Searching for the Oscar Nomination Shocker: Who Will Receive the Acting Nod No One Saw Coming?

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Clayton Davis
·3 min read
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Always expect the unexpected, especially in this unpredictable awards season.

I’ve been wondering if we might see the “WTF nomination” on Oscar-noms morning. I’m talking about an actor who is catapulted into the race without any previous mentions from the most crucial televised awards shows — BAFTA, Critics Choice, the Golden Globes and SAG. Not many can achieve it, but it’s usually telling of a film’s support within the Academy when that occurs. Some “WTFs” in the past decade have been Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), Laura Dern (“Wild”), Marina de Tavira (“Roma”), Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) and Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”).

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With Critics Choice, the Globes and SAG already announced, and the long list of BAFTA showing the shortlist of acting contenders, can this extraordinary year produce one or even two Oscar-morning surprises?

The shocks are typically tied to performance in the best picture nominees, while others indicate deep respect in the industry (this is where the preferential ballot can help). In a year devoid of parties and mingling, and 30 days until Oscar-nomination voting concludes, a lot can happen.

Let’s take a look at two possibilities:

Yeri Han, “Minari” (A24)

Lee Isaac Chung’s touching look at a Korean family in Arkansas is heavily in the mix for multiple nominations, including best picture, director and acting noms for Steven Yeun (actor) and Yuh-Jung Youn (supporting actress). Could there also be a spoiler in the best actress race? With four spots ostensibly taken by Viola Davis, Vanessa Kirby, Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan, we could be in store for a surprise that isn’t Globe nominee Andra Day or SAG nominee Amy Adams. In the vein of the jaw-dropper that was Samantha Morton in 2003’s “In America,” can the emotional impact of Han’s Monica, a mother desperately trying to find hope in a foreign land, make enough headway? It would be utterly worthy, and it would mark the first nomination for an Asian woman in best actress, a moment that is way overdue.

Bo Burnham, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

Emerald Fennell’s darkly relevant story about a woman taking revenge on those who wronged her has stormed the awards circuit. With Mulligan performing very well so far, she could be the front-runner to win best actress, and the film will be competitive in categories such as picture, director and original screenplay. When a lead actor — see Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Revenant” or Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry”— pulls in a large majority of the vote, a co-star can benefit from that. In those cases, it was Jonah Hill, Tom Hardy and Chloë Sevigny, respectively. That could be great news for Mulligan’s co-star Bo Burnham, who is infectiously memorable and deserving of a nod, especially after missing out for original screenplay for his writing and directorial debut, “Eighth Grade,” in 2018.

Other “WTF” possibilities:

  • Nicole Beharie (“Miss Juneteenth”)

  • Colman Domingo (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

  • Dominique Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

  • Sophia Loren (“The Life Ahead”)

  • David Strathairn (“Nomadland”)

  • Glynn Turman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

Visit THE AWARDS HUB to see the full list of Oscar Predictions by category.

2021 Academy Awards Predictions

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