Oscar Nomination Predictions: Will There Be Weird Choices for a Weird Year?

In a long season that’s been hard to endure and hard to predict, here are our best guesses in all 23 categories

AWARDS BEAT

“Minari” (A24), “Nomadland” (Searchlight), “Promising Young Woman” (Focus), “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

It’s time for Oscar voters to try and make sense of the movies from a year in which the movie business didn’t really exist. After 12 months of isolating and quarantining and watching movies that couldn’t go to theaters so they went to streaming services instead, the 9,300 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take the measure of 2020 when nominations are announced on Monday.

Or, rather, they’ll take the measure of 2020 plus the first two months of 2021, because this elongated, delayed Oscar season actually salutes 14 months of movies that in a different world would have played in places other than our living rooms. It was a difficult year in so many ways — and one of the least consequential ways was that Oscar voters didn’t have the chance mingle in lobbies or over buffets talking about their favorites, which makes it much harder than usual to predict what they’re going to nominate.

But we’re predicting regardless. Remember that the Academy’s preferential system of counting votes rewards passion, not consensus — it’s better to be ranked first on 1,000 ballots than third on 3,000. (For a rundown on exactly how many votes it takes to get an Oscar nomination, check here.)

BEST PICTURE
At this point in this strangest of years, we seem to have a clear Top 4: “Nomadland” (the closest thing to a front runner) and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (the film with the best showing in major guild nominations), which have been running No. 1-2 all season, and “Minari” and “Promising Young Woman,” which have come on very strong with Producers Guild and Directors Guild nominations.

Beyond that, the first question is how many Best Picture nominees we’ll have. The current system is designed to produce anywhere between five and 10, but in practice it’s always been eight or nine — but this is an unconventional year, and when I used the Oscar system on a few hundred Metacritic Top 10 lists, something happened that I’d never seen: The combination of a large field of contenders and a lack of passion produced only five nominees. I don’t expect that to happen at the Oscars, but I’d be surprised if there were more than eight nominees, and not at all surprised if there were only six or seven.

So which other films will make the cut? The Producers Guild, as reliable an Oscar predictor as we have, took the top four and added “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “One Night in Miami” and “Sound of Metal.” That leaves out “Da 5 Bloods,” which has done unexpectedly poorly in guild nominations, but also “News of the World,” which has done very well with the guilds. And it doesn’t include “Soul,” because the PGA has its own category for animated films.

For the No. 5-7 spots on the list, “Mank,” “One Night in Miami” and “News of the World” feel like the safest bets, though the lack of a PGA nom for “News” is a red flag. (And I’m not always sure about “Mank,” either, though it has the best showing of any film over all the guild awards.) Best Picture nominee “Borat” doesn’t seem to be the kind of phrase the Academy would be comfortable embracing, though this would certainly be the year to do it. So that leaves a group of films that will definitely get acting nominations but aren’t locks for Best Picture: “Sound of Metal,” “Ma Rainey,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Father.” “Sound of Metal” and “Ma Rainey” had equivalent showings in guild nominations, but “Ma Rainey” might tip the scales with its SAG ensemble nomination.

For the sake of this list, I’ll assume eight nominees.

Predicted nominees:
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Minari”
“News of the World”
“Nomadland”
“One Night in Miami”
“Promising Young Woman”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

If there are nine nominees:
“Sound of Metal”

If there are 10:
“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Watch out for: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “The Father,” “Soul”

Director Emerald Fennell, center, on the set of “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

BEST DIRECTOR
The Directors Guild of America’s nominations are usually a very good indication of what the Academy is going to choose — but they rarely go five-for-five, with four of the DGA’s choices typically going on to receive Oscar nominations. This year, the DGA brought good news to Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”), Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), but history suggests that one of those directors will lose his or her spot to somebody else when the Academy chimes in.

