Oscars: Predicting the 2021 Best Picture Nominees

Warner Bros. Pictures

More than a year out from the 93rd Oscars, the politicking and jockeying of the horse race—although I’m remiss to use another equine term—have commenced. There’s a comfortable certainty around five of the likely nominees while the remaining spots will generate award season’s tension and suspense.

Invariably, a contender like 1917—a movie shot from April to June 2019 and released in December 2019—will belatedly emerge. Last year, I successfully predicted four of the eventual nine Best Picture nominees. Even factoring in a 1917-shaped curveball, with a new approach and a singular focus on Best Picture, I can definitely get five or more of the eventual nominees. Probably. Maybe.

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg is remaking the 1961 Best Picture winner with esteemed playwright Tony Kushner penning the script. Need I say more? Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort is set to play Tony among a cast of relative unknowns. Rachel Zegler, one of 30,000 to audition for the part, will play Maria opposite Elgort.

The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, is the lone remake to win Best Picture winner. Even a retelling of the Bard’s timeless story of star-crossed lovers may fall short of Best Picture, but a nomination is a safe bet.


Herman Mankiewicz, famed screenwriter and grandfather of Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, struggled for screenwriting credit on co-writer and director Orson Welles’s tentpole Citizen Kane. Film historians often credit Mankiewicz with a lion’s share of the script, but his battle with Welles’s domineering attitude is the subject of David Fincher’s Mank. The screenplay, written by Fincher’s deceased father Jack, is a family passion project.

Hollywood loves movies about itself. In the last decade alone, three movies about filmmakers or movie making (The Artist, Argo, and Birdman) have gone on to win Best Picture. Fincher’s first film since 2014’s Gone Girl is an early Best Picture frontrunner.

Trial of the Chicago 7

Adam Sorkin, the beloved political writer behind The West Wing, returns to the director’s chair for the first time since Molly’s Game in 2017. Sorkin’s sophomore effort features the Chicago Seven, a group of men charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Sorkin’s other political courtroom drama, A Few Good Men, was rapturously received.

The French Dispatch

When Wes Anderson isn’t playing in the proverbial stop-motion, claymated sandbox, the filmmaker is making an earnest move toward politically buoyant themes. The Grand Budapest Hotel, and, from the looks of things, The French Dispatch, are weightier than Bill Murray vehicles like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Anderson’s comedic touch and appreciation for symmetry are still present, but the New Yorker-inspired French Dispatch has more heft than Rushmore.


Christopher Nolan originals command box office attention like few movies outside of Marvel movie canon. The director himself has become IP. The super-sized summer movies are eventized in ways that fresh ideas—outside of Knives Out—aren’t in 2020. Dunkirk was symbolic of a newfound Academy respect for Nolan. Tenet, a John David Washington-led triller, could be a coronation for the writer-director.

The Father

A Sundance standout, The Father was written and directed by French novelist Florian Zeller. About an aging father (Anthony Hopkins) moving in with his daughter (Olivia Colman), The Father is universally relatable, akin to Marriage Story.

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s first foray into the Vietnam War subgenre involves a missing commanding officer and buried treasure. Lee, filmmaking royalty, should be considered a threat to earn a Best Picture nomination regardless of the project. A Vietnam War flick plays into the Academy’s traditional interests. 


Frank Herbert’s towering colossus of science fiction is supposedly unadaptable. Director Denis Villeneuve, of Arrival, Sicario, and Prisoners fame, deserves a Best Director nod if he pulls it off. Villeneuve has faced similar pressure on a similar scale with Blade Runner 2049. With a score by Hans Zimmer and a cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem, Villeneuve has the tools to make Dune the next Lord of the Rings.

News of the World

Based on an acclaimed novel of the same name, News of the World stars Tom Hanks as a former Civil War captain tasked with delivering a young girl to her family in Texas. Hanks reunites with director Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) to bring the Western to the screen. Hanks, in the midst of a rough stretch of his career, feels due for a breakout movie.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Charlie Kaufman’s first movie in five years is a shoo-in for Best Picture. Jesse Plemons, Wild Rose breakout star Jessie Buckley, and Toni Collette star in Kaufman’s adaptation of debut novelist Iain Reed’s psychological thriller. Director and original work haven’t lined up so clearly since Fincher made Zodiac.

Nine more to keep an eye on: The Last Duel, Hillbilly Elegy, The Prom, Rebecca, Minari, Nightmare Alley, Blonde, On the Rocks, Nomadland