Predicting the 2021 Oscars

What a year for movies it’s been. With movie theaters shut down for most of 2020 and major blockbusters and other highly anticipated movies delayed, the film industry certainly faced a reckoning. But through all that, some truly fantastic movies still debuted. And with so many movies being released through streaming services this year, I’ve seen more Oscar nominees than ever before.

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, I thought I’d make my final predictions for the biggest categories. Let me know what you think!

Best Picture

© 20th Century Studios

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: The crop of Best Picture nominees this year includes some truly remarkable movies, even if most people haven’t seen a lot of them. Minari is my personal favorite and one that I’ll certainly revisit more than others on this list. Judas and the Black Messiah is based on a true story that feels more relevant today than ever before. The Father was probably the most surprising movie on this list that I loved a lot more than I thought I would. But Nomadland is an experience that’s hard to describe. It’s both sad and hopeful, small and vast, individualist and collective. It’s gotten a lot of love already this year, and I think that momentum will push it to Oscar glory.

Who will win: Nomadland

Best Director

© 20th Century Studios

Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
David Fincher – Mank
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Who should win: Lee Isaac Chung created a story so simple yet so universal and fully draws you into the heart of every character and every scene in Minari. Emerald Fennell on the other hand created a much sharper movie that challenges audience expectations and leans into the uncomfortable and unpleasant nature of its story. But Chloe Zhao makes Nomadland feel epic in scope, from its huge landscapes to the tender looks at the people living this life. 

Who will win: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Gary Oldman – Mank
Steven Yeun – Minari

Who should win: This is really a strong category. Riz Ahmed gives his all as a heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing, and his journey through frustration and anger is fully engaging. Anthony Hopkins is truly heartbreaking as a father battling with dementia, and you really feel the fear, confusion and anger that brings. Steven Yeun is so full of hope and optimism as he begins his new life with his family and always makes you feel like his dreams are possible. But Chadwick Boseman is absolutely electric in Ma Rainey. He commands your presence in every word, every line and every monologue he says. I already miss him so much.

Who will win: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day – The United States v. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Who should win: This category includes two powerhouse actresses who have won Oscars for their performances in the past – Viola Davis and Frances McDormand – and three first-time nominees. Viola Davis is amazing in everything, and her performance as Ma Rainey really brings life to the story and elevates it beyond a filmed version of a play. Frances McDormand has such an interesting role in Nomadland – part traditional storytelling and part documentarian as she shares the screen with non-actors playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. Both Davis and McDormand have a strong case to win Best Actress, but I think Carey Mulligan’s powerful and haunting performance in Promising Young Woman will put her over the top.

Who will win: Carey Mulligan

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

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

Who should win: Another category full of memorable performances – Leslie Odom Jr. is fantastic as Sam Cooke and Paul Raci brings a naturalism and gravity to his role in Sound of Metal. Both Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are outstanding in Judas and the Black Messiah – Stanfield so thoughtful and understated, Kaluuya both bombastic and sensitive. Daniel Kaluuya seems to have this one wrapped up this season.  

Who will win: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Yuh-jung Youn – Minari

Who should win: This is an interesting category this year, and one of the few spots where we could see an upset. For a movie starring Sacha Baron Cohen in his iconic role as Borat, Maria Bakalova is a true scene-stealer in her role as Borat’s daughter. She brings a comedic innocence to the movie that helps balance some of the wilder aspects. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Olivia Coleman heartbreakingly portrays a daughter whose father is slowly succumbing to dementia. Coleman is great in everything (I’m enjoying her run as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown right now). And Amanda Seyfried is one of the true bright spots in Mank, a movie that otherwise is shockingly boring. But Yuh-jung Youn is incredible in Minari and is one of the heartbeats of the whole movie. I think she has an edge to win this award.

Who will win: Yuh-jung Youn

Best Animated Feature Film

Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Who should win: Soul is definitely the frontrunner here, and rightfully so. It’s another Pixar classic that works just as much for adults as it does for kids. Onward is another great Pixar entry, but certainly more standard in terms of the story it’s telling than Soul. Wolfwalkers was a personal favorite this year – the animation style is so unique and enchanting to look at and its story, while familiar, has a lot of heart and excitement.