Chung and Fennell seem to be the most vulnerable — but as Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow can tell you, the Directors Branch has made some surprising choices in the last decade. (Maybe Fincher and Sorkin aren’t as locked as they seem?) The directors who could be waiting in the wings to grab a spot include Paul Greengrass for “News of the World,” Regina King for “One Night in Miami,” Spike Lee for “Da 5 Bloods,” Florian Zeller for “The Father” and a complete wild-card choice like Darius Marder for “Sound of Metal” or Thomas Vinterberg for “Another Round.” (There are lots of international voters in the Academy these days, and everybody loved giving this award to Bong Joon Ho last year.)

But momentum seems to be with “Minari” and “Promising Young Woman” at the moment, so we’re guessing that this will be a rare year in which the DGA and the Oscars have a five-for-five match.

Predicted nominees:
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”

Watch out for: Paul Greengrass, “News of the World”; Regina King, “One Night in Miami”; Spike Lee, “Da 5 Bloods”

BEST ACTOR
Well, we know that Chadwick Boseman is going to win for “Ma Rainey’s Bottom.” We know, I think, that Riz Ahmed is going to be nominated for “Sound of Metal,” and so is Anthony Hopkins for “The Father.” I’m pretty sure that Gary Oldman will be nominated for “Mank,” and I’m pretty sure that Delroy Lindo will not be nominated for “Da 5 Bloods,” even though he should be.

That leaves a group of actors competing for one final slot, with the most notable contenders being Steven Yeun for “Minari,” Tahar Rahim for “The Mauritanian” and Mads Mikkelsen for “Another Round.” Since Yeun’s role doesn’t involve the kind of thespian fireworks so beloved by Oscar voters, and with “The Mauritanian” being such a late-breaking entry, it’s definitely possible that the large number of international Oscar voters will put Mikkelsen over the top.

Predicted nominees:
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Mads Mikkelsen, “Another Round”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”

Watch out for: Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods”; Tahar Rahim, “The Mauritanian”; Steven Yeun, “Minari”

BEST ACTRESS
Of the four acting categories, Best Actress seems to have the most settled group of favorites. Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby have been at the top of most lists for months now, with Mulligan cementing her position as “Promising Young Woman” surged and the other three never losing their hold on their spots since the fall.

Sophia Loren was a strong contender for a slot for some time, and she still has a chance if somebody falters and the Europeans vote for her in big enough numbers. But Andra Day was a late addition in the category with “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and her searing performance in the title role is a quintessential case of voters embracing the actor even if they don’t love the movie.

Predicted nominees:
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”

Watch out for: Yeri Han, “Minari,” Sophia Loren, “The Life Ahead,” Zendaya, “Malcolm & Marie”

Daniel Kaluuya in “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Did 8-year-old “Minari” star Alan Kim cry himself into an Oscar nomination when he won the Critics Choice Award for Best Young Actor/Actress on Sunday? Probably not, since most Oscar voters weren’t watching — but his adorable sobs didn’t hurt his chances of crashing a category whose top dogs appear to be Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah” (in one of those lead roles masquerading as supporting), Leslie Odom Jr. in “One Night in Miami” and Sacha Baron Cohen in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Paul Raci once seemed to have a firm grasp on a nomination for “Sound of Metal,” until he was bypassed by both Golden Globe and SAG voters; Jared Leto was on nobody’s radar for “The Little Things” until he was nominated by both groups. But Raci is still hanging around and Leto still seems to be something of a long shot, while you can’t ignore Chadwick Boseman for “Da 5 Bloods” (unless voters think the Best Actor nod is enough) and David Strathairn for “Nomadland” (if they realize how valuable his seemingly effortless naturalism is).

Predicted nominees:
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”
David Strathairn, “Nomadland”

Watch out for: Chadwick Boseman, “Da 5 Bloods”; Jared Leto, “The Little Things”; Alan Kim, “Minari”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This is a category that’s been getting more confusing over time. Amanda Seyfried was supposed to be a front runner for “Mank,” but then she was bypassed by both the Golden Globes and SAG. Olivia Colman was supposed to be a sure thing until she wasn’t even nominated by BAFTA, where the British actress is supposed to have home-court advantage. Glenn Close was thought to be in trouble because everybody hated “Hillbilly Elegy,” but it turns out that everybody just means the critics, and that voters are just fine with her and the movie. And Maria Bakalova and Yuh-Jung Youn, unknowns to American audiences, seemed like long shots until they slowly morphed into favorites.

