Oscars Predictions: Best Actress – Zendaya Looks for an Awards Opening with ‘Malcolm & Marie’

Clayton Davis
·10-min read

Variety's Awards Circuit is home to the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars from Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis. Following Academy Awards history, buzz, news, reviews and sources, the Oscar predictions are updated regularly with the current year's contenders in all categories. Variety's Awards Circuit Prediction schedule consists of four phases, running all year long: Draft, Pre-Season, Regular Season and Post Season. Eligibility calendar and dates of awards will determine how long each phase lasts and will be displayed next to revision date.

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2021 OSCARS PREDICTIONS:
BEST ACTRESS

UPDATED: Jan. 14, 2021

AWARDS COMMENTARY:
There’s so much to assess in terms of buzz that it’s difficult for any film or performance to hold onto the “moment.” Zendaya’s work in “Malcolm & Marie” might make enough of an impact to sneak into the race, in the midst of that battle, Sophia Loren (“The Life Ahead”), Kate Winslet (“Ammonite”) and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”). Carey Mulligan holds onto the top spot for “Promising Young Woman” but analyzing how that film will do overall is still a mystery.

(Awards Circuit Winners Chart (2020-2021)

AND THE PREDICTED NOMINEES ARE:

  1. Carey Mulligan
    "Promising Young Woman" (Focus Features)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 1 nomination (2009's "An Education")
    ROLE: Cassandra "Cassie" Thomas

    DIRECTOR: Emerald Fennell
    SYNOPSIS: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.
    STARRING:Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Molly Shannon, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Max Greenfield, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Chris Lowell, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson

  2. Frances McDormand
    "Nomadland" (Searchlight Pictures)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 5 nominations, 2 wins (1996's "Fargo" and 2018's "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri")
    ROLE: Fern

    DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao
    SYNOPSIS: After losing everything in the Great Recession, an old woman embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.
    STARRING: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells

  3. Viola Davis
    "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 3 nominations, 1 win (2016's "Fences")
    ROLE: Ma Rainey

    DIRECTOR: George C. Wolfe
    SYNOPSIS: Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable "Mother of the Blues". Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play..
    STARRING: Chadwick Boseman, Dusan Brown, Jonny Coyne, Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Taylour Paige, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, Glynn Turman

  4. Vanessa Kirby
    "Pieces of a Woman" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Martha

    DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó
    SYNOPSIS: When a young mother's home birth ends in unfathomable tragedy, she begins a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with loved ones in this deeply personal story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.
    STARRING: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook, Molly Parker

  5. Zendaya
    "Malcolm & Marie" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Marie

    DIRECTOR: Sam Levinson
    SYNOPSIS: A director and his girlfriend's relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics' responses
    STARRING: John David Washington, Zendaya

NEXT IN LINE:

  1. Sophia Loren
    "The Life Ahead" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations, 1 win (1960's "La ciociara" plus an honorary Oscar in 1991)
    ROLE: Madame Rosa

    DIRECTOR: Edoardo Ponti
    SYNOPSIS
    : In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her..
    STARRING
    : Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye

  2. Kate Winslet
    "Ammonite" (Neon)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 7 nominations, 1 win (2008's "The Reader")
    ROLE: Mary Anning

    DIRECTOR: Francis Lee
    SYNOPSIS
    : 1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
    STARRING
    : Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones, James McArdle

  3. Nicole Beharie
    "Miss Juneteenth" (Vertical Entertainment)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Turquoise Jones

    DIRECTOR: Channing Godfrey Peoples
    SYNOPSIS: A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the "Miss Juneteenth" pageant.
    STARRING: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze, Lori Hayes

  4. Andra Day
    "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" (Hulu)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Billie Holiday

    DIRECTOR: Lee Daniels
    SYNOPSIS: Follows Holiday during her career as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
    STARRING: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Tyler James Williams

  5. Michelle Pfeiffer
    "French Exit" (Sony Pictures Classics)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 3 nominations
    ROLE: Frances Price

    DIRECTOR: Azazel Jacobs
    SYNOPSIS: An aging Manhattan socialite living on what's barely left of her inheritance moves to a small apartment in Paris with her son and cat.
    STARRING: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Valerie Mahaffey, Susan Coyne, Imogen Poots, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel di Tomasso

TOP-TIER AWARDS CONTENDERS:

