Life has changed, rather dramatically, since we last talked about the Oscars — back in February 2020, when our hearts were young and our hands unsanitized. But nonetheless, here we are again, with a slate of films that most of us didn’t see in theaters. Whether the Oscars seem like an odd afterthought or a welcome return to seminormalcy, it’s time to indulge in my annual sport: predicting the winners.

It’s harder than usual this year, as I haven’t quite seen everything (some films aren’t available except in theaters, and my not-yet-fully-vaccinated self isn’t quite ready). But the pre-Oscars awards are, as always, a helpful predictor, and I might throw a wild-card guess in as well — as well as my traditional “wish you were here” vote, for a film or performance that was overlooked. Let’s take a stroll through the major categories.

And if you’d like a hard copy of this list, download and print out your own Oscar ballot here.

Best Picture

This one’s got to go to “Nomadland,” doesn’t it? After the Directors Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, etc., it would be a shock if anything but Chloé Zhao’s gorgeous, meditative portrait of a life untethered took the top prize. If there’s a surprise, it could come in the form of Lee Isaac Chung’s gentle family drama “Minari” — a small-scale film that seems to suit a year when most of us watched movies at home — or Aaron Sorkin’s Netflix crowd-pleaser “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Prediction: “Nomadland”

My vote: “Nomadland”

Wish you were here: “Emma”  

Best Director

Again, this one looks like Zhao’s category to lose, and I’d love to see her take it; in both “Nomadland” and her previous film “The Rider,” she demonstrated a quiet mastery of her craft, an ability to tell a small story in a way that feels both intimate and enormously moving. In an unusually diverse director lineup — there’s only one white American male in the lot (David Fincher, for “Mank”) — I don’t see an obvious backup choice, unless “Minari” brings a surprise win for Chung.

Prediction: Zhao

My vote: Zhao

Wish you were here: Florian Zeller, “The Father”

Best Actress

Let’s get all the “Nomadland” votes out of the way first, shall we? Frances McDormand, already a two-time Oscar winner (for “Fargo” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), has been sweeping most of the earlier awards and looks likely to do a three-peat here. Much as I love her in that film, I’d give this one to Carey Mulligan, who’s never won an Oscar and who’s wickedly, astonishingly good in “Promising Young Woman”; nor would I complain if it went to the remarkable Viola Davis, who’s never won this category and whose work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is an acting master class.


Prediction: McDormand

My vote: Mulligan

Wish you were here: Julia Garner, “The Assistant”

Best Actor

Posthumous nominees don’t always win — of the six actors nominated by the Academy after their deaths, only two have won Oscars. But the last one famously did (Heath Ledger in 2009 for “The Dark Knight”) and it looks likely that Chadwick Boseman, nominated for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” will do so as well; it’s a breezy, lit-up performance that breaks your heart to watch, knowing it will be this talented young actor’s last. Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) might be competitive in a different year; expect to see one last tribute to an artist gone far too soon.

Prediction: Boseman

My vote: Boseman

Wish you were here: Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods”

Best Supporting Actress

The first Korean person ever nominated for an acting Oscar, Yuh-Jung Youn looks likely to become the first Korean winner, for her enchanting performance as a rather unconventional grandma in “Minari.” Might she get nudged out by Glenn Close, who’s famously never won an Oscar despite seven previous nominations, but whose film — “Hillbilly Elegy” — wasn’t admired this year? Or by previous Best Actress winner Olivia Colman, who pulls off the impressive feat of stealing “The Father” from Anthony Hopkins? We shall see.

Prediction: Youn

My vote: Colman

Wish you were here: Olivia Cooke, “Sound of Metal”

Best Supporting Actor

Conventional wisdom has it that two actors nominated for the same film tend to cancel each other out — but conventional wisdom, in this very unconventional year, is quite likely to be wrong. Buzz in this category belongs to Daniel Kaluuya in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” rather than his castmate Lakeith Stanfield; Kaluuya won the BAFTA, the Golden Globe and the SAG for this performance, and looks likely to take the Oscar. (Or could there be a tie? Stranger things have happened.) Long shot: Sacha Baron Cohen, so good as Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and also riding a good Oscar showing for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Prediction: Kaluuya

My vote: Cohen

Wish you were here: Alan S. Kim, “Minari”