At any rate, Bakalova and Youn are in good shape and Colman ought to recover from her BAFTA snub. But those last two spots could go to any of a number of actresses, also including Globe winner Jodie Foster for “The Mauritanian,” icon Ellen Burstyn for “Pieces of a Woman” or 12-year-old Helena Zengel for “News of the World,” which did net her SAG and Globe noms. Here’s guessing that Close takes one and Zengel knocks Seyfried out of the other.

Predicted nominees:
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
Helena Zengel, “News of the World”

Watch out for: Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman”; Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian”; Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Writers Guild nominated “Ma Rainey,” “News of the World,” “One Night in Miami,” “The White Tiger” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” in this category, but you can’t really trust the WGA because its rules disqualified “Nomadland” and “The Father,” both of which are very likely to be nominated. Still, “One Night in Miami” is definitely a keeper from the guild’s list, and “News of the World” probably is as well.

If those four are in, that leaves a battle for the final spot between “Borat,” “Ma Rainey” and “White Tiger” from the WGA list, or “First Cow,” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” or “The Mauritanian” from elsewhere. The Writers Branch can be one of the Academy’s more idiosyncratic and indie-oriented branches, so they could go for Charlie Kaufman’s playfully brain-teasing “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” or, if they figure that Sacha Baron Cohen’s improvisations qualify as written, for “Borat.”

Predicted nominees:
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
“The Father”
“News of the World”
“Nomadland”
“One Night in Miami”

Watch out for: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The White Tiger”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Some serious contenders from this category were also ineligible for the Writers Guild Awards: “Mank,” “Minari” and “Soul,” for starters. So it’s best to take three from the list of WGA nominees – probably “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” over “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “Palm Springs” – and then add “Mank” and “Minari.”

Still, that might be too simple a solution: If “Mank” seems to be more of a directorial achievement by David Fincher than authorial one by his late father, Jack (whose work, David has pointed out, got an uncredited rewrite), it could be replaced by “Soul” or “Judas” or “Da 5 Bloods” or even the indie “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.”

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“Minari”
“Promising Young Woman”
“Sound of Metal”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Watch out for: “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Soul”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
This category has a very reliable precursor award: The American Society of Cinematographers nominations have predicted at least four of the five Oscar nominations every year since 2006, and they’ve matched all five nominees five times in that stretch. This year’s ASC nominations went to “Mank,” “News of the World,” “Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Cherry,” so those have to be considered the favorites for Oscar noms as well.

But the ASC only matches four out of five twice as often as it matches all five, and its inclusion of “Cherry” came as something of a shock. So if that film doesn’t land an Oscar nomination — as it seems likely not to do — the films that could take its place include “Tenet,” “Minari,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods.” (The last of those was shot by the same cinematographer who landed the ASC nomination for “Cherry,” Newton Thomas Sigel.) We’ll go with the massive scope of “Tenet,” though it’s also quite possible that “Chicago 7” could also slip out and be replaced by “Minari” or “Judas.”

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Nomadland”
“Tenet”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Watch out for: “Da 5 Bloods,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari”

BEST FILM EDITING
The clearest choices in this category are probably “Mank,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” all of them propelled by their editing. The scale of “News of the World” and “Tenet” should make them contenders here, too — but there’s another factor at work, which is that for the last 39 years, only one film has won Best Picture without a film-editing nomination. (That was “Birdman,” which was designed to look as if it didn’t have any cuts.)

So if you think a movie has a real chance of winning Best Picture, you should also pick it to land an editing nomination. That means that “Nomadland” is definitely in play here, and that “Minari” and maybe even “Promising Young Woman” should be considered real candidates, too.

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“Minari”
“Nomadland”
“Sound of Metal”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Watch out for: “News of the World,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Tenet”

tenet

“Tenet” (Warner Bros.)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“Mank” built Golden Age Hollywood, “News of the World” created the Old West and “Tenet” dropped us into a world where time was kind of meaningless — but in all three cases, the vivid detail with which those worlds were created will almost certainly bring their creators Oscar nominations.