Who will win: Soul

Best Adapted Screenplay

© 20th Century Studios

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The Father
One Night in Miami
The White Tiger

Who should win: It seems like there were a lot of movies based on plays that came out last year – One Night in Miami, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Father included. I thought One Night in Miami and The Father both did a great job making their stories feel cinematic. Nomadland, though, weaves a story together through real experiences full of hope and opportunity.

Who will win: Nomadland

Best Original Screenplay

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: What a year to tell the stories of The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah. The parallels from those events to the world today are often haunting. I think Judas tells a better story than the Chicago 7, but people love to love Aaron Sorkin. Sound of Metal is a great immersive story, and Minari is both beautiful and heartbreaking, a universal story everyone can empathize with. Promising Young Woman is more biting and showier than the other stories nominated here, and certainly makes a good use of dramatic twists while raising a lot of questions to consider once the movie ends.

Who will win: Promising Young Woman

Best Original Score

Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard
Mank – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Minari – Emile Mosseri
News of the World – James Newton Howard
Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste

Who should win: I’ve seen all the movies nominated in this category except News of the World – and honestly, only the scores for Soul and Minari made an impression on me. Minari’s score is absolutely gorgeous, but the way Soul creates two completely different sounds – from the jazz standards of the “real world” to the ethereal soundscapes of the soul world – is outstanding.

Who will win: Soul

10 favorite “underrated” movie soundtracks

I’ve been obsessed with movie soundtracks pretty much as long as I’ve loved movies. According to my most recent Spotify Wrapped, “soundtrack” was the genre I listened to the most in 2020 and three of my top five artists were movie composers. There’s something about the way a score can add emotion, tension, excitement, joy or heartbreak to a movie. Plus, they’re perfect for studying, writing papers, or working.

I grew up in arguably one of the golden ages of movie soundtracks –the early 2000s gave us The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Star Wars prequels. These were all foundational in discovering my love of movie soundtracks. One of my favorite parts about watching new movies is discovering new soundtracks – even “bad” movies can have great soundtracks.  

So I’ve picked 10 of my favorite movie soundtracks that I consider “underrated” because they don’t get the same hype as scores from John Williams or Hans Zimmer or they’re not part of big franchises with iconic themes as recognizable as Star Wars or Harry Potter.

1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Score by John Powell

Right off the bat, I can barely count this as an “underrated” score because I have personally raved about it to as many people as I possibly can. I absolutely cannot get enough of this score. It has an epic depth and richness that feels exciting and new every time. So many moments in the score are so remarkable – “Test Drive” is one of the greatest soundtrack moments in movie history, “Romantic Flight” is gorgeous and “Forbidden Friendship” has an unbelievable feel-good quality. The score compliments the world created in the movie and enhances the characters and their relationships – especially Toothless and Hiccup (smarter people than me have detailed about the genius of their themes together). And the scores for the second and third Dragon movies are just as good.

2. First Man (2018)

Score by Justin Hurwitz

Justin Hurwitz is quickly becoming one my new favorite composers. Working with director Damien Chazelle, Hurwitz has also created the scores for Whiplash and La La Land. His score for First Man perfectly balances the intimate personal life of Neil Armstrong with the epic scope of the first moon landing. It’s impossible to hear the bombast of tracks like “Apollo 11 Launch” and “The Landing” and not get chills while tracks like “Karen” really make you feel the heartbreak that underlies much of Neil’s journey. The use of some vintage instruments gives the score a classic feel and the perfect soundscape to one of the most iconic moments in history.

3. 1917 (2019)

Score by Thomas Newman

One of the roles a movie soundtrack can play is heightening the tension of a scene. The score for 1917 does this perfectly throughout the entire movie by slowly cranking up the tension bit by bit until it explodes in its epic finale, as heard in “Sixteen Hundred Men”. The movie was filmed to look like one long continuous shot, a decision that supports the immediacy of the mission and immerses the audience with the characters. The score is crucial in building tension as the main characters cross enemy lines and face constant obstacles as they make their way to their destination. And by the end, you’re right there running alongside, praying for victory.

