Reel Dad: Predicting the winners for this year’s Oscar season

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, we wondered if we might see the first film from South Korea named Best Picture; a year later, we wonder when we may ever return to movie theaters. A year ago, two of the nominees for Best Picture chose to stream to reach audiences; a year later, all of the nominees have come into our homes. The Academy Awards reacted to our changed world by opening Oscar consideration to any film that intended to have a theatrical release.

While the Oscars are selected by voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, here are my choices!

Best Picture: Nomadland

From a year that redefined isolation comes a landmark film that celebrates the real freedom that connection can bring. “Nomadland” would stand strong during any film year. But this year, when we watched so many movies away from crowds, this film makes us want to reach out and connect with people we know and love as well as those we have yet to meet. The film makes us believe in the world and how the movies illuminate every day.

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

After a career filled with high points, the late Boseman’s performance as a jazz trumpeter brings to life the words of a passionate playwright as well as the music of a gifted musician. From his first moments on screen, we know we are experiencing something special. And, with the knowledge that we will never see more of him, this performance delivers a higher meaning. Winning an Oscar, posthumously, will enable us all to celebrate the gifts he so openly shared.

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Since snagging her first Oscar nomination for “An Education” in 2009, we have known that Mulligan’s command of her craft would, one day, perfectly synchronize with a demanding role. Playing a woman searching for a path through anger to forgiveness, the actress brings a passion to the performance that her award-winning stage work consistently reveals. In the tightest Best Actress race in years, Mulligan should win because she ignites the most fire. And that’s saying a lot.

Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

Every time the actor speaks, we listen, captivated by the melodies his speaking voice articulates and the reactions his words create. This captivating actor, who grabbed our hearts and throats when Oscar nominated for “Get Out” a few years ago, recreates the impact of Fred Hampton without resorting to impersonation. Instead he makes this real-life hero a reel hero of widescreen impact in a film that deserves to be recognized.

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari

From the moment this veteran actress arrives on screen, and in Arkansas, we know we want to spend every possible moment with this wise grandmother. Offering the kind of tough love every family needs now and then, the actress captures the essence of the stability and insight that wisdom can bring. The richness of this performance shines a bright light on an actress who has illuminated many films in her native China over the past 50 years.

Best Director: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland

Even though the Academy often splits the Director and Picture awards, this is Zhao’s year for creating a perfect movie for this moment. What makes her accomplishment so remarkable is how understated a rhythm she lets the film establish. Seldom do we feel we are watching a movie, we simply observe people we want to know better.

Best Writing Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland

Chloé Zhao should win in this category, too, for writing that is remarkable as much for what it avoids as what it includes. There are no big speeches, few surprising revelations. Instead, Zhao captures and conveys what feels like real life happening before us. She makes it feel as effortless as if she had simply turned on her camera.

Best Writing Original Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin brings history to life at a time our country may need to relearn some old lessons. Without letting the film tell us what to think, or limit his dramatic scope to what happens in the courtroom, Sorkin uses the controversial proceedings of this infamous trial to illuminate the stress felt in every part of the country that tense summer.

Best Cinematography: Nomadland

Rarely has the American landscape looked so welcoming, yet isolating; rarely has a film so perfectly captured the loneliness of time. Joshua James Richards creates a landscape that fills a wide screen while letting us inside the characters the film follows. The film is beautiful to experience as well as to observe. And he makes us want to see more.

Best Production Design: Mank

The world of Hollywood in the 1930s comes to life through the artistry of Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale. Working within the opportunities of glorious black and white, they take us back in time to a stylized movie industry that perfectly frames the exaggerations of the story the film tells. We feel we are there in the middle of dreamland.

Best Film Editing: Nomadland

Chloé Zhao deserves to make Oscar history for editing as effortlessly as her creation of words and direction of story. She simply makes us believe we are on the road with her characters trying to figure out what can be next in the lives we choose. Zhao never resorts to any editing tricks. Never does Nomadland feel constructed. She lets this film be.

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The costumes in this adaptation of August Wilson’s play feel like a character in the drama. As perfectly nuanced as Viola Davis’ performance, how she projects on screen is enhanced by the flowing costumes that define her look. The costumes are so right for the moment we figure they come from the closets of these characters.

Best Music Original Score: News of the World

For a film beautifully shot, written and acted, James Newton Howard creates a score unlike what he has done before, a fitting departure for a movie that dares to revisit the Old West with its own sensibility. Never do we notice too much music. Instead we experience the world on screen the music beautifully enhances.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

If clothes make the character, the makeup and hair complete the picture. It’s impossible to think of this film without seeing Viola Davis’ face so beautifully exaggerated by Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, from the prominence of bright color to the shiny gold caps on the character’s teeth. The detail is amazing.

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Leave it to the artists at Disney and Pixar to so creatively capture the essence of hope. Filled with humor and humanity, Soul doesn’t only stretch the boundaries of what animation can visually accomplish. Its depth of character, and the clarity of narrative, make this a compelling story no matter how projected.

Best Song: Speak Now from One Night in Miami

As an actor in this film, Leslie Odom, Jr. makes us believe in Sam Cooke’s concerns for racial justice in his world. As a songwriter, Odom captures the essence of those anxieties in this emotional ballad. This song, written with Sam Ashworth, should win because it is perfect for its moment in the film, not just because it’s a strong piece.

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

With the two sound categories again combined, this look at the world of heavy metal music relies on the perfect precision of its recording and editing to capture this complex musical world. The authenticity of the sound work gives the film a solid foundation for its characters to move us. And, if there were still two Oscars for sound, it would win both.