From there, though, the picture is muddier. If voters realize how integral the design of “The Father” was to the feeling of disorientation the audience feels, that film will probably land a nomination; if they think of the gig as designing a nice apartment, it won’t. If they want expansiveness, “The Midnight Sky” or “The Personal History of David Copperfield” or “Mulan” could be the ticket; if a few small, perfect spaces are what they’re looking for, it could be “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”; if setting the table for historical moments is the idea, there’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” or “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

The Art Directors Guild, which spreads 15 film nominations across three categories, didn’t nominate “The Father” or “David Copperfield” or “Judas,” so we’ll pick from what’s left.

Predicted nominees:
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Mulan”
“News of the World”
“Tenet”

Watch out for: “The Father,” “The Midnight Sky,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Three very different period pieces — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank” and “Emma” — are the obvious choices in this category, but the field expands broadly from there. The lavish looks of “Mulan” are certainly in play, as is the more rustic attire in “News of the World,” the mixture of plain and fancy in “Ammonite” and the clothing from a string of movies set in mid-20th-century America: “One Night in Miami,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “The Glorias.” And given how wardrobe is a key to the characters in “Promising Young Woman,” that film could even become a rare contemporary nominee in the category.

The Costume Designers Guild Awards always overlook at least one Oscar nominee, so this year we’re thinking that might be “News of the World.” As for the final slot, perhaps the Chinese creations of “Mulan” will be more persuasive than ’60s duds in those mid-century movies.

Predicted nominees:
“Emma”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Promising Young Woman”

Watch out for: “Ammonite,” “Mulan,” “One Night in Miami”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy has already narrowed this category down to 10 semi-finalists; the trick is to figure out which five will advance to the next round, a winnowing whose crucial step was the March 6 “bakeoff” in which the shortlisted artisans showed clips and explained the challenges they faced. Who killed it at the bakeoff and who had an uninspiring presentation? Only the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch knows for sure.

Still, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” feels like a sure nominee just on the basis of Viola Davis’ wig, garish facepaint and beading sweat, and “Hillbilly Elegy” made Glenn Close and Amy Adams look awful in the kind of way the Oscars have always responded to. “Pinocchio” is probably the least seen of the shortlisted film, but it has wildly elaborate makeup, including giving a young Italian actor wooden skin. “Mank” landed multiple nominations from the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, which doesn’t always agree with the Oscars (MUAHS’ most-nominated film was “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” which didn’t even make the Oscar shortlist) but is still a reasonable indicator of what impresses pros in the field. And then it probably comes down to the cartoonish extravagance of “Birds of Prey” or the actor-to-real-person transformations in “One Night in Miami” and “The Glorias.”

Predicted nominees:
“Birds of Prey”
“Hillbilly Elegy”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Pinocchio”

Watch out for: “Emma,” “The Glorias,” “One Night in Miami”

“Soul” (Disney/Pixar)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Academy’s Music Branch made a rare exception to its rules and allowed three composers to be credited for “Soul,” with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross writing the underscore and Jon Batiste handling the jazz music played on screen. That ruling will almost certainly make the three of them Oscar nominees, since they’ve already won pretty much every score award so far — and Reznor and Ross have a very good chance of being double nominees for their period score for “Mank” as well. Throw in Oscar perennials Alexandre Desplat for “The Midnight Sky” and James Newton Howard for “News of the World” and this category suddenly gets very crowded, particularly given the remarkable work on the 15-film shortlist.

If “Soul,” “Mank,” “Midnight” and “News” are all nominated, the competition for the last spot could be between Emile Mosseri gentle score for “Minari,” Terence Blanchard’s epic one for “Da 5 Bloods,” Ludwig Goransson’s adventurous one for “Tenet” and Daniel Pemberton’s rock-inflected one for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” But the real wild card here is Lolita Ritmanis’ score from the Latvian movie “Blizzard of Souls.” Ritmanis is the co-founder of the Alliance for Women Film Composers and the only woman on the shortlist at a time when the male-dominated Music Branch is trying to become more open — and more to the point, her score is a massive and impressive piece of work. Don’t dismiss her chances.

