By Daniel Howat
It’s that time of year, folks! Last year’s Oscars have finally wrapped up, so it’s time for our way-too-early predictions for next year. We’re well into 2021 already, much later than we usually post these early predictions. As of now, next year’s Oscars will award films released from March 1st to December 31st. Of course, it’s way too early to think we have an accurate idea of what will win Best Picture. Instead, think of this as a guide to potential contenders. It’s always fun to look back and see how close we are to what ended up nominated!
Click below to see our early Oscar predictions for 2021.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
The first of our 2020 holdovers is “The French Dispatch” from director Wes Anderson. After arguably coming close to a Best Picture win in 2014, he returns with a star-studded cast and all the quirkiness we know and love. Frances McDormand leads the film, described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city.” She stars alongside Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Benecio del Toro, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson, Stephen Park, Léa Seydoux, and more. If this isn’t nominated for the SAG for Best Ensemble, I’ll be shocked. We’ve got to assume Searchlight held “The French Dispatch” out of last year’s race to ensure they could make a significant impact this year. We’ll see how that gamble pays off!
Release Date: July, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design & Original Score
WEST SIDE STORY
Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” was pushed a whole year, anticipating a December release date. The big question remains: Could a remake of a Best Picture winner really be a top-tier contender for Best Picture this year? If anyone could do it, it would be Spielberg. While Ansel Elgort has been embroiled in some controversy, the film is still highly anticipated. Rachel Zegler is poised to be a breakout star, along with “The Prom” star Ariana Debose. While I’m not so sure this could win Best Picture, I feel confident in predicting nominations across the board.
Release Date: December 10th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound & Original Song
THE LAST DUEL
The first of Ridley Scott’s two films releasing in 2021, “The Last Duel,” is notable for reuniting Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as co-writers and co-stars more than 20 years after their Oscar-winning pairing on “Good Will Hunting.” Based on the novel of the same name, Damon stars as Jean de Carrouges, who accuses a squire (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer). While Damon and Affleck are an exciting pair, Driver and Comer are some of the most exciting actors working today. Comer feels primed for her first Oscar nomination. Scott is hit or miss with the Oscars, but this has a lot of potential.
Release Date: October 15th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing & Production Design
HOUSE OF GUCCI
Next up for Ridley Scott is “House of Gucci,” which just started filming in Rome. While there’s certainly a chance it gets pushed to 2022, Scott is no stranger to quick turnarounds. “Gucci” has an all-star cast, including Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci who plotted to have her husband killed. Adam Driver reunites with Scott, along with Al Pacino, Jared Leto, and more. This sounds very much in the vein of Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” with a melodramatic plot that could be enticing. This will be Gaga’s first extensive follow-up to “A Star is Born,” which could see her getting a second acting nomination.
Release Date: November 24th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor & Costume Design
DON’T LOOK UP
It’s tough to bet against Adam McKay at this point. His previous two films, “The Big Short” and “Vice,” scored multiple nominations, including Picture, Director, Screenplay, and acting categories. While those true stories made him an Oscar winner, he’ll be moving back to fiction for his next film, “Don’t Look Up.” This is the story of two astronomers who embark on a media tour to warn humanity about a planet-destroying comet that is heading for Earth. This Netflix film is a guaranteed SAG Best Ensemble nominee: Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rob Morgan, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Chris Evans, Himesh Patel, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Tyler Perry, Matthew Perry, Mark Rylance, and even more (believe it or not). As someone who didn’t love McKay’s last two films, this cast sounds a little bit too much, but I’m undeniably excited to see so many incredible performers.
Release Date: Fall 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor & Film Editing
This Oscar potential of “Dune” is as hard to read as it was last year. Director Denis Villeneuve walks the line between Oscar-friendly films and straight-up blockbusters, and “Dune” could fall into either or both of these camps. The incredible cast is undeniable with Timothée Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and more, and the trailer hints at some stunning technical crafts across the board. With the film set to debut on HBO Max on the same day as in theaters, it’s hard to tell if this will be an above-the-line contender. Regardless, it’s safe to bet that the crafts will score at least a few nominations.
