2021 Oscars predictions: Who should win – and who will win

It’s an Oscar year unlike any other, but a global pandemic isn’t going to stop an Oscar show that must and will go on this Sunday on ABC.

Expect nominees and stars to show up vaccinated and dressed to thrill. No masks while on camera. And it won’t be virtual — it will be real. And like no Oscar telecast you’ve ever seen.

All eyes are on how Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning director of “Traffic,” will manage to direct traffic at the biggest award show on the planet. For starters, he’s doing it in a train station. That’s right — Los Angeles’ Union Station, the star of countless movies since it was built in 1939, will take center stage at this year’s Oscar ceremony.

“The most exciting thing about this show is that it is going to feel like a movie,” Soderbergh previously shared. “Everybody will be a character: Every nominee, every person that gives an award, will feel like characters in a film.”

OK, I’m hooked. How about you?

Then there are the nominated movies themselves. The ones the lockdown forced us to watch at home since most theaters had to shut their doors. Even the nomads we saw in “Nomadland” had to stay put during COVID-19 quarantines.

Will that change how Oscar voters react to the nominated movies? How can it not? Most of the big-budget blockbusters ran scared, hoping to land in some future post-vaccine haven. That gave smaller movies — the ones we streamed or purchased on demand — a chance to grab our attention. And oh boy, the best ones did.

Will the winners be harder to predict? You bet. So before you place your own bets, here are my predictions about who should win — and who will win — in the major Oscar races this year.

Best actor in a supporting role

SHOULD WIN: Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Nominated in 2018 for his breakout performance in “Get Out,” this British actor — born in London to Ugandan parents — delivered the best performance of his career as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, the Black Messiah of the title.

WILL WIN: Daniel Kaluuya. Some Oscar experts think that the nomination of Kaluuya’s costar, Lakeith Stanfield, in the same category might split the vote and let another nominee sneak in. Nah. This is Kaluuya’s Oscar. And it should be.

PHOTO: Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Best actress in a supporting role

SHOULD WIN: Amanda Seyfried for “Mank.” She was incandescent as Jazz Age film star Marion Davies, the mistress of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who became the model for the Herman J. Mankiewicz script for “Citizen Kane.” But Academy voters may think the “Mamma Mia” actress is too young for the big prize, leaving the field open for veteran Glenn Close to claim the Oscar at last on her eighth nomination.

WILL WIN: Yuh-jung Youn for “Minari.” The 73-year-old South Korean powerhouse stole the show as the funny, feisty grandma pursuing the American Dream, giving voters a chance to put “Minari,” with six nominations, in the winner’s column. A victory would also make Youn the first actress of Korean descent to win best supporting actress.

PHOTO: This image released by A24 shows Yuh-jung Youn in a scene from "Minari."

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Best actor in a leading role

SHOULD WIN: In an alternate Oscar universe, veteran Anthony Hopkins, capping his career as a man battling dementia in “The Father,” and newcomer Riz Ahmed, dynamite as a rock drummer battling deafness in “Sound of Metal,” would be in a neck-and-neck race for the gold.

WILL WIN: Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman blew us away as a musician fighting race prejudice in 1927 Chicago. His death from colon cancer at 43 cut short a career that saw him soar as Black Panther, Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Shockingly, the Academy has never even nominated him. If there’s any justice, he’ll receive a posthumous Oscar.

PHOTO: Chadwick Boseman stars in the 2020 film, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Best actress in a leading role

SHOULD WIN: Will it be a slugfest between two songbirds — veteran Viola Davis as Ma Rainey versus newcomer Andra Day as Billie Holiday? Or will Frances McDormand ride the wave of “Nomadland” to take home her third Oscar as best actress? I’m down with a three-way tie.

WILL WIN: Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman.” For starters, Mulligan is off-the-charts astounding as a med-school dropout who’s determined to get even with the sexual predators who made life hell for her best friend. Mulligan’s performance uses strafing wit to attack the toxic masculinity that sparked the #MeToo movement. Timely? As a powder keg!

PHOTO: Carey Mulligan in a scene from "Promising Young Woman."

Best director

SHOULD WIN: The fact that two women — Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell — are nominated as best director for the first time in the Academy’s shamefully sexist, 93-year history is cause for celebration. With her debut feature, Fennell proves herself a talent to reckon with. In any other Oscar season, she’d be a shoo-in.

WILL WIN: Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland.” But this is the year of Zhao, the Chinese-born director who fully deserves every award on the books for the virtuosity and depth of feeling she brings to “Nomadland. In only her third film, after 2015’s “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and 2018’s “The Rider,” Zhao joins the ranks of the giants. Can Zhao break the glass ceiling and join Katherine Bigelow, of 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” to become the second woman to bring home Oscar gold as best director? I’m counting on it.

PHOTO: In this Feb. 22, 2019, file photo, Chloe Zhao attends an event in West Hollywood, Calif.

Best picture

SHOULD WIN: In a pandemic year bursting with game-changing films about the Black experience, I’d be betting on “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami.” But since the blockheaded Academy didn’t nominate any of them, I’ll have to choose from a list that, except for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” comes in various shades of white.

WILL WIN: “Nomadland.” How strange and marvelous that Chloe Zhao, with her roots in China, should be so skilled at capturing the nomadic spirit ingrained in the American character, especially in a global pandemic that put us all in lockdown. No movie this year more-perfectly captured the urge to get up and go. How can Oscar voters and the rest of us resist that?

PHOTO: Frances McDormand in a scene from the film "Nomadland."

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