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“The Midnight Sky”
“Minari”
“News of the World”
“Soul”

Watch out for: “Blizzard of Souls,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “Tenet”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Oscar music voters can be unpredictable, but they are in the habit of nominating Diane Warren (five times in the last six years) and there’s no reason they won’t do it again for “Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead.” From there, they’ll have a large number of soul- and R&B-oriented songs to choose from, starting with Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” and Celeste and Daniel Pemberton’s “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but also including “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” (H.E.R.), “Never Break” from “Giving Voice” (John Legend), “Turntables” from “All In” (Janelle Monae), “See What You’ve Done” from “Belly of the Beast” (Mary J. Blige) and “Show Me Your Soul” from “Mr. Soul!” (Robert Glasper). But will all those great R&B singers and songwriters split the vote and give something else a spot or two? It’s a definite possibility.

If they do, “Rain Song” from “Minari” is a contender because of the affection for that film, and “Loyal Brave True” from “Mulan” is suitably anthemic. And you can’t count out the two songs that provide comic moments in their films: “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest” and “Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Predicted nominees:
“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest”
“Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead”
“Never Break” from “Giving Voice”
“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”

Watch out for: “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”; “Loyal Brave True” from “Mulan”; “Rain Song” from “Minari”

BEST SOUND
If you’ve got the word sound in your title, does that give you a leg up in the Best Sound category? Maybe not, but if the key to your film is the re-creation of the sonic experience of a hard-rock musician who is going deaf, as it is in “Sound of Metal,” you’re probably in good shape.

For the last 40 years the Academy has been giving out separate awards for sound mixing and sound editing, but this year it’s moving to a single Best Sound category, which will incorporate both mixing and editing. Three films were nominated this year by both the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the Cinema Audio Society (whose awards honor mixing): “Sound of Metal,” “News of the World” and “Greyhound.” While the first two films seem to be likely nominees, the last one is a question mark that hasn’t established much of a presence in Oscar season; it might have a better chance if there was still a separate category for sound editing.

“Mank” is a strong contender because of how it was treated to sound like an old movie, while the use of sound in “Nomadland” is subtler but crucial. Noisy films like “Tenet” and “The Midnight Sky” are always contenders, but voters in the Best Sound Mixing category also loved movies in which music was central, which could help “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Soul” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“News of the World”
“Nomadland”
“Soul”
“Sound of Metal”

Watch out for: “Greyhound,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Tenet”

“The Midnight Sky” (Netflix)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
This is a category in which the pandemic has had a huge effect: The big, effects-driven films that often dominate the nominations were largely missing in action, because theaters weren’t open. No matter what gets nominated, it’ll be the first time in five years that the slate of nominees hasn’t contained both a Marvel movie and a “Star Wars” movie, and the first time since 2011 that it hasn’t contained at least one of those.

The Christopher Nolan movies “Inception” and “Interstellar” have won in this category in the past decade, and his “Tenet” is all but assured a nomination, even though the filmmaker liked to talk about how he prefers physical effects to CG ones. George Clooney’s outer space/arctic combo “The Midnight Sky” is an easy call as well, as is the re-creation of Old Hollywood in “Mank.” “The One and Only Ivan” has the most lavish character creations, which often brings nominations, while the facial replacement technology used to conceal identities of endangered subjects in the documentary “Welcome to Chechnya” makes that an intriguing contender. (It’s the first doc ever shortlisted in the category.)

Like Best Makeup and Hairstyling, though, this is a category where the voters have watched clips and presentations by the shortlisted films — so the last couple of nominees will probably be the ones that made a great bakeoff presentation, whether that means detailing the martial-arts warfare in “Mulan” or saying whatever it takes to turn a long shot like “Love and Monsters” into a real contender. If you weren’t watching the bakeoff last Saturday (I wasn’t), you just don’t know.

