‘Nomadland’ leads the pack for best picture heading into the Oscars, but best actress award is wide open

The path to the 2021 Academy Awards has been a strange one. After enduring date changes and delays as well as virtual film festivals and new eligibility rules, the Oscars are set to take place this Sunday.

Heading into the ceremony, there are a few clear front-runners in major categories like best picture and best director, but the race is still wide open in others, like best actress.

Regardless of who wins, the 2021 Oscar nomination slate is a historic one. It marks the first time an all-Black producing team has been nominated for best picture (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), the first time two actors of Asian decent were nominated for best actor (Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed) and the first year that two women have been nominated for best director (Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell).

Zhao’s “Nomadland” has swept the awards season and seems poised to nab best picture as well as the best directing award for the filmmaker, barring any unforeseen upsets.

Chadwick Boseman, who unexpectedly passed away after a four-year battle with colon cancer that he concealed from the public, is likely to pick up the best actor award for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Daniel Kaluuya is expected to snag the best supporting actor trophy for his performance in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” while Yuh-Jung Youn appears to be on track to become the second Asian woman to win an acting prize at the ceremony.

The best actress award, on the other hand, is anyone’s guess.

While more than two dozen awards will be presented this Sunday. Here’s a look at who could take home the prize in the top categories.

Best picture

Heading into Sunday’s ceremony, “Nomadland” appears to be the clear front-runner for the best picture award. The film has picked up the top award from the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Still, “1917” and “La La Land” had similar track records, but lost to “Parasite” and “Moonlight,” respectively. So, there’s still a chance for an upset from one of the other contenders.

“Nomadland” is nominated alongside “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Best director

In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, Zhao has scooped up the top directing award at the Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Directors Guild of America awards for “Nomadland.” While she faces some competition in the category at the Academy Awards, she is expected to become the second woman ever to win the best director award.

She has been nominated alongside Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”).

Best animated feature

“Soul” and “Wolfwalkers” both walked away from the Annie Awards with best picture wins, one for best feature and one for best indie feature, but only one can walk away with the top prize for animation at the Oscars.

Pixar’s “Soul” appears to be the strong front-runner, earning Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter his ninth Academy Award nomination and a potential third win. “Soul” marks his fourth nomination for best animated feature, a record for the category, which was first awarded in 2002.

Other nominated titles include another Pixar feature called “Onward,” as well as Netflix’s “Over the Moon” and “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.”

Best actor

Anthony Hopkins may have won the BAFTA for best actor for “The Father,” but it seems the late Chadwick Boseman is expected to take home the prize this Sunday.

The actor — known for his role as T’Challa, the Black Panther, in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe —passed away last August at the age of 43. He posthumously took home the best acting awards at the Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards this year.

Best actress

It’s anyone’s guess which actress will take home the top acting award on Sunday. A different actress won the prize at the top award shows leading up to the Oscars.

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) won at the Critics Choice Awards, Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) took home the BAFTA, Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) earned the Screen Actors Guild award and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) garnered the Golden Globe win.

Only Vanessa Kirby has yet to secure a win for her performance in “Pieces of a Woman,” but she’s not totally out of the running.

Best original screenplay

Aaron Sorkin may have won best original screenplay for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” at the Golden Globes, but it’s been Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” who has swept the rest of the awards on the circut.

Fennell scooped up the BAFTA, Critics Choice and Writers Guild of America awards leading up to Sunday’s ceremony. If she does win the trophy at the Academy Awards, she will be the second solo female winner in this category. Diablo Cody was the first for “Juno.”


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