  1. Meryl Streep
    "The Prom" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 21 nominations, 3 wins (1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer," 1982's "Sophie's Choice" and 2011's "The Iron Lady")
    ROLE: Dee Dee Allen

    DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
    SYNOPSIS: A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.
    STARRING: Meryl Streep, Jo Ellen Pellman, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Ariana DeBose, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells. Tracey Ullman

  2. Sidney Flanigan
    "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" (Focus Features)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Autumn

    DIRECTOR: Eliza Hittman
    SYNOPSIS: Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin Skylar embark across state lines from rural Pennsylvania to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion.
    STARRING: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin

  3. Elisabeth Moss
    "Shirley" (Neon)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Shirley Jackson

    DIRECTOR: Josephine Decker
    SYNOPSIS: A famous horror writer finds inspiration for her next book after she and her husband take in a young couple.
    STARRING: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman, Victoria Pedretti

  4. Carrie Coon
    "The Nest" (IFC Films)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Allison O'Hara

    DIRECTOR: Sean Durkin
    SYNOPSIS: Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.
    STARRING: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Tanya Allen

  5. Robin Wright
    "Land" (Focus Features)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Edie Mathis

    DIRECTOR: Robin Wright
    SYNOPSIS: A bereaved woman seeks out a new life, off the grid in Wyoming.
    STARRING: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Kim Dickens, Warren Christie

  6. Rashida Jones
    "On the Rocks" (A24/Apple TV Plus)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Laura

    DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
    SYNOPSIS: A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
    STARRING:Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate

  7. Yeri Han
    "Minari" (A24)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Monica

    DIRECTOR: Lee Isaac Chung
    SYNOPSIS: A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.
    STARRING: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-jung Youn, Will Patton

  8. Anya Taylor-Joy
    "Emma." (Focus Features)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Emma Woodhouse

    DIRECTOR: Autumn de Wilde
    SYNOPSIS: In 1800s England, a well meaning but selfish young woman meddles in the love lives of her friends.
    STARRING: Anya Taylor-Joy, Angus Imrie, Letty Thomas, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy

  9. Elisabeth Moss
    "The Invisible Man" (Universal Pictures)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Cecilia Kass

    DIRECTOR: Leigh Whannell
    SYNOPSIS: When Cecilia's abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
    STARRING: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman

  10. Jessie Buckley
    "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Young woman

    DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman
    SYNOPSIS: Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents' secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself.
    STARRING: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, David Thewlis, Toni Collette

ALSO IN CONTENTION:

  1. Amy Adams
    "Hillbilly Elegy" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 6 nominations
    ROLE: Bev

    DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
    SYNOPSIS: An urgent phone call pulls a Yale Law student back to his Ohio hometown, where he reflects on three generations of family history and his own future.
    STARRING: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, Owen Asztalos

  2. Julia Garner
    "The Assistant" (Bleecker Street)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Jane

    DIRECTOR: Kitty Green
    SYNOPSIS: A searing look at a day in the life of an assistant to a powerful executive. As Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the insidious abuse that threatens every aspect of her position.
    STARRING: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristein Froseth, Clara Wong

  3. Sienna Miller
    "Wander Darkly" (Lionsgate)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Adrienne

    DIRECTOR: Tara Miele
    SYNOPSIS: New parents Adrienne and Matteo are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future.
    STARRING: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Vanessa Bayer

  4. Radha Blank
    "The Forty-Year-Old Version" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Radha

    DIRECTOR: Radha Blank
    SYNOPSIS: Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice.
    STARRING: Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Imani Lewis, Antonio Ortiz, Haskiri Velazquez, T.J. Atoms

  5. Katherine Waterston
    "The World to Come" (Bleecker Street)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Abigail

    DIRECTOR: Monica Fastvold
    SYNOPSIS: Somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, two neighboring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically.
    STARRING: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott, Karina Ziana Gherasim

† = no release date scheduled / could be delayed / may not be eligible
†† = could be campaigned in lead or supporting categories / original or adapted screenplay categories

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. The most awarded films in Oscar history are “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at 11 statuettes. The most nominated films in Academy history are “All About Eve,” “Titanic” and “La La Land” at 14. “La La Land” is the only film of the three to have lost best picture. The biggest Oscar “losers,” meaning most nominated and walk away with zero awards are 1977’s “The Turning Point” and 1985’s “The Color Purple” at 11 each.

Academy Awards Predictions (All Categories)

2021 Golden Globes Predictions (Film)

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