Oscars 2021: Will the Lead and Supporting Actors and Actresses Bring Big Surprises?

There are some exciting acting contests this year, and the Lead and Supporting Acting categories could be the ones that upset the most Oscar ballots. Let’s take a look.

Actor in a Supporting Role

A favorite of critics and cinephiles, Paul Raci would make an exciting winner for Best Supporting Actor. His win at the Spirit Awards reignited enthusiasm and gave fans a final boost of enthusiasm and hope. But without a SAG nomination, and losing all but one televised contest to Daniel Kaluuya, the Sound of Metal star’s nomination is a win worth celebrating. Sacha Baron Cohen rode the combined wave of support for both Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (where he was nominated for Screenwriting) and The Trial of the Chicago 7, an ensemble picture where he was the only cast member singled out.

Leslie Odom, Jr. is nominated twice as well, with his second nomination for the Original Song, “Speak Now,” also from One Night in Miami. While Odom’s performance is great, he’s also up against four nominees from Best Pictures. It was a surprise when LaKeith Stanfield joined his co-star, Daniel Kaluuya, in Supporting Actor instead of Lead. But they are both nominated together for Judas and the Black Messiah, and Kaluuya’s wins at BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes, and the CCA make him the overwhelming favorite.

Daniel Kaluuya stars in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Predicted to Win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Could Win: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Actress in a Supporting Role

Eight-time nominee Glenn Close seemingly can’t catch a break, although she always takes her losses much better than her legions of fans do. Which is good since her work in Hillbilly Elegy is unlikely to be the film that finally turns her into Academy Award Winner Glenn Close. Her most recent best shot at the award came two years ago when she lost to Olivia Colman, who may manage to beat her again, this time for The Father, which has been surging recently with support from the European contingent of the Academy. But they both lost to Minari‘s Yuh-jung Youn, who has also secured the BAFTA and Spirit Awards.

Amanda Seyfried nabbed one of the ten nominations that went to Mank, and a lot of fans are wondering when she’ll headline her own film about the legendary Marion Davies. Perhaps when that project manifests, Seyfried will see her Oscar moment. And Maria Bakalova has been delighting audiences along the circuit, after her work as Borat’s daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. We’ll certainly be seeing more from her.

Yuh-jung Youn stars in MINARI — Courtesy of A24

Predicted to Win: Yuh-jung Youn, Minari
Could Win: Olivia Colman, The Father

Actor in a Leading Role

It was devastating to lose Chadwick Boseman last summer. And while we can never know for sure that he would have gotten the attention he deserves for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, nothing can change the fact that it was the performance of his career. The winner of the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, and the CCA has only lost two major awards, both times to fellow Oscar nominees. But those losses weren’t at all surprising and Boseman is still on track to become the third actor to win a posthumous Academy Award.

Riz Ahmed was great in Sound of Metal, Amazon’s biggest contender in 2021. His Spirit Award win has been interpreted by some as a cracking in the lineup. And he and the film clearly have a lot of support. But is there enough energy and motivation to overtake Boseman? Or, is it possible, as some have suggested, that the two are splitting votes and clearing a path for Anthony Hopkins in The Father?

Virtually absent from the campaign all season, Anthony Hopkins won at BAFTA. His losses at the Golden Globes and SAG aren’t all that concerning since the Oscar winner has never won with either group. There is a lot of surging support for The Father, and there are some rumblings from within the Academy membership that a posthumous nomination for Boseman is good enough, paving the way for them to vote for Hopkins. It is important to say here that Hopkins also gives the performance of his career and that if he manages to win it is a worthy accolade.

Where does that leave Gary Oldman and Steven Yeun? They also give great, moving, worthy performances. And maybe there’s a strange twist of fate where Ahmed, Boseman, and Hopkins split enough of the vote for Oldman or Yeun to pull off a huge surprise. But that’s very unlikely.

Chadwick Boseman is “Levee” in MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM — Courtesy of Netflix

Predicted to Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Could Win: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Actress in a Leading Role

Let’s be honest. No one knows where Best Actress is going to go this Sunday. Andra Day’s Golden Globe win was likely what solidified her Oscar nomination for The United States vs. Billie Holiday. And with the total uncertainty in the category, the quality performance in an otherwise less embraced film, and the Academy’s history of rewarding ingenues, she could very well win.

Only Vanessa Kirby, the sole representation of her film, Pieces of a Woman, has missed out on a major prize at a televised ceremony. With the crazy season we’ve had, maybe voters will pick Kirby and all five ladies will have had a share of the attention.

Carey Mulligan is the Film Twitter and critic pick, with wins at the Critics Choice and this week’s Spirit Awards. Her work in Promising Young Woman is the role fans have been waiting for, and if Emerald Fennell is going to win for her Original Screenplay, it makes sense to bring her leading lady along.

Then we have Viola Davis and Frances McDormand. Both are recent Oscar winners, Davis in Supporting Actress for Fences in 2016, and McDormand in Lead the following year for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This year, Davis took the SAG Award and McDormand won at BAFTA. It looks like the race has come down to these two, and who knows which way it will go. On the one hand, if a voter is picking Chadwick Boseman in Lead Actor, it makes sense to take his co-star with him.

On the other, Nomadland is very likely winning Best Picture and Best Director, so it also makes sense to take the star of the Best Picture winner. The last time the Lead Actress won for her role in the winning Best Picture was Hillary Swank in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. It has happened 11 times in history, but never with a Best Picture winner directed by a woman.

Frances McDormand is “Fern” in NOMADLAND — Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Predicted to Win: Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Could Win: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Who are your picks for the Lead and Supporting Acting Categories?

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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