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Oscar wild: Miller’s picks, predictions for crazy year

Tim Miller
Written by Tim Miller

Like everything else this past year, Sunday night’s Oscars should be, um, different.

Some of the differences are obvious. The event is taking place in April instead of the usual February or March. Films from early this year qualified for consideration as well as those from 2020. There are two women up for best director, which is a first. Oh, and there’s this plague going on.

But this year’s awards also are particularly unpredictable.

The best-actor race appears all sewed up, but there are no sure bets in the other top categories. So the ceremony should be suspenseful.

In recent years I’ve listed the nominees in order of my preferences for which I’d like to see win, and that’s what I’ll do this time around. I’ll also toss in my predictions.

Best Picture

1. “Promising Young Woman”

2. “Sound of Metal”

3. “Judas and the Black Messiah”

4. “Nomadland”

5. “The Father”

6. “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

7. “Minari”

8. “Mank”


Carey Mulligan deserves an Oscar for her work in “Promising Young Woman.” (Focus Features)

“Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “Judas and the Black Messiah” stand out in this group, and any one of them would be a worthy winner. But “Promising Young Woman,” starring Carey Mulligan (more about her below) as a woman seeking revenge on sexual predators, has stuck with me the most. It’s angry and funny and compelling and great.

“Nomadland” is the favorite, and it’s very good, but I can think of at least 10 other films not nominated that had a stronger impact. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” would rank higher if not marred by unnecessarily embellishment (including a hokey ending). Of all of the 2020 films, I was looking forward to “Mank,” about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, the most. But director David Fincher’s  over-the-top approach made it a major disappointment.

My pick: “Promising Young Woman”

Prediction: “Nomadland”

Best Actor

1. Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

2. Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”

3. Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”

4. Gary Oldman, “Mank”

5. Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Most years I’d be all in for Ahmed and his moving performance as a heavy-metal drummer who loses his hearing. But Boseman is just as compelling as an ambitious, fiery horn player in Ma Rainey’s band, and, yes, there also are sentimental reasons to pull for the charismatic actor, who died much too young (at 43) last August. Veterans Hopkins, as a man with Alzeimer’s disease, and Oldman, as Mankiewicz, appropriately chew up the scenery and deserve a place here, as does Yeun (of “The Walking Dead”) for his more understated performance.

My pick: Chadwick Boseman

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress

1. Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

2. Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

3. Andra Day, “The United States v. Billie Holiday”

4. Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”

5. Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

British actress Mulligan has given one outstanding performance after another in such films as “Wildlife,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Never Let Me Go” and “An Education.” Here she delivers her best work to date as Cassandra, the sarcastic, guarded, determined, tragic central character in “Promising Young Woman.”

Davis is my second pick for her larger-than-life blues diva Ma Rainey, followed by Day, who as Billie Holiday transcends the middling material of the film; Kirby, as a young woman struggling with personal tragedy; and McDormand. McDormand, a double Oscar winner already (for “Three Billboards Outside Billings, Missouri” and “Fargo”), is the favorite in the category; her performance as a nomad in “Nomadland” seems a bit too close to hers in “Three Billboards,” which is why I have her at the bottom. I’m guessing Davis will win in a minor upset, though I’ll be rooting big time for Mulligan. Kate Winslet should have been nominated for “Ammonite.”

My pick: Carey Mulligan

Prediction: Viola Davis

Best Supporting Actor

1. Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

2. Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”

3. Lakeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

4. Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”

5. Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Just who is the star of “Judas and the Black Messiah”? Apparently, no one, since Kaluuya, as dynamic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and Stanfield, as the conflicted FBI informant who infiltrates Hampton’s group, head the cast and are both in the supporting category. Kaluuya gets the edge for successfully projecting extraordinary magnetism and passion, while Odom deserves consideration for not only playing Sam Cooke but singing his songs so well. Raci, as a Vietnam vet who oversees a deaf community, and Cohen, as activist Abbie Hoffman, round out this strong group of contenders.

My pick: Daniel Kaluuya

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Supporting Actress

1. Maria Bakalova (‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)

2. Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”)

3. Olivia Colman (“The Father”)

4. Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”)

5. Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”)

You can toss a five-sided coin (!) on this one. This is the weakest category this year — I can’t say I’m excited about any of the choices, though they’re all fine. Bakalova perhaps deserves the top spot for putting herself in horrible situations (including a highly publicized one with Rudy Guiliani). Then there’s Seyfried, as William Randolph Hearst mistress Marion Davies; Colman, as the concerned daughter of “The Father”; Youn, as the comical grandmother in “Minari”; and Close, who as the grandmother in “Hillbilly Elegy” is a bit too reminiscent of Granny Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

My pick: Maria Bakalova

Prediction: Yuh-jung Youn

Best Director

1. Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

2. Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

3. Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”

4. Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”

5. David Fincher, “Mank”

As mentioned above, this is the first time two women have been nominated in this category, and only once has a woman won: Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.”  I’m rooting for a woman to win this year — because she deserves it. That would be Fennell for “A Promising Young Woman.” And if she doesn’t get it, I hope Zhao does for “Nomadland,” though I liked Zhao’s previous film, “The Rider,” more. Danish director Vinterberg is the surprise nominee for “Another Round,” also nominated for best international feature film.

My pick: Emerald Fennell

Prediction: Chloé Zhao

** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and Those who aren’t night owls will find archived recordings of the shows at He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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