4. The Goonies (1985)

Score by Dave Grusin

The Goonies score is probably the most truly underrated score on this list. It’ so much fun and a perfect coming-of-age adventure soundtrack. The opening action music in “Fratelli Chase” is such an earworm, there’s a classic 80s sounding motif for the story’s mystery, and the main Goonies theme is surprisingly heartfelt and full of longing. This score has plenty of excitement and a good amount of “Mickey Mousing” (timing musical stings to action happening on the screen) that is popular in media targeted toward younger audiences. There are even nods to classics scores like Psycho, Superman and 1930s Errol Flynn movies.  

5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Score by Harry Gregson-Williams

The Narnia series followed in the footsteps of fantasy giants like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s. While not as well-received or popular as the others, the Narnia series has some gorgeous soundtracks. One of my favorite moments in the soundtrack is “From Western Woods to Beaversdam,” which perfectly blends the curiosity, adventure and magic of this world. It’s amazing the range of moods this soundtrack covers, from a World War II battle sequence, to the evil White Witch, the regality of Aslan, the horror of the Stone Table and the joy of Father Christmas, but it beautifully makes them all feel like part of the same world. By the time you get to the end, you’ll believe that it’s “Only the Beginning of the Adventure.”

6. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Score by Joe Hisaishi

The scores of the Studio Ghibli films are just as iconic as the stories themselves. Joe Hisaishi has composed the scores for most of the Ghibli catalog and every single one is stunning. Hisaishi has found the sweet spot between traditional Japanese music and Western music to create something that is so unique and magical. Princess Mononoke is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie and the score expertly supports the epic and mythical nature of the story from its opening moments. Mononoke is one of the darker Ghibli movies, so the score includes plenty of menacing cues as well that can truly be unsettling. It’s a remarkable soundtrack from beginning to end.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a classic action movie score. Kingsman was a surprise success in a number of ways, including the soundtrack. The score supports the tone of the film by taking influences from classic spy movies, like James Bond or Mission: Impossible. The main theme is bold and heroic, exactly what the main characters deserve – and it’s on full display multiple times throughout the movie, but especially in the heart pounding action scenes like “Skydiving” and “Calculated Infiltration.” It’s hard to listen to this soundtrack without making whatever you’re doing feel 100 times more epic.

8. Knives Out (2019)

Score by Nathan Johnson

Another crucial role of a movie score is to set the tone or mood of a scene or the entire movie. The score for Knives Out does this from the first note. It immediately sounds like a mystery and reinforces the gothic vibe of the Thromby house. The score relies heavily on strings, which may remind audiences of another classic mystery/thriller that only used strings in its score – Psycho. The Knives Out score maintains its tone while following the reveals and twists throughout the movie, balancing the outlandish characters with the suspense of a true mystery.

9. Little Women (2019)

Score by Alexandre Desplat

The vibes of this soundtrack are immaculate. Much like the movie itself, it feels both classic and modern, a sound that’s on full display in tracks like “Dance on the Porch.” Fittingly, the score mostly relies on strings and piano, giving the sound a more “feminine” character (brass usually sounds more “masculine”), one that enhances the warm, chaotic, and strong familial bond of the sisters. The soundtrack fuels the passion of Jo’s writing, the heartbreak of Beth, the tenderness of Marnie and the love that blossoms among all the characters. It’s certainly a delightful feel-good score.  

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Score by Alan Silvestri

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has an interesting relationship with its film scores. By now, everyone can recognize the main Avengers theme, but solo franchises have not always kept their musical themes consistent. Having continuity in a franchise’s film score makes the world within the movies feel unified and can be used to heighten emotion in big moments. The music from the first Captain America movie is one of the best from the early MCU, especially the main theme. It’s a pitch perfect sound for the iconic hero. It’s another solid action score, especially in tracks like the “Howling Commando’s Montage.” The emotions hit home by the time you get to the end with “This is My Choice” – and bringing these themes back for Cap’s final moments in Endgame never ceases to absolutely wreck me.

Are you a fan of movie soundtracks? If so, what are some of your favorites? I hope these have inspired you to listen to more!