Predicted nominees:
“Mank”
“The Midnight Sky”
“Mulan”
“Tenet”
“Welcome to Chechnya”

Watch out for: “Birds of Prey,” “The One and Only Ivan,” “Soul”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
There’s no question that Pixar’s “Soul” and Cartoon Saloon’s “Wolfwalkers” are the top two in this category, which like VFX was impacted by the closing of movie theaters. Glen Keane’s Netflix movie “Over the Moon” seems to be a likely nominee, with Keane a beloved animation veteran who won an Oscar for Kobe Bryant’s short “Dear Basketball.” And Pixar’s other 2020 film, “Onward,” has done well in precursor awards.

In the days when nominations were made by groups of voters made up predominantly of animators, the final spot might have gone to “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (the branch loves stop-motion) or an arty international movie like “No. 7 Cherry Lane” or “My Favorite War.” But since the voting has been opened up to everybody in the Academy who volunteers to watch the movies, those slots have usually gone to more mainstream major-studio animation, which in this case probably means “The Croods: A New Age.”

Predicted nominees:
“The Croods: A New Age”
“Onward”
“Over the Moon”
“Soul”
“Wolfwalkers”

Watch out for: “Earwig and the Witch,” “No. 7 Cherry Lane,” “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
The good news is that every Academy member who wants to vote in this category in the nominating round can do so by watching the shortlisted films in the AMPAS members-only screening room; that has the potential to dramatically expand the number of voters from previous years. The bad news is that the shortlist has itself been expanded from 10 to 15 films, and you have to watch them all before you can vote; that could dramatically shrink the number of voters who have the time and energy to participate.

And given those changes, the nominations will probably go to films that can appeal to both the American members who used to do most of the voting and the international ones who are likely making up an increasingly large percentage of the voters. Denmark’s “Another Round” is the presumed front runner, but the powerful Bosnian drama “Quo Vadis, Aida?” has word-of-mouth that’s second to none in the category. Tunisia’s “The Man Who Sold His Skin” is also coming on very strong — it may have surprised some people when it appeared on the shortlist, but many of those who then watched it so that they could vote were probably taken by how stylish and adventurous it is, and how different from the rest of the field.

The last two slots will likely be between the Mexican entry that was just nominated for a DGA Award, “I’m No Longer Here”; Guatemala’s moody and provocative “La Llorona”; Ivory Coast’s gritty “Night of the Kings”; France’s “Two of Us,” the most sentimental entry; and Russia’s provocative but perhaps divisive “Dear Comrades!” Romania’s “Collective,” meanwhile, likely has a better shot in the documentary category than in this one.

Predicted nominees:
“Another Round,” Denmark
“I’m No Longer Here,” Mexico
“La Llorona,” Guatemala
“The Man Who Sold His Skin,” Tunisia
“Quo Vadis, Aida?,” Bosnia & Herzegovina

Watch out for: “Dear Comrades!,” Russia; “Night of the Kings,” Ivory Coast; “Two of Us,” France

“The Truffle Hunters” (Sony Pictures Classics)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
After a year in which COVID-inspired eligibility rules allowed a record-breaking number of docs to qualify, virtually all of 2020’s top nonfiction films made the 15-film Oscar shortlist — and honestly, almost every film on the list has a real shot at a nomination. One thing to keep in mind here is that the Academy’s Documentary Branch has been one of the fastest-growing branches in recent years, and much of that growth has come from members outside the United States — so the international vote could be key, and could give a boost to films like “Collective” and “The Truffle Hunters.” (Will it hurt movies that are tied to U.S. politics, such as “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “MLK/FBI” and “Boys State?” That’s a real question.)

“Time” has widespread appeal and should be a near lock for a nomination, and “Welcome to Chechnya” received some extra attention for its unprecedented spot on the visual-effects Oscars shortlist. But the field is wide open: “Dick Johnson Is Dead” is divisive but may have enough diehard fans to prevail in a system that rewards passion; “Crip Camp” is heartwarming but may not stir up as much zeal; “All In” could make Stacey Abrams an Oscar nominee; “Gunda” and “My Octopus Teacher” are striking nature docs with a twist; and “76 Days” has the advantage of being an eye-opening look at a subject, COVID-19, that has dominated the life of every voter for the past year.

Predicted nominees:
“Collective”
“76 Days”
“Time”
“The Truffle Hunters”
“Welcome to Chechnya”

Watch out for: “Crip Camp,” “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” “Gunda”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Even after seeing all of the shortlisted films, it’s extremely hard to predict voters’ tastes in the three short-film categories. The documentary-short category used to fill up every year with sobering docs that dealt with serious issues and bumped right up against the 40-minute time limit, but things have changed and this year’s batch is far more varied — although “Hunger Ward,” a 40-minute film focusing on malnourished children in Yemen, is an overpowering example of how impactful this kind of film can be. “Colette” is another hard-hitting film that follows one of the last living members of the World War II French Resistance as she visits the concentration camp where her brother died; it’s more of a character study than an issue film, but a vivid and powerful one.

“Hysterical Girl” stands out as the most formally adventurous short on the list, and one of the timeliest in its examination of how society has always shut down and dismissed women. “A Concerto Is a Conversation” is another unconventional film, a dialogue that links the life of Black film composer Kris Bowers with his grandfather, who came to Los Angeles after fleeing the Jim Crow South; its ties to the film industry through Bowers should help it get attention. And Netflix has three films on the shortlist and will likely land one or two nominations, with the lyrical “A Love Song for Latasha” and the wry “What Would Sophia Loren Do?” standing out.

Predicted nominees:
“Colette”
“A Concerto is a Conversation”
“Hunger Ward”
“Hysterical Girl”
“A Love Song for Latasha”

Watch out for: “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa,” “Do Not Split,” “What Would Sophia Loren Do?”

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Pixar once ruled this category, and it has two of the 10 shortlisted films: “Burrow,” the cute tale of a rabbit and his adventures underground, and “Out,” which will get an extra boost because it features Disney/Pixar’s first gay hero. The competition includes one DreamWorks Animation film, the charming “To Gerard,” and one cartoon epic, “The Snail and the Whale,” with a voice cast that includes Sally Hawkins and the late Diana Rigg and a scale that tops everything else in the category — with the possible exception of Erick Oh’s “Opera,” which is as much an art installation as a short film, and which deserves to be seen on a big screen that will do justice to its insanely detailed world.

Netflix’s “If Anything Happens I Love You” packs the strongest emotional punch through simple line drawings. It may be the surest nominee on the shortlist, followed by “Snail,” “Out” and “Opera.” The final spot could go to the Hawaiian folk tale “Kapaemahu” or the wry Icelandic comedy “Yes-People,” but the surreal French short “Genius Loci” has the most distinctive look and could appeal to voters in search of adventurous animation.

Predicted nominees:
“Genius Loci”
“If Anything Happens I Love You”
“Opera”
“Out”
“The Snail and the Whale”

But watch for: “Kapaemahu,” “To Gerard,” “Yes-People”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
The live-action category has some of the best short films competing for Oscars this year, starting with the knockout duo of Pedro Almodovar’s haunted Tilda Swinton vehicle, “The Human Voice,” and Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s powerful and timely “Groundhog Day” riff, “Two Distant Strangers.” It’ll be a shock if they’re not both nominated, and something of a surprise if they’re not joined by “The Letter Room,” a black comedy starring Oscar Isaac, and “Feeling Through,” a touching film executive produced by Marlee Matlin and starring a deaf and blind actor, Robert Tarango.

Among the other contenders, “Da Yie” and “Bittu” fit with the category’s recent theme of children in peril, with the production values of the former giving it an edge. “The Present” and especially “The Van” fit with voters’ tendency to go for dark and grim stories. It’s a toss-up as to which of them get through.

Predicted nominees:
“Da Yie”
“Feeling Through”
“The Human Voice”
“The Letter Room”
“Two Distant Strangers”

Watch out for: “The Present,” “The Van,” “White Eye”

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