News

16 Movies That Could Be Oscar Contenders in 2021

Promising Young Woman, In the Heights, and new movies from Denis Villeneuve, Wes Anderson, and Christopher Nolan are poised to rule the next awards season.

by | February 20, 2020 | Comments

(Photo by Focus Features)

Yes, we know what you’re thinking: Just days after one of the most drama-filled awards seasons in recent memory, we are already looking ahead to next year. Best Picture winner Parasite is still in theaters, and we are several months away from the unofficial kick-off of the awards season in September. Still, we are already eyeing a list of hopefuls we think can go the distance in 2021. With Cannes re-emerging as a launching pad for contender films (Oscar winners Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Parasite both premiered at Cannes last year, where the latter won the Palme d’Or), the “Oscar movie” starting line continues to shift to earlier and earlier in the year. And following huge wins for genre-defying, foreign-language underdog-turned-Best Picture-winner Parasite, the very notion of an awards movie is ever-changing.

After a fresh crop of films that premiered at Sundance in January, a number of new trailers from movies likely to be in the Oscar conversation, and festival circuit stops announced by others, we are starting to get excited. Read on to see our picks for Oscar contenders in 2020/2021 and why we are betting on them early.

Don’t agree with our picks? Have at us in the comments.


Mank (2020) 83% 

Cast: Gary OldmanAmanda SeyfriedCharles DanceLily Collins

What it is:  A biopic about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the co-screenwriter of Citizen Kane, and his battles with co-writer Orson Welles.

Why it could win: Director David Fincher has earned at least one Oscar nomination for each of his last four pictures, including the two-time Academy Award winner The Social Network. Following the success of his Netflix show Mindhunter and earlier films like Zodiac, many voters and critics are excited to see what Fincher —  the new master of the historical thriller —  has in store for this Hollywood tale of betrayal, inspiration, and intrigue.


Promising Young Woman (2020) 90%

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge

What it is: A revenge thriller/dark comedy about a young woman who moonlights as a vigilante, feigning helpless drunkenness at bars to bring justice to would-be sexual predators, until she meets an old classmate who helps her shift focus and confront her past.

Why it could win: Carey Mulligan has been consistently serving award-worthy performances for the past few years (Wildlife, Suffragette, Mudbound). After a successful nomination campaign for Cynthia Erivo in Harriet, we are betting Focus Features has a plan to get the previously nominated Mulligan back in contention. Writer-director Emerald Fennell is also a threat for a screenplay award following her Emmy-nominated success with TV series Killing Eve.


The White Tiger (2021) 91%

Cast: Rajkummar RaoPriyanka Chopra

What it is: A man’s rags to riches tale of self-determination comes to life in this adaptation of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel from India.

Why it could win: Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel The White Tiger was an international bestseller, and director Ramin Bahrani has been a darling on the festival circuit since his breakout with 99 Holmes. With the addition of Priyanka Chopra in her first English-language lead role in a feature film, we are motivated to keep our eye on this one for end-of-year accolades.


Nomadland (2020) 94%

(Photo by Searchlight Pictures)

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

What it is: A woman in her sixties loses everything and takes off on an exploration of the West, living in her van as a modern-day nomad.

Why it could win: After the critical success of The Rider, we automatically signed up for anything Chloe Zhao wanted to do next. Before she set off to shoot Eternals for Marvel, Zhao filmed Nomadland, starring two-time Best Actress Oscar-winner Francis McDormand, who also shows up elsewhere on this list. We are similarly excited for what McDormand will do, and #Vanlife seems ripe for actorly drama.


Dune (2021) 90% 

Cast: Dave BautistaJavier BardemRebecca FergusonTimothée Chalamet

What it is: An epic sci-fi adventure that chronicles the lives of the royal Atreides family as they strive to protect the most valuable resource in the universe.

Why it could win: Dune has been at the top of just about every “most anticipated film” list since it was announced in late 2017. It may be a stretch as an awards contender, but the fact that Denis Villeneuve is one of the few directors capable of producing pure genre films that still appeal to Academy voters does work in his favor. Add the internet’s boyfriend — and voter favorite — Timothée Chalamet, and it would not shock us if it became a serious contender for above- and below-the-line honors.


The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) 98% 

(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

Cast: Radha BlankPeter Y. Kim

What it is: An aging playwright battling with the choice to stay broke or sell out turns to rapping about her life as a 40-year-old as a way to reclaim her identity.

Why it could win: Radha Blank was a well established playwright within the theater community when she made her stunning debut at Sundance earlier this year. The film, which delighted critics, was quickly snapped up by Netflix. It’s a no-brainer to compete for Best Original Screenplay, so we fully expect a fall roll-out and a heavy awards push from the streaming giant.


Benedetta (2021) 85%

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Virginie EfiraLambert Wilson

What it is: A 17th-century nun beset by erotic visions forms a relationship with her caregiver, and the two women become engulfed in a passionate love affair.

Why it could win: Paul Verhoeven, the director of Elle, is making an erotic lesbian nun love story based on a true story. Need we say more? If, by chance, you think this premise is too much for Academy Voters, we would remind you that Isabelle Huppert was nominated for Oscar and won a Golden Globe for Elle — a dark rape/revenge love story.


Respect (2021) 67% 

Cast: Jennifer HudsonAudra McDonaldForest WhitakerTituss BurgessMarc Maron, Marlon Wayans

What it is: A biopic profiling legendary singer-songwriter Aretha Franklin.

Why it could win: Musical biopics have worked out rather well, particularly recently, for people like Renee Zellweger and Rami Malek, as well as past Oscar winners like Jamie Foxx, Reese Witherspoon, Barbra Streisand, and Sissy Spacek, so it could do the same for Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in Respect. Hudson had previously sung her way to an Oscar in 2007’s Dreamgirls, so the long-awaited feature about the “Queen of Soul” has promise, and thankfully, we expect it won’t need much CGI like her last musical offering, Cats.


The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) 66%

Cast: Jessica ChastainVincent D’OnofrioAndrew Garfield

What it is: A drama charting the rise and fall of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, particularly through the lens of the latter. The film is a narrative adaptation of the 2000 documentary of the same name.

Why it could win: Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were reality stars before the Kardashians, and they came with more baggage. They were two of the richest, most popular personalities on television at the height of their success, and their fall from grace was tabloid fodder for decades and tailor-made for awards consideration. Throw in two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and Best Actor nominee Andrew Garfield, as well as director Michael Showalter, who directed the Oscar-nominated The Big Sick, and there’s plenty of reason to think this will resonate with the Academy.


In the Heights (2021) 94% 

Cast: Anthony RamosCorey HawkinsJimmy SmitsLin-Manuel MirandaStephanie BeatrizMarc AnthonyDascha Polanco

What it is: The big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway musical about life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.

Why it could win: The fact that the original musical won a Tony is reason enough to get excited about In the Heights, but with the addition of Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, we have had a hard time picturing anything topping one of the new songs from this film for Best Original Song in 2020. The colorful visuals and production design we spied in the trailer also had us instantly buzzing.


Hillbilly Elegy (2020) 25%

Cast: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto

What it is: The film adaptation of J. D. Vance’s acclaimed memoir chronicling three generations of his Appalachian family.

Why it could win: He has not been in the Awards conversation for over a decade, but double Oscar winner Ron Howard is always a threat, and Netflix is betting big on the memoir’s long-awaited adaptation. With the inclusion of two actresses (Amy Adams and Glenn Close) who have 13 Oscar nominations but zero wins between them, there will be a lot of eyes on Hillbilly Elegy come fall.


Tenet (2020) 70%

Cast: John David WashingtonRobert PattinsonElizabeth Debicki

What it is: A mindbending sci-fi tale about time travel and a race to save the world.

Why it could win: Christopher Nolan behind the camera alone should be enough for anyone, but Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and John David Washington make Tenet a must-see, albeit a risky bet, for nominations morning, as Tenet might be too “genre” to capture Oscar voters’ attention. Still, Nolan earned nominations for Inception and Memento, so his latest, which looks like a cross between the two, is difficult not to picture on the Oscar stage.


Greyhound (2020) 79%

Cast: Tom HanksElisabeth ShueRob MorganKarl Glusman

What it is: In WWII, 37 Allied ships cross the treacherous North Atlantic while hotly pursued by a fleet of Nazi U-boats during the lead captain’s first command.

Why it could win: It’s hard to bet against a Tom Hanks war movie. After Hanks broke a nearly 20-year Oscar nomination drought with his Best Supporting Actor nom for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we like his chances for this based-on-true-events story, which he both wrote and leads on screen.


The French Dispatch (2021) 85% 

Cast: Benicio Del ToroAdrien BrodyTilda SwintonTimothée ChalametFrances McDormand, Bill MurrayOwen Wilson, Saoirse RonanLéa Seydoux

What it is: A film anthology of the stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictionalized version of 20th century France.

Why it could win: Wes Anderson has been nominated for seven Academy Awards and has never won — not even for the beloved The Grand Budapest Hotelwhich seems a downright tragedy. However, with this cast of Oscar winners and an expected glitzy debut on the festival circuit later this year, The French Dispatch is an early favorite to lead all nominations next January.


Passing (2021) 86%

Cast: Alexander SkarsgårdTessa ThompsonRuth Negga

What it is: Two white-presenting Black women are forced to confront their own choices, and each other, after they reunite to learn one is living as a white woman and the other as Black.

Why it could win: Based on Nella Larson’s award-winning novel, the premise alone has critics and film fans intrigued. Written and helmed by Rebecca Hall (an actress who’s a magnet for stellar scripts built for powerhouse performances), we are anticipating a story that gives stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga plenty of material for an awards highlight reel.


Minari (2020) 98% 

(Photo by A24 films)

Cast: Steven YeunHan YeriYoun Yuh-Jung

What it is: A family drama seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old Korean-American boy whose father moves the family from California to rural Arkansas to learn to farm and make a better life.

Why it could win: A24’s Minari left Sundance riding high on praise from critics and, as of today, it’s still Fresh at 100%. A quiet story about an Asian-American family with an eccentric grandmother is what earned Lulu Wang’s The Farewell the top prize at the Independent Spirit Awards this year, even if it didn’t break through with Oscar voters. Starring indie darling Steven Yeun in the lead role, Minari could succeed where The Farewell and Yeun’s previous awards contender Burning fell short.


Thumnail images by Warner Bros. Pictures, Searchlight Pictures, Focus Features

Tag Cloud

ViacomCBS 99% Holiday Cannes dexter Song of Ice and Fire unscripted rom-coms Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Polls and Games Podcast The Walt Disney Company sequels MTV vampires Trophy Talk Bravo young adult Vudu 93rd Oscars emmy awards VICE football comedies sitcom Super Bowl suspense black Christmas Ovation halloween tv CMT television superhero Classic Film Election stand-up comedy 90s TCA Winter 2020 werewolf anthology crossover fresh elevated horror SXSW Lifetime screen actors guild kong scorecard king kong Marvel Studios streaming movies godzilla Comic-Con@Home 2021 Horror reboot monster movies richard e. Grant comiccon Lifetime Christmas movies Sneak Peek book cults RT21 Food Network Schedule Logo Family italian NYCC NBA 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards zombie Brie Larson mockumentary stoner comics Apple TV+ 20th Century Fox adaptation war Drama biography hist Anna Paquin Peacock docuseries Nickelodeon child's play Paramount 72 Emmy Awards true crime nfl TV USA Extras olympics sequel SDCC First Look Television Academy zombies thriller FX on Hulu 24 frames Lucasfilm ghosts Grammys Britbox casting TCM New York Comic Con comic books versus crime thriller Pacific Islander christmas movies Marvel Academy Awards Hear Us Out know your critic Film Video Games cars spy thriller live action Mindy Kaling NBC Arrowverse Marathons series revenge composers Amazon Studios children's TV 2021 ABC Signature marvel cinematic universe PaleyFest Disney streaming service renewed TV shows Pop sag awards See It Skip It CBS All Access Cartoon Network Rocketman PBS Hallmark Christmas movies Spring TV classics screenings hidden camera Year in Review Cosplay telelvision cops Freeform supernatural nature El Rey The Purge Fall TV YouTube Red Ellie Kemper joker Opinion 007 ESPN criterion Hulu sports PlayStation Fox Searchlight Black History Month anime crime 2018 Mudbound foreign ratings Holidays new york 45 debate technology AMC HBO Go Tarantino superman Avengers TCA 2017 2016 boxing james bond cancelled TV shows 1990s political drama a nightmare on elm street Teen GoT Shondaland action-comedy romance Comedy Central Acorn TV ABC Valentine's Day TCA APB kaiju video on demand psycho TV renewals FX scene in color dogs YouTube parents Musicals king arthur slashers animated Character Guide Mary poppins Broadway Masterpiece blockbusters spanish language Syfy best Amazon Prime San Diego Comic-Con die hard CNN breaking bad Mary Tyler Moore Stephen King YA The Witch indie rotten movies we love hispanic heritage month Awards Tour 2020 Warner Bros. A&E deadpool Turner south america miniseries toronto strong female leads Tokyo Olympics Disney Plus DGA Apple First Reviews Quiz quibi Superheroe cinemax Calendar movies rt labs critics edition fast and furious facebook remakes 21st Century Fox binge Black Mirror 71st Emmy Awards Sundance OneApp robots Fantasy Pixar comic book movie Walt Disney Pictures australia doctor who GIFs satire Thanksgiving ID Apple TV Plus Endgame Oscars popular TBS HBO E! canceled TV shows golden globe awards TV One video adenture period drama target politics archives kids critics TV movies Turner Classic Movies LGBTQ Shudder mcc OWN Sundance Now Dark Horse Comics BAFTA award winner pirates of the caribbean dc LGBT DC Comics psychological thriller Amazon Paramount Plus international movie Sundance TV Emmy Nominations all-time talk show crime drama prank blockbuster MCU Sci-Fi finale DirecTV dceu worst movies Premiere Dates DC Universe Comedy hollywood cancelled TV series serial killer cooking Summer Red Carpet rt archives X-Men Rocky theme song Wes Anderson Exclusive Video Columbia Pictures Action VOD Emmys Reality Competition Set visit laika CBS medical drama Fox News Marvel Television teaser Legendary Star Wars lord of the rings SundanceTV new star wars movies Film Festival name the review gangster TIFF universal monsters Binge Guide latino free movies BBC Epix new zealand blaxploitation Comic Book cats reviews A24 Nat Geo festival Reality The Arrangement Funimation Universal streaming police drama YouTube Premium RT History spanish USA Network worst Paramount Network 2017 BBC One Certified Fresh Watching Series Pop TV Winter TV obituary aliens game of thrones American Society of Cinematographers Interview 2019 jamie lee curtis heist movie Discovery Channel women batman Amazon Prime Video Trailer franchise spider-man travel Box Office adventure BBC America mission: impossible Winners FXX Chernobyl spain critic resources Photos Pirates TLC independent legend FOX Esquire natural history Rock stop motion chucky TCA Awards japanese Superheroes royal family comic book movies scary movies ABC Family discovery high school golden globes slasher IFC Films TNT witnail Disney romantic comedy Infographic news Musical Heroines Hallmark cancelled television rotten asian-american science fiction what to watch venice Trivia Crunchyroll festivals ITV Netflix Christmas movies Disney+ Disney Plus hispanic Sony Pictures singing competition Western 2015 MSNBC indiana jones Nominations Pet Sematary book adaptation Ghostbusters IFC feel good HBO Max Tubi TruTV Toys Creative Arts Emmys biopic basketball harry potter The CW diversity 73rd Emmy Awards Rom-Com game show History Animation documentary Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt marvel comics space halloween E3 President mutant zero dark thirty dark historical drama documentaries jurassic park saw Best and Worst Women's History Month twilight VH1 The Academy The Walking Dead Kids & Family japan BET Spectrum Originals canceled Tumblr cartoon WGN trailers Martial Arts Biopics 4/20 WarnerMedia disaster green book toy story Mary Poppins Returns Netflix comic Lionsgate docudrama spinoff DC streaming service Alien Awards posters Country films Writers Guild of America boxoffice Music concert Countdown Comics on TV Crackle TV Land Tomatazos Star Trek justice league dragons cancelled BET Awards Image Comics Spike tv talk aapi french rt labs wonder woman nbcuniversal Showtime Mystery dramedy Pride Month Captain marvel Baby Yoda social media based on movie GLAAD Adult Swim National Geographic Starz transformers Television Critics Association directors Elton John Travel Channel CW Seed razzies Disney Channel