young Woman" Emerald Fennell

SHOULD WIN Zhao, whose topical drama has made her one of the rare female directors ever nominated for an Oscar. If she wins, she’ll be only the second to do so, after Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s "The Hurt Locker."



"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 …"

Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

SHOULD WIN "Speak Now," a stirring Civil Rights ballad cowritten and performed by Leslie Odom Jr., who plays soul singer Sam Cooke in the film.

WILL WIN "Speak Now."


"Judas and the Black Messiah"


"Promising Young Woman"

"Sound of Metal"

"The Trial of the Chicago 7"

SHOULD WIN "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Aaron Sorkin’s ability to blast heady political concepts with rapid-fire dialogue is tough to beat.

WILL WIN "Promising Young Woman." Emerald Fennell’s story of rape and revenge presses hot-button issues and does so in a clever way. It also recently won the Writers Guild Award.

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