Trophy Talk

Who's Going to Win Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the 2021 Oscars?

Awards expert Jacqueline Coley breaks it down with our final predictions – with odds! – for two of the toughest competitions at the 93rd Academy Awards.

by | April 16, 2021 | Comments

LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

An awards season that has been going on for the better part of 12 months is finally thankfully entering its final days. This season – one unlike any we have seen in recent years – has had its share of upheaval over the past eight months. First came the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s decision to push back the awards ceremony to April, and then several marquee titles vacated the 2020 calendar due to COVID-19 shutting down the theatrical box office. The ceremony itself will take place at satellite venues around the globe with the bulk of the show taking place outside at Los Angeles’ Union Station.

One result of all this change is that we have a host of tiles and performances that many audiences – and a not-insignificant number of AMPAS voters – have yet to screen.

With all that in mind, we decided to break down some of the top categories in the final days of the season and give our odds on who’s most likely to be going home with some hardware come Oscar night. Up first we have the Actor categories, both Supporting and Lead.

Disagree with our picks and odds? Have at us in the comments.


Leslie Odom Jr., 

The Role: Four famous friends – Jim Brown, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay – share a night in a hotel room in Miami and Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr. is Oscar-nominated for his performance as Cooke. Odom Jr.’s talent is on full display as he transforms into the charismatic star who spends most of the film battling with the equally formidable Malcolm X. And no voter is going to forget his stirring rendition of the soul singer’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” at the closing of the film.

The Odds: With one of the best lines of the film and an exclamation point of a closing number, Odom Jr. rises above the already impeccable ensemble. And though we think he has faded a bit under the blinding light of Daniel Kaluuya’s star power and sweep of the major awards so far for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah, the Tony-winner is still in the mix for a reasonable upset if there is one brewing.

Paul Raci, 

Paul Raci in Sound of Metal

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

The Role: Joe, the leader of a home for troubled deaf youth, who gives shelter and education to Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a rock-metal drummer who recently lost his hearing. Joe is the mentor, patriarch, and a frank counselor who guides Ruben to accept this new diagnosis, which in turn allows him to find peace.

The Odds: Not to knock his chances, but this year the journeyman character actor (check out our detailed breakdown of his career here) is poised to reap rich benefits from just being nommed. Just as with Robert Forster after his late-career Oscar nomination for Jackie Brown, we don’t think this is the last we will see from the 40-year acting veteran – but this time is not likely his year to take home gold.

Sacha Baron Cohen, 

The Trial of the Chicago 7

(Photo by Netflix)

The Role: Abbie Hoffman, one of the seven men charged with inciting a riot outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Cohen relies on his natural comedic timing and biting political wit to bring authenticity and humor to one of the most recognizable men of the 1960s’ counter-culture movement.

The Odds: The sole acting performance to stand out as awards-worthy amongst the likes of Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Frank Langella in a film tailor-made for an awards voting body, many of whom most likely lived through the events of the narrative – that is a power plus. Coupled with the recent SAG ensemble win for the cast, and a second Oscar nomination for writing on the Borat sequel, and it’s hard to dismiss Cohen’s chances… but even he will likely be lapped by Kaluuya’s late surge.

LaKeith Stanfield, 

The Role: William O’Neal, a petty thief turned FBI informant who befriends then betrays Fred Hampton, the Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther party. As the “Judas” half of the title, the Get Out and Sorry to Bother You star wrings every ounce of tension and anxiety out of himself to embody the informant under deep cover but completely naive to who’s the real enemy.

The Odds: When we made our original Oscar predictions, we placed Stanfield at a near-zero chance to make it to nominations morning – particularly as he was campaigning in the hotly contested Best Actor field – but lo and behold here he sits with a puzzling Best Supporting Actor nomination. So let’s just say it’s unlikely he will win. Stranger things have happened in Oscar’s 93 year history, though, and clearly we’ve been wrong on this one before.

Daniel Kaluuya, 

The Role: Fred Hampton – one of most pivotal if not well-known names from the Black Civil Rights movement – the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was assassinated by the Chicago Police following a raid orchestrated by FBI informant William O’Neal.

The Odds: The role of a tragic true-life figure, whose story comes loaded with issues relevant to the current national conversation, would be enough to get anyone into the conversation – especially a former Best Actor nominee. But Kaluuya’s sweep of the BAFTA, Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and SAG awards make his win in this category foregone conclusion. His odds are even.


Riz Ahmed,

The Role: Ruben, a metal drummer on tour with his girlfriend and living out of an RV, whose rapid-onset hearing loss threatens everything he holds dear. Playing a person grappling with a sudden diagnosis, Ahmed shines not only as he wrestles with the anger over his loss but also his obstinate and foolish railing against reality.

The Odds: There is a growing push for Ahmed, who made history as the first British Pakistani to be nominated for Best Actor and one of only a handful of South-Asian actors to ever earn an acting nomination – but that will likely not have enough traction to combat the inevitability of the Best Actor frontrunner.

Gary Oldman,

The Role: Citizen Kane scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz, who battled his director and co-writer Orson Welles, Hollywood, the Hearst empire, and his own demons on his quest to pen what many argue is the greatest screenplay ever written.

The Odds: After it took decades of Oscar-worthy work – and yes we include his work in The Professional and True Romance – for Oldman to get his first Oscar nomination, followed closely by his first win, we appreciate the actor getting quick and deserved praise for his performance in Mank. But sadly the film has little chance of taking home any Oscars outside of the craft awards (though Amanda Seyfried may cause an upset for Best Supporting Actress), despite Oldman’s typically great performance.

Anthony Hopkins,

The Role: The eponymous Father, an aging man suffering from Alzheimer’s who is reluctant to employ a full-time caretaker and who becomes increasingly confused, angry, and terrified as the faces and events around him become unrecognizable.

The Odds: Since The Father‘s debut at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2020, Anthony Hopkins has been penciled in at the top of just about every Best Actor tip sheet by awards prognosticators, and he would have remained there if not for Chadwick Boseman. However, the Oscar winner’s recent BAFTA Best Actor win is nothing to dismiss lightly, so we place him still in the thick of things despite losing front-runner status. He’s a solid chance for an upset – if an upset is in the cards.

Steven Yeun,

The Role: Jacob, a Korean immigrant singularly focused on his quest to taste the “American Dream,” uproots his family and moves them from California to a tiny Arkansas farm. Saddled with a determination that borders on delusion, Jacob still remains disarming and empathetic in large part due to Steven Yeun‘s quiet charm.

The Odds: Nothing would please us more than finding a way to give a tie to Yeun and the current Oscar favorite, but alas that is not possible. Still, as this is the first Oscar nomination for Yeun – who has been on Certified Fresh streak since his departure from The Walking Dead – we feel this is just a stop on what is likely to a long journey in awards contention.

Chadwick Boseman, 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

(Photo by Netflix)

The Role: Levee, the trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s band, who dreams of recording his own music and bristles at the control Ma commands over his artistry. In his last role to be released following his untimely death last year, Boseman gives the best performance of his career as a cocky and troubled musician.

The Odds: There’s little chance of anyone topping Boseman this year. And while the win will be a fitting way to honor the the actor’s legacy, it will also be undeniably deserved given the spectacular work he did on screen in the film. Even odds.

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast at 5pm PST/8pm EST April 24, 2021 on ABC. 

Download Rotten Tomatoes’ printable Oscar Ballot; cast your vote in our digital Oscar ballot.

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