Release Date: October 1st, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, Production Design, Sound, & Visual Effects
Never bet against a Paul Thomas Anderson film. His latest film, “Soggy Bottom,” is set in the 1970s in the San Fernando Valley, following a high school student who is also a successful child actor. Bradley Cooper leads the cast, while Cooper Hoffman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son, will portray the child actor. Anderson making a movie about filmmaking in the seventies seems like an undeniable contender. Need I say more?
Release Date: Fall 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Costume Design & Film Editing
UNTITLED DAVID O. RUSSELL PROJECT
Little is known about the plot for this new film, though it may follow a doctor and lawyer who form an unlikely partnership, but it can’t be overlooked in early Oscar prospects. David O. Russell had one of the best runs at the Oscars this century, even though it didn’t net him a single win himself. Still, with “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” and to a lesser extent, “Joy,” his films scored 26 Oscar nominations in five years. This new project is his first film since that run and has a cast ready for awards: Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, Anya Taylor-Joy, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Mike Myers, and much more. He also snagged cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for his first film since 2017, along with composer Hildur Guðnadóttir fresh off her Oscar win last year. There’s a lot of promise here that the Academy could really love.
Release Date: 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing & Score
After winning back-to-back Best Director Oscars, Alejandro González Iñárritu is returning with a new film, “Limbo.” While no plot description has been revealed, this is a Mexican drama starring Daniel Giménez Cacho and Griselda Siciliani. While Emmanuel Lubezki won’t be shooting this project, Darius Khondji will be behind the camera, which could be a great pairing. At worst, this could be an International Feature contender. At best, this could be another across-the-board contender for Iñárritu. The film began shooting earlier this year but should be ready in time for an awards release.
Release Date: Likely 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Cinematography & International Feature Film
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
Any new film involving the Coen Brothers needs to be on our radar. This new version of “Macbeth,” however, will not have the involvement of Ethan Coen. Joel Coen embarks on his first true solo directorial feature in years, starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Brendan Gleeson. The film was shot entirely on sound stages and in black and white. This is sure to be one of the most unique films in the race. Every Coen Brothers film since “A Serious Man” has been nominated for at least one Oscar, and I wouldn’t bet on this film breaking that trend. Only uncomfortable caveat: Will the recent and overdue takedown of producer Scott Rudin impact this film’s success? Time will tell.
Release Date: Fall 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography & Production Design
A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN
“Macbeth” isn’t Denzel’s only contender this year. Five years after his Oscar-winning film “Fences,” Washington returns to direct “A Journal For Jordan.” This drama tells the true story of First Sergeant Charles Monroe, who, while deployed in Iraq, kept a journal full of life lessons for his newborn son. Monroe was killed in action when his son was only seven months old. Michael B. Jordan will play Monroe, a role that could easily snag his first Oscar nomination. Movies about the War on Terror have been more miss than hit recently (I’m looking at you, “Cherry“), but Washington’s last directorial effort scored a Best Picture nomination and a Supporting Actress win for Viola Davis, so this could be a strong contender.
Release Date: December 10th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress & Adapted Screenplay
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
Folks, isn’t it time Edgar Wright scored an Oscar nomination? His films aren’t typical awards-fare, but he’s the sort of filmmaker who could easily transcend genre to snag a nomination. “Baby Driver” scored three craft nominations, though nothing above-the-line. His next film, “Last Night in Soho,” certainly doesn’t sound any more Academy-friendly, but perhaps goodwill could drive consideration. Written by Wright and “1917” co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “Soho” is a psychological horror film about a young girl passionate about fashion who can time travel to 1960s London, where things aren’t always what they seem. Anya Taylor-Joy is riding a wave of goodwill following “The Queen’s Gambit” and appears alongside “Jojo Rabbit” and “Leave No Trace” breakout star Thomasin McKenzie. Whether or not it breaks into the awards race, it’s a film that needs to be on our radar.
Release Date: October 22nd, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress Editing, Cinematography & Film Editing
NEXT GOAL WINS
Taika Waiti might be the busiest filmmaker around right now. He’s in the middle of filming “Thor: Love & Thunder,” but he’s wrapping up post-production on “Next Goal Wins” for release this year. An adaptation of the documentary of the same name, this film tells the story of coach Thomas Rongen’s efforts to qualify the American Samoa national team, considered the worst in the world, for the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Starring Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss, it may be more comedic than dramatic, but that genre blend scored Waititi an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Jojo Rabbit.” The biggest downside for the film is that it co-stars alleged cannibal Armie Hammer, but perhaps they can find a way to rectify that before release.
Release Date: 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress & Film Editing
Biopics are still catnip to the Academy, and “King Richard” is one of the few on this list. The last tennis biopic we expected to get awards, “Battle of the Sexes,” ended up without a single Oscar nomination. “King Richard” is aiming for a different fate when it lands in both theaters and HBO Max. Will Smith stars as Richard Williams, the father of famed tennis champions Venus and Serena, in a film that looks at how he coached his daughters. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green had a remarkable feature debut with “Monsters and Men” in 2018 but didn’t make much of a mark with the upcoming “Joe Bell.” Smith is fresh off the surprising success of “Bad Boys For Life” but hasn’t come close to awards consideration in almost fifteen years. Here’s hoping this role can bring him back to the Academy Awards.
Release Date: November 19th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Actor & Screenplay
IN THE HEIGHTS
Yet another HBO Max debut that could break out of the streaming mold, “In The Heights,” is poised to be a big hit with audiences. After coming close to a Best Picture nomination with “Crazy Rich Asians,” Jon M. Chu returns with an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit musical. The trailer promises an exciting, energetic musical that should easily land a Globe nomination for Best Musical/Comedy. The writer of the original musical, Quiara Alegría Hudes, also wrote the film adaptation, which stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, and Leslie Grace. Can “In The Heights” become a breakout hit without theatrical-only grosses? While “West Side Story” will be the more traditional musical contending for awards, the Academy might make room for two.
Release Date: June 11th, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Song & Sound
James Gray is the sort of director who seems like he would’ve been nominated multiple times over at this point. Instead, the critically acclaimed filmmaker’s movies have only garnered a single nomination, “Ad Astra” for Best Sound Mixing. Gray’s latest project deserves a spot on this list, though, for the obvious potential on the page. “Armageddon Time” is a coming-of-age film based on Gray’s experiences growing up in Queens in the 1980s. The cast is stacked: Oscar Isaac, Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Donald Sutherland, and Cate Blanchett as wait for it, Maryanne Trump, older sister of the twice-impeached President. It’s unclear if the film will be finished in time for this year’s season, but Focus Features will surely give it a big push when the time comes.
Release Date: 2021 or 2022
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Screenplay & Supporting Actress
RED, WHITE, AND WATER
Another holdover from 2020, “Red, White, and Water,” is an exciting entry on this list. Typically, a feature directorial debut from someone with only one previous TV credit wouldn’t land on year-out awards predictions. Still, Lila Neugebauer’s upcoming film “Red, White, and Water” has plenty of promise. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Samara Wiley, Brian Tyree Henry, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, the film is about a US soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home. Neugebauer’s only IMDb credit is directing a single episode of HBO’s “Room 104,” but she has extensive experience as a theatre director. A24 is behind the project, but so is Scott Rudin. Still, this could be an exciting film debut for Neugebauer and a return to awards for Lawrence.
Release Date: 2020
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress & Supporting Actor
Five years after his Original Screenplay nomination for “20th Century Women,” Mike Mills returns with “C’mon C’mon.” Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix stars as an artist left to take care of his nephew as they bond over a cross-country road trip. Mills’ works are the sort of authentic, honest films that could bring the best out of Phoenix. It’s a great pairing from A24 that could really shine as a critics’ favorite if nothing else.
Release Date: 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor & Original Screenplay
THE POWER OF THE DOG
It’s been a while since Jane Campion had a film at the Oscars, but “The Power of the Dog” sounds very promising. Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Thomasin McKenzie star in the film – three actors due for their first nominations – alongside Benedict Cumberbatch. It follows a man who wages war against his brother’s new wife. Netflix has no shortage of contenders this year, and this one could do very well with the Academy.
Release Date: 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress & Supporting Actor
Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” aren’t exactly Academy-friendly, though the latter film scored a cinematography nomination. Still, expectations are high for “The Northman,” an epic Viking revenge saga. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Norse Prince Amleth, along with Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Björk. Even if this doesn’t break in above the line, there’s lots of potential for craft nominations like cinematography, costumes, production design, and more. There’s a chance the film might be pushed to next season, but since it wrapped filming this past December, I’m hoping it can be finished in time.
Release Date: 2021 or 2022
Oscar Potential: Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design & Sound
Returning after his Best Picture victory for “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” is one to keep an eye on. Based on the book of the same name, “Nightmare Alley” stars Bradley Cooper as an ambitious carny known to manipulate others who hooks up with an even more manipulative psychiatrist, played by Cate Blanchett. Also starring Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, and more, this psychological thriller sounds like a perfect fit for del Toro. Will “Nightmare Alley” be more like “The Shape of Water” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” or more like “Crimson Peak?” Del Toro also has the stop-motion animated film “Pinocchio” coming to Netflix this year, which could bring more opportunities for nominations.
Release Date: December 3rd, 2021
Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling & Score
Other Potential Contenders:
“BLONDE” – With Ana de Armas starring as Marilyn Monroe from director Andrew Dominik, this could easily snag an acting nomination or more.
“STILLWATER” – Tom McCarthy could come back to the Oscars with this family drama starring Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin.
“TICK, TICK…BOOM!” – It’s just a matter of time before Lin-Manual Miranda snags Oscar gold, right? His directorial debut stars Andrew Garfield and could be very awards-friendly.
“MASS” – After premiering at Sundance to some of the festival’s best reviews, the directorial debut from Fran Kranz saw all four his actors get cited for their stunning performances. Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd & Reed Birney could all be contending.
“LUCA” – It’s being dumped straight to Disney+, but expectations are still high for Pixar’s latest film that looks highly unique, even by Pixar standards.
“ENCANTO” – The third film on this list that could score nominations for Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Encanto,” is a Disney animated musical fantasy.
“RESPECT” – Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin, making this an obvious Actress contender.
“THE HUMANS” – Stephen Karam directs the adaptation of his own play, starring Jayne Houdyshell, Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Amy Schumer, and June Squibb.
“THE CARD COUNTER” – Pairing Oscar Isaac and Paul Schrader just feels right. Schrader’s last film landed him his first Oscar nomination. Will this bring him back?
“DEAR EVAN HANSEN” – I’m skeptical, but I can’t discount that this at least has Golden Globe potential.
“NO TIME TO DIE” – The highly anticipated conclusion to Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond could make a splash in craft categories and even crack Best Picture if it’s enough of a hit.
“CRY MACHO” – I’m not sure how many more times we need to put Clint Eastwood movies on lists like these, but…I guess we have to consider it a possibility.
With all of that out of the way, I now present to you my first predictions for 2021! I’ll tackle the big six categories: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress. This is a stab in the dark, so don’t put too much weight into this, but it’s fun to look back on and see how well I did.
The predictions are listed in alphabetical order.
“Don’t Look Up”
“The French Dispatch”
“House of Gucci”
“In the Heights”
“Next Goal Wins”
“Untitled David O. Russell Project”
“West Side Story”
Wes Anderson – “The French Dispatch”
Paul Thomas Anderson – “Soggy Bottom”
Mike Mills – “C’mon C’mon”
Adam McKay – “Don’t Look Up”
David O. Russell – “Untitled David O. Russell Project”
Bradley Cooper – “Soggy Bottom”
Michael Fassbender – “Next Goal Wins”
Joaquin Phoenix – “C’mon C’mon”
Denzel Washington – “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
John David Washington – “Untitled David O. Russell Project”
Ana de Armas – “Blonde”
Martha Plimpton – “Mass“
Jennifer Hudson – “Respect”
Jennifer Lawrence – “Don’t Look Up”
Rachel Zegler – “West Side Story”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe – “Nightmare Alley”
Adam Driver – “House of Gucci”
Cooper Hoffman – “Soggy Bottom”
Oscar Isaac – “Armageddon Time”
Jared Leto – “House of Gucci”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – “Armageddon Time”
Jodie Comer – “The Last Duel”
Ann Dowd – “Mass“
Meryl Streep – “Don’t Look Up”
Anya Taylor-Joy – “The Northman”
What films are you most excited about this year? Did we miss any big potential contenders? Chime in with your own early predictions! Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk