Potential 2021 Oscars Surprise Nominees

Potential 2021 Oscars Surprise Nominees

It seems as though every year there is a performance, film, or aspect of a film that flies under the radar until Oscar nominations come. Here are a few potential nominees that I could see making it into the lineup that would be a bit of a surprise for everyone.


Before Soul was ever released, there was this stigma around it that it would be a Best Picture nominee. It has been 10 years since the last animated best picture, and Pixar’s latest already looks to be a frontrunner for Animated Feature and Original Score. Not to mention, the film was recently shortlisted for Visual Effects as well which, if nominated, would make it the fourth animated film to be nominated for Visual Effects (third if you don’t count 2019’s The Lion King). It all comes down to where the Academy feels on the film, and truthfully I just haven’t heard much about it. However, there is still a possibility that Soul surprises everyone come Oscar nomination morning.

Hillbilly Elegy:
Hillbilly Elegy is riding on the backs of its two leads, Amy Adams and Glenn Close. The film was shortlisted for Makeup and Hairstyling, which it will likely get in, and from everything I have heard, it is playing really well with the Academy. Glenn Close is as much a frontrunner as any other Supporting Actress, and 4-time nominee and 2-time winner Ron Howard might have just enough friends in the business to get this through.

Borat Subsequent MovieFilm:
I know what you’re thinking, Borat is not your typical Best Picture nominee, and you’re right. However, if you look at the facts Borat is on a path to make it into the final lineup that no one saw coming. It picked up a Golden Globe win for Comedy/Musical (the last Comedy/Musical winner to not make the Best Picture line-up was The Hangover in 2010), it picked up a WGA Adapted Screenplay Nomination, it got a PGA Nomination (87 of the last 98 Best Picture Nominees got a PGA Nomination), was shortlisted for Original Song for “Wuhan Flu”, and star Maria Bakalova might be a frontrunner for Supporting Actress. Will this film get a BP Nomination, likely not, but it picked up steam at the right time, and needs to be at least mentioned as a surprise nominee.


Paul Greengrass – News of the World:
Greengrass is a former nominee for United 93 and hasn’t been able to capture that second Oscar nomination. With News of the World, this could be a “throw him in” type of nomination for a film that could finish with a high number of nominations. Similar to Joker last year, where Todd Phillips managed to get in because his film was the leader in nominations, the same is a real possibility for Greengrass and News of the World.

Florian Zeller – The Father:
Florian Zeller’s masterful direction takes the audience around many twists and turns through the world of dementia. Zeller makes many seasoned choices that really shine. From what I am hearing, the film itself seems to be playing extremely well amongst AMPAS members, and if the film is able to pick up at least a Screenplay, Editing, S. Actress, Actor, and Best Picture nomination, a nomination for Zeller feels to be a real possibility.


Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods:
It pains me to say this, but at this point a Delroy nomination would be a surprise. Lindo, who looks to be this years critic darling with no Oscar nom (a la Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems and Ethan Hawke for First Reformed), had been doing insanely well until the major awards started. To be fair, the film as a whole looked to be doing well, but I don’t know if it was time, or just that people didn’t like the movie, or whatever, but Da 5 Bloods as a whole looks like a film that could be written completely off Oscar ballots. Delroy deserves to be in, and deserves to be in the top 2 for a potential win, but now we just have to hope he actually does get in.

Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami…:
Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X is the heart and soul of this film. He has been a fringe selection for a while now, the issue for him comes with this film being primarily an ensemble, and Leslie Odom Jr. has been eating up the Supporting Nominations. There hasn’t been a massive push for him either, from what I have seen, however, the love is undeniably there.

Tom Hanks – News of the World:
This is one I really don’t see happening but have to recognize its potential. Like I said earlier, News of the World could be an overachiever when it comes to nominations, and if that is the case then Hanks could fit right in. Hanks has a story that AMPAS loves, as he was the first major celebrity to be diagnosed with and defeat COVID-19. The biggest issue is the Academy, for some reason, doesn’t like to nominate Hanks.


Zendaya – Malcolm and Marie:
Zendaya only managing to pick up a CCA nomination really hurt her chances of breaking into this race. However, she is one of the newest “it” girls in Hollywood, and after her surprise Emmy win who knows what the power of Zendaya holds. People seem to love her, and she has been campaigning hard for this film. With Lead Actress, it seems like a fifth spot is anyone’s game, and Zendaya could have it fall right in her lap.

Yeri Han – Minari:
Minari is playing out to be a massive hit with AMPAS voters, as it has been playing so well on the awards circuit already. Youn Yuh-jung, Alan Kim, and Steven Yeun have all gotten recognition already, and Yeri Han might be waiting until the last second to finally get some love for her performance. The fifth Best Actress spot is wide open, so why not go with a Best Picture nominee in that fifth spot.

Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance – The Trial of the Chicago 7:
Rylance has received very little love this year, but with how well The Trial of the Chicago 7 plans to do on Oscars night, Rylance could be thrust into the fifth spot as a seasoned vet with a win already under his belt. There is a path he could follow that is similar to Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, but for Rylance, it might be harder since he has a co-star in the running for a win.

Paul Raci – Sound of Metal:
After missing SAG, GG, and CCA, it seems that Raci’s chances are DOA. However, we have seen stranger things when it comes to the Academy, and if they love Sound of Metal as much as it seems like they do, we could be looking at what would be, in my opinion, one of the best surprises come Oscar morning.

Supporting Actress

Dominique Fishback – Judas and the Black Messiah:
This is one that I would absolutely love. I think Fishback was as good, if not better, than anyone else in this film. She is an emotional and physical guardian of Fred Hampton, and she is the one that is there to comfort and bring him back to reality. It also is wonderful how she isn’t written in a stereotypical “wife” role. She is just as active for the cause and believes just as strongly as anyone else.

Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian:
Foster hasn’t picked up a nomination in over 20 years, her last coming in 1997, but after receiving a Golden Globe nomination for The Mauritanian she has a slim, but real, chance of getting into the 5. Supporting Actress is an extremely wide-open race this year, and there is definitely a world where she gets in.


i’m thinking of ending things – Adapted Screenplay:
Charlie Kaufman’s latest is a trippy and weird look into self-depreciation and self-questioning. Kaufman is a four-time nominee with a win under his belt for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This might be a hard film for AMPAS to get into, and missing WGA was a massive blow, but it is undeniably one of the best scripts of the entire year and has a slim, but real possibility of picking up a nomination.

Soul – Visual Effects:
Soul is one of Pixar’s trippiest and most experimental films when it comes to the visual effects. It is a blend of existential mayhem that fits seemingly perfect into the world that Docter has created. Included with the whacky scenes, there are some beautiful and photorealistic effects as well. Animated films have only gotten visual effects nominations a few times, so there is a hurdle that Soul will have to climb, but I think it would be more than deserving.

Palm Springs – Original Screenplay:
This is the one nomination that would send me over the moon if it were to happen, and with its recent WGA nomination, it seems as though this film isn’t quite out of the running, yet. The time-loop story has been done again and again, but Palm Springs brings a fresh, and hilarious, look at the situation at hand and learning to live rather than pass through. It is extremely well written and moving from start to finish.

The Little Things – Original Score:
If there was one single redeeming factor when it came to The Little Things it was the highly effective and haunting score done by none other than 15-time Oscar Nominee Thomas Newman. Newman made the shortlist for best original score, and after producing some of the best work of his career for 1917, the Academy could throw him back in the mix for name recognition alone.

Cherry – Cinematography:
I, along with many others, always thought Da 5 Bloods would receive a cinematography nomination. Well, when the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) released their nominations, Newton Thomas Sigel the 5, but for his work on Cherry instead of Da 5 Bloods. This is a nomination that might be a throwaway, but picking up something like this so close to Oscar Nomination morning could lead to a Cherry surprise.

Jacob is a Graduate of Western Kentucky University where he earned a History/Film Studies Degree. He is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is also a member of the North American Film Critics Association and the Music City Film Critics’